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New exhibition casts cowboy culture in a new light

With Beyonce's album Cowboy Culture riding high in the charts, the opening of the new exhibition Weird West couldn't be better timed. We reveal the thinking behind this new take on cowboy culture.

By Kaly JohnesPublished about a month ago 2 min read
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Many of us love a good Western. But even the most devoted fans of the genre know that it's mostly BS. The image of a "Wild West" filled with countless gunfights was a myth generated primarily by dime-novel authors in the late 19th century. Yes, there was some rowdiness in frontier towns, but they weren't complete free-for-alls. Sheriffs kept some order, and cowboys weren't all constantly looking for trouble. Most of them spent their time, well, working.

As a result, we've seen a lot of cultural works in recent years redefine cowboy culture, challenge traditional stereotypes and offer more nuanced portrayals, from the 2015 movie Brokeback Mountain about gay cowboys to 2021's The Harder They Fall, a Netflix Western featuring a diverse cast, including black and indigenous characters.

This month the cowboy is in the spotlight again thanks to the success of Cowboy Carter, Beyoncé's terrific new, genre-bending album, which combines elements of Country and Western, Country Pop, Americana and R&B.

So it's the perfect time for the opening of a new group exhibition, Weird West, at Hashimoto Contemporary gallery in Los Angeles.

New take on the Old West

Opening on 13 April, the show offers a fresh take on the traditional image of the American cowboy and features a diverse range of artists who are redefining the Western genre through painting, sculpture, drawing and photography.

As the organisers explain: "Popular culture has defined the cowboy by his riding boots, fringed leather pants, acute smoking habit, large bushy moustache, and stone-cold demeanour. Originally the spitting image of Americana, artists and filmmakers alike have recently queered, weirded, diversified and otherwise transformed the macho cowboy into an icon for their communities."

Among the participating artists are Drew Christie, whose surreal, mirage-like depictions of the Western landscape skew our perspectives, and Grace Kennison, who paints surreal Western icons such as horses, mountains and menacing cowgirls from the remote San Juan Valley in Colorado.

Patrick Oates' scenes of cowboys, horses and lone churches, meanwhile, cast a sombre mood on the typically action-filled genre, while Anthony Hurd's cowboy lovers mix the tough, masculine ideal of the Wild West with the soft tenderness of newfound love.

Other artists on show include Angela Burson, Grace Kennison, Jillian Evelyn, Rafa Esparza, Eleanor Foy, Becca Fuhrman, Yomahra Gonzalez, Fabian Guerrero, Christine Mai Nguyen, Kara Rose Marshall, Robert Martin, Christopher Martin, Luke Pelletier, Joel Daniel Phillips, Dylan Anthony Roworth, AP Shrewsbury, Madeleine Tonzi and Alex Ziv.

Curated by Miranda Evans, the exhibition aims to "merge [the artists'] own stories, cultures, and histories with the iconography of the Western genre, reimagining the icons of the American past to create a future that looks and feels like their weird realities".

With Beyonce's album Cowboy Culture riding high in the charts, the opening of the new exhibition Weird West couldn't be better timed. We reveal the thinking behind this new take on cowboy culture.

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Kaly Johnes

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