Rizzoli Electa. Oct. 2023. 224p. ISBN 9780847873753. $75. FINE ARTS
This monograph accompanying an exhibition at Denver’s vibrant Museum of Contemporary Art explores ways artists have upended the “strata of fact and fiction” in cowboy mythology—with efforts here marked more by joyous true grit than by anger or rancor, and across multiple identities. It’s a theme that benefits from powerful juxtapositions, such as the bisexual buckaroo rapper Lil Nas X’s catchy tune “Old Town Road” alongside Wild West show posters; installations grappling with portrayals of frontier Chinese Americans; Angela Ellsworth’s sunbonnets made from thousands of dress pins; and Karl Haendel’s spectacularly monumental drawings of women on horseback. Refreshingly, the Marlboro Man is absent, while cowboy hats are ubiquitous, and Black rodeo riders abound. Although needlessly dense opening essays and interviews will induce some mental saddle sores, the art speaks for itself and makes for a compelling modernization of an enduring myth with seemingly endless appeal.
VERDICT A surprisingly fun blend of nostalgia and disruption that’s at once eye-opening and reassuring, and appealing to both the artsy crowd and folks in Wrangler jeans.
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