COWBOYS & INDIANS Eiteljorg showcases famous artists’ not-so-famous work
Cowboys and Indians aren’t what come to mind when the world thinks of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, two great American pop artists better known for comicbook imagery and Campbell’s Soup cans.
And that’s what makes “Roy Lichtenstein: American Indian Encounters” and “Andy Warhol’s Cowboys & Indians” so fascinating and surprising.
The artists’ exhibits, presented under the common title “Pop! Goes the West,” run through April 15 at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, showing off lesser-known images of Native Americans.
“If you think you know Warhol and Lichtenstein,” Eiteljorg assistant curator Bethany Montagano said during a tour, “come to these exhibitions and you’ll see things you’ve never seen before.”
The Lichtenstein exhibit comes to the Eiteljorg from the Montclair Museum in New Jersey. Among the 50 or so pieces are a number from the 1950s-including some works recently discovered-as well as 1970s selections in which he turns Native American symbols into pop art.
The 12 Warhol prints, borrowed from the Rockwell Museum in Corning, N.Y., include images of Teddy Roosevelt, Geronimo, Gen. George Armstrong Custer, John Wayne and a rare drawing, done in Warhol’s own hand, of American Indian activist Russell Means.
“Lichtenstein and Warhol infused this work with their social commentary-that Americans did not develop their misconceptions or stereotypes of Native Americans through personal experience,” Montagano said. “Instead, it was through myth, symbol, the printed word and storytelling in general.”
Many of the Lichtenstein pieces from the ’50s are Picasso-esque, pre-pop art. Jack Cowart, executive director of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation in New York, said Lichtenstein was “responding to a lot of stereotypes and conditions” Native Americans faced.
But even to the foundation, some of these works were “a revelation,” Cowart said, “because they are rarely if ever shown”-largely because Lichtenstein tried to encourage the idea that his career started with pop art in 1961.
“I’ve spent the last four, five or six years in our own cataloging here at the foundation trying to unearth as many of these as possible and to find where they might be today,” he said.
The later Lichtenstein pieces find the artist assembling symbols on canvas and trying to make shapes in a pop-art style.
“Even though they were sympathetic to Native Americans, Lichtenstein throws in symbols from all different tribes, which is kind of saying that all Native Americans are all the same,” Montagano said.
“And what we try to do here is to educate people that all Native Americans are different and the only sweeping generalization you can make for Native Americans is that they hate when one person talks for them-especially a white guy who’s using their symbols to make money.”
Warhol’s pictures of cowboys and Indians aren’t as well known as his Campbell’s Soup cans, Marilyn Monroe or some of his later abstractions, said Thomas Sokolowski, director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. But they’re known works.
“Are they the most adroit and sophisticated of his print works?” he said. “No, but they play into many of the same themes he did earlier and later in his life.”
The Warhol works are from the mid-1980s, and all are prints; Warhol had painted only three of these images before he died in 1987.
Montagano, curator of the Eiteljorg’s Warhol exhibit, said these pictures juxtapose counterfeit cowboys against real Indians “to again tell us that we created our stereotypes of Native Americans through myth, the printed word, movies and things like that-not from personal experience.”
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