|Reviewer doesn't find much to praise in Indian exhibits at the Autry National Center in California:
The Autry no longer celebrates the Wild West the way the Disney “Imagineers” who designed it once expected it would — or even as it did when I visited seven years ago, as its evolution was well under way. It is long past High Noon. Last year, the Autry brought in a new chief executive, W. Richard West Jr., who is not only an American Indian (Cheyenne and Arapaho) but was also founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Two new permanent exhibitions (including a multicultural display of Western art) and two temporary exhibitions (one on Jews in Los Angeles, the other on Hopi spirit dolls) make no effort to bring the Old West back to life. They struggle, instead, to define something else.
At stake is the mythology of the American West — a founding myth at once great and fearsome, inspiring and rived — which for decades has been challenged by a conglomeration of competing claims. The old celebratory themes invoked on the museum’s mural — “Discovery, Opportunity, Conquest, Community, Cowboy, Romance, Imagination” — have been attacked by a generation of historians, first because of the fates of American Indians, then for their implicit ethnic and social homogeneity. And now the Autry, along with a few other major museums, like the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo., is trying to reshape that national mythology.
This is difficult, since the Autry began as a champion of what it now seeks to constrain. With its sweeping 36,000 square feet of exhibition space in Griffith Park, it still gives its traditional Western artifacts elbow room, including an 1855 mail stage coach, a mahogany bar from Montana and an imposing saddle display. But other perspectives have been moving in. First, the Autry absorbed the Women of the West Museum (from Boulder, Colo.). Then, in 2003, it acquired the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, with its world-class collection of a quarter of a million artifacts (many in grievous disrepair).
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Review: A Museum Works to Reinvent Itself, as Well as the American West
(The New York Times 9/23)