For a Few Dollars More: Exploring the Tucson Museum of Art’s Western Heroes Exhibit

December 1, 2015

The exhibit features work by the late R. G. Harris, a renowned painter and contributor to Western pulp magazines.

The exhibit features work by the late R. G. Harris, a renowned painter and contributor to Western pulp magazines.

By Kai Parmenter

The Tucson Museum of Art has long been one of the city’s preeminent art institutions, with emphasis on American West and Latin American art, in addition to modern and contemporary works. Yet it is the former that takes center stage in the Museum’s Western Heroes of Pulp Fiction: Dime Novel to Pop Culture exhibit, currently on display.

Occupying the upper tier of the main gallery, the Western Heroes exhibit provides a survey of graphic representations of the iconic characters associated with the fictionalized West. More specifically, the exhibit focuses on “the construct of the Western hero,” says Christine Brindza, the Museum’s Glasser Curator of Art of the American West.

“I was looking at materials like comic books, dime novels and pulp novels…trying to find this thread,” notes Brindza, whose pursuit of a unifying theme led her to research the many variations of these figures through time, and their associated audiences. After nearly two years of research and planning, the Western Heroes exhibit is ready for display.

Resembling a giant Etch A Sketch, this piece by Ben Steele is actually oil and mixed media on panel.

Resembling a giant Etch A Sketch, this piece by Ben Steele is actually oil and mixed media on panel.

With a truly impressive array of artwork—some dating back to the nineteenth century—the exhibit incorporates pieces by artists both past and present, from R.G. Harris and Andy Warhol to Aaron Riley and Danny Martin. The format of works on display varies widely, including pulp and dime novels, vintage and contemporary comics and graphic novels. Western Heroes of Pulp Fiction also contains sketches and mixed media productions, and a vast selection of paintings. Many pieces on display are also paired with labels and interpretations written by the community.

So why create such an extensive display showcasing aspects of a culture Tucsonans are seemingly already familiar with?

“It transitioned over time,” says Brindza, who notes that the exhibit reveals the similarities between mediums and eras, while also demonstrating how each is wholly distinct.

The exhibit contains a wide selection of pieces from various mediums, including comics, pulp and dime novels, paintings and more.

The exhibit contains a wide selection of pieces from various mediums, including comics, pulp and dime novels, paintings and more.

“From the early print media through modern and contemporary representations, not just your traditional images of a cowboy on horseback, but…modern renditions using pop art, using graphic art,” says Brindza. “I think that surprises people when they come in, that they might be expecting one thing, but they get many different ideas on what the theme is, and how this hero and the different characters that come along with him have changed. It’s not just the male cowboy, it’s the female damsel in distress, it’s the Mexican bandit, it goes on and on.”

According to Brindza, the exhibit performs the dual function of displaying associated beliefs and stereotypes, while also showing the progression away from—or solidification of—these trends and ideas.

“We want to draw attention to, this is how these stereotypes were looked at in the past; this is how we want to look at them now in context. We want to have a discussion about these kind of themes, and these kind of images,” says Brindza, noting how Western archetypes continue to touch upon many aspects of our lives, despite their age.

“There’s this interest that has continued from the time of the dime novel through today, it’s just been looked at through a different lens.”

The Museum’s Western Heroes of Pulp Fiction exhibit first opened on the October 24th, and will continue until February 14th of next year. For more information on this and other exhibitions, visit the Tucson Museum of Art’s website here, or call 520-624-2333.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on Pinterest