Bolo ties, black tie, and boots were the attire of choice at last night’s gala preview of the High Museum of Art’s Go West! exhibition, which opens to the public on Sunday. Among the bigwigs in attendance were Arthur Blank and Ted Turner (both of whom auctioned off trips to their posh Montana ranches for $19,000 and $10,000 respectively, via a smooth-talking auctioneer flown down from Sotheby’s).
Event planners took the theme and positively galloped with it. Cowboy-clad men whipped lassos during cocktail hour alongside split-rail fences, pioneer mess kits, and hay bales. Centerpieces of wildflowers and bundles of tumbleweed presided over tables labeled with names like Butch Cassidy and Billy the Kid and laid with bandanna napkins. During a main course of tender bison, people could be heard discussing the once nearly extinct Western creature that now roams places like Turner’s ranch in great number. (Ted did, in fact, contribute the meat.)
Upstairs, around 250 pieces of artwork had just been installed, most on loan from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, with an unexpected (to me, at least) selection of Native American portraits from the collection of Atlanta developer Tom Cousins, also in attendance. Cousins was a co-chair of the event, which benefited the High.
The exhibition traces the history of Western expansion with works from 1830 to 1930, in sections focusing on explorers, Native American objects and art, landscapes by Hudson River School artists like Thomas Moran, the significance of the buffalo, the romanticizing of cowboys and Indians alike, sportsmen, conservation, and the reservation era.
Highlights? Well, no doubt the Remington sculptures are showstoppers. After all, museum director Michael Shapiro wrote his Harvard dissertation on Remington bronzes—but the Remington paintings came as a pleasant surprise. But best of all are the traditional objects made by artists from the Crow, Blackfeet, Sioux, and other tribes—beaded moccasins, grizzly claw–adorned necklaces, and painted hides.
Fun fact: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show came to Atlanta six times between 1895 and 1913—the first time for the Cotton States exhibition at Piedmont Park. Robert Woodruff was so smitten with Buffalo Bill that he bought his ranch near Cody in 1941.
Go West! opens at the High Museum on Sunday and runs through April 13, 2014. For details, high.org