YOSEMITE: Art of an American Icon
PART I: 1855–1969
September 22, 2006, through January 31, 2007
In the George Montgomery Gallery

PART II: 1970–Present
November 10, 2006, through April 22, 2007
In the Showcase Gallery

Museum of the American West
234 Museum Drive, Los Angeles 90042
Contact, Jay Aldritch
323.221.2164, Fax: 323.224.8223
Web site,
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed major holidays
Admission: Adults, $7.50; Seniors and Students, $5; Youths 7-17, $3; Children under 6 years, free

Greg Kondos, “El Capitan, Yosemite", 1990.
Collection of Kenneth B. Noack, Jr.

Los Angeles — The power of art—to shape the way we see, use, and protect Western lands—is the focus of the exhibition Yosemite: Art of an American Icon and its accompanying publication of the same title. From an ideal of wilderness to the complex and often congested experience of the park today, this exhibition explores Yosemite’s changing visual identity and cultural role as a national destination. By giving us a broader look at Yosemite as a complex, multifaceted landscape rich in aesthetic and human diversity, this exhibition aims to reveal this course and more.
The most comprehensive effort of its kind to date, Yosemite: Art of an American Icon will span three centuries and include more than 140 paintings, baskets, and photographs. Arranged in four chronological sections, the exhibition examines the ways in which artists have shaped the park’s visual identity over time, the reflexive impact of Yosemite on their efforts, and Yosemite’s ongoing relevance as a distinct, contemporary Western landscape now visited by more than three million people each year. In exploring Yosemite’s visual legacy beyond that left by an influential few, the exhibition also seeks to establish a more comprehensive and inclusive art history for one of America’s premier landscape icons. In this way, we can better understand the role of exceptional scenery within our collective imagination, and the creation and ongoing use of national parks as culturally important destinations.

Albert Bierstadt, “Sunset in the Yosemite Valley”, 1868, oil on canvas.  
The Haggin Museum, Haggin Collection, Stockton, California.

PART I: 1855 to 1969
1855–1890: Nature’s Cathedral.
Propelled by a spirit of discovery, America’s long search for cultural prowess refocuses on the West. Urged by writers, critics, and intellectuals to become directly involved with nature, artists such as Albert Bierstadt, William Keith, and Thomas Hill, and photographers Carleton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge, seek out the spectacular in Yosemite, portraying it as a bastion of pristine wilderness and evidence of America’s divine providence. A selection of early baskets, alongside mammoth-plate photographs and grand landscape paintings by Bierstadt, Hill, Keith, and others connect the presence of native people in Yosemite as relevant to its early artistic identity as an exotic and distinctly Western destination.
1890–1916: The People’s Playground. As the 1890 census declares the close of the American frontier, Yosemite achieves national park status and makes its official transition from remote locale to a national pastime. Opening with a selection of tourist photos by Isaiah Taber, George Fiske, and others of visitors frolicking on an overhanging rock, this section explores the impact of tourism, from changing ideas regarding conservation to the invention of Indian Field Days and the transformation of basket making. The failed efforts of William Keith and John Muir to save the Hetch-Hetchy valley from becoming a reservoir signals the end of Yosemite as a scenic preserve and its future as an economically beneficent tourist mecca.

1917–1969: An Icon Comes of Age.
Thanks to America’s newfound love of the auto, Yosemite visitation doubles between 1915 and 1919 as the mood of its patrons shifts from one of exclusivity to development and the needs of the masses. From impressionists such as Maurice Braun and Colin Campbell Cooper to the pictorialists Alvin Langdon Coburn, William Dassonville, and Anne Brigman, Yosemite artists shape a fresh identity for the park as an accessible place where stylish aesthetics coexist with a human presence. Indian Field Days becomes a major event, transforming the baskets of Carrie Bethel and Lucy Telles into a major art form; Ansel Adams creates the iconic photos that soon dominate the public imagination. As Yosemite’s audience widens, the relationship between the park and its artists also becomes a more intimate one, as modernists from Edward Weston to Charles Sheeler begin to explore its abstract potential.  

PART II: 1970–Present:

1970–Present: Revisiting Yosemite. After a decade of social revolt, Yosemite faces overcrowding, uncertainty, and unrest. Yosemite artists, focused on a landscape long removed from its frontier roots, are now dealing with a place of contradictions where urban development often coexists with gorgeous scenery. Photographers Roger Minick, Ted Orland, Thomas Struth, John Divola, Richard Misrach, and others look past the romantic legacy of Adams to new vistas and contrasts, as do major American artists such as Wayne Thiebaud and David Hockney, who perceive Yosemite anew as an extension of the modern experience.
Beginning in the 1980s, painting returns with vigor. The presence of diverse approaches from Greg Kondos, Wolf Kahn, Jane Culp, and Tony Foster ends the exhibition on an optimistic note, looking to the future of the park through the eyes of its artists past and present.
About the Museum of the American West
The Museum of the American West provides rich learning opportunities for all people by exploring the myths and realities of the American West and its diverse populations. The museum enhances our understanding of the present by collecting, preserving, and interpreting objects and art, making connections between people today and those who have shaped the past.

The museum receives approximately 374,000 visitors annually and each year provides free guided tours and educational activities for more than 40,000 area schoolchildren. It is located in Griffith Park at 4700 Western Heritage Way, across from the Los Angeles Zoo, where the 5 and 134 freeways meet. Admission is $7.50 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and $3 for children. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and on major holidays except Thanksgiving and Christmas. On Thursdays, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, the museum and Museum Store are open until 8 p.m. Parking is free.

Learn more about YOSEMITE: Art of an American Icon by visiting the Museum of the American West’s website at

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