Autry Imagines the West(s)

Geoff Thais, La Frontera ("Dingbat"-style apartment skyscraper), 2023

The Autry Museum has always been an uneasy mix of Cowboy and Indian, fact and fantasy. A newly opened long-term installation, "Imagined Wests," replaces a former suite of galleries devoted to Wild West shows, Western movies, and singing cowboys. These elements are still present but now rate less space. "Imagined Wests" offers a broader view of the West, more urban, contemporary, and Indigenous. That's announced at one entrance with a model of an imagined "Dingbat" skyscraper (by Geoff Thais). 

Cindi Alvitre and Craig Torres, with others, Ancestor Poles, 2023.  Loan courtesy of the Ti'at Society

One of the most effective set pieces consists of four ancestor poles by Tongva artists Cindi Alvitre and Craig Torres with contributions by others. The Indigenous people of the Los Angeles basin use the poles to commemorate ancestors—in this case four well-documented figures. Each has a vitrine of related objects and a capsule biography. The display threads the needle of history, art, and authenticity in a way few museum installations do. 

Karen Collins, Compton Cowboys, 2021
Another effectively counterintuitive choice is a set of historical dioramas from artist Karen Collins' African American Miniature Museum. 

The Gene Autry memorabilia has undergone a Radio Ranch death cleaning and is now confined to a single display case. 

Like a Pixar movie, this sort of museum installation needs to balance kid appeal with not boring parents to death. "Imagined Wests" retains popular bits like the green-screen display of movie technology (now encompassing dinosaurs and sharks) and toys (Toy Story as well as Hopalong Cassidy). Mom and Dad may appreciate text panels quoting Western thinkers from Dr. Dre to Mike Davis.