Art history is often neatly told through the touchstones of individual artists and stylistic movements. West by Midwest tells a messier story of contemporary art—one that illuminates the ways that contemporary art practices spread and develop by tracing the intersecting lives of artists who have migrated from the American Midwest to the West Coast since the mid-20th century. Lured by career opportunities, warmer weather, and the prospect of a better life promised by the postwar boom, those artists who were able to migrate attended art schools together, shared studios, exhibited work in the same galleries, collaborated on projects, engaged in activism, and dated. Following these crisscrossing lines of kinship, West by Midwest reveals a network of artists and their shared experiences of making work and making a life.
Divided into six sections, West by Midwest presents more than 80 artworks in a wide variety of media, made by some 63 artists from the 1960s through the 2010s. Each section maps three overlapping forms of kinship: practice, or the ways that artists make and approach their work; place, or the spaces where artists congregate and exchange ideas; and people, or the manifold human relationships that compose artists’ personal and professional circles. This story of contemporary art’s spread from the Midwest to the West Coast focuses on formal, material, and historical affinities among these artists, disrupting the mythic solo journey to the western frontier founded on an aspirational ethos of American individualism and independence. Anchored by works in the MCA’s collection, West by Midwest eschews a definitive survey of individuals’ achievements to instead consider how artists move and make work within a larger field of relations.
West by Midwest is organized by Charlotte Ickes, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow. An extensive microsite accompanies the exhibition. It is presented in the Griffin Galleries of Contemporary Art.