Is Art Becoming More Accessible or Just Less Pretentious?

By all appearances, it was intended to endear art to a Western populace not necessarily familiar with Manet and Renoir. So when the Whitney Gallery of Western Art opened in Cody, Wyoming with a bronze of Buffalo Bill Cody courtesy of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the hope was to draw in people who didn’t know art but knew what they liked. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the “cowboy art” museum may have potentially had a hand in expanding the definitions of western art, for better or worse.

Long considered a highfalutin world restricted to the gilded set, some interesting sources have worked to open up the art world to Joe Sixpack. The most high-profile art commission comes from the Dallas Cowboys of all people. With the hallowed pro football team opening a new billion-dollar stadium this year, Gene Jones, the wife of team owner Jerry Jones, has commissioned an exhibit of contemporary art to be unveiled at the team’s first regular season game. How the art mixes with the beer and football remains to be seen, but it could be just the latest sign that the art world is finally expanding.


In New York, a town where the pretensions of contemporary art have been seen in every corner of the city, a number of new exhibits are looking to reshape local understanding of the art world. In the historic Bowery area, acclaimed singer/songwriter Ryan Adams will be debuting a collection of paintings and mixed-media collages this September at the Morrison Hotel. That same month, street artist D*Face will open an exhibit of his work at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery. Both openings are expected to draw crowds not normally confined to traditional art circles.

While traveling sneaker exhibits like Sneaker Pimps have changed the face of art, some unique causes have reshaped its mission. In Glaveston, Texas, which was torn apart last year by Hurricane Ike, trees destroyed by the storm are now being converted into sculptures in an effort to retain some of the town’s beauty following the destruction of roughly 40,000 trees. Of course, while the art world begins to take on a more universal appeal, there are still plenty of bizarre pieces even art enthusiasts might not quite understand. Like a $30,000 bronze sculpture shaped like a cardboard box that will go on sale at Christie’s next month. But if Dallas Cowboys fanatics can enjoy some contemporary art before kickoff, then perhaps anyone can appreciate art.

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