Sunday, July 7, 2013

Museum Hopping In OKC

In Oklahoma for a few weeks to tend to some family matters, I broke away for most of Saturday to visit two great OKC museums worth a special trip for the locals and for those passing through these parts.

The first stop was the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, currently hosting the photography exhibition "Herb Ritts: Beauty and Celebrity."

Until checking out the enormous black and white prints, my only prior experience putting on the Ritts was through the purchase of Madonna's "True Blue" album for which Herb was the photographer. His images of Prince, a super model or two and a portrait of Jack Nicholson's grin enlarged by a well-placed magnifying glass also got easy recognition on the OKC gallery walls.

I liked the exhibition for the enormous images of Christopher
Reeve, Nelson Mandela, Louis Armstrong and a handful of other celebrity images.

Favorites include the more abstract or "artsy" images like "Woman in Sea," "Neith with Shadows" (both the front and back versions) and "Mask" featuring a gorgeous brunette woman hiding behind her long locks.
Though the first image of the exhibition features a diver, and there are numerous images with clearly athletic subjects mocking Greek or Roman gods and goddesses, I was surprised and a little bummed Olympic athletes don't seem to be part of Ritts' repertoire -- all those years of beauty and celebrity but no Olympians? What's up with that? Did Annie Leibovitz get a monopoly on the famous five-ringed set?

The Olympic-free status of Ritts' portfolio (I looked in every book of his work) is all the more surprising since so many of his projects had Hollywood ties. Driving away from the exhibition it puzzled me wondering "where was Herb?" during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics? Oh, well.

The second museum of the day featured a trek to Persimmon Hill overlooking I-44, where an enormous statue of Buffalo Bill on horseback beckons everyone to visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Best bets at this museum include:
  • A room of Frederick Remington canvases, sketches and
    sculpture, including one bronze for which there was only one cast, and a selection of Charles Russell works
  • An extensive collection of works by Charles Schreyvogel, a lesser known and extremely talented Western artist
  • Western Performers gallery, including portraits by Norman Rockwell and LeRoy Neiman, details about Oklahoman Will Rogers, and memorabilia from more than a century of cowboy cinema (the mini-movie theatre documentary on the history of Westerns is well done).
  • A Native American gallery on par with the Detroit Institute of Arts' similar and expansive collection
  • Monumental sculptures and paintings including four Southwest weather-themed triptychs that are the biggest canvases I've ever seen.
The museum is home to the annual Prix de West competition celebrating its 40th year. On view are hundreds of contemporary Western art works, many of which are for sale. I wish my bank account had enough funds to let me take home a George Carlson landscape painting (priced like a new Volvo and worth every penny).

There's at least one Olympic connection to the Cowboy collection as President Ronald Reagan got inducted into the Hall of Fame on the eve of U.S. Olympic Festival '89 in OKC (after the induction he spoke at the Opening Ceremonies in Norman, Okla.). Of course you can learn all about Olympic level rodeo competitions in the museum as well.

And another nice surprise at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is the expansive gardens south of the main gallery buildings. From this outdoor vantage there are great views of the Buffalo Bill monument and "The End of the Trail" in the museum main entry. Y'all head on over there when you can.

Photos via Herb Ritts Foundation/OKC Museum of Art and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

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