Originally Published March 22, 2007
Dear CSUN administration,
As a forward thinking college that is about to turn the page and enter a new paradigm as an educational institution, perhaps the administration can help explain the reasoning behind the recently added Washington Mutual Gallery.
Does a series of bronze statues of cowboys and Indians really fit in and add to this campus? If so, what are these bronze statues doing in the halls of the kinesiology and physical education departments? Isn’t it a problem that the gallery’s old-fashioned artwork is so out of tune with tastes of this young college population? What about the fact that the gallery’s theme is at best old-fashioned and at worst a reinforcement of racist stereotypes?
Speaking on the behalf of students and fans of contemporary art alike, the Sundial Staff honestly believes no students will care about these nostalgic and dated celebrations of the ‘Wild West.’ The artwork would be more appropriately displayed in the Chatsworth branch location where they came from. There, many older customers could stop to look at the cowboys in mid-gallop and reminiscence about their own youth and how much they loved John Wayne-movies.
These statues are inappropriate on this campus because the Wild West-theme lends itself to a past era filled with blatantly racist depictions of American Indians and unproblematic heroic portrayals of westward expansionism.
According to the artist description, Jackson’s work “individualizes” the archetypes of the old West. Although Jackson’s humanizing representations may be favorable in regards to the realistic sculptures of cowboys, the indigenous people are portrayed in a less flattering manner. American Indians are represented as unemotional and vulnerable characters, some with faces painted dark orange and all of them either naked or wrapped in large blankets.
The gallery seems misplaced and should have featured young artists, whose work CSUN students can relate to and be inspired by. Everything about the donation resembles a marketing scheme and suggests that it’s the corporate name, not the art, that is the gallery’s main purpose. The donor’s name is prominently displayed at four places in close proximity to the Redwood Hall lobby, where about 30,000 people pass annually to enjoy sports events.
We understand the importance of keeping good relations with local businesses is something the college shouldn’t overlook. But perhaps the administration should pursue more donations that actually add to the kind of cultural experience students want.