Where’s Frederic Remington?
His “Bronco Buster,” arguably the most famous bronze sculpture by this popular “cowboys-and-Indians” artist, was chosen to energize the offices of a bipartisan roster of Presidents—Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. You can see it repeatedly whipped into a frenzy in the NY Times‘ The Art in the Oval Office—a photo essay by Matt Stevens and Larry Buchanan that appeared online two months ago, but very belatedly made it into the hardcopy paper this Monday.
But despite its multiple appearances in the photos, it is studiously ignored in both versions of the article. Missing from Monday’s version is this disclaimer, which had been included in the article’s interactive online version:
Note: We’ve done our best to be comprehensive, interviewing art historians and presidential scholars, reviewing hundreds of images and checking our lists with the White House and its curator’s office. But artworks come and go, and it’s possible we’ve missed a piece or two.
Missed? Those bucking broncos are impossible to “miss.” Conspicuously ignored by the Times’ staffers, they’re in plain sight in its photos of the White House offices of the six Commanders-in-Chief who are listed at the beginning of this post. The name of Remington, nowhere mentioned in the article’s text, is also not to be found in the detailed lists of exhibited artists published at the end of the article. This omission cannot be an accident.
So why is the master of steeds-in-motion unaccountably missing-in-action from the Times’ descriptions? Comments made by Laura Desmond, curator and education specialist at the Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY, provide a key to unlocking this mystery. She said this in January to Chris Brock of the Watertown Daily Times: “People see it [“Bronco Buster”] as metaphorical for the taming of the West by civilization.” The unspoken implication is that Native Americans were deemed “uncivilized”—a racist judgment. The NY Times’ editors must have decided, “Let’s not go there.”
My recognition of the drive to reevaluate America’s outdated cowboys-and-Indians mythology is what had previously led me to speculate that the Newark Museum might have regarded its own cast of “Bronco Buster” as expendable, because it embodied “outdated and harmful narratives that have hung in our galleries without enough questions being asked,” in the words of that museum’s justification for selling 17 pieces from its collection (most of which did not seem to have any connection to “outdated narratives”).
In this context, Joseph Epstein‘s diatribe against the “surrender to the dreariness of woke culture”—The Culture War Must Go On—on the “Opinion” page of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, has new resonance. I wouldn’t describe “woke culture” as “dreary.” I’d call it socially conscious censorship, with its dictatorial “cancellation” of free expression of controversial points of view (which I’ve previously criticized here and here).
For more on “Bronco Buster” (including the image, below, of two different versions), see my Feb. 4, 2014 post: “The American West in Bronze”: Action-Packed Casts at Metropolitan Museum (with video). Like Thayer Tolles, the Met’s curator for that show, I’m a bit of a “bronze junkie”:
Speaking of political incorrectness, the version of “Bronco Busters” in the foreground of the above image is of historic interest, having been presented to an appreciative Theodore Roosevelt in 1898 by his Rough Riders. The damage that Teddy’s mixed reputation has recently suffered from woke blokes is another story.
But let’s not go there…
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