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Cody museum acquires first Andy Warhol artwork that curator hopes prompts conversations about history, legends and mythology

Screenprint portrait of General Armstrong Custer.
Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Andy Warhol created a portrait of General Custer as part of his “Cowboy and Indians” series.

The Whitney Western Art Museum in Cody recently acquired its first artwork by Andy Warhol. It’s a portrait of General George Armstrong Custer.

In the screenprint, Custer wears his personalized uniform. With his arms folded, he looks away from the viewer.

“It’s just so visually appealing with the bright blue jacket, the golds, the maroon colors,” said Susan Barnett, Curator of the Whitney Western Art Museum.

While the colors draw people in to look closer, Barnett hopes they take time to think about who this controversial person in our history really was. Some see him as a military hero, while others highlight the atrocities he inflicted on Indigenous people.

Custer and his troops were defeated by Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors in the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn in what was then Montana territory. He was sent to the area to scout for Native Americans who did not want to move onto reservations.

“What does this mythology, what does this legend, what does it mean to me? How do I feel about that battle, about this man who has been held up as a hero and as a villain?” she said.

The portrait of Custer is part of Warhol’s “Cowboys and Indians” series. He created the portrait in 1986.

“These portraits of the West...he did late in his career. He was always fascinated by the West, not so much the history of the West as how it ties into our cultural memory, our collective memory, and the mythology and the way we dress and the way children play,” Barnett said.

The portrait is now on display at the Whitney Western Art Museum located at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and will be part of an exhibition next year that looks at how Western art and pop art intersect.

Olivia Weitz is based at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody. She covers Yellowstone National Park, wildlife, and arts and culture throughout the region. Olivia’s work has aired on NPR and member stations across the Mountain West. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom story workshop. In her spare time, she enjoys skiing, cooking, and going to festivals that celebrate folk art and music.

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