The Autry National Center of the American West

IMG_1282Griffith Park in Los Angeles has been home to The Autry since it first opened in 1988. The Autry houses a collection that showcases the art, history, and cultures of those who have lived in the American West. Their mission statement is more so reflected in their displays than most museums today: The Autry brings together the stories of all peoples of the American West, connecting the past with the present to inspire our shared future.

IMG_1290I had not looked up their mission statement until just now as I sat down to write this blog. Yet when I visited the Autry, I did come away with a feeling that the museum wanted to show the history of a diverse American Western past, and make it relevant to our present time. What an accomplishment for them! When was the last time YOU visited a museum that was so blatantly following their mission statement?

I went with my partner on a quiet and hot Saturday morning. We were able to roam the galleries in peace with little disturbance. We started with their ongoing exhibitions, our two favorites being Art of the West and California Impressionism. Click on the links for more information about these exhibitions. I was struck by how easy it was to navigate the galleries of these exhibitions- the flow was effortless. I did not feel as if I had to backtrack to cover lost ground, or unsure of where to go next. It was very clear how a visitor was intended to progress through the spaces, which for me, made things very stress free. The colors of the galleries complimented the vibrant artwork without being distracting, and the displays were interesting rather than detrimental.

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The museum was not difficult to move around in, and was only two floors with several elevators for those who require disabled access. There were no spaces that I found narrow or uncomfortably cramped, and it was comfortably cool throughout the museum. We were there for three hours, but it could be easily done in two. We also stopped in the gift shop, which had a nice selection of books and nic nacs available for sale. I picked up a few things for Christmas stockings, as it is never to early! We did not eat in their café, but the aroma of the food was pleasing- maybe next time. The downstairs has a large open area with rugs, tables, an board games, making it a great space for families with small children to hang out and play for a bit or to host events.

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Going to Trade by Jim C. Norton, born 1953

IMG_1294This museum really does shave something for everyone. Movie set costumes, art, guns, sculpture, photography, retro western toys, you name it they probably have it. And it goes so much further beyond the variety of the collection itself, but also displays their mission statement to represent the numerous cultures that have called the West their home. Their collections also show that they are continuing to make new acquisitions while still retaining their long loved treasures. They had the costumes from the new (well, relatively new from 2013) Johnny Depp movie The Lone Ranger. On the other hand, they still have the movie set objects used in movies that my parents loved like the peace pipe from Jeremiah Johnson, which premiered in 1972.
The galleries also had come interactive elements that we enjoyed. Displays included leather and animal fur that could be touched, along with a fun green screen activity that my partner did- I have not laughed so hard in a long time! I tweeted the video (click here to see it on twitter) last week during #MuseumHour on museum memories and got quite a few likes and laughs from other tweeters. And yes, my partner knows that he is becoming an Internet sensation! Memes are next, I am sure of it.

One of the galleries is under partial reconstruction, but it did not interfere with my experience at all. The sign notifications at the Autry are plentiful. If an object is being conserved, there is a sign. If an area of being worked on, there is a sign. I am a naturally nosey person, so I appreciated knowing what was going on.

One of the other exhibitions we enjoyed was the New Acquisitions Featuring the Kaufman Collection. I liked that it iss called ‘new acquisitions’- again, I as a visitor am able to know (especially if I was to be a repeat visitor) that something new is there, and I need to stop in. This exhibition does not shy away from controversial topics such as racism, genocide, and frankly right versus wrong. Embossed on the walls are some profound statements and quotes that really draw attention to the chaos and conflict around these issues both in the past and today.

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Overall, I would really recommend this museum to anyone of any age, be they a local or a visitor from afar. I am not a huge fan of American History (hence my reasoning for studying in the UK), but I still enjoyed visiting the Autry, and also felt that it was an enriching experience for myself. I have a new appreciation for it. The Autry seems to be a diverse and interesting pace that has a lot going on, including an object handling program with schools. Frankly, please visit just to enjoy how friendly the front of house staff and gallery assistants are! The Autry will not disappoint.

Peace and long life.

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