Native Land: Photographs from the Robert G. Lewis Collection
Native Land: Photographs from the Robert G. Lewis Collection featured sixty-one photographs of the American West from the nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries, including both landscapes and portraits of Native Americans. The exhibition allows visitors to explore a crucial time in United States history, when our country went through profound changes. The best collectors can change the way we think about both history and art. Their insights about an object or artist, a medium, or a particular style, can lead us to new understandings or interpretations. In extraordinary images of a world unseen by most Americans of the time, Lewis’s collection prompts us to a new understanding of our westward expansion.
Lewis is a lawyer in Denver, Colorado. His focus is natural resource and energy law, a concentration echoed in his collecting. During the last two decades he has acquired more than 200 photographs. Like many great collectors, he possesses an eye for beautiful objects, and a deeply personal desire to own and understand them. Born in 1956 in New York City, Lewis belongs to a collecting family, and quite naturally developed an acquisitive urge. He first went west from New York in 1972 and settled in Denver in 1978. His move to the Rocky Mountain region changed his outlook, and the photographs in his collection have become windows through which to see his adopted home more clearly.
Unlike many collectors, Lewis meticulously researches the artists, subjects, and technical details of the images he has acquired. Frustrated with historical errors that have circulated in print, he wants to correct the record. Equally important in the formation of his collection is his recognition that these photographs belong together.
Museums and scholars rarely focus on the relationship between landscapes and portraits of the West, even though they were often made at the same time and by many of the same artists. Hoping to encourage investment in the territories, government officials and businessmen created an image of an open, available country by commissioning photo-graphers to document it. Their photographs often excluded or de-emphasized the presence of native peoples. By juxtaposing the pictures, Lewis performs an act of historical restoration. For him, the land and its native inhabitants, seen collectively, tell a compelling story of our country and its ambitious origins.
Native Land: Photographs from the Robert G. Lewis Collection was organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art. This exhibition was made possible by a generous grant from Sandia Pueblo, an American Indian sovereign nation.
Additional support has been provided by Anne and Ronald Abramson, and Jean and Duane Beckhorn.