The Autry: Not Your Father's Cowboy Museum

The Autry Museum surprises visitors with thought provoking and expansive, contemporary exhibits.

By Jerry Ough, Staff Writer

A bronze statue of the influential country musician Gene Autry and his horse both wear face masks and sit in the courtyard of the Autry Museum of the American West. (Photo by Jeremy Ruiz/The Valley Star)

Ask anyone about the Autry Museum of the American West and they will likely talk about cowboys, horses, guns, saddles and the old, mythical 'Wild West' in general. A visit to the museum's campus in Griffith Park reveals a surprisingly complex and thoroughly contemporary expression of the environment, history, people and places that make up the southwestern American landscapes.

The museum is located at 4700 Western Heritage Way in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. After being closed for nearly a year, most of the Autry is now open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Pandemic measures are in effect at the museum; face masks are required for everyone over the age of 2, social distancing signs have been placed throughout the Autry, frequently touched surfaces are cleaned throughout the day, hand sanitizer is available at stations throughout the museum and capacity has been reduced.

There are enlightening exhibits highlighting cowboy culture. The newly renovated Cowboy Gallery, featuring new videos and a full-size chuck wagon, highlights the evolution of this iconic figure of the American West. The Journeys and Westen Frontiers galleries offer displays of the unique historical artifacts from the Autry and the Autry's Southwest Museum collections.

The Autry also explores and showcases works of art in many forms representing the cultures and people that have historically made up the Western United States. Paintings, photographs, textiles, sculptures, clothing and machines in the “Art of the West” exhibit in the Autry's Irene Helen Jones Parks Gallery of Art bring together what the Autry website refers to as a "dynamic and evolving world of art that springs from the cultural practices of some of the many peoples who have shaped the American West.”

The Autry, to its credit, has broadened its scope. Bold thought provoking and often disturbing contemporary exhibits examine the current state of the American West and the history that led up to the state of the West today.

“The first of its kind to explore how shared values and interests have inspired artists from different cultures and times to create distinctive, powerful works that speak to their experience of the West as both a destination and a home."

The museum's representations of Native American culture and history are especially notable for their honest, unflinching assessment of both the current and past state of indigenous American people. The Autry’s George Montgomery Gallery invites visitors in for “When I Remember I See Red: American Indian Art and Activism in California.” The exhibition features California-based Native American artists whose works, as the Autry Museum website says, are meant to "restore aspects of ceremony, dance, language, and material culture.” The Bank of America Gallery features a fascinating look at how people interact with, are shaped by, and sometimes themselves shape western ecosystems particularly in California. The “Salmon,” “Fire,” “Desert” and “Plants'' sections of the “Human Nature” exhibit focus attention on four issues in California that illustrate the effects of human activity on the ecology.

One exhibit designed to inspire visitors to explore the museum's own back yard is “Investigating Griffith Park” in the Samuel & Minna Grodin Gallery. Long time Angelenos might be surprised to discover the remarkable history, expansive resources of the park.

“The Griffith Park history kind of stuck on to me the most just because there’s so much history going on here,” said Garland Cheng from Temple City visiting the Autry with his family. “And just living here for almost 35 years, I’ve not experienced much of it yet and I think after looking at the exhibit I want to start exploring more.”

Admission is $14 for adults, $10 for students and seniors over 60 and $6 for children 3-12. Admission is free for museum members, children under 2, active duty military and veterans. More additional information about the Autry online at