40 Prominent People | Susan McGarry

Susan McGarry
Former Editor of Southwest Art Magazine • Santa Fe, NM

Susan McGarry

Distinction: McGarry led Southwest Art for 18 years, establishing it as both chronicler and proponent of art in the western United States.
What was the western art world like when you joined Southwest Art in 1979? The contemporary western art world was well established. The Cowboy Artists of America was celebrating 13 years of exhibitions and the National Academy of Western Art exhibition was drawing big crowds. On the other hand, scholarship was in its infancy. That changed dramatically in the mid to late 1980s, as publishers and curators mined the history of western art, which made it possible to showcase contemporary artists alongside those from the past.
What was the biggest challenge of editing the magazine early on? The biggest challenge was establishing my philosophy that “western art” was a geographic denotation. This definition meant that we featured artists living west of the Mississippi River and that their art was not restricted to cowboy and Indian subjects, nor to photorealism.
What are some of the biggest changes in the art market that happened during your tenure? Early on, anyone who ever picked up a brush or piece of clay hopped onto the western art bandwagon. It was a crowded field of mediocrity. As the economy shifted, though, most of the “wannabes” fell by the wayside, allowing artists committed to their subjects to enjoy respect and recognition.
What accomplishment at the magazine are you most proud of? Creating a leadership voice in Southwest Art that continues to be responsive to the needs of art makers, sellers, and buyers. There were many steps in making this happen: In 1982 we published the first encyclopedia of living artists in the field. In 1989 we did our first annual price index. In 1991 we began publishing a comprehensive annual guide to artists and galleries. On our 25th anniversary in 1995, we created a traveling museum exhibition of Southwest Art cover artists.
What have you been up to since leaving Southwest Art in 1997? Since 2000 I have been the administrative and media director of the Plein-Air Painters of America. I’ve also authored numerous catalogs and books on top artists. For the past seven years I’ve also worked with ARTsmart, a nonprofit organization that raises money for art programs in Santa Fe schools.

Featured in “40 Prominent People” in May 2011.