By Margaret L. Brown
Over the past two of years this column has identified trends in the western American art market, ranging from the preponderance of museum expansions to the emergence of the young dot-com collector. On the occasion of Southwest Art’s 30th anniversary, we take a look back at some of the forecasts made in the early years of the magazine as the western art market boomed.
It started in the premiere issue in 1971 with an article discussing the recent burst of growth in the market and in buying art as an investment. “More people than ever are collecting art for investment appreciation,” noted one prominent Houston dealer. The article asserted that fine-art prices had been increasing at a rate of about 30 percent a year, and that the number of collectors, dealers, and marketable artists was multiplying rapidly. “One industry observer estimates that Southwestern galleries have tripled in number in the last decade,” it said.
Publisher William E. Freckleton expounded on this growth trend in the face of a recession in his February 1972 editorial column. “The Southwest has consistently ridden the crest of national waves of depression. And in the 1970s it is no different. New York has been feeling the effects of the national economic downswing and like many other art markets has turned its attention to the Southwest. With national and international attention focused on the Southwest, it will become increasingly popular to attend art shows and visit galleries and museums,” he wrote. At the end of the year, Freckleton continued his positive assessment, saying that since 1970 the southwestern art market had grown “from a fledging child to nearly a mature adult.”
The frenzy of enthusiasm about western art as a sound investment continued in a 1973 article titled “Western Bronzes as an Invest-ment Medium,” which stated that “despite the bad slump in both business and the stock market, the valuation of Western art has apparently continued to forge steadily ahead. Certain it is that West-ern bronzes have shown no inclination to diminish in value.”
Freckleton’s optimism continued unabated despite some serious national economic problems. “Yes, 1974, with its energy problems and turbulent economy may have some surprisingly beneficial effects on our Southwest art market if we in the art community keep forging ahead with an eye toward that brave new world,” he wrote in January of that year. Among these benefits was that “with the prospect of fewer tourists this year, galleries which have ridden the wave of the ’70s art boom will be forced to take a long hard look at themselves, for there will be new survival rules for 1974 and the future. There will be no room for mediocre art and artists who can’t produce.”
Certainly the mid-1970s continued to be a successful period for the Cowboy Artists of America, as attested to by an article on the group’s 10th anniversary in the October 1975 issue. “The patrons of this group are sold on CAA art both from the pleasure of ownership and for investment,” it said, “spurred on perhaps by such people as the Texas banking executive who at the 1974 CAA seminar revealed that his bank loans money to buyers of western art and then loans money on the art.”
Within just a few years, though, the market would change, and the craze of buying art solely as an investment would begin to fall out of fashion for the average buyer. But what remains in fashion still is an editorial mission statement outlined in the first issue of 1979: “While many artists in the West prefer to work in traditional styles, many others are interpreting western themes in contemporary ways. We have no quarrel with either approach and will continue to present the work we consider worthy by artists who live in the West or whose work is inspired by the West or exhibited in the West. We hope that our goals continue to coincide with your interests.”
Featured in May 2001