Chronicling the western art world for 45 years
By Kristin Hoerth
This story was featured in the May 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art May 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
I’ve got to hand it to the person on Southwest Art’s staff—I don’t know who it was—who decided, early on, that it would be a good idea to put aside one copy of each issue to be protected for posterity in a set of bound volumes. Each of these heavy hard-cover books contains half a dozen or so issues, depending on their thickness. The set fills a giant bookshelf in our editorial office just outside of Denver, and it’s been lugged through at least four office moves. (Today, of course, we archive digital versions of each issue, but that wasn’t possible decades ago.)
Without these volumes, many of the earliest editions of the magazine would be gone forever by now. And that would make it harder to appreciate the enormous evolution that has happened over the past 45 years, not just in the magazine itself but in the art market that the magazine has both chronicled and helped shape.
In those early issues of the 1970s, you see a wild variety of art and artists—anything that was on view in Southwestern galleries or museums was fair game. Back then the art market outside of the East Coast was just beginning to gather steam, and there was a noticeable effort to prove its worth. Today there are substantial art enclaves all across the western United States, from Santa Fe to Jackson Hole and beyond. Considering the abundance of auctions, shows, and galleries and the millions of dollars worth of art transacted here annually, there’s no doubt of the western art world’s viability.
As the market grew and changed through the 1980s and ’90s, so too did the magazine: While traditional western artwork was thriving, scenes of cowboys and Indians dominated our covers. When plein-air painting surged in popularity, that’s reflected in the magazine, as well. A long list of issue themes (landscapes, sculpture, and modern art, for example) and monthly columns (Creative Process, The $5,000 Question, and Photo Finish, to name a few) have come and gone over the years, reflecting the changing tastes of the art world. Even the design and typography that shaped our pages—cringe-worthy though it may be now—represented the trends of the day.
To consider the magazine’s history on its 45th anniversary is to consider the fascinating history of the western art world, with its many ups and downs, twists and turns. Here’s to many more decades of enjoying the ride.
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