Editor’s Letter | Interpreting the West

By Kristin Hoerth

Every year the art world seems to take a bit of a breather over the holiday season. There are a number of important annual shows in November and early December, but after that the calendar gets much quieter. Then in January the gala events begin again, and for me, that means it’s time to attend the Coors Western Art Show here in Denver, which is held in conjunction with the National Western Stock Show. This year, as usual, the Coors show opened on the first Wednesday after New Year’s Day, so it’s a wonderful way to kick off the year.

A Glimpse of Lake Gadsby by Skip Whitcomb won the Artists’ hoice Award at the Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale.

I find the Coors show unique in several ways: For one thing, it’s held on the Stock Show grounds, in a cavernous hall with bare concrete floors and soaring ceilings. The gallery itself is attractive and well-lit, but outside of that room, it’s much different than the environs of other shows. More importantly, the show presents a highly eclectic mix of artistic styles that you don’t see at many other shows. The artworks range from the very traditional to the very contemporary, but all of them are closely tied to the West and its subjects. To me, this combination is refreshing and exciting and rarely predictable. This year’s artists did a terrific job of presenting vibrant new works; many were large canvases and many were exceptionally colorful. It was a treat to see so many different portrayals of the West’s landscape, people, and animals.

The day after the show opened, the Denver Art Museum held its annual WinterWest symposium; this year’s theme was A Distant View: European Perspectives on Western American Art. What a fascinating shift in focus from the previous evening! The museum’s Petrie Institute for Western American Art presented three different speakers. First Peter Bolz of Germany spoke about the impact on European audiences of Karl Bodmer’s and George Catlin’s early Indian paintings. Then Laurent Salomé of France discussed the relationship between fine art and commercial illustration in paintings of the American West. Finally, Sam Smiles of England considered the influence of renowned British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner on American artists such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran.

Throughout the day, it was interesting to take a step back from the genre I know so well and see it with a completely different perspective. It’s useful to remember that all of the art we admire today is created as part of a long continuum that stretches back hundreds of years and spans the globe! -March 2011