By Kristin Hoerth
When the Cowboy Artists of America and the Phoenix Art Museum parted ways last year and the museum announced that it would present a new fall western art show, art lovers across the country had their curiosity piqued. Right away, it was clear that The West Select: A New Western Classic would be distinctively different from its predecessor. Those who attended the show’s opening weekend in late October, as I did, or visited the exhibition in the weeks following can attest that it was, in fact, a brand-new experience. The work on view in the beautiful galleries included paintings of iconic western landscapes, still lifes featuring western objects, and sculptures of western wildlife like elk, buffalo, and more. There were cowboys and Indians and horses, too. Some of the works were rendered in a classically realistic style; others were created in styles that reflected touches of pop art, modernism, and abstract expressionism. It was wide-ranging in the best sense.
Some observers will no doubt debate the merits of this broader view of the West. There will be those who believe that the authentic art of the West is to be found only at the traditional end of the artistic spectrum, following as closely as possible in the footsteps of the early western artists and illustrators. Others will protest that such historically minded styles are out of date and irrelevant in today’s art world. I disagree with both perspectives, because in my opinion, any heartfelt depiction of the West—as it has been, or as it is today—is a valid and important contribution to the region’s artistic legacy. We live in a wonderful corner of the country, with terrain, people, animals, and a mindset not found anywhere else. The most important consideration is not the particular quirks of style or approach chosen by the artists. The most important thing is to capture and preserve this place in beautiful and compelling artwork that will last for generations.—January 2012