The West Select: Phoenix Art Museum

This story was featured in the November 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine.

When the announcement was made in 2011 that the Cowboy Artists of America’s annual show would relocate to Oklahoma City, the Phoenix Art Museum—which had hosted the CAA show for 37 years—had a new opportunity. “It was time to take our annual exhibition in a different direction,” says Jerry Smith, the museum’s curator of American and western American art.

That direction quickly evolved into The West Select, a new annual show that, says Smith, offers “a broader take on the West.” Its purview expanded beyond cowboy and Native American images to include contemporary western life, landscapes, still lifes, and wildlife; mediums like photography, watercolor, and drawing along with oils and sculptures; and even styles sometimes veering toward modernism. Last year’s first show offered about 110 works by a roster of 31 top artists. This year’s edition, settling into a less-crowded new time slot, includes four more artists in the lineup.

“We’ve only invited artists who we feel are at the finest moments in their careers, capable of producing something worthy of being in our collection,” says Smith. That’s a lofty goal. But the results of the 2011 show bear it out, with four of those works eventually purchased by or donated to the museum itself.

Participating artists consider The West Select a hit on multiple levels. “It takes a very inclusive, high-quality view,” says William F. Shepherd, who is sending three of his “shadow paintings,” dramatically lit, meticulously detailed still-life oils of American Indian artifacts. “I am impressed by how it melds diverse outlooks and interpretations to broaden the scope of what ‘the West’ means,” adds oil painter Ann Hanson, whose four contributions include THE LIGHT OF DAY, depicting a modern-day cowboy and his horse framed in the light of the barn door.

Ann Hanson, The Light of Day, oil, 18 x 24.

Ann Hanson, The Light of Day, oil, 18 x 24.

A “less romantic view” of the contemporary West can be seen in the exquisitely composed realistic watercolors of Dean Mitchell, which portray, he says, “vacant homes and buildings that once had a voice in their community, from the reservation area near the Phoenix airport.” By contrast, Len Chmiel says his oil painting BLACK CANYON RAINBOWS “builds on an abstract structure to define a recognizable subject.”

The West Select kicks off on Friday, November 9, with a private viewing and luncheon for ticketed patrons; the presentation of awards; and, that evening, a fixed-price sale. The show opens to the general public on Sunday and remains on display through December 31.

“This way,” sums up Jerry Smith, “visitors from all over the country will have a chance to see it.” And that’s only appropriate, he says, considering that “the West is much broader than just a geographic location. It speaks to a lot of different parts of American culture.” —Norman Kolpas