Visual Arts

The Phoenix Art Museum's "The West Select" Seeks to Redefine The West

If you are already a regular at some of the many Western-themed galleries in Old Town Scottsdale, mosey on over to the Phoenix Art Museum this month to check out the museum's second installment of the annual exhibition The West Select. And seriously, don't forget your cowboy hat.

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The West Select series came about last year as a replacement for the Cowboy Artists of America exhibition that had taken place at the Phoenix Art Museum for 37 years prior to its relocation to Oklahoma City in 2011. The museum split with the group of artists who formed Cowboy Artists of America due to declining ticket sales and a divergence in vision for the potential of the show.

As the museum's new annual exhibition of the same genre, The West Select is tailored to incorporate a wider range of artworks that could bring new meaning to Western American art.

The exhibition includes works by 33 artists well-established in the field of contemporary Western American art including William Acheff, Merrill Mahaffey and Ed Mell. This year's iteration of the show, which doubles as an art sale, includes nearly 100 pieces of various media -- from photographs to bronze sculptures. The subject matter is basically what you would expect for such a truly genre-driven exhibition (Think: cowboys, horses, and barns), but there are few stand-outs that take a different approach to defining 'The West'.

For instance, Dean Mitchell's watercolors are incredible in terms of technique, but they also differentiate themselves thematically, conveying a heavy sense of desolation. His images of abandoned buildings beg us to give pause and reconsider some of the stereotypes of the genre.

Similarly, the selection of work from well-respected photographer Jay Dusard explores an abstract side of the landscape that is hardly identifiable as Western at all. (Though Dusard does also have a strong history of work more typical to the genre).

Overall the exhibit is still probably best-suited for those already drawn to Western art, but if you find yourself at the museum over the next month, it's worth a walkthrough even if you aren't typically a fan of cowboys and horses.

The West Select: A New Western Classic is on view at the Phoenix Art Museum through December 31st. Visit the Phoenix Art Museum's event page to learn more about the exhibition or take a look at the Men's Art Council price guide if you are interested in purchasing any of the art.

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Katrina Montgomery