Denver Bar Association
January 2001
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The Wild West in One Room

by Greg Rawlings

American West art fans, this is for you! Here until Jan. 21 at the Denver Art Museum.
By Greg Rawlings

One of the grander aspects of living in the West is the rather singular art of the region. It is an art of lush coloration, intriguing personalities and spectacular scenery. Seldom has this been so manifest as in the present show of the Anschutz Collection at the Denver Museum of Art. This show is the DAM at its finest: large, well-lit galleries, easy access and, in general, good signage. Personally, I enjoyed this exhibit more than the much-ballyhooed Matisse show, which wasn't as alive with genius as Matisse shows I've seen elsewhere.

It is a huge show. Gallery after gallery teems with a cornucopia of images of the plains, the mountains, the desert and the awesome western sky. It is a dazzling show. Bright yellows and deep reds meet under crisp blues; sunburned faces squint under dark, enigmatic eyes. There is something almost operatic about so much natural grandeur. Early in the show, you are treated to massive Bierstadt vistas, hints of a Colorado long past yet impossible to forget. Then comes the colorful if cartoonish Cowboys and Indians art of Russell and his ilk. Next, a vast gallery plastered floor to ceiling, wall to wall, with works, reminiscent of the way art was shown in the late-Victorian era. Then a small room of more subtle design and a long gallery rife with the iconic images of New Mexico, and finally the odd room at the end, which ranges from O'Keefe to Scholder. The whole of the American West seems to have been crowded into one chunk of the first floor of one museum.

Individual highlights include John Marin's Picasso-like Blue Sky, Mountain Aspens, and the Roaring Hondo; B.J.O. Nordfeldt's strange Still Life with Santo; a number of interesting studies of Taos, its people and environs, by Walter Ufer and Ernest Blumenshein, especially the latter's Sangre de Christo Mountains, with its exquisite play of light over the village, which acts to divert your eyes from the man surrounded by women, carrying a cross in the foreground. There also is a subtle Stuart Davis of an adobe in the last room that warrants special mention--contrast it to a far less rewarding O'Keefe on the same subject-matter across the room. Generally, the Taos School painters steal the show, as most people would expect.

Lesser pleasures include the above-mentioned salon-style format in one gallery. This keeps you from being able to focus properly on individual works and makes adequate signage impossible. Plus, it causes hideous traffic jams among on-lookers. Another problem, pointed out to me by local western art aficionado Craig Skinner, is the dearth of Colorado Springs painters. There is a nice Messau mural-like painting but it's simply not enough for such an important group of artists, our state's one big contribution to quality regional art this century. Also, I'd have liked something by Russell Chatham, our greatest living western landscape painter. Lastly, I wish the DAM (and other museums) would provide times when serious art fans can wander through the galleries looking at art without being assaulted by the scandalous hum of a hundred head phones--painting is a visual art, remember. But these are small squabbles with a show based on one man's personal and quite extraordinary collection.

Basically, don't miss this show. The DAM and Mr. Anshutz should be heartily commended for their efforts. And if any of my readers know Mr. Anshutz, please tell him I'd be glad to travel around the West collecting art for him, for the right price, of course.

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