Not that there would be much room for them. The setup for the collection is somewhat established on the main level, where scores of paintings have been hung salon-style, so that their frames virtually touch one another. It's amazing — almost like having wallpaper made out of masterpieces. The AMWA describes itself as being "one of the world's premier collections of Western art," and the case is made here, as well as on the upper floors; three of the Navarre's five stories are given over to galleries.

I'd been inside the Navarre when it was owned by Foxley, but not since Anschutz bought it, and my tour this time was led by the DAM's Joan Carpenter Troccoli and Anschutz curator Darlene Dueck. (Tours are the only way to see the AMWA, and they need to be booked on the museum's website.)

The collection has many strengths in a number of different areas. There are works by the earliest Western artists, notably George Catlin. There are the spectacular exemplars of the Hudson River and Rocky Mountain school painters like Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran. There are the great chroniclers of the end of the frontier era, like Frederic Remington and Charles Schreyvogel. All of these works, as different as they may be from one another, convey the popular image of Western art, with cowboys, Indians, mountains and plains abounding.

The American Museum of Western Art — The Anschutz Collection opened to the public this month.
christopher morgan
The American Museum of Western Art — The Anschutz Collection opened to the public this month.

The rise of modernism in the West led to a downplaying of these established Western icons, though, and to a split in the Western art world. The conservative position abandons Western art where it intersects with modernism, while the progressive group embraces the material that has a modern edge. Interestingly, though Anschutz is renowned for being a political conservative, as an art collector he's been a progressive — and a trailblazing one, at that. There are many examples of expressionism, cubism, futurism and even abstract expressionism in the AMWA's collection.

The modernist works, on the second level, are some of the most impressive pieces here. "Wild Horse Race," by Frank Mechau, abstracts a scene of cowboys on stallions — and it is absolutely stunning. Other first-rate modernist works with a Western twang include pieces by Birger Sandzén, John Marin and Marsden Hartley.

Even though it's now open, the American Museum of Western Art is still flying below the radar — the appeal of its spectacular collection and that of the Navarre itself notwithstanding. My advice is to arrange a tour to check it out as soon as possible.

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