For nearly a century, Western art was dismissed in favor of international modernism. But then a funny thing happened: In the late twentieth century, the market for Western-themed paintings and sculptures soared, forcing institutions like the Denver Art Museum to scramble to catch up as prices skyrocketed. (This is why the premier collection of Western art in town belongs to billionaire Philip Anschutz and not the DAM.)
A subset of this tradition, contemporary Western art, has also taken hold, particularly in the past few years. Not limited to neo-traditional landscapes or cowboys and Indians (though that's a big chunk of it), this branch of art ranges into postmodern and neo-modern essays on Western subjects and is mostly being done by artists who live in the West.
Western Not Western, at the William Havu Gallery, was put together by gallery owner Bill Havu and his man Friday, Nick Ryan, who cherry-picked pieces by artists in their stable. The exhibit is meant to showcase the Western style while upending expectations about the topic. So while there are landscapes, for example, they are mostly not traditional, with some being abstracted and others conventionalized or even referred to conceptually. The work is Western in subject, but not Western in style — hence the catchy title.
Western Not Western
There are some artists who are straightforward representational painters, such as Jeff Aeling and James Cook or even Rick Dula, who's a hyperrealist. Others, like Sushe Felix (whose "Moonlit Canyon" is pictured), Tracy Felix and Tony Ortega, translate Western imagery into their own individual and highly idiosyncratic styles. Then there are artists whose work is more removed, like the abstract-expressionist-related scenes by Sam Scott, the fractured imagery of Lui Ferreyra, Emilio Lobato's Latino stripes, and the smeary action paintings of the late Jeremy Hillhouse. Among the others who fill out this show is gallery newcomer Nancy Lovendahl, who is mostly associated with conceptual earth art; here she lays out the same ideas with tabletop ceramics instead of her well-known monumental installations.
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Western Not Western runs through September 28 — that's this Saturday — at the William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street. Call 303-893-2360 or go to williamhavugallery.com for more information.