Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Beside me is a foot-high stack of ‘zines that I’m supposed to sort and file as archives. But I’m running out of room and now there are two new magazines to consider. I’ve already got a backlog of Art of the West and Southwest Art as well as Wildlife Art. These have been engines of the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel for years now, though they’re a little different from each other.

Art of the West is bi-monthly and comes from Minnetonka, MINN, where the co-Publishers, Allan J. Duerr and Thomas F. Teirney, and the editor, Vicki Stavig, have their offices. But Bill Frazier, who is a Big Timber attorney specializing in art issues, is a contributing writer. He writes a back page noting scams and issues that have less to do with aesthetic questions than consumer affairs. Interestingly, the consumer in question is often the artist! Fraser was recently the head of the Montana Arts Council which also works for the benefit of artists.

One of the major aspects of the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel is the print market, which Bill Frazier recommends against, saying that artists occasionally become convinced -- often through the persuasions of an optimistic brother-in-law trying to help out -- that getting prints made of the more popular paintings will be a major economic breakthrough. But without contacts, a marketing plan, and other machinery of the industry, the artist merely ends up with boxes of prints in the garage, gradually wrinkling in the damp. My own bias is a little different: I see the reproduction market as the source of much of the industrializing, the coarsening if you like, of mass producing (the whole point of industrialization) and moral weakening of art. Think Thomas Kinkade. But then I’m an idealist and a romantic who thinks art should be “pure,” approaching religion. The print industry people, who have made Terpning a wealthy and rather callous man, try to keep that sort of fancy talk while all the time cranking out “limited editions” that are anything but -- merely “print runs.”

Art of the West
was started iin 1987. They do self-publishing, book-binding, and other related technologies, including print-making so it is rather surprising that Frazier takes a dour point of view.

Southwest Art is more broad-based in terms of genre and also in terms of geography: partly in San Francisco, partly in Florida, partly in Colorado, and with an editor, Susan Freilicher, of unspecified location. This mag is owned by Cruz Bay Publishing Co. which is owned by Active Interest Media. Inc. (“Log home dwelling vegetarian karate adepts,” according to Yahoo. 13.80 M in revenue in 2006 with 99 employees. Doesn’t say whether the head guy, Efrem Zimbalist III -- “Skip” if you know him personally -- is counted in that number. The official contact is in California.)

SWA is much more open to abstract art and Native American art (which are sometimes the same thing), but if you follow these 'zines you will see the same ads for the same galleries and auctions over and over. The editorial copy will support those ads so that you will see the same paintings and sculptures over and over, read the same names of the same artists again and again, until they’re far more familiar than the content of the art history course you took in college. Yet the content rarely says a lot that’s enlightening. NEVER anything that is critical. Everyone is the greatest.

American Art Review is out of Kansas and casts a much wider net in terms of subject matter, though it’s all representational. The articles themselves are written by professional academically trained curators and directors, which is quite different from the two ‘zines above. They tend to be formal and historical as well as analytical. They are attached to specific institutions, generally exploring one exhibit.

Wildlife Art is published by “Pothole Publications” based in California. You can buy a business profile for thirty bucks. (I won’t.) It overlaps a good bit with the “cowboy” subject matter but it is a distinct genre and I’ll come back to it in a later post. It’s a dollar less, a little more naive, a little thinner in size.

So now back to the newer ‘zines. Western Art Collector is a frank guide to the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel. Same familiar ads, same subject matter, but now more than ever like a race horse guide. What auctions are coming, what artists are promising, and -- most important -- constant attention to the prices: the estimated worth, the auction total, the rate of increase over the years of an artist’s career. Lots of “society” photos of customers and dealers partying in their fancy dress, champagne glasses in hand as they celebrate snatching a “masterpiece” from the jaws of some other white-haired matron who offered them five figure checks to give it up because it is her “heart’s desire.”

This ‘zine comes from Scottsdale, AZ, where they say the streets are lined with Industrial Cowboy Art Galleries, and it is under the umbrella of International Art Publishing, or if you prefer, Libri dell'editore. (Spaghetti Western Art, perhaps?) It’s seven bucks and monthly. You can get it online ten days ahead of the poor schmucks who have to wait for the mail or ride their horse a hundred miles to a newsstand. There’s an interesting emphasis on tourism: what to see when you travel to participate in the auction events, which have settled into seminars, quick draws, banquets and awards. Friendship circles charter a plane to fly out West.

But if you OWN your own jet, the high end mag you want is Western Art & Architecture, from Cowboy to Contemporary which is an eight dollar mag (ten in Canada -- they’re aren’t keeping up with the exchange rate) and has a lot of overlap with the Bozeman-based Big Sky Journal. (Though it’s an inch taller and a quarter-inch wider -- more white in the layouts.) BSJ is seasonal and WA&A also appears to be quarterly. Same editor and publisher. Ads are an intermix of the Big Sky Journal architecture and real estate with the usual galleries as the other Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel ads. But this publication is trying to step away from the Industrial Mass-Produced style into something more sophisticated. The writers are from the House & Garden-type high-end shelter mags. (H&G has just folded.) More Taos here, elegant art-centered hotels, timber-and-boulder houses mixed with glass-and-steel houses. An interesting close relationship with the Thomas Nygard Galleries in Bozeman.

What will happen next? I’m fascinated.


Art Durkee said...

This is interesting. when I lived in Taos (actually in Arroyo Hondo, just outside Taos) for several months in late 2005, I hit every single gallery in town several times. Of course I was in part shopping my own art, which did find a home briefly at Blue Moon Gallery before they folded later. But I was also looking in general.

There was only ONE gallery on the Plaza that dominantly featured non-representational art. It was very good, and had some excelelnt shows, and I got to talking with the owner several times. There were a couple of other galleries that featured a mix of representational and non, some classier than others. (I also encountered Fran Larsen's art again, after not having seen it since I used to see here every year at the Art Fair when I lived in Ann Arbor. An underappreciated artist, in my opinion.)

But you're right. Representation—"realism" by most definitions—really is the thing. Then again, conservative politics and conservative art often go hand in hand, and the West is pretty conservative overall by most standards. (Certain pockets the exception.)

What's interesting to me was to artists who used representational realism as a jumping-off point for more abstraction, in the footsteps of Georgia O'Keeffe, in some ways. Making in some ways a third kind of art that often gets overlooked in the usual "art wars."

There are some talented folks who show in Taos and Santa Fe who are going their own directions. I think of Paul Pletka, as exemplary.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit bias as a reader of southwest art. I think that it's a great magazine each month, and is my favorite out of the pile that you mentioned, as well as other art magazines that have come across my radar.
I just thought I'd throw in my two cents.