Art books make terrific gifts. Though they can be a little heavy for mailing, it’s easy to tailor your choice to the person you’re gifting, though finding the right art book for the right art lover is a big part of getting it right.
It seems to me you’d have a tough time going wrong with Painters and the American West: Volume II (American Museum of Western Art). It’s an impressive — almost epic — book, beautifully produced and lovingly annotated. It’s just a splendid art book, from any angle.
In a foreword, scholar and curator John Wildmerding offers literary and cultural context for the collection on view here. What started as the Anschutz Collection became Denver’s American Museum of Western Art in 2010, a stroke creating it as one of the foremost institutions to house a collection of the art of American West. And though that’s a compelling picture, Wildmerding insists it isn’t the complete one:
Through the collection’s concentration on the western story of the nation, we come to see what is distinctive as well as derivative about the region’s art, how it possessed its own vision while belonging to a larger American culture.
Because it is both a massive and luxurious book, the editors have been able to push the idea of “art book” to its widest edge. Examples of art by virtually every important western artist have been included, as well as many, many of the less important ones.
Each image reproduced gives context to a larger picture still as various important time periods in the shaping of the American west are explored, both historically and visually, through the art of that region and/or time. The result is… well, fantastic. Painters and the American West succeeds on virtually every level: art book, visual history and unthinkably heavy calling card for a museum that is one of the best of its kind in the world. ◊
Jones Atwater is a January Magazine contributing editor.