Phoenix Art Museum opens annual exhibit showcasing over 100 pieces about the West

Lee Chimiel stands by his painting, a part of The West Select exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. (Taylor Bishop/DD)
Len Chmiel stands by his painting, a part of The West Select exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. The West Select Exhibition displays over 100 pieces from around the United States, Canada and England. (Taylor Bishop/DD)

The Phoenix Art Museum opened its annual The West Select Exhibition on Friday night for the fourth consecutive year.

The exhibition features more than 100 pieces by 37 artists from around the United States, Canada and England whose subject matter reflects the West. The works will be on display until Dec. 28.

Curator of the exhibition, Jerry Smith, said he finds the West artistically unique because it not only represents actual places, but also ideas. The legends and myths surrounding the West come together with the physical spaces in the art works depicting the West.

The exhibition kicked off with Friday’s cocktail party reception where the works were up for sale. The sales from Friday night will benefit the Phoenix Art Museum and the Men’s Art Council, a non-profit organization that supports many of the Phoenix Art Museum’s endeavors, said Stephanie Lieb, Phoenix Art Museum’s public relations manager.

The fundraiser is not just an important one for the museum, but also a different one, since it is neither strictly commercial nor strictly a museum display, Smith said.

“People will come in expecting and experience a museum exhibition, not just a commercial gallery experience,” Smith said. “We hope it does very well, but we’re excited to have the works on view because it’s a wonderful exhibition.”

Walter Matia, sculptor of the exhibition’s “Roadrunner Pair,” said he was excited to be a part of the show because there were a number of artists involved who he thought were really terrific.

“If people you respect are in a show, then you want to be in that show,” Matia said.

Matia explained that among many iconic images of the West, the roadrunner is one of them. He said that when sculpting, he enjoys discovering new perspectives on something that adds more to how people might otherwise look at it.

“This particular animal has very, very sculptural qualities,” Matia said. “These things have some mass, they have some form and so they’re interesting to work with.”

David Kessler, another one of the featured artists in The West Select, is a Phoenix resident and ASU alumni whose pieces display a different take on the West than many of the other desert landscapes seen at the exhibition.

His paintings are made with acrylic and resin on an aluminum surface. By playing with light and textures, Kessler creates what he calls a holographic look.

“My subject matter is water, which is universal, so it’s anywhere, although all these images are from the West,” Kessler said. “With water you can do something close up and completely abstract, or you can back off and do something that’s immediately more recognizable.”

Kathryn Blake, the Phoenix Art Museum’s Education Director, is bringing in Kessler as one of two artists who will be giving gallery talks about their works for The West Select exhibition.

Blake’s education department works closely with the curator of each exhibition to try and find innovative ways to get people to connect with artwork. They do this through what information they display on the wall next to the works, various gallery guides, or public programs, such as the gallery talks for The West Select.

“What I know that people really enjoy when they talk to artists is hearing about the process, particularly if you’re not an artist,” Blake said. “You want to understand what’s your motivation, and then how do you get that motivation from your mind to whatever it is you’re working in – whether it’s a painting or David Kessler’s is a very different medium on metal.”

Correction: Nov. 18, 2014: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of Len Chmiel in the photo caption. It has now been corrected to reflect the change.

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