Remembering Scottsdale’s Art Doyenne
Tucson Museum of Art celebrates the life and work of gallery owner Elaine Horwitch.
By Rebecca L. Rhoades
The late 1960s and early ’70s were exciting periods of growth and change for the art world. Painters and photographers were exploring experimental styles, such as pop art, minimalism and conceptual art. But the new trends had yet to take hold in Scottsdale, where Native American and Western art were still the backbone of the city’s burgeoning community of galleries. One woman helped change all that.
“Elaine Horwitch exposed people who were used to looking at cowboys-and-Indians stuff to work they would only see if they went to Chicago or Los Angeles. She was very good at bringing internationally renowned artists to Arizona and New Mexico,” says Julie Sasse, chief curator at Tucson Museum of Art. “At the same time, she thought that art from the Southwest was every bit as good as that from New York.”
Beginning this month, the museum will honor Horwitch and her contributions to Arizona’s art history with the exhibition “Southwest Rising: Contemporary Art and the Legacy of Elaine Horwitch.” Featuring paintings, sculpture and works on paper by more than 60 of the late gallerist’s most popular artists, the show examines Horwitch’s influence and impact on the development of contemporary art in Arizona and the surrounding states.
From humble beginnings in the mid-1950s until her death in 1991, Horwitch was a cornerstone of Scottsdale’s art scene. Her rise to the top began with The Art Wagon, a collaboration with friend Suzanne Brown. The pair would load up their station wagons with prints by such famed artists as Victor Vasarely, Joan Miró and Francisco Toledo that they would purchase in Chicago or New York City, and travel around selling them to the women’s and school groups.
In 1973, Horwitch opened her first eponymous gallery on Marshall Way in Old Town, followed by locations in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Sedona; and Palm Springs, California. Her vision propelled Scottsdale’s reputation as a world-class city for art and launched the careers of hundreds of artists from across the region. Some of those she represented, and whose work will be seen in the exhibition, include Georgia O’Keeffe, Fritz Scholder, Agnese Udinotti, Beth Ames Swartz, Louise Nevelson, Larry Bell, Ann Coe, Suzanne Klotz, Bunny Tobias and Robert Rauschenberg, among others. Auxiliary galleries will showcase additional artists who played important roles in shaping contemporary art throughout the Southwest—and who exhibited at rival galleries—including Philip C. Curtis, Paul Pletka, Emmi Whitehorse, Harmony Hammond and more.
“I remember selling some of these paintings,” Sasse says of the works on display. “They’re like old friends.” Sasse managed Elaine Horwitch Galleries from 1980 until 1995, so she brings an intimate firsthand understanding and sensitivity to the exhibit. “A lot of people thought Elaine was all about the money and just interested in business. She often came across as this hard-nosed dealer,” the curator recalls. “But she enjoyed being around creative folk and quirky personalities. She loved getting art in front of people and getting them excited about it.
“If you read old articles about Elaine’s shows, the reviewers would bash her,” Sasse continues. “They had to put down anything that was different, even though at the same time they were touting the area as an artist colony. To them, art was still desert landscapes or it wasn’t good. Elaine got hammered pretty hard by the press sometimes, but she persevered. She stuck to her vision, and I give her credit for that. She lived life the way she wanted to live it, and she picked the art that she liked. It wasn’t always my aesthetic at times, but you know what? It sold, and she ended up with all the fame and fortune.”
The exhibition is accompanied by a 550-page book of the same name by Sasse, the release of which will coincide with the opening on Feb. 29. For more information, visit tusconmuseumofart.org.