SALT LAKE CITY — David Dee has been an active member of the local arts community for many years.
His interest in Japanese art propelled him to double major in Japanese languages and literature and political science at Stanford University. He later went on to receive a master’s degree in art history at the University of Utah.
Most notably, Dee held many positions at the Utah Museum of Fine Art, working as assistant curator of Japanese art, exhibitions coordinator and director during his decadelong tenure.
In the fall of 2014, Dee built on that background by opening David Dee Fine Arts, a gallery specializing in art of the American West. The collection focuses exclusively on what can be considered historical artworks made between the 19th and mid-20th centuries. While many galleries offer insight into the current trends of Utah’s contemporary art culture, David Dee Fine Arts presents clients with a specialized but equally rich view of Utah and the West.
With this specialized focus comes the exciting yet somewhat daunting need for historical research and provenance. This focus allows “collectors the opportunities to learn through the art about explorers and great contributors to the American experience,” Dee said.
Nestled in a lovely Sugar House neighborhood, the gallery is on the upper floor of a business complex at the intersection of 1300 South and 1700 East. As one enters the gallery, visions of Utah’s sweeping terrain abound in the modest gallery space.
Dee’s collection demonstrates how painting was once an important tool used by artists to chronicle the historical movement West — as evidenced in the many exploratory views and images of great national parks.
Perhaps the most notable artist of this genre is Maynard Dixon, “an artist who was singularly focused on his vision,” Dee said. Historians of the American West cite Dixon as one of the pre-eminent landscape painters of the early 20th century.
In addition to Dixon’s paintings, the gallery boasts an impressive and diverse collection of works by Western landscape artists such as Conrad Buff, LeCont Stewart and Albert Bierstadt.
While much of the collection focuses on Western landscapes, there is also a small yet vibrant variety of abstract works. Artists Lee Deffebach and Don Olsen transferred the abstract expressionist style made famous in New York City in the 1950s to Utah, introducing an entirely new audience to the visual dynamism and intensity of abstract painting.
As someone with years of experience with many facets of Utah’s art scene, Dee understands how complicated it can be to navigate the state’s art market.
“It’s a market that’s changing as our demographics change, and that’s a really exciting thing,” he said.
Utah is home to a number of impressive galleries devoted to fostering the current generation of artistic talent and recruiting new art enthusiasts from the general population. What Dee offers, however, is a collection of artworks that attest to the “real talent and vision (of those) who worked in the West,” many of them for the first time and with fresh eyes, he said, adding that the “work has staying power because of its historical importance.”
Indeed, this collection shares a visual legacy of one of the world’s most dynamic, stunning geographic landscapes: the American West.
If you go
What: David Dee Fine Arts
Where: 1709 E. 1300 South, Suite 201, Salt Lake City
Scotti Hill is an art historian based in Salt Lake City. She teaches art history at the University of Utah and Westminster College and works as a freelance curator and writer.