While art purists will no doubt howl, we like the broad exposure being afforded these works and the recognition for the people who produce them.
But we're not talking poster art here. We're talking Wouter Deruytter, Herbert List and Imogene Cunningham, to name a few of the current and vintage (big) names being showcased at both of these retailers under the Williams-Sonoma umbrella. The Pottery Barn group is extensive and varied, and in many stores, "mechandised" to encourage collecting en masse, also (handily) selling their picture ledges to great effect.
West Elm shows some more experimental images and techniques, including some modern takes on the botanical by Catherine Cardarelli, who uses modern technology to document the subtleties and quirks of nature, with haunting effect.
Overall, it's still pretty "safe" art, and not even the edgiest work of the artists represented… like the pretty but innocuous haybales of "Yellowstone County" by Deruyyter, and not his sexually-charged Cowboy portraits from the same book, that could almost be stills from Brokeback Mountain.
The good news? Budding talent is getting a wider audience by name, big names are getting bigger recognition, and you are getting nicely framed, fairly "grown up" art, for a fraction of what these same images are selling for in galleries. For example, Deruyyter's images from the Cowboy series, when you can still get them from galleries like Brooklyn's Wessel+O'Connor, run upwards of $5000, while "Yellowstone County" at Pottery Barn is $350, framed.
The bad news? Large or open-ended editions mean little or no resale value, so you should buy for love, not investment. And the prints at Pottery Barn are printed on watercolor paper, in a pseudo-sepia tone, so they never quite hit the deep tonal quality some want from an original gelatin- or silver print.
Like online etsy and approachable galleries like Mixed Greens, we like any venue that gives artists alternative distribution options, raises the bar on quality, and opens the door to the inner sanctum of art galleries.