Sunday, September 6, 2015

Colors of New Mexico

I am going to end my coverage of Santa Fe’s group of shows under the rubric of “Summer of Color” with an exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art called, “Colors of the Southwest”. It is a show chosen by the museum’s new Curator of Art, Carmen Vendelin who comes to New Mexico from the LaSalle University Art Museum in Philadelphia.

What Carmen has done is pick out an exhibition from the museum’s own collections. Though less of a phenomenon than it used to be as a result of the recession, I find it most refreshing.  So many museums have vast storerooms of material but feel that they must borrow from all over the world at vast expense in order to attract an audience.  In my opinion it is all in the marketing.  A good title or lead line will bring an audience.  “Shown for the First Time,” “Discoveries Made At Home,” “Found Underneath our Museum”, these will all bring people in. I remember attracting visitors to my gallery with, “The Lion’s Share” , “Objects of Desire” and “Behind the Red Velvet Curtain.”

The exhibition concentrates on the art of the 20th century.  The title was chosen early on because all the museums in Santa Fe wanted to join the “Summer of Color” so the art museum decided just to take them all!  The PR concept has helped bring many more tourists who visit Santa Fe at this time of year to our eight museums.

Carmen was tasked with picking from 800 possibilities in the collection to come up with a cohesive exhibition.  She was aware of the catalog of the former curator, Joe Traugott’s, exhibition, “How the West is One”, but her idea was not to do a historical show but look at how various artists looked at color.

In this show we view color but also some history as well as the myth of the Southwest.  Ignoring the bloody history of the second half of the 19th century starting with the Civil War and the Indian wars and the lack of law and order, in the 20th century we have managed to glorify and mythologize our Western story.

In recent times, especially since the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum opened in Santa Fe in 1997, the concept has developed that Georgia O'Keeffe was the first artist to discover the colors of the Southwest.  Though Ms. O’Keeffe often denied all influences ascribed to her work, I will dare to say that much of what came before was adapted in her work.

Gustave Baumann, (1881-1971) for instance, who came from Germany, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and returned to Germany to learn to make wood block prints, settled in Santa Fe and became a painter and print maker par excellence capturing the nuance of color like no other.  Here I found a guache he did in 1918 called “Day of the Deer Dance” showing mountains and trees as you might see at O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch.


Things change and after this show was set they decided to do another show in the Museum just on Baumann so the gouache was taken out of the “Colors” show and moved upstairs with the Baumann show so that it could be shown with the woodblock and print of the same subject.  Another picture now missing since my first viewing of the exhibition is a Georgia O’Keeffe because later this week it will be in a large O’Keeffe show at the art museum largely borrowed from the O’Keeffe Museum.   Why you may ask? Because the O’Keeffe Museum is small and they needed to make room for another show,“From New York to New Mexico: Masterworks of American Modernism from The Vilcek Foundation Collection.”

Another artist following a similar path as Baumann, E. Martin Hennings (1886-1956) was born in New Jersey and went to study at the Art Institute in Chicago and then did his further study in his parents’ native Germany.  The painting “The Rendezvous” represents a meeting among the Aspen Trees not that different from the Baumann gouache but was surely done later in the year.  It also shows the vivid colors of fall in New Mexico, which I have written about before.


B.J.O Nordfelt (Tullstorp, Sweden 1878- Henderson, Texas 1955) moved to the United States with his family in 1892.  He too studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and later taught in many universities of the Southwest.  He made his first visit to Santa Fe around 1919 when he painted the picture, “Antelope Dance”.  He is known as an American Expressionist as he owes a lot to the likes of C├ęzanne and Gauguin.  Though not exactly Tahiti, the images of the Indians in this verdant scene are quite different from the reality of the dry high desert, which is the normal habitat of these dancers.


The last painting that I want to touch on brings both the Myth of the Southwest and the Kitsch of the Western film together to form a striking picture in Bill Schenk’s (1947-) 1993 painting, “Coming Down from the Mountain”.  We have all seen the Western film of the cowboy riding into the sunset and here he is in all his glory!


The show closes on September 20.

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