Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Alcove Shows 1917-1927

Two years ago I wrote a Missive called the Alcove Shows where you can see their genesis. That exhibition returned to the New Mexico Museum of Art’s initial use of alcoves to present the work of contemporary local artists.

When the Art Gallery (now the New Mexico Museum of Art) of the  Museum of New Mexico was established by Edgar Lee Hewitt in 1917 he had an open door policy where any artist working in New Mexico could put up a show of his work in one of the alcoves for a month on a first come first served basis.  “The Alcove Shows 1917-1927” is a historical exhibition showing the artists who were around at the time and exhibited in one of the alcoves.

I have one quibble with the exhibition, which I will dispense with at the beginning.  I always go around an exhibition or a fair counter clockwise particularly in a small show.  Unfortunately, for me, this exhibition, although laid out in a roughly chronological order,  was conceived in a clockwise manner with no explanatory label of the show on the outside walls.  Therefore, I only saw it on my way out! Only then did I discover the first alcove devoted to samples of the different  types of art exhibited in the Art Museum in its early years, not just paintings but other ethnographic materials such as Japanese woodblock prints and pre-Colombian art.

Every artist in the original alcove presentations came from elsewhere.  Many had studied in Paris but with the advent of World War I artists were staying at home.  Traveling almost as far, they came to exotic Santa Fe and the wonderful landscapes and ethnic varieties that it offered.  In the first alcove a set of pueblo pots shown near a 1917 painting by Henry C. Balink  (1882-1963) called “Pueblo Pottery”  demonstrates the cross-cultural fertilization that occurred in this part of the world.

Photograph supplied by the New Mexico Museum of Art

Just as you cannot believe Georgia O’Keeffe’s clouds until you have actually seen them in the New Mexico skies, you cannot understand the cloud patterns or the amazing light in the morning and evening skies.  A painting done in 1917 called “Light” by Raymond Jonson (1891-1982) gives a vivid representation.  It is quite different from much of his flat abstract work.

Photograph supplied by the New Mexico Museum of Art

I have quite a number of favorites in the exhibition “The Basket Ceremony” ca. 1922. by Alfonso Roybal (Awa Tsireh) (1895-1955). Roybal was from San Ildefonso Pueblo and this is typical of the kind of painting that Dorothy Dunn would soon be teaching at her Studio School in Santa Fe.  Many of the most famous Native American artists studied with her.

An artist that I mentioned last week is Ernest L. Blumenschein (1874–1960), he was a member of the Taos Society of Artists.   At the beginning of the 20th century it was a major trip between Taos and Santa Fe but like today, exhibition space was paramount  for an artist if he wanted his work known so he came to exhibit in the Alcoves.  This is his “Dance at Taos” from 1923.

Photograph supplied by the New Mexico Museum of Art

Another favorite is “Ancestral Spritis (The Koshare)” of 1919 by John Sloan (1871-1951).  Here is another case where an artist known for a totally different kind of painting has adopted not only Indian subject matter but also an interpretation that seems directly taken from the Indian dances.  We are at the center of Native American, Hispanic and Anglo culture in New Mexico it is fascinating to see the influences that each had on the other.  In contrast look at Sloan’s “Music in the Plaza” of 1920.

Photograph supplied by the New Mexico Museum of Art

Photograph supplied by the New Mexico Museum of Art

One of the facts that surprised me is that between 25 and 50% of the artists who participated in the Alcove shows were women. 

I “discovered” the photographer Laura Gilpin (1891-1979) back east at New York museum exhibitions and galleries like the Witkin Gallery.  I am not sure I even knew where Santa Fe was at the time.  She was born in Colorado, educated at Eastern boarding schools, studied photography in New York, went back to the west, ended up in the Santa Fe art scene. The other evening I sat next to a woman at dinner who told me that Laura Gilpin had taken her baby pictures and photos of both her and her husband when they were children.  Clearly Ms. Gilpin, a small thick set woman with her ever present camera  and tripod had to make a living on more than the art photos that are so highly prized today.   Here is an image she took in San Ildefonso in 1927.

There are 61 works on view representing 24 artists so there is plenty more to see and discuss if you want to learn more about the art of the Southwest.   The exhibition was masterfully guest curated by Malin Wilson-Powell and the will remain on view until February 23, 2015.

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