News Column

Open door policy

August 24, 2014

By Kathaleen Roberts, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

Aug. 24--"Alcove Shows 1917-1927" showcases old friends and forgotten treasures forging the historic scaffolding of the New Mexico Museum of Art collections.

From Thomas Moran's sweeping Rocky Mountain landscapes to Georgia O'Keeffe's abstractions, these paintings, drawings and prints span artistic legacies from romantic to modernist. Moran presented nature as both redemptive and mystical. O'Keeffe captured the sublimity of empty space.

These 61 works by 24 artists reflect artist Robert Henri's suggested "open door" museum policy. Organizers hosted small, one-person monthly exhibits in the gallery alcoves through the 1950s. The format resumed in the mid-1980s and the early 1990s. The museum launched some 300 alcove exhibitions during its first 10 years, guest curator MaLin Wilson-Powell said.

"In many ways it served as a community gallery," she added.

World War I made European travel impossible for peripatetic artists accustomed to working and studying in Paris or Rome. Henri persuaded his friends and colleagues to seek another "exotic" location -- the American Southwest. Museum officials welcomed the stars with free studio space at the Palace of the Governors.

The scale and splendor of Moran's "The Arkansas Divide, Colorado, 1880" epitomizes the romantic genre painting.

"That was where God existed for a nation that was mostly Protestant," Wilson-Powell explained.

O'Keeffe's watercolor "House with Tree -- Red, 1916" bookends Moran's mountainous ode with generous white space between the artist's bold calligraphy.

"To me it looks almost like a Keith Haring painting," Wilson-Powell said, referring to the New York graffiti-inspired muralist.

Women artists comprised from 30-50 percent of alcove shows, she said.

"The unfortunate thing was (museums and collectors) didn't collect these very much."

Henry Bahlink's classic "Pueblo Pottery" (1917) hangs above a case containing similar Santa Clara and San Ildefonso jars by Santana Gutierrez and Serafina Tafoya.

The local Hispanic culture was a revelation because it reflected the living faith of pre-Enlightenment Europe. Spanish settlers and explorers arrived in New Mexico during the 16th century, bypassing the so-called "Age of Reason" in 1750 Spain, soon followed by the Inquisition.

The current show places particular emphasis on the works of Ernest L. Blumenschein and William Penhallow Henderson, both of whom showed in the inaugural exhibition. Both artists were trained in 19th-century academic conventions, studied in Paris and earned their living as illustrators. Blumenschein was a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists.

Blumenschein's 1913 "Portrait of the Artist and Family" shows the artist and his wife, the artist Mary Sheppard Greene, in shadow behind their daughter Helen lounging in her grandmother's lap. A 1902 gouache on paper portrait of Isadora Duncan shows the young dancer at the Paris Opera.

A much later depiction by John Sloan shows an older Duncan.

"She was a little chunky," Wilson-Powell said. "She'd been through a lot in her life."

William Penhallow Henderson's portrait of "Awa Tsireh" reflects his respect for Native Americans as individuals. Henderson would found the Pueblo Spanish Building Co. with the son of Mabel Dodge Luhan, Wilson-Powell said. In 1937, the pair would go on to build the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, which began as the Navajo House of Religion. The exhibition also shows Henderson's scenery and costumes illustrations for the Chicago Fine Arts Theatre production of "Alice in Wonderland," executed in shimmering jewel tones. A circa 1925 hand-carved red pine rose mirror shows the artist's woodworking skills.

Modernist Raymond Jonson's "Light" (1917) was inspired by the lavenders, golds and yellows of Colorado mesas in simple but monumental forms. It reflects the artist's work as stage, costume and lighting designer for the avant-garde Chicago Little Theater, where he introduced major lighting innovations. Jonson moved to New Mexico in 1922, where he would found the Transcendental Painting Group and teach at the University of New Mexico. The son of a preacher, he was always in search of the spiritual in art, Wilson-Powell said.

Considered one of the most important artists of the early 20th century, Sloan was one of the leading proponents of the antiacademic social realist movement that became the Ashcan School. Sloan and his New York colleagues painted snapshots of urban life -- gritty storefronts, saloons and subways. In 1919, he traded street life for Santa Fe, where he would spend every summer for the next 30 years. He championed the work of American Indian artists, as well as those of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

Sloan's "Ancestral Spirits" shows the artist's respect for pueblo ceremonials. His classic 1920 painting "Music in the Plaza" captures nighttime dancing with the face of his wife Dolly, as well as friends Florence and Randall Davey.

During the museum's first 10 years, the alcove exhibits showed the work of friends and colleagues Henri had persuaded to visit Santa Fe. But New Mexicans also saw Native American pottery and Chimayo weavings, as well as shows with Chinese paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, Old Master etchings, Indonesian textiles, pre-Colombian sculpture, Sioux ledger drawings, Aboriginal paintings and art from as far away as Cornwall and New Zealand. If you go

WHAT: "Alcove Shows 1917-1927"

WHEN: Reception 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28. Through Feb. 23, 2015. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

WHERE: New Mexico Museum of Art, 107 W. Palace Ave., Santa Fe

HOW MUCH: $6/New Mexico residents; $9/nonresidents. Children 16 and under free. Sundays free to state residents with ID; Wednesdays free to New Mexico seniors with ID. Museum members free. Call 505-476-5072


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Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)

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