Miguel Covarrubias - 11/15/2014
Today's guest entry was written by Cuauhtemoc Murphy, an artist and educator from Texas whose work can be found here.
The New Mexico Museum of Art collection includes international art that links the core collection to the West, the Americas, and the World. Miguel Covarrubias is a perfect example of an artist that does just that. The museum has only a handful of his large body of work, but what they do have is worth making a trip out to see them.
Like many others, I did not know of his work-- yet he was creating art during the second half of the great Diego Rivera's career, and for that matter they both died the same year, 1957.
Miguel Covarrubias was born 1904 in Mexico City and was an author, painter, caricaturist, staff cartoonist for Vanity Fair magazine, and professor of art history at the National School of Anthropology in Mexico City. The New Mexico Museum of Art has the following books: The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans (1925), Negro Drawings (1927), Island of Bali (1937), The Eagle, the Jaguar, and the Serpent: Indian Art of the Americas: North America: Alaska, Canada, the United States (1954), Miguel Covarrubias Caricatures (1985), and a lithograph in their collection.
Mexican Street Scene, n.d.
Lithograph on white wove paper
Gift of Sears, Roebuck & Co., 1965
The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans (1925) has many of the drawings that were originally published in Vanity Fair magazine, while Covarrubias was a staff cartoonist.
The book features several dozen black-and-white caricatures of famous Americans (mostly New York-based but also Hollywood). Personalities from the 1920s such as the likes of Clark Gable, Alexander Woollcott, Shirley Temple, Paul Whiteman, and many others were portrayed in caricatures that ranged from art-deco to surrealistic. This book really showcases his eye of the 20s and brings to light his entertaining style. I can't state that he pioneered that style, but of the examples I found it was and still is the hallmark of that period-- when I think of clubs that may have had caricatures lining their walls.
Another book that stood out from the museum's collection is Covarrubias's Island of Bali (1937). This has come to be regarded as a classic work on the Balinese people and their civilization. From all that I read regarding the book it is an extremely thorough account of Balinese life.
The Eagle, the Jaguar, and the Serpent : Indian Art of the Americas: North America: Alaska, Canada, the United States (1954) is a book that is also in the Stanford University's collection.
This is one that I personally want to see more of because of the quality of the illustrations. Just from my limited contact with Rebecca Potance, the museum's Librarian/Archivist/Webmaster, and surfing the museums site I want to make a trip to the New Mexico Museum of Art.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum down the street from The New Mexico Museum of Art is currently hosting an exhibition about Covarrubias until January 18, 2015 Their webpage summarizes his connection to New Mexico and American Modernism : http://www.okeeffemuseum.org/current-exhibition.html.
I Approve This Message - 11/1/2014
'Tis the season, the silly season. The days are crisp; fall leaves are bursting with color, and the airwaves are jammed with junk. During the silly season, political advertising saturates radio and TV stations as politicians and wannabes try to persuade us to elect them instead of their opponents.
“He’s dirty. She’s negative. I’m experienced. He’s bought and paid for.”
“The Committee for Sustainable Mediocrity, Clay Foote, chairman.”
If we keep watching, sooner or later we witness the media perform a righteous fact check on the candidate’s advertising. Fudging will be exposed. White lies will be uncovered, and an outright exaggeration or two will be reported. Then we’ll see several stories on the effects of negative advertising on the American electorate. Congress is held in low esteem! Imagine that.
Lately, when the campaign season approaches, I find myself fantasizing about ways to end this madness, this noise pollution created by political advertising. One solution comes to mind.
Force office seekers to submit a headshot – selfies acceptable - resume, and the answers to five questions concerning the issues, not the state of their opponent’s laundry. The candidate’s materials will be submitted to a panel of editorial cartoonists. Each member of this panel will be an artist capable of extracting the essence of an individual or an issue using one of the most enduring forms of artistic expression – the caricature.
In my fantasy world, one caricature will be created from each candidate’s material. Voters will be allowed to study the results, even request copies. After all many caricatures or political cartoons, the terms are often interchangeable, are ripped out of the newspaper or printed off the internet, and saved. Secure behind a magnet on the refrigerator door, these cartoons remind voters that politicians and baloney have much in common.
According to Victor S. Navasky, the former editor and publisher of The Nation, and the author of The Art of Controversy, Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power, caricature has different meanings for different artists.
“But for Leonardo da Vinci, whom many consider to have invented the form, caricature is an extrapolation of realism taken to its logical extreme…Moving beyond Universal Beauty, Realism searches in the particular for an image of secular truth.’”
Secular truth, huh? Would that make today’s fact checkers happy?
Navasky goes on to say that the word caricature, derived from the Italian caricare, means to load as in vessel or a weapon.
“Artists capable of brilliant caricatures force us to focus on what we might otherwise miss,” Navasky adds. This is accomplished by taking a distinctive feature and exaggerating it, literally overloading it.
Sixteenth century Italian Baroque painter Annibale Carracci (1560 – 1609), who also produced caricatures, clarified the differences between the classical artist and the caricaturist. In referring to da Vinci’s caricatures, Carracci says: “Both see the lasting truth beneath the surface of mere outward appearance. Both try to help nature accomplish its plan. The one may strive to visualize the perfect form and to realize it in his work, the other to grasp deformity, and thus reveal the very essence of a personality. A good caricature, like every work of art, is more true to life than reality itself.”
As Navasky puts it: a caricature seeks that perfect deformity. Finding it is high ambition.
As caricature developed throughout Europe caricaturists added visual metaphors, personification, and allegory. The content of the art expanded from behavior to social situations to politics. At least one scholar credits Martin Luther, who took aim at the Catholic Church, with creating the first political cartoons.
The first cartoon in America was published by Benjamin Franklin. But it wasn’t until the 1870’s that caricature became popular. Thomas Nast’s caricatures brought down Boss Tweed, head of Tammany Hall, the corrupt Democratic machine in New York. Nast, by the way, is credited with creating the donkey and elephant symbols still used by the Democratic and Republican parties.
Out of all of the editorial cartoonists working today, I’d select Pat Oliphant, considered by many to be the dean of American editorial cartoonists, to chair my panel of political cartoonists. Punk, Oliphant’s wise cracking penguin, whose witticisms are found at the corner of Oliphant’s cartoon panels, would be on the panel as well. Look at Oliphant’s Billy the Kid, in the permanent collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art, and you’ll see why I selected Oliphant.
Billy the Kid, 1999
Museum purchase with funds from Phyllis Sloane, 2008
Whether you’re a fan or critic of the former President, the viewer immediately recognizes the cartoon’s symbols. In other words, we see what Oliphant sees. A man who plainly done himself in, an aw shucks outlaw who failed to outrun Sherriff Ken Starr’s posse, because he shot himself in the foot. Yes, there was a right wing conspiracy, or so they say, and an intern, she’s back by the way, and a cigar, but Clinton held the smoking gun. In Oliphant’s rendition, Clinton’s gun is conveniently located where Adam attached the first known fig leaf. That brilliant detail gives the caricature the power of a bullet fired at point blank range.
“Bulls eye,” Punk might say.
Oliphant lives in Santa Fe, but I reached him by phone back East. When a new president takes office, Oliphant tells me, the cartoonist and his audience engage in a conspiracy. “We’ll be watching this man. It takes three or four months to get an idea of what a person is like,” he says. “It evolves as you get exposure to the person.”
We’re co-dependent. The artist depends on the viewer to make the correct connection, Navasky says. Once that happens drawing expresses what words cannot say. A brilliant cartoon can be read in a second, something Martin Luther realized when he circulated his caricatures among the illiterate in Europe, who had not yet learned to read. Many of Boss Tweed’s constituents couldn’t read either, but they could see.
“Stop them damn pictures,” Tweed cried, referring to Nast’s cartoons.
“When the caricature has artistic depth, the outrage is more keenly felt,” Navasky writes. “The more powerful the caricature, the more outraged the protest.”
Indeed, the French King Louis Philippe, the same monarch who ordered caricaturist Honore Daumier jailed, described caricature as an act of violence. All Daumier did was liken a body to a pear. Pears are normally thought of as fruit not weapons. Someone could have been beaned by a pear, so I fact checked. Google has no record of “pearacide” in the search engine, and I was feeling lucky.
Pat Oliphant doesn’t appear violent either. I recall attending an opening at the Gerald Peters Gallery in May of 2013. Oliphant’s show featured selections from a sabbatical in Rome. Sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints and monotypes were included in this accomplished artist’s exhibit. Despite the crowd, it didn’t long before I located the impish, white-haired man, glee evident in his eyes, drawing on a huge piece of paper hung on the gallery wall. No sign of Punk, though.
Oliphant brought Punk with him when he moved from Australia, where he was born, to the United States in 1964. He took a job with the Denver Post. By 1967, Oliphant had won a Pulitzer Prize for an editorial cartoon concerning peace efforts during the Vietnam War. Since then he’s won numerous awards. His work is in the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the LBJ Library, many museums, including ours, and he’s had numerous exhibits.
When I asked him about his cartoons depicting war, many of which are chilling, Oliphant says: “War is never a pleasant subject. The cartoon is not a joke. The humor is a vehicle to carry that observation.”
In an earlier interview with The Atlantic, Oliphant says that humor induces people to look at things they wouldn’t want to think about without humor.
That humor is also what makes Oliphant’s political caricatures so powerful, but there are other elements as well. Wendy Wick Reaves, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian, recommends keeping three elements in mind when you glance through any collection of Oliphant’s work. “Consider his draftsmanship, imagination, and verbal wit and how forcefully they can work together,” she writes in the afterword to Oliphant’s book, Leadership: Oliphant Cartoons & Sculpture from the Bush Years. Wick Reaves also describes Oliphant’s work as magical, more to the point for me.
As I wandered through Gerald Peter’s Gallery observing Oliphant’s caricatures and sculpture, I was amazed at what he was able to do to Dick Cheney with a few deft strokes. In Oliphant’s hand, a pen is a weapon of precise destruction.
With a shotgun in one hand, the same one used to accidentally shoot his hunting partner; Cheney leads a horse wearing blinders. America? Absolutely. On top of the stead is a tiny rider, the size of a jockey, wearing a jester’s cap. George W. Bush clings to the horse’s mane, while Cheney, his other hand gripping the horse’s halter, rolls his eyes. That telling detail, tiny considering all of the other components in the piece, says it all. Contemptuous, arrogant, and in charge.
How did you do that? I ask Oliphant when we talked on the phone. Get Cheney exactly right? Find the perfect deformity?
“Dick Cheney was a gift really,” Oliphant says. “I never liked him.”
In my mind’s eye I see Punk. I hear him too. “A non-returnable gift,” the penguin says. “So forget the receipt.”
In your sixty year career, have you changed the electorate I ask, recalling that Thomas Nast’s cartoons were instrumental in bringing down Tammany Hall?
“I’ve never drawn a cartoon to change people’s prejudices in one way or the other,” Oliphant says. Besides, nothing much changes, really. “All we do is change the faces every four or eight years.”
There is no such thing as a balanced or fair caricature, but balance is not what we’re seeking. We’re looking for essence, truth according to Leonardo da Vinci, and we’re getting a laugh along the way, more often than not a good laugh from gifted artists such as Pat Oliphant.
We’re electing human beings, and they’re flawed. Perhaps all we can do is laugh. That’s a message I can approve.
A New Mexico Tradition : Southwestern Realism - 10/15/2014
In 1990, this museum set out to tell the story of contemporary New Mexican artists working in the realist tradition. The result was an exhibition called A New Mexico Tradition : Southwestern Realism. The exhibition may be over, but its legacy remains with the catalog and the following video which we have digitized for your viewing pleasure.
A Winning Ticket - 10/1/2014
Today's guest blog post comes from Sara Ford, a Santa Fe resident and member of the museum's docent program.
Visitors to the Museum’s recent Family Day that included a behind the scenes tour of the facility were treated to a bonus – an introduction to the museum’s newest curator. Carmen Vendelin, Curator of Art, greeted visitors on the first stop of the basement tour – the acquisition center, where the museum’s extensive collection of art and photographs is stored, preserved, registered and catalogued. Carmen was joined by Kate Ware, Curator of Photography. Carmen appeared quite at home as the two curators handled their portion of the tour like Wimbledon doubles partners confident that when the rally ended, they’d score their points.
Prior to moving to Santa Fe, Carmen served as Curator of Art at La Salle University Art Museum in Philadelphia, but she’s no stranger to the American West. Indeed, she’s a native. Carmen grew up in Idaho, where her mother encouraged her interest in creativity and art. As she matriculated, Carmen discovered that she had other interests and talents as well, ideal skills for an art historian. “I really enjoy scholarship, and I really enjoy writing,” she said.
Carmen earned her bachelor’s degree with honors in art history from the University of Washington before she headed east. She earned her Master’s in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Criticism and Theory from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From there, Carmen headed to New Jersey, where she completed her doctoral candidacy at Rutgers.
Over the years, Carmen has acquired 13 years of museum experience, ten of those curatorial, at such institutions as the Newark Museum, the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as her recent post in Philadelphia.
But the time had come to make a change. “I was really tired of dealing with a lot of aspects of the big city. I realized that I missed the landscape out west. That was really important to me,” Carmen said. “I was very excited to come to Santa Fe because it’s such an art mecca, and it’s such a beautiful place. I felt like I won the lottery.”
Carmen’s area of specialization is 19th and 20th century American and European art with a particular emphasis on the years between 1870 and World War II. At the New Mexico Museum of Art, she’ll be working mainly with collections prior to 1955.
Hunting + Gathering, which opens November 7th, will be Carmen’s first curatorial effort. The exhibit will present a sampling of artworks that have entered the Museum’s collection since 2010. Nearly two hundred works of art in a variety of media, including painting, photography, sculpture, prints and ceramics will be included. Among the artists featured are: Richard Diebenkorn, Sol LeWitt, Robert Motherwell, and Imogen Cunningham.
Carmen is enthusiastic about the theme as well as the variety. “It’s a great way for me to get to know the art that has come in over the last four-and-a-half years. It’s an opportunity to do things creatively. Showing art work that you wouldn’t otherwise put together. Different mediums, differing time periods, different kinds of subject matter,” she said.
A number of other exhibits, already planned, will follow, leaving Carmen with fulfilling days. In addition to spending time her adult daughter, who moved to Santa Fe, also, Carmen enjoys film. She also plans to learn more about the area. “I like to be out in beautiful natural spaces. I have a list of places I’d like to see,” she said. “There’s no lack of places to go around here.”
Welcome to Santa Fe, Carmen. It is a winning ticket.
New Additions to the Library - 9/15/2014
In November, this museum will be doing an entire exhibtion on artworks we have acquired in the past 4 years for the permanent collection. We have also added to the library and archives collections during this time. Building library and archival collections is a similar process to building an art collection. In fact, sometimes books and archival materials are donated to the museum together as one collection. Throughout the museum's history we have always relied on donations from the community to build a research collection. Some of the largest collections of books have come from artists themselves. For example, local artist Vivian Sloan Fiske, gave us approximately 900 items on art-related subject matter (about half of them books) after she died in 1978.
Earlier this year, the museum was offered about 800 items about photography from a man named Dennis Cormier. Of those, we kept about 170. Many of the books donated were rare and/or signed by the author. Some of the highlight of this donation include:
Children of War, Children of Peace : Photographs by Robert Capa
Lee Friedlander : Sticks & Stones
Photographs by Allen Ginsberg
William Eggleston's For Now
Proud Flesh by Sally Mann
Joel-Peter Witkin's Enfer ou Ciel
Perfect Documents: Walker Evans and African Art, 1935
The Hyena and Other Men by Pieter Hugo
The Architect's Brother by Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison
On This Earth, A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt
The list reads like a who's who of 20th and 21st century photographers. All of the books, catalogs and journals Mr. Cormier donated are listed in the library's catalog, SALSA
. Cormier also donated a number of photographs to the museum over the years, a few of those will be on view in Hunting + Gathering : New Additions to the Museum’s Collection
Happy Labor Day - 9/1/2014
Today's guest blog post comes from Tia Harvey of Seattle. Tia is a recent graduate of the University of Washington with a bachelor's degree in Art History.
Have you ever noticed murals that decorate post offices, schools, and other public buildings? Most of the murals depict skilled workers such as farmers in wheat fields, men working on railroads, lumber mill workers, or workers on construction sites. Paintings like Tom Lea’s, Employment in Public Works can be found anywhere throughout the United States. This phenomenon is not a coincidence. At the start of the Great Depression, October 29, 1929 (or better known as Black Friday) the American stock market crumbled, leaving many without a job. By 1932, at least one-quarter of the workforce had lost their job. When newly elected Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933 he sought to stabilize the economy and provide jobs to the suffering in a series of federal programs called the New Deal; in turn giving us one of the most successful programs our nation has seen, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). One way the WPA provided jobs to Americans was through art.
Employment in Public Works, 1934
On long term loan from the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
The WPA Federal Arts Program (FAP) provided over 3,000 jobs in just 4 months and over 15,000 pieces of art ranging from murals to sculptures in government buildings. Many famous artists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko were part of the FAP whom were provided a means of living during desolate times and according to painter Stuart Davis, artists employed during this period had possessed “a new orientation and a new hope and purpose based on a new sense of social responsibility.”
Lumber Mill and Agriculture at Eugene Post Office, 1942
Oregon State Archives
To me, the Federal Arts Program helped provide Americans with solidarity of their economically crumbling country in two major ways. First is solidarity of the government. As experts on New Deal Art, Marlene Park and Gerald E Markowitz speculate in their book, Democratic Vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal, the government’s interjection of public art establishes the presence of the government in our everyday lives. Secondly is the glorification of workers. Depictions of workers are often of a group of strong, unyielding men undaunted by the days work.
CCC (Civilivan Conservation Corps) boys working, Prince George’s Country, Maryland, Nov 1935
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
FAP artists sought to paint everyday life. The handwork and hard work of individuals resonates in all of us regardless of class. The art of this time serves as a reminder of how our nation was started and how it recovered from the one of the worst economic downturns in history.
Delilah Montoya, "Humane Borders" and "Desire Lines" - 8/15/14
Delilah Montoya is the next photographer to be featured in a solo exhibition in our Focus on Photography series. The exhibition Delilah Montoya : Syncretism looks at several series' of photographs she has produced throughout her career.
One of these series is called Sed: Trail of Thirst . Although the photographs were taken in 2004, the issue of people crossing the US-Mexico border dying from dehydration in the dry desert climate is just as relevant today as it was then. Click below to hear the artist in her own words discuss her work.
My Summer at the Museum - 8/6/14
Today’s blog post comes from Sharifa Lookman, an undergraduate student in Art History at Wesleyan University and summer intern at the New Mexico Museum of Art.
Ever since I was young I have had a love affair with art, one that I explored wholeheartedly throughout my childhood and adolescence. I wanted to be an artist until I was fifteen and a writer up until age seventeen. It wasn’t until my freshman year of university that I recognized an inherent passion, not solely in the production of art or words, but in their historical context. Through my summer internship in the New Mexico Museum of Art Library and Archives all of these interests coalesced and I was given the unique and highly influential opportunity to explore the inner workings of an international art museum.
Hidden in the basement, in the midst of an often confusing brick-lined maze, lives the museum’s Library and Archives. Lined with books, magazines, and file folders the space beckons to be explored and is enough to tempt even the most adversarial researcher.
I began this internship with the intention of learning about the different opportunities in the line of museum work. I sought multidisciplinary exposure to museum work and the opportunity to work on a variety of projects to clarify my strengths and interests. Soon thereafter I was tasked with writing biweekly blog posts, conducting research, and assisting the archivist in curating the research areas for current and upcoming exhibitions.
Crafting the museum blog entries was great exposure to the museum’s technology platform. It also gave me the opportunity to create my own prompts and reflect on art history, whether Western or indigenous, and relate it to art of New Mexico. This challenged me to apply my university studies to the NMMA collection by crafting essays that reflected on works from canonical historic periods, such as the Renaissance and Early Modern, and draw thematic and technical parallels to New Mexican art. Not only did this force me to refine my technical writing skills, particularly in the subject of art and art history, it encouraged me, through the lens of art of Western antiquity, to cultivate a newfound knowledge and appreciation for arts of the Southwest. The collection was a mere two minute walk upstairs, an immense asset when I sought inspiration for my essays. Conducting research in the library and archives also equipped me with refined research and organization skills.
Working with the archivist on exhibition research areas introduced me to the importance of translating and clarifying sometimes cumbersome artistic themes to a general audience. To do so I created informational handouts that had to be legible, visually stimulating, and written in the vernacular. These requirements exercised my creativity in design and concision in writing.
As an intern I was also invited to take part in the projects of different museum departments and therefore learned about conservation by cleaning the Women’s Board historic furniture and outreach by attending public programming meetings. By attending and taking part in workshops and exhibitions I was exposed to another facet of the museum world that validated all of my backstage efforts.
Any museum, whether big or small, is only possible by the conjoined efforts of its multiple departments. I began this internship with limited knowledge of these many departments and the logistics involved in both the everyday and long-term function of a museum. The archivist was outstanding in orienting me with the various employment positions in museums and speaking to me about educational requisites to get there. This information was both realistic and inspiring. In addition to equipping me with insight into a museum’s behind the scenes operations, this internship experience has reaffirmed my passion for art history and motivated my intention to pursue a museum career.
Capturing the Moon's Beauty - 7/25/14
Today's blog post comes from Elisa Macomber. Macomber is an artist and feng shui consultant (www.pinkdwelling.com) living in Santa Fe, with a degree in Art and Design from Frostburg State University.
The moon, with its simple roundness and illuminating light, has always held an intriguing power over us, affecting our moods and the tides of the ocean. It is said that during full moons, more natural disasters occur as well as an increase in pregnancies! Superstitions aside, there is no mistaking the profound effect it has on us all, with its glorious and soft moonlight that has inspired many artists to visually capture its black and white juxtaposed beauty.
Since New Mexico has the perfect landscape to fully view the next super moon coming up on August 10th, perhaps some artistic inputs and scientific facts will inspire you to appreciate the power of the moon. The name “super moon” has been erroneously mistaken for its size while low on the horizon; it was actually termed that because of the moon being at its closest point in its orbit to Earth.
Many photographers and artists know all too well how evasive the moon can be, due to its 28-day cycle and ever-changing weather patterns that hide it, whereby taking care to plan the perfect time to visually capture of the moon coming up from behind a cloud or a mountain on a clear night. Unlike a tree or mountain remaining still, the moon continuously changes from Earth as we look at it in the dark sky, making it more elusive to get a good, long look at it.
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941 (printed 1980)
15 3/8 x 19 1/8 in. (39.1 x 48.6 cm)
gelatin silver print
Gift of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, 1982
Ansel Adams's popular photograph, Moonrise over Hernandez, NM, is one such example of a “quick discovery” because to really capture the moon, the timing must be right, the light must be right, the clouds must not be covering the moon, and Adams, according to his assistants and family, scrambled together the camera and tripod off the side of a lonely dirt road while they were traveling back to Santa Fe for the night. Adams was frantic in trying to get the image captured in time and he succeeded, knowing fully well that a few seconds later would have resulted in a not-so-luminous image of the moon, hovering over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The moon, almost centered in the photograph, seems to radiate its brilliant light over the clouds and the landscape, leaving the top portion of the photograph in pitch blackness.
Ray Belcher, a New Jersey native, who took Moonset, a photographic image that shows the orbital path of the moon, rather than the moon in still motion, also reflected that “the picture reflects a moment of being and what happens in that moment.” It is clear that the picture evokes movement, the feeling that one is spinning along with the sky. The contrast between the rocky landscape and the streaked sky offers a lonely yet stirring feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere.
12 x 9 1/2 in.
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gil and Eileen Hitchcock, 1984
Many “moonscape” works of art hold a quiet yet evoking feeling over us, since we only can view its luminescence at nighttime. With its whitish gray shape of an orb hanging in the sky alone, it is no wonder it continues to be a source of inspiration for creative artists, over many generations. To see other examples of artistic moonscapes, take a look at the following works here:
Douglas Walter Johnson
Moonset, Winter Dawn
The French Connection - 7/14/2014
Today’s blog post comes from Sharifa Lookman, an undergraduate student in Art History at Wesleyan University and summer intern at the New Mexico Museum of Art.
The acclaim of New Mexico’s artistic culture derives from the work of artists such as Georgia O’Keefe, who immortalized the Abiquiu landscape in paintings, to Maria Martinez, who examined her heritage through traditional Pueblo pottery. A transformative component of New Mexico’s artistic identity that, unlike the aforementioned artists, cannot be solely attributed to one hand, is the Taos Society of Artists. The Taos Society of Artists was established by a group of explorative American painters who, upon arriving in Taos, were infatuated by its unique culture and seemingly virgin landscapes. Pioneered by Joseph Henry Sharp in 1915, a Cincinnati based artist who first visited the region in 1893, this cooperative was soon joined by Ernest Blumenschein, Bert Phillips, Oscar Berninghaus, E. Irving Couse, and W. Herbert Dunton. This was a commercial society with the mission of selling artwork through traveling exhibitions, a mission that eventually helped the modest town evolve into an international art center. Of these six artists, four traveled to Paris where they studied the Western historical tradition. Though equipped with this canonical understanding of Western art, these artists found it difficult to properly articulate the unique imagery of New Mexico. This stylistic and aesthetic struggle instigated conflict and confusion in defining both artistic style and cultural identification. As evidenced by their work’s style and imagery, these artists attempted to define realistic and romantic styles while struggling to represent the cultural differences between Europeans and indigenous New Mexicans.
Mountains Near Taos, 1926-34
Oil on canvas
Dallas Museum of Art
Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bellevue, 1885
Oil on canvas
Barnes Foundation of Philadelphia
Within their work these artists all exhibit a mastery of painting techniques that can only be attributed to careful academic study. In addition to the influence of the old masters, their works recall the palette and compositional technique of their European contemporaries. One contemporary in particular, whose work each artist would undoubtedly have been exposed to in their studies, is Paul Cézanne. At roughly twenty years older than these artists’ median age, Cézanne’s transformative work was the subject of debate and analysis when these young artists engaged in their Parisian studies. This European influence is easily illustrated, both in defiance and emulation of, in Ernest Blumenschein’s Mountains Near Taos when compared to Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bellevue. Mountains Near Taos references the light of Mont Sainte-Victoire in its sculptural quality. In both works it is the contrast between light and dark that establishes form, particularly in the mid-ground houses. Notwithstanding, however, Cézanne’s light source is quite vaguer than the directness of Blumenschein’s, though the sun does appear to be off canvas to the right in both pieces. The arrangement of Blumenschein’s composition nearly identically quotes that of Cézanne’s. Like Cézanne he depicts a land fractioned into green and brown squares, a mid-ground dotted with yellow ochre houses, and a large-scale mountain range that consumes roughly half of the composition. Despite these similarities, it is important to acknowledge the stylistic differences. Though both are representational, Cézanne’s piece is of a proto-cubist aesthetic while Blumenschein’s imagery is more inclined to realism. This divergence concisely illustrates the necessity of marrying artistic styles in an effort to properly represent the nonconformity of the New Mexican landscape.
Joseph Henry Sharp
Taos Indian Portrait, 1914
Oil on canvas
Gift of Joseph Henry Sharp, 1914
In addition to defining an artistic style capable of visually representing New Mexico, artists struggled to respectfully depict its indigenous culture. Joseph Henry Sharp, who is colloquially termed the father of the Taos art colony, had an intent interest in Native Americans. True to his training in European techniques, Sharp created portraits with acclaimed anthropological accuracy. His European sensibilities were assets in such cases, but they proved to be crutches when realistically depicting the people’s culture. Many foreigners to New Mexico perceived it as an exotic nation, though it was part of the United States, and thus imposed national and international aesthetics on a culture that they found to be raw and malleable. The artists claimed to have sympathy towards their Native American models, which they likely believed in naivety. Despite his enthusiasm for Native Americans, Sharp did not possess an extensive knowledge of their culture and would dress up his models (in indigenous garb of his own collection) that actually derived from a different tribe. In turn, his pieces were realistic, but not real. Many historians attribute the many scowling faces and sorrowful glances of Sharp’s subjects to this notion that they were angry and offended to be forced into another tribe’s attire and then painted. Though perhaps overly inferential, this interpretation is validated in Sharp’s Taos Indian Portrait where the figure’s annoyance is palpable and his grimace stern.
New Mexican art was transformed and enriched with the introduction of European artistic techniques. With them newcomers brought wisdom gained from the great European painting masters and subsequently introduced the possibility of increased skill and international acclaim to New Mexico. With them, however, they also introduced a cultural bias that manipulated the physical and emotional façade of preexisting indigenous cultures. This was a difficult transition for many, but it was through this effort of the Taos Society of Artists that, through many trials, we were able to discover a style with the necessary technique and cultural accuracy to depict the rare beauty that is unique to New Mexico’s landscape and people.