California and New Mexico are connected by far more than Route 66. One of the more significant links is evident in the twenty-eight works exhibited in Material Matters: Selections from the Joann and Gifford Phillips Gift. In the contemporary art world, experimentation connects artists in both states to the evolution of abstraction and the invigoration of the art scenes in California and New Mexico.
Back East, following World War II, abstract expressionism reigned. Indeed, New York had become the center of the art world. Out West, a creative brew was bubbling.
John D. McLaughlin, #22, 1961, oil on canvas, 48 x 60 in.
Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift of Gifford and Joann Phillips, 1980 (4570.23P)
Photograph by Blair Clark ©Stanley Gregg Cook
By the middle of the 20th century, California artists were creating hybrid works. These artists experimented with new visual means of expression, new materials and new formats, including acrylic paint, resin, shiny surfaces and solar burns. In other words, material matters were affecting art, according to Merry Scully, Curator. “Artists were taking chances, redefining their media, breaking ground and making works that would eventually reverberate nationally and internationally.”
Two time periods are represented in this exhibit. The early work by these California based artists, emphasizing process and material creation, was created in the early 1950s to the 1970s. This work depicts the change in style from East Coast abstract expressionism towards more minimal and geometric abstraction. As a result of their work, California artists moved from the backwater to center stage, nudging New York artists to move over at least a tad. California had rightfully earned the right to shine in the international art world, also.
Many of these artists had ties to New Mexico. Richard Diebenkorn, for example, attended the University of New Mexico. Lee Mullican had a place in Taos and representation at a Taos gallery. Joann and Gifford Phillips, who lived in California, actively supported the contemporary art scene in the Golden State. In the sixties, the Phillips bought a place in Santa Fe and began to live here part-time. Once they arrived, the Phillips began collecting New Mexico art, which, like some of their earlier California pieces, were gifted to the Museum.
These particular New Mexico works, created in the 1980s, represent the second time period in the exhibit. During this period Santa Fe became known for its contemporary artists as well as the more familiar traditional Southwest art often associated with the area. Like the art created in California during the 50s, 60s and 70s, this period denotes a seismic shift in the art scene especially in Santa Fe but also New Mexico. Both periods reinforce the notion that the West is uninhibited and creative.
The artists represented in the Material Matters are: John Altoon, Greg Card, Max Cole, Richard Diebenkorn, Ynez Johnson, Matsumi Kanemitsu, Frank Lobdell, Jay McCafferty, Allan McCollum, John McLaughlin, Edward Moses, Lee Mullican, Peter Plagens, Hassel Smith, Emerson Woeffler, Tom Wudl, Garo Antreasian, Ron Cooper, Allan Graham, Richard Hogan and Eugene Newmann.
Art on the Edge, a second exhibit on display at the Museum, also highlights the experimental nature of Western artists willing to push their work to achieve an expanded point of view. Or as the late writer Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) once stated: “I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”
Moreover, Art on the Edge is a continuation of the nearly one-hundred-year-old tradition at the New Mexico Museum of Art, which, from its founding in 1917, opened its doors to artists and the community to showcase the arts.
The seven contemporary artists in Art on the Edge were selected from three hundred submissions by Nora Burnett Abrams, Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. The artists are from New Mexico or the states adjoining our borders: Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona and Utah. Painting, photography, collage and sculpture are represented. The artists include: Will Clift, Danae Falliers, Christ Oatey, Sarah McKenzie, Kate Rivers, Ian Fisher and Jill Christian.
Both exhibits run from April 17 to August 16, 2015.