Past Exhibition

Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist

Agnes Pelton, Awakening (Memory of Father), 1943, oil on canvas, 22 x 28 in. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Museum purchase, 2005 (2005.27.1) Photo by Blair Clark.

The traveling exhibition, Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist, on view from October 5, 2019, to January 5, 2020 at the New Mexico Museum of Art, surveys the works of an artist who made significant contributions within twentieth-century abstraction. Pelton’s work has been associated with Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley, and yet remained unrepresented in critical artistic spaces until recently. The exhibition contextualizes Pelton with her peers in the American modernist abstraction movement currently being studied as part of the canon of art history.

More than forty works on view reflect Pelton’s interests in enigmatic practices such as numerology and Agnes Yogi. The subjects of her paintings balance conceptual forms with objects haloed and wreathed by unseen sources, distinguishing her body of work. Considered a pioneering force, Pelton’s paintings animate energy and vibrations that bloom around the astral and physical bodies of the desert. These crystalline studies did not gather audiences during Pelton’s life but set her work at the forefront of modern scholarship about American abstraction of the early 1900s.

Merry Scully, senior curator of the New Mexico Museum of Art, speaks regarding the exhibition.  “It is wonderful that Agnes Pelton is the subject of a large traveling exhibition and we are very happy to be one of the exhibitions venues.”

Included in this major traveling exhibition of Pelton’s work is a painting from the New Mexico Museum of Art’s collection.  Awakening, the artwork from 1943 was added to the Museum of Art collection in 2005 and was also recently written about by artist Judy Chicago in the book It Speaks to Me: Art that Inspires Artists.

Scully continues, “Awakening is a prized, and popular, work from our collection.  It will be a real treat for visitors to the New Mexico Museum of Art to see our painting in the context of so many other artworks by the artist. When the exhibition leaves the Museum of Art it will travel to museums in New York and California. It is a double delight to be able to share that work from or collection with museum visitors across the country.”

Pelton was born to American parents in Germany in 1881 and lived in Switzerland before moving to the United States in 1888. Pelton graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1906 and did not begin painting abstractions until the mid-1920s in New York. Having no connections within elite art communities, Pelton remained largely unknown despite being compared to Georgia O’Keeffe for her landscape paintings and studying under Arthur Wesley Dow. In 1932, Pelton moved to Cathedral City, California, removing herself from the mainstream art community.  In 1938, she immersed herself further into symbolic representations and became a founding member of the Transcendental Painting Group, a collection of New Mexican artists focusing on spiritual works.

Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist premiered at the Phoenix Art Museum, where curator Gilbert Vicario organized works alongside Pelton’s writings and interests, drawing a timeline of Pelton’s life and artistic development. In addition to evaluating her place within esoteric abstraction, the exhibition moves to discuss her works against a broader, international frame. Peers analyzed in the exhibition’s context include Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Wassily Kandinsky, and Hilma af Klint, all of which evoked spiritualism through various mediums.

New Mexico Museum of Art proudly presents the traveling exhibition, before it travels on to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and then to Palm Springs Art Museum in California. An opening reception will take place Friday, October 4, 2019 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public.


There will be a lecture by Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist curator Gilbert Vicario, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and The Selig Family Chief Curator from the Phoenix Museum of Art on Saturday, October 5, 2019 in the St. Francis Auditorium at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist is organized by the Phoenix Art Museum. It is made possible through the generosity of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and is supported in part by an

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