A cen­tury of art­work with a re­gional pal­ette at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art

A cen­tury of art with a re­gional pal­ette

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Michael Abatemarco

It’s a long time un­til Oc­to­ber, when the aspen leaves change color and the hills around Santa Fe are blan­keted in gold. But Colors of the South­west ,an ex­hibit at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art open­ing this week, has its share of works de­pict­ing the ma­jes­tic tree, a fa­vorite sub­ject for New Mex­ico land­scape pain­ters. E. Martin Hen­nings, orig­i­nally a Chicagoan, was one such artist. Hen­nings had stud­ied in Mu­nich with Sym­bol­ist painter Franz Von Stuck. But when he ar­rived in Taos in 1917, un­der the pa­tron­age of Chicago politi­cian Carter Har­ri­son Jr., his aes­thetics changed. “He had de­vel­oped this very dark style from his study in Mu­nich,” mu­seum cu­ra­tor Car­men Ven­delin told Pasatiempo . “He comes to New Mex­ico, has this break­through, and starts paint­ing in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way. In­stead of us­ing dark colors and heavy paint, he starts us­ing thin lay­ers of oil paint so he can get this lu­mi­nos­ity — and his pal­ette gets a lot lighter.” Hen­nings’ un­dated paint­ing The Ren­dezvous , with its ex­pres­sion­is­tic ren­der­ing of pale-yel­low as­pens and light greens and browns, ex­em­pli­fies the rich tones present in much of the work of New Mex­ico pain­ters. “You have peo­ple al­ready in this mind-set, where they’re at­tracted to New Mex­ico be­cause of the color and the light, and other peo­ple get here, and it’s a new thing for them,” Ven­delin said. “It changes the way they ap­proach art­mak­ing.”

Colors of the South­west , a se­lec­tion of more than 70 works culled from the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion, cov­ers a range from the early 20th cen­tury to the present. Though Ven­delin orig­i­nally wanted to in­clude a se­lec­tion of 19th­cen­tury works, “it ended up be­ing about this 20th-cen­tury in­ter­est in color,” she said. “In part, that comes from mod­ernism, but also from the shift from paint­ing land­scapes in stu­dios to go­ing out, ob­serv­ing, and paint­ing di­rectly in an out­door set­ting, where you’re re­ally see­ing the colors as you’re putting them in.”

Ven­delin, who has been in Santa Fe for about six months, cu­rated for the last eight years at the La Salle Uni­ver­sity Art Mu­seum in Philadel­phia. “I’m most in­ter­ested in the 19th and 20th cen­turies — re­ally, that pe­riod from 1870 through World War I, when you have the devel­op­ment of early mod­ernism and the Arts

and Crafts move­ment, and dif­fer­ent trends are merg­ing — art ar­eas that were more sep­a­rate in the past.” This is Ven­delin’s sec­ond cu­rated ex­hibit at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art (her first was last year’s Hunt­ing + Gath­er­ing: New Ad­di­tions to the Mu­seum’s Col­lec­tion , up through March 29), and it con­tin­ues the in­sti­tu­tion’s fo­cus on col­lec­tion-based shows.

The lat­est ex­hibit in­cludes pieces by im­por­tant artists work­ing in the state through­out the past cen­tury, Gus­tave Bau­mann, Emil Bist­tram, and Dorothy Mo­rang among them. Bau­mann’s Day of the Deer Dance (1918) is a gouache de­pict­ing a pue­blo at the base of a steep canyon. “It’s a study for a print that he did. In the print he changed some of the colors. Here, it’s pink and yel­low. It’s got more or­ange in the print ver­sion. I’m also putting up a pair of as­pens that he did: a gouache and a fin­ished wood­cut,” Ven­delin said. “Bau­mann is a good ex­am­ple of some­one who was re­ally a colorist.” But land­scapes are not the only com­po­si­tions in the show, which also draws on ab­stracts, still lifes, and por­trai­ture. Louise Crow’s por­trait Yen-see-do , painted be­fore 1919, is a strik­ing im­age that merges re­al­ism with a flat modernist per­spec­tive, con­trast­ing darker hues of red and black with pale pur­ple and yel­low. “She was only out here for a few years. Then she went back to Cal­i­for­nia and died in ob­scu­rity. She had been do­ing pretty well for a while, and then her rep­u­ta­tion faded and she died pen­ni­less.” De­spite her stalled ca­reer, Crow’s por­trait is among the more iconic works in the mu­seum’s hold­ings.

A more re­cent work, con­tem­po­rary artist Billy Schenck’s Pop-style Com­ing Down From the Moun­tain — a sun­set scene from 2010 — em­ploys many shades of pur­ple for its dom­i­nant color. “I’ve also in­cluded a few prints, some photography, and ce­ram­ics, which I think is some­thing peo­ple might not ex­pect,” Ven­delin said.

An­other thing vis­i­tors might not ex­pect to see in a show about color is a black-and­white paint­ing. But there is one: Stu­art Davis’ New Mex­i­can Peak , which was painted in 1923. While many of the mod­ernists who came to New Mex­ico were at­tracted to the nat­u­ral beauty of the land­scape, Davis felt the

pic­turesque ter­rain limited artists to more lit­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tions, a per­spec­tive at odds with his own ten­dency to sim­plify and re­duce forms. And so, amid the ex­u­ber­ant hues that dom­i­nate the ex­hibit, the ab­sence of color be­comes a part of the dia­logue. “He felt there was noth­ing for him to do as an artist be­cause he didn’t want to sim­ply de­pict what he saw. For him, it was frus­trat­ing, so he only came for one sum­mer. My in­ter­pre­ta­tion of his land­scape is that he’s try­ing to deal with how to make art by tak­ing all the color away and us­ing re­ally heavy out­lines. He’s try­ing to bind the ex­pan­sive forms. In­stead of let­ting the space open up, he’s try­ing to con­strict it.”

De­spite Colors of the South­west ’s broad fo­cus on 20th-cen­tury art, much of the works date to the modernist ex­plo­sion, when, ac­cord­ing to Ven­delin, World War I pre­vented artists from the tra­di­tional — al­most req­ui­site — study of art in Europe. In­stead, they sought in­spi­ra­tion else­where, and New Mex­ico be­came a nexus. “All the mod­ernists came to visit. You’ve got Mars­den Hart­ley and, of course, Robert Henri. All th­ese artists who might not have ever come here, or oth­er­wise known it ex­isted, ended up com­ing by in­vi­ta­tion from their friends. When peo­ple are try­ing to de­scribe what is ‘South­west­ern’ about South­west­ern art, they’re go­ing to men­tion color and light. But you also have the artists them­selves, writ­ing about how spe­cial it is.”

E. Martin Hen­nings: The Ren­dezvous , un­dated, oil on can­vas; op­po­site page, left, Louise Crow: Yen-see-do , be­fore 1919, oil on can­vas;

right, Gus­tave Bau­mann: Day of the Deer Dance , 1918, opaque wa­ter­color; images cour­tesy New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art

Kate Krasin: Fly­ing Red Buf­falo , 1977, silkscreen

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