Dark­ness falls Nightscapes at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art


Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER - Michael Abatemarco I The New Mex­i­can

THE noc­turne, a mu­si­cal com­po­si­tion evoca­tive of night and of­ten meant to be played after dark, came to promi­nence in the 19th cen­tury after Ir­ish com­poser John Field pub­lished the first set specif­i­cally des­ig­nated as noc­turnes in 1814. When James McNeill Whistler mined the vo­cab­u­lary of mu­sic late in the 19th cen­tury — call­ing many of his works sym­phonies, har­monies, and ar­range­ments — the noc­turne was among his fre­quent sub­jects: tonal paint­ings of dis­so­lute night­time land­scapes that were im­pres­sion­is­tic and emo­tive. While night scenes ex­isted in art long be­fore Whistler’s time, they were never called noc­turnes. To­day, the term is ap­plied more gen­er­ally to any night­time scene and is as com­mon a sub­ject for art as it is for mu­sic.

The New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art has a sur­pris­ing num­ber of noc­turnes of its own, in­clud­ing some by the more prom­i­nent 20th-cen­tury artists in its col­lec­tion: Gus­tave Bau­mann, Ger­ald Cas­sidy, and Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe. Their works, as well as many oth­ers, are fea­tured in Wait Un­til Dark, an ex­hibit open­ing Fri­day, Nov. 17. Like Whistler’s fo­cus on the feel­ing or im­pres­sion of night, part of the ex­hibit is de­voted to the mood of an evening: land­scapes seen by moon­light or be­neath star-filled or dark­en­ing skies. Noc­turnes can be threat­en­ing or mys­te­ri­ous. They can even be com­fort­ing, de­pict­ing a wel­com­ing light that in­vites a weary trav­eler in from the dark and cold.

The sec­tion of the show that deals with the feel­ings night can in­duce also con­sid­ers the chal­lenges of paint­ing night scenes. “It’s a whole dif­fer­ent kind of tool set,” said Chris­tian Wagues­pack, the mu­seum’s cu­ra­tor of 20th-cen­tury art. “Look­ing at a land­scape with a very dif­fer­ent tonal pal­ette than you’re used to is rough. Joseph Henry Sharp was re­ally well-known for paint­ing night scenes and that got me think­ing about it. When­ever I talk about this project with peo­ple, one of the re­sponses I get the most is, ‘Do you guys have enough night­time paint­ings in New Mex­ico?’ ”

It turns out that the mu­seum has a lot of night scenes in its col­lec­tion. It’s a com­mon re­frain that artists who formed the Taos and Santa Fe art colonies in the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies, as well as those who were drawn to the New Mex­ico within the past 100 years, were daz­zled by the pas­tel col­ors of the land­scapes of the South­west, as well as the big skies, the moun­tain­ous vis­tas, mesas, and canyons. Views of the land­scape in the bright light of day are among the most com­mon im­ages you see of New Mex­ico. Wait Un­til Dark of­fers a con­trast­ing view, but it isn’t ex­clu­sively a show of New Mex­ico nightscapes. In­cluded, for in­stance, is a pas­toral noc­turne painted by East Coast artist Charles Harold Davis called The Quiet Light of Evening (painted be­fore 1933). “He was a Ton­al­ist pain­ter in Mys­tic, Con­necti­cut,” Wagues­pack said.

Also in­cluded is Betty Bink­ley Far­rar’s night seascape Moon­light; Hay­ley Lever’s Sail­boat in the Moon­light, an­other seascape; and Al­bert Pinkham Ry­der’s Sail­ing Un­der Moon­light. These works are not New Mex­i­c­o­cen­tric, and it’s a won­der they’re in the col­lec­tion of this par­tic­u­lar mu­seum at all. But the show is more about how artists en­gaged with night as a sub­ject than it is about a par­tic­u­lar re­gion.

The other ma­jor theme in the ex­hibit is on events that take place at night, such as re­li­gious pro­ces­sions and Na­tive dances. This sec­tion in­cludes a Sha­lako cer­e­mo­nial dance painted by Bau­mann in 1923, a rare ex­am­ple of his work in oils; Cas­sidy’s Sketch for Span­ish Dance Scene (circa 1920), a study for a mu­ral he in­tended for the Santa Fe Coun­try Club; and Paul Lantz’s phan­tas­magoric Firedancers (circa 1930), de­pict­ing five nude fig­ures danc­ing wildly around a blaz­ing bon­fire. “This piece by Lantz has been in the col­lec­tion, I think, since 1991, and it wasn’t even pho­tographed, so no­body had re­ally seen it be­fore,” Wagues­pack said. “It’s this huge paint­ing. It re­ally threw me for a loop be­cause of the sea­son; I re-watched Rose­mary’s Baby and there’s a scene with a sim­i­lar paint­ing.”

Wagues­pack is in­clud­ing about three dozen works from the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion. In ad­di­tion to a few


ex­am­ples of works by artists not as­so­ci­ated with New Mex­ico, like Ry­der and Davis, the show fea­tures works by New Mex­ico artists made be­fore they be­came as­so­ci­ated with the South­west or were painted while abroad. These in­clude Cas­sidy’s Fiesole,

Italy (circa 1926), de­pict­ing a kneel­ing fig­ure be­fore a reli­quary, and E. Martin Hen­nings’ At Dusk (circa 1912), an evening scene of two nude youths by a small camp­fire in the woods.

“This is a nice op­por­tu­nity for us to get to use some other works by artists peo­ple would know re­ally well,” Wagues­pack said. “Some are com­ing out for the very first time. Santa Fe and New Mex­ico folks know Hen­nings’ South­west­ern work, but we have a huge col­lec­tion of what he did in Eu­rope. He was study­ing in Mu­nich un­der one of the Sym­bol­ist masters, Franz von Stuck, and he worked in this fan­tas­tic Sym­bol­ist style.” Ac­cord­ing to Wagues­pack,

At Dusk is sup­pos­edly the first paint­ing by Hen­nings to in­cor­po­rate a back­drop of trees ren­dered in an Art Nou­veau style, a mo­tif he re­vis­ited time and again through­out his ca­reer. His later paint­ings of New Mex­ico land­scapes of­ten fea­tured as­pens in the full­ness of their au­tumn glory.

Sure to be an emo­tion­ally charged in­clu­sion, given the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal rhetoric in the United States that has em­bold­ened big­ots and white na­tion­al­ists, is Louis Ribak’s un­dated Ku Klux Klan Rally. The pic­ture was likely painted when the artist, orig­i­nally from the Lithua­nian prov­ince of Grodno Gu­ber­nia, was ac­tive in New York. He did an en­tire se­ries of paint­ings de­pict­ing Klan ac­tiv­i­ties in the re­gion. Later, after mov­ing to Taos in 1944, he be­came a prom­i­nent mem­ber of the Taos Mod­erns, a group of artists that in­cluded Ribak’s wife Beatrice Man­del­man, Agnes Martin, and Ed­ward Cor­bett, among oth­ers. Ribak, like the other Taos Mod­erns, be­came known for post­war ab­strac­tion.

Also in­cluded are a num­ber of prints by Gene Kloss, who of­ten de­picted Na­tive cer­e­mo­ni­als, Span­ish pen­i­tentes, and scenes of re­gional pueb­los. Noc­turnes form a sig­nif­i­cant part of her oeu­vre. “I wanted to in­clude her be­cause I think it’s a good chance for us to talk about me­dia and how aquatint re­ally lends it­self to do­ing night scenes, be­cause you kind of have to pull the im­age out of the al­ready black­ened back­ground,” Wagues­pack said. “It gives us an op­por­tu­nity to ed­u­cate peo­ple a lit­tle bit more about print­mak­ing pro­cesses. A solo ex­hi­bi­tion of Kloss’ work, New Mex­ico Etched in Time, opens on Nov. 30 at Le­wAllen Gal­leries.

For Wagues­pack, do­ing a show of noc­turnes was a la­bor of love and it came about by hap­pen­stance. “It’s some­thing that I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in,” he said. “Ever since I started work­ing here I’ve just kept an eye out for noc­turnes. I wasn’t re­ally ex­pect­ing that I’d be able to do any­thing with them. Then one day, I was in [cu­ra­tor] Kate Ware’s of­fice and a file popped up on her com­puter that was about night­time photography. I was like, ‘Oh. Have you been look­ing at this, too?’ It was some­thing we were both ex­cited about and came up with the idea of do­ing com­ple­men­tary shows.” The ex­hi­bi­tion Ware has sub­se­quently cu­rated, Shots in the Dark, a show of works by pho­tog­ra­phers Christo­pher Colville, Scott B. Davis, Michael Lund­gren, and Ken Rosen­thal, opens on Dec. 15.


Ger­ald Cas­sidy: Sketch for Span­ish Dance Scene (Mu­ral for Santa Fe Coun­try Club), circa 1920, oil on can­vas panel, photo Blair Clark; be­low, Vic­tor Hig­gins: Un­ti­tled (Red Tree and Adobe House), un­dated, oil on can­vas, photo Cameron Gay; all im­ages cour­tesy New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art

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