Paintings, drawings, and prints by Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper, Robert Henri, Gustave Baumann, and many familiar names in Southwestern art can be seen in an exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art. Organized by independent curator Valerie Ann Leeds, Southwestern Allure: The Art of the Santa Fe Art Colony comes to Santa Fe after showing in Florida, at the Boca Raton Museum of Art and the Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando. Leeds is no stranger to Santa Fe’s museum and gallery scene, having curated two exhibitions of Henri’s paintings for the Gerald Peters Gallery (in 1998 and 2011), and another on his work in Ireland, which was shown at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in 2011. As might be expected, the main subjects of the works in the present exhibition include the landscape, Native peoples and their ceremonies, and Southwestern scenes, with many images of adobe buildings. The works are executed in a variety of styles, from realism to Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and other modernist formulations. The last date to the late 1930s and the rise of the Transcendental school of painting. Before you begin to wonder if there are better examples of early-20th-century Southwestern paintings in Florida collections than there are here, rest assured that the majority of works in the show actually come from New Mexico, with Gerald and Kathleen Peters the principal lenders.
The label on one of the Baumann woodblock prints includes a quote by the artist that calls into question the exhibition’s curatorial premise: “While Santa Fe has its quota of artists, it never was a colony in the accepted sense. Its interests are too diversified, which as far as I was concerned was a lucky break.” What do you need for a colony to be a colony? Can we count any artist who passed through Santa Fe and made work here? Does the work need to conform to a certain subject matter or style? What about the Native American and Hispano artists who were already working in the Southwest before Henri and O’Keeffe were born? The label “Santa Fe Art Colony” refers to both a time frame between about 1910 and World War II and a collection of artists who were mostly trained outside of Santa Fe in traditional mediums like painting and sculpture. So Bernardo Miera y Pacheco, a Spanish colonial painter and the sculptor of the retablo in Cristo Rey Church, was not a member of the colony. Neither was Georgia O’Keeffe, although she is represented in the exhibition by a painting on loan from the Orlando Museum of Art.