T. C. Cannon, Washington Landscape with Peace Medal Indian (1976), acrylic on canvas, collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art
Georgia O’Keeffe, Desert Abstraction (Bear Lake)  (1931), oil on canvas, on long term loan to the New Mexico Museum of Art from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation (1984.336)
Fritz Scholder, Snake Dancer (1967), oil on board, collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art (2410.23P)
Raymond Jonson, Light (1917), oil on canvas, collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art (292.23P)

Staff Writer
T. C. Cannon, Washington Landscape with Peace Medal Indian (1976), acrylic on canvas, collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art
The snake dance arrives at the culmination of ceremonies for seasonal, life-giving rains. The snake priests reach into the kisi, a cone-shaped shrine built to hold the snakes, grabbing them by hand and mouth. This dramatic scene — a priest with snake held firmly in the mouth — remains among the most prevalent of the traditional Indigenous dances scenes in the representational art of New Mexico.
And that’s a dissertation waiting to happen.
But the Hopi snake dance is the prominent motif in a section of the exhibition Western Eyes: 20th Century Art Here and Now at the New Mexico Museum of Art (through Jan. 8) on Native dances. And Christian Waguespack, the museum’s curator of 20th-century art, uses the snake dance to highlight various approaches to Indigenous representation.
“We had an intern a while back, Michelle Lanteri, who’s now the curator at the Millicent Rogers Museum,” says Waguespack, whose exhibition is a broad overview of the museum’s collection of 20th-century art in New Mexico and designed to highlight the major movements, themes, and influences that shaped it. “She came to study for a summer. When she was here, she mentioned offhand that she thinks the snake dance is probably the most commonly represented Indigenous ceremony in New Mexican art history. We thought we’d look into what we have in our collection and, for us at least, it’s very true.”
This section, titled “Ceremonial Dance,” includes works by artists Joseph Imhof, Gustave Baumann, and Fritz Scholder — all of them outsiders — who found inspiration in regional customs after coming to New Mexico.
Fritz Scholder, Snake Dancer (1967), oil on board, collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art (2410.23P)
Throughout the exhibition, which includes around 80 works, visitors can expect to find artworks paired side by side to invite comparisons or at the corners of adjoining walls, as is the case with Scholder’s oil painting Snake Dancer (1967) and Baumann’s Winter Ceremony — Deer Dance (1922). Between them, expect wholly divergent takes on style and intention. Baumann, who is known more for his color woodblocks than for his paintings, goes for a more symbolic representation, rendering dancers in a series of groupings that recede into the background. But Baumann lends the painting an overall feeling of balance and rhythm. He places the figures in a landscape (suggested more than literal) but devoid of context. No attending public. No recognizable features of the landscape. No Pueblo architecture or plaza. Just the dancers, regularly spaced, and advancing in an emblematic representation.
No less emblematic is Scholder’s Snake Dancer, an abstract representation in which the solitary figure of the priest and the dangling snake (which, in Scholder’s loose, gestural brush work, appears almost like a stream of blood pouring from the figure). An artist of Indigenous Luiseño and European descent, Scholder had no interest in exploring Native subject matter because he didn’t feel a deep connection to his own Native ancestry. That changed when he came to teach at the Institute of American Indian Arts in the early 1960s.
“As the story goes, [artist] T.C. Cannon had a lot to do with kind of convincing him that it was something worth exploring,” Waguespack says. “When he finally did, the work was very not romanticized. It was a darker take on Indigenous life. Then there’s the question of his footing in that culture. He’s part Luiseño, but also part German. He grew up in the Midwest. Later, he came to that Indigenous identity, and I think had a ‘will you, won’t you?’ relationship with it. I wanted to bring in the Scholder to talk about later generations of Indigenous artists, particularly folks working out of IAIA who were challenging existing representational modes for Indigenous folks.”
Georgia O’Keeffe, Desert Abstraction (Bear Lake)  (1931), oil on canvas, on long term loan to the New Mexico Museum of Art from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation (1984.336)
Waguespack’s previous collection-based exhibit at the museum, Storytellers: Narrative Art and the West, which came down in February, had a tighter focus on the regional art of northern New Mexico. As Waguespack says, it was “looking from the inside out.” Western Eyes is, conversely, looking from the outside in.
That means much of its purview is concerned with the artistic influences brought in from artists arriving from other locales and the confluence of their previous artistic experience and the new vistas inspired by New Mexico.
Travel to the Southwest increased in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A section on “Local Inspiration” looks at the influence of Indigenous culture and aesthetics on their work.
Rebecca Salsbury (Strand) James’ undated colcha embroidery Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is a spiritual representation which includes a cross-bearing lamb attended by angels and doves of peace. Waguespack included a historic cloche embroidery to hang beside it, in order to show the kinds of examples that inspired James.
The section also takes a look at how regional Pueblo pottery influenced subject matter and design elements. Baumann’s color woodcut Night Ceremony (1948), for instance, takes the geometric patterns of Pueblo pottery and reconfigures them in a modernist abstraction.
So too pop artist Roy Lichtenstein adapted Native American imagery and motifs to his singular pop-style. In Lichtenstein’s soft-ground etching Two Figures with Teepee (1980), symbolic and architectural elements (the teepee) are divorced from any narrative context and reduced to being design elements in a work concerned more with relationships of color and form than with meaning. Although he isn’t associated with New Mexico, even in his Native-themed works, his work is included to show the influence of Native aesthetics on modernist and post-war art.
“[Lichtenstein] isn’t often associated with Western art or Indigenous art, but he was a very avid collector of Indigenous artifacts,” Waguespack says.
Much of Western Eyes‘ purview is concerned with the artistic influences brought in from artists arriving from other locales and the confluence of their previous artistic experience and the new vistas inspired by New Mexico.
But outside influences also shaped the trajectory of regional arts by local artists working from tradition. A case in point is the unpainted carvings of Cordova, New Mexico-based artists, whose works were an innovation on the typically polychrome bultos (sculptures in the round) of saints and other subjects of Roman Catholicism. Spanish Colonial Arts Society co-founder Frank Applegate convinced the Cordova artists that their bultos would appeal more to the tourists if they were not painted.
The museum is showing Eurgencio Lopez’s Expulsion from the Garden (circa 1977), an unpainted carved bulto depicting a scene from the Old Testament.
“We don’t have any Cordova carvings in our collection because they’re considered more folk art,” Waguespack says. “I don’t like that, so I’m willing to bring some in.”
The section includes Patrociño Barela’s ponderosa pine relief carving The Garden of Eden (circa 1948). Barela’s work stood in sharp contrast to other regional wood carvers. Although he also often explored religious iconography in unpainted works, he did so in a semi-abstract way, allowing the natural forms of the wood to dictate the shapes. It was as though he saw the forms in the wood, before any artistic intervention took place, and sought only to release them. Celebrated as a modernist, a folk artist, and an outsider artist, Barela was self-taught. A handyman who worked odd jobs for little pay, his tragic story is defined by an idiosyncratic and compulsive need to create and a struggle with alcoholism. He died in a fire in his studio in 1964 at the age of 62.
Raymond Jonson, Light (1917), oil on canvas, collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art (292.23P)
Other sections of the exhibit include “Abstraction,” “Government Support for the Arts,” which looks at the influence on New Deal-era art projects in New Mexico, and “Modern Landscapes,” which explores the impact of the Southwest’s scenic landscapes on classically and European-trained artists.
From the post-impressionist works of Willard Nash to the semi-abstract landscapes of Raymond Jonson, whose focus was less on realism than on pattern and color, artists brought a diverse treatment to the landscape that reflected the trends of the greater art world while also extending its influence outward. Jonson’s oil on canvas, Light (1917), is an atmospheric, emotionally charged representation of a solitary pillar of stone, silhouetted by a rising or setting sun, and dominated by shades of purple and yellow.
“I’m always impressed by the idea that Jonson was doing work like this at the same time that the Taos Society of Artists were doing their very traditional portraiture within a stone’s throw of each other.”
Part of the reasoning in a large-scale, collection-based exhibition like Western Eye is to provide visitors with a sense of what’s in its holdings of more than 20,000 artworks and prepare them for the kinds of historic and 20th-century-based shows the museum will be mounting when its contemporary annex, Vladem Contemporary, opens this winter. Its focus on American realism, Indigenous modernism, Native American art, and Mexican modernism can almost be seen as a reflection of the world beyond New Mexico’s borders, as a microcosm of artistic trends that shaped American art.
So too the aesthetics of Western art was imprinted on the greater art scene, and Western Eye considers this confluence of external and internal influences to locate the city’s signature art museum at the crossroads.
▼ Western Eyes: 20th Century Art Here and Now
▼ New Mexico Museum of Art, 107 W. Palace Ave.
▼ Through Jan. 8
▼ By admission ($12, with discounts available); 505-476-5072, nmartmuseum.org
Staff Writer
{{description}}
Email notifications are only sent once a day, and only if there are new matching items.
Advertisement
Pasatiempo’s most popular online content from the past seven days
Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.
Sorry, an error occurred.

Stay informed of the latest local news by receiving emails as soon as news is posted online.
Receive a list of headlines from the latest edition of The New Mexican in your inbox every morning.
Contests and special offers from The Santa Fe New Mexican and advertising partners.

Thank you .
Your account has been registered, and you are now logged in.
Check your email for details.
Invalid password or account does not exist
Submitting this form below will send a message to your email with a link to change your password.
An email message containing instructions on how to reset your password has been sent to the e-mail address listed on your account.

Secure & Encrypted
Secure transaction. Cancel anytime.

Thank you.
Your purchase was successful, and you are now logged in.
A receipt was sent to your email.

source

Shop Sephari