The year ahead promises to bring a bonanza of terrific art exhibitions to western museums around the country. From iconic photographs in California to Taos artists in Denver, we’ve rounded up some of the most highly anticipated shows to give you a sneak peek.
By Bonnie Gangelhoff
This story was featured in the January 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art January 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
A Place in the Sun: The Southwest Paintings of Walter Ufer & E. Martin Hennings
Denver Art Museum, December 13-April 24
Painters Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings were lifelong friends who both found their artistic homes in Taos, NM, early in the 20th century. The Denver Art Museum celebrates their contributions to American art in an exhibition that features 38 major works. A Place in the Sun: The Southwest Paintings of Walter Ufer & E. Martin Hennings highlights both the similarities and differences in the artists’ backgrounds, experiences, and painting styles.
Exhibit curator Thomas Brent Smith points out that it’s somewhat unique for the museum to present a two-person exhibition—usually exhibitions focus either on one artist or on a group of artists. “But we felt that by pairing the two together, we could tell a larger story about American art in the period between the wars,” Smith says. “The idea was to show the artists at their very best. All works are carefully selected, and the exhibit includes their major, award-winning paintings.”
Although both painters were drawn to the Native American and Spanish influences of the small southwestern village of Taos, their styles differed. Hennings, as evidenced in PASSING BY, adopted the German style of art nouveau called Jugendstil, which is inspired by natural forms found in
flowers, plants, and trees. With Hennings, every detail seems carefully planned. On the other hand, Ufer employed the opposite stylistic approach. He favored spontaneity and painted directly onto the
canvas or alla prima, meaning wet layers of paint applied to wet layers.
In spite of their differing styles, the two friends had much in common. Both grew up in the United States, attended art school in Munich, and were of German descent—Ufer was born in Germany and Hennings was a first-generation American, born into a German immigrant family. The painters also shared a dedication to developing a distinctly American art that manifested itself in their search for American subjects. “In Taos they found a place uniquely American,” Smith says. “They always had this goal in mind, and it was the underpinning of their work.”
American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, February 6-May 1
In 1937, Life magazine commissioned Thomas Hart Benton to go to Hollywood and create a painting that would capture the movie-making process—one that would bring Life readers into the heart of the nascent industry. Benton accepted the challenge and ultimately produced HOLLYWOOD, a sprawling work that depicts scantily clad starlets, sound technicians, makeup artists, cinematographers, and directors—a lively behind-the-scenes glimpse of the people who make movies. The painting is the centerpiece of a new exhibition titled American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood opening next month at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, TX.
It is the first major exhibition in 25 years to highlight the life and works of the renowned painter. The show holds a lens to the previously overlooked relationship between Benton’s art and the film industry. About 100 works are on view, including more than 30 paintings and murals as well as a selection of drawings, prints, and illustrated books. Although Benton’s commission with Life eventually ended, he remained in Hollywood long enough to meet John Ford, the film director who shared his fascination with the American West. When Ford was about to shoot the movie version of the novel The Grapes of Wrath, the studio commissioned Benton to create a painting that was used in publicity for the movie—yet another example of the artist’s relationship to filmdom.
As an insider, Benton understood what it takes to make a movie, according to Maggie Adler, assistant museum curator. “He learned something about elements like drama from the way movies communicated American history and stories. And he integrated this into his painting style,” Adler says. “And he also used techniques common to movie production in his work, such as creating models and storyboards.”
In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum is screening three movies related to Benton’s experience and views of Hollywood: The Grapes of Wrath, A Star is Born, and They Died With Their Boots On.
Super Indian: Fritz Scholder, 1967-1980
Phoenix Art Museum, February 26-June 5
Bold, colorful, and compelling are words often used to describe works by the late artist Fritz Scholder [1937-2005]. Next month an exhibition titled Super Indian: Fritz Scholder, 1967-1980 opens at the Phoenix Art Museum and examines the ways in which Scholder blended many artistic influences to create the powerful, revolutionary imagery that he is known for today—paintings that attacked conventional stereotypes about Native Americans. “Scholder’s work is like a punch in the stomach to every idealized and domesticated representation of the Native American,” says Gilbert Vicario, the Selig Family Chief Curator at the museum.
More than 40 artworks are on display in the show, including a provocative selection of rarely seen monumental paintings that demonstrate how Scholder used paint to push boundaries both artistically and politically. The exhibition also features the controversial Indian series that the artist began at a time when movies and television were serving up a one-dimensional view of Native Americans. According to Vicario, of equal importance in understanding Scholder’s work is the context in which it was created—the social and political turmoil of the time. “The Vietnam War, media outlets for popular culture, radio, film, television, along with civil rights and other social activist movements that defined the era, all provided the conceptual artillery which fueled his art,” Vicario says.
Scholder not only created powerful imagery but also possessed a sophisticated vocabulary of painting styles informed by Pop Art and artists, as well as by prominent European painters like Egon Schiele, Francis Bacon, and Gerhard Richter. This extended Scholder’s “artistic reach far beyond the American West,” says Vicario. The must-see exhibition explores how, in little more than 10 years, Scholder upended traditions and expectations to create works that challenged and changed the art of the American West. Super Indian: Fritz Scholder, 1967-1980 is organized by the Denver Art Museum.
Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks
Palm Springs Art Museum, February 19-May 29
More than 100 years ago, Edward S. Curtis set out on a daunting journey to photograph the North American Indian. The terrain he covered ranged from the Great Plains to the Mexican border to western Canada. His mission: to create a comprehensive chronicle that would preserve the Indian culture and way of life for future generations. The monumental task eventually resulted in 40,000 to 50,000 photographs taken over a 30-year period.
Next month, 100 of these stunning images are on view at California’s Palm Springs Art Museum in an exhibition that pays homage to the pioneering photographer. Every style, subject matter, and geographic area Curtis photographed is represented. Although he photographed many subjects, Curtis is best known for his haunting Native American portraits, such as BEAR’S BELLY—ARIKARA, which feature subjects staring straight into the camera as if offering viewers small windows into their souls. “The Indians gave [Curtis] the nickname Shadow Catcher because he managed to capture their spirit and character,” says Christine Giles, exhibition curator. “Curtis collaborated with them to create this tremendous document at a time when many felt their culture was disappearing.”
What makes this particular presentation unique, according to Giles, is that it spotlights some of the finest examples of each of the different print media Curtis employed, including platinum, goldtone, cyanotype, untoned gelatin silver, and photogravure. The museum is enhancing the exhibition with selections from its impressive collection of Native American baskets and other objects. What’s also exciting about the exhibition, according to Giles, is that the museum is engaging the area’s Native American community. For example, about 20 photographs by contemporary Native American photographers are on view, as well as various artworks and artifacts from the nearby Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, which is devoted to the Agua Caliente and Cahuilla tribal history and culture.
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, March 26-August 7
The National Park Service turns 100 this year, and celebrations are unfolding throughout the country, from Maine’s Acadia National Park to California’s Yosemite. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art joins in the centennial festivities with the March opening of an exhibition that spotlights Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the popular national park features stunning geological colors and forms that have drawn artists, adventurers, and everyday visitors for years. “We did a lot of testing on audiences on different subjects and found there is a high level of interest in the Grand Canyon and the magical nature of the momentous space,” says James Nottage, the museum’s vice president and chief curatorial officer. “There are people who have been there and those who haven’t, but both are united by a fascination with a place that you can see from outer space.”
According to Nottage, the exhibition presents three major themes: ways the natural environment has changed through forces of nature and humans; human experiences in the park, from early explorers to modern families; and various artistic expressions related to the park throughout history. Hence, the exhibition brings together a variety of artworks and artifacts. There are paintings that depict the Grand Canyon by both living and deceased masters, including Thomas Moran, Wilson Hurley, P.A. Nisbet, and Curt Walters. Also on view are artifacts related to Native peoples who have resided in the region for centuries. For example, visitors can expect to see Navajo weavings, Hopi basketry, and Zuni jewelry. The exhibit also showcases various items from bygone eras that illustrate stories of exploration, tourism, and survival in the unique environment, such as life vests worn by early adventurers following the river, advertising materials created to encourage tourism, and even vintage uniforms worn by Harvey Girl waitresses at Harvey House restaurants, which once flourished alongside railroads in the West.
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