Wichita Art Museum

Wichita, Kansas

316-268-4921



 

Seduction of the Southwest

The Arvin Gottlieb Collection in the National Museum of American Art

March 1 - June 7, 1998

 

 

E. Martin Hennings, Riders at Sunset, oil on canvas, c. 1935-45, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Arvin Gottlieb

The Wichita Art Museum will focus its spring season upon a major thematic project titled Seduction of the Southwest which encompasses two exciting exhibitions and accompanying programs: lectures, a family Artfest day, family interactive gallery space, and collaborative educational activities with the Indian Center Museum.

The feature loan exhibition is a selection of 31 oil paintings from the Smithsonian Institution, The Arvin Gottlieb Collection in the National Museum of American Art. At the end of the 19th century, artists in the United States began to establish summer colonies removed from the concerns of urban life. In these semi-rural retreats artists sought a more "essential" America by distancing themselves from contemporary society. Artists who went west with government expeditions discovered the rugged landscape and ancient Native American and Hispanic cultures of the Southwest.

 

Joseph Henry Sharp, Sunset Dance - Ceremony to the Evening Sun, 1924, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Arvin Gottlieb

 

By the mid-1890s, Taos, and later, Santa Fe, had begun to attract a steady stream of painters, photographers, anthropologists, and writers seeking new cultural and geographic terrain to refresh the spirit and stimulate creative production. In 1915, Oscar E. Berninghaus, Ernest Leonard Blumenschein, Eanger Irving Couse, William Herbert "Buck"Dunton, Bert Geer Phillips, and Joseph Henry Sharp founded the Taos Society of Artists to promote their art and to circulate exhibitions of their paintings in the eastern United States and the Midwest. Each of these academically trained artists had established a successful career by the time he settled in New Mexico. By choosing New Mexico as a seasonal or permanent home, these artists were hoping to find an artistic environment that offered new challenges. This first generation of incoming Angle artists transformed their romantic ideas of the local Indian and Hispanic populations into ideal figure paintings, reminiscent of their academic training.

The next generation of Angle artists to arrive in New Mexico - Andrew Dasburg, Raymond Jonson, Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt, and Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin among the foremost - brought with them new artistic ideas from the art centers of the eastern United States and Europe. These artists, influenced by Cezanne, Matisse, the futurists and cubists, and Bauhaus design, experimented with modernist painting techniques. However, whether academic or modernist, the Anglo artists found themselves seduced by the unique enchantments of the American Southwest. Taos Society painter Victor Higgins expressed the enthusiasm of his generation when he declared: "The very air of the Taos country, its nearness to big works of nature, drives caution from man's brain. He takes a chance. Perhaps this had led the Taos painters to be original and to be so devoted to the country and its people."

The exhibit, The Arvin Gottlieb Collection in the National Museum of American Art, features paintings by Kenneth Adams, LaVerne Nelson Black, Oscar Berninghaus, Ernest Blumenschein, Emil James Bisttram, Dorothy Eugenie Brett, Eanger Irving Couse, Catherine Critcher, Andrew Dasburg, W. Herbert Dunton, Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin, William Penhallow Henderson, Ernest Martin Hennings, William Victor Higgins, Raymond Jonson, Joseph Henry Sharp, and Walter Ufer. These paintings were gifts to the National Museum of American Art from collector Arvin Gottlieb of Kansas City, Missouri. This exhibition was organized and circulated by the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Local funding was made possible, in part, by the Kansas Arts Commission and The Gordon W. Evans Charitable Trust.

 

Walter Ufer, Frieze (detail), c. 1924, Wichita Art Museum Collection

 

Selections from the Wichita Art Museum and Kansas Collections

 

The historian Van Deren Coke reported that, "In the summer of 1915, over a hundred artists appeared in Taos, having been attracted by the Taos Society's traveling exhibitions and by enthusiastic reports of settlers and visitors." Given their geographic proximity to the region, it is not surprising that Kansans would soon number significantly among those seduced by the same romantic attractions which lured others to the American Southwest. In recognition of the influence of the Southwest upon the development of the state's artists and collections, the museum presents Selections from the Wichita Art Museum and Kansas Collections as a companion to the loan exhibition The Arvin Gottlieb Collectian in the National Museum of American Art.

The 38 paintings and two graphics which constitute Selections are organized into four sections depicting the themes which dominated artistic production in the Southwest in the first half of the 20th century: Picturesque Types features portraits by Ernest Blumenshein, William Dickerson, Nicolai Fechin, and Walter Ufer which document the Anglo artist's fascination with representative Southwestern types whom they perceived as survivals of "natural man."

Exotic Cultures assembles genre scenes by Kenneth Adams, Robert T. Aitchison, Jozef (Joseph G.) Bakos, Oscar E. Berninghaus, Edmund L. Davison, William Dickerson, Ward (John Ward) Lockwood, Doel Reed, B. J. O. Nordfeldt, and Walter Ufer which dramatize the picturesque qualities of the Spanish mission and Pueblo architecture as well as the unique dress and rituals of ancient Hispanic and Native American settlements.

 

Edmund L. Davison, Ufer's Alley, 1939, Wichita Art Museum Collection

 

Enchanted Land encompasses works by Robert T. Aitchison, Charles Berninghaus, Edmund Davison, Nicolai Fechin, Victor Higgins, Peter Hurd, Paul Lantz, Birger Sandzén, and John Sloan which record both descriptive and subjective responses to a land characterized by intense coloration, dramatic extremes of topography and weather.

Modernist Affinities includes images by Emil Bisttram, Andrew Dasburg, Marsden Hartley, Ward Lockwood, and B. J. O. Nordfeldt which reveal that the Southwest attracted the modernist artist along with the realist. Modernists, like Hartley, who made temporary visits to New Mexico, and abstractionists like Bisttram, who made Taos his home, discovered compelling affinities between the so-called "primitive" essences of the Southwest and the modernist search for fundamental and universal expressive forms.

Selections from the Wichita Art Museum and Kansas Collections combines representation of well-known national names from the Southwest school with outstanding and unique contributions by Kansas artists to this distinctive chapter in American art. Prominent among the latter is the dramatic landscape imagery of Edmund Davison, a Wichita banker turned painter, who established summer residence in Taos in the early 1920s. Many works from the Edmund and Faye Davison Collection which the couple bequeathed to the Wichita Art Museum and the Wichita Art Association (now the Wichita Center for the Arts) will be shown. Also featured is WAM's unique holding of a frieze depicting Taos Valley, painted by Walter Ufer in 1924 for the dining room of Wichitan Louis Rodgers Hurd.

rev. 6/30/10

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