The New Mexico Museum of Art presents Alcove Shows 1917 – 1927 featuring sixty-one art works by twenty-four artists in the museum’s permanent collection. An open door policy for month-long solo exhibitions in the museum’s alcoves was conceived by important American artist Robert Henri, who first came to Santa Fe and Taos in 1916.
During the museum’s first decade there were approximately three hundred exhibitions in the museum’s alcoves. In addition to Southwestern paintings, Native American pottery and weaving, as well Chimayo weavings - there were shows of such diverse art and ethnographic materials as Chinese paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, old master etchings, Indonesian textiles, Pre-Columbian sculpture, Sioux ledger drawings, Aboriginal paintings, as well as art from Cornwall and New Zealand.
Alcove Shows 1917 – 1927 reflects as much as possible the first decade of alcove exhibitions, including artists Ernest L. Blumenschein and William Penhallow Henderson who were in the museum’s November 24, 1917 inaugural exhibition. Both of these artists, like most of their peers, were trained in 19th century academic conventions, studied in Paris, and made their living as illustrators. This exhibition includes their work from Paris, Rome, New York and Chicago, before they moved to New Mexico. With the exception of artwork by Native American and Hispano artists, art of the southwest was made by artists who came to New Mexico from somewhere else. Artists brought singular backgrounds - from family, education, and experience - to their vision of New Mexico’s cultures, land and sky.
"From the museum’s inception, artwork from around the world has been on view, a happy result of the sophisticated, disparate artists who were drawn to the Santa Fe and Taos,” says guest curator MaLin Wilson-Powell. “New Mexico’s art during the early 20th-century was shaped by two primary artistic legacies - 19th-century Romantic genre paintings that present nature and indigenous cultures as pure, redemptive and mystical, and modernist abstraction that presents the sublimity of empty space.”
While the paintings of European-trained artists Blumenschein and Henderson became progressively more modern in New Mexico, with the outbreak of World War I, American artists no longer studied in Paris or visited Italy for inspiration. Instead, they opted to visit “faraway” New Mexico at the invitation of artist friends and colleagues. The better known were welcomed with free studio space at the Palace of the Governors and every one of took advantage of the museum’s unusual open door policy. Many of these artists, includingAlcove Shows 1917 – 1927 featured artists John Sloan, Raymond Jonson and Laura Gilpin, forged careers not as tethered to 19th-century academicism.
The exhibition is installed in the New Mexico Museum of Art alcoves, progressing from an introductory alcove that presents Native American pottery along with two surprising trends from the first 10 years of exhibitions - the importance of Japanese printmaking to Modernism, and the large percentage of art by women (between 25-50 percent each year). The other five galleries spotlight five artists – Blumenschein, Henderson, Sloan, Jonson and Gilpin – along with work by family and close associates who stayed in New Mexico, who were changed by New Mexico, and who changed New Mexico’s art and culture in turn.