Agnes Pelton, The Ray Serene, 1925. Oil on canvas. Collection of Lynda and Stewart Resnick. Photo: Jairo Ramirez.
Agnes Pelton, Future, 1941. Oil on canvas. Collection of Palm Springs Art Museum, 75th Anniversary gift of Gerald E. Buck in memory of Bente Buck, Best Friend and Life Companion.
Organized by Phoenix Art Museum, Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist is the first survey of the obscure American modernist painter in more than 23 years. Although she painted conventional landscapes and portraits, Pelton (1881–1961) is most celebrated for her abstract compositions that reflect her interest in esoteric subjects, including numerology and Agni Yoga with its principal focus on fire as a guiding force. The exhibition of more than 40 works from various private and museum collections sheds light on Pelton’s artistic contributions to American Modernism, a movement more commonly associated with artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) in the Southwest and Marsden Hartley (1877–1943) in New England. Furthermore, Pelton’s interest in spirituality and abstraction links her to a larger international movement that is only now being properly studied and contextualized. Desert Transcendentalist represents a fascinating reexamination of an overlooked female artist and her rightful place within the canon of modern and contemporary art history.