To celebrate the museum’s 100th anniversary, organizers have hung a collection of more than 100 of some of the greatest artists who lived and worked in New Mexico across the last century. The gold-plated names include Georgia O’Keeffe, Robert Henri, Marsden Hartley, John Sloan, Bert Phillips, Victor Higgins, Maria Martinez, Fritz Scholder, Cady Wells, Andrew Dasburg, Luis Tapia and Gustave Baumann, among many others.
Despite appearances, the yearlong exhibition wasn’t designed as a New Mexican top 10 list, curator Christian Waugespack said.
Major themes such as the museum’s founding fathers (and mothers), its Native arts, a Baumann spotlight and its 20th century luminaries showcase the institution as a nexus of New Mexico creativity.
Museum founding director Edgar Lee Hewett instituted an “open door” policy at the urging of the world-renowned artist Robert Henri, the founder of New York’s Ashcan School of painting, a group of independent artists who painted social commentary and street scenes.
Henri spent the summers of 1916, 1917 and 1922 in Santa Fe.
“Our museum was started as a place for contemporary art,” Waugespack said.
Luckily, Santa Fe already hosted a thriving arts community of both permanent residents and regular visitors who covered the museum’s walls with their work.
“All of these people were connected to each other,” Waugespack added.
Despite mistaken credit sometimes given to the Smithsonian Institution, the New Mexico Museum of Art was the first in the nation to exhibit pueblo pottery next to the paintings of world-renowned artists, he said.
Maria and Julian Martinez invented black-on-matte pottery at a time when anthropologists routinely rejected innovation by Native artists. Santa Fe’s modernist art community understood the couple’s newly invented style as art rather than anthropology.
A section dedicated to Baumann will feature a rotating selection of his famous prints and marionettes, as well as his lesser-known abstract-meets-surrealist oils.
The Santa Fe Plaza stars in paintings by both Shuster and Sloan, who depicted a Roaring ’20s party there. Much later, Luis Tapia created a Zozobra (the giant Shuster-invented puppet burned at the Santa Fe Fiestas known as Old Man Gloom) sculpted from carved and painted wood.
These artists’ connections crossed borders as well as styles. Mexican muralist Diego Rivera will be represented by a portrait of Dasburg’s wife. The museum is borrowing the work from a private New York collector, Waugespack said.
“Everybody in the modernist circles were equally involved in the international modernist discourse,” he said.
The decorative arts will represented by pueblo revival style furniture designed by archaeologist Jesse Nusbaum and the artist William Penhallow Henderson.
The National Hispanic Cultural Center is lending a traditional wooden chair by Vern Lucero. The artist covered it in tinwork in an updated merger of Spanish Colonial traditions.
“It is a taste of everything,” Waugespack said. “I purposely didn’t set it out to be the best hits of New Mexico because I wanted to focus on the interrelationships of the artists and the community. It’s (about) the interconnectedness of people coming here.”