FALL OF MODERNISM: The Modernist Impulse

Matthews Gallery Interior- Fall of Modernism

“Wonderful place. You must come. Am sending ticket. Bring me a cook.” Mabel Dodge Lujan’s telegram to artist Andrew Dasburg is a seminal moment in New Mexico art history. Lujan, a prominent arts champion from New York, had fallen in love with the Taos art colony and was determined to summon artists there from the East. The efforts of Lujan and her counterparts in Santa Fe and Albuquerque sparked a great influx of modernist artists to the region, eclipsing the traditional styles that had reigned there in the late 19th century. Matthews Gallery’s exhibition THE MODERNIST IMPULSE: New Mexico’s 20th Century Avant-Garde, will tell stories of revolutionary artists throughout the previous century in a special rolling exhibition from September through October, 2015.

We’re working in concert with Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and New Mexico Museum of Art’s Fall of Modernism: A Season of American Art event series to trace the grand arc of New Mexico’s modernist history. Starting with Lujan’s circle, which arrived in the 1920s, and moving forward through the decades, we’ll examine the strong impulse of modernist artists to settle in New Mexico and revolutionize the art colonies here.

Over the course of the two-month show, Matthews Gallery’s walls will shift through time. Early Taos modernists will give way for the Taos Moderns movement, Santa Fe artist and art teacher Alfred Morang will pass the baton to students such as Janet Lippincott and William Vincent, and rays of influence from the revolutionary Transcendental Painting Group will stretch far beyond its short existence. Contemporary artist Eli Levin, who came to New Mexico in the 1960’s and knew many notable modernists, will round out the group.

Learn more about our contribution to Fall of Modernism on their newly launched homepage, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates on the show.

 

 

Andrew Dasburg- April Snow 1967- Pastel on Paper- Matthews Gallery Blog
Andrew Dasburg, April Snow 1967, Pastel on Paper.

Jan Matulka- Landscape circa 1923- Watercolor on Paper- Matthews Gallery

Jan Matulka, Landscape circa 1923, Watercolor on Paper. 

Cady Wells- Taos 1947- Ink and Watercolor on Paper- Matthews Gallery

Cady Wells, Taos, 1947, Ink and Watercolor on Paper.

 

Fall of Modernism 2015- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

 

 

 

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MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Violin

Alfred Morang's Violin will appear in the Morang and Friends exhibition- Matthews Gallery Blog

When Alfred Morang was a teenager he took to the nightclubs of Boston with his trusty violin. He had been a sickly child, bedridden and unable to attend school, but his mother and uncle recognized his fiery creativity and hired private music and painting tutors. Morang grew from a talented tot to a full-fledged young Renaissance Man, and his passionate musical performances earned him enough money to thrive. It was the beginning of a lifelong artistic journey.

A century later, Morang’s fiddle launched yet another adventure. Santa Fe art collector Paul Parker was researching Morang’s life when he came upon a letter by the artist’s longtime wife Dorothy. After Morang’s tragic death in a studio fire, Dorothy was having a hard time finding an heir to his worldly possessions. She’d finally contacted a distant relative, and was arranging the shipment of a few things collected from the ruins of Morang’s Canyon Road casita.

Santa Fe Artist Alfred Morang Playing the Violin- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang playing his violin

The letter was Parker’s first clue in a treasure hunt that spanned the nation and stretched to the farthest branches of the Morang family tree. At the end of the trail was a treasure trove that connected the dots of Morang’s life, from his early years as a celebrated musician and writer to his time as an iconic Santa Fe artist. Morang’s well-worn violin, blackened by the fire, is perhaps Parker’s most striking find. It will appear alongside Morang’s artwork in our December 12-26 exhibition MORANG AND FRIENDS.

We interviewed Parker about his search for the fascinating artifacts that will anchor our exhibition to this legendary Santa Fe master:

Paul Parker Inspects a Painting by Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog Paul Parker inspecting a painting by Alfred Morang

 

 How did you first get interested in Alfred Morang?

I came to Santa Fe in the 1990’s, and met Jim Parsons in Taos not long after. He had a little booth with a rack of prints and drawings and things, and he had a pile of books called The Art Fever. We hit it off and just talked and talked, and I bought a copy of his book. I took it home and read it, and realized who I was talking to.

There was a time when Jim Parsons was the most powerful person in the Western art business. Back in the day, he had a little art gallery in his Denver apartment. He convinced Philip Anschutz to start a Western art collection, which is now the largest and most prestigious collection of Western art in private hands in the world.

Jim was a giant Morang fan, and he showed me his work. I became instantly fascinated with Morang’s story. I had seen his paintings in El Farol but didn’t know anything about him until Jim told me.

Tell me about Morang’s childhood.

He was born in a little town called Ellsworth, Maine. There’s still a Morang Chevrolet in Ellsworth that his father owned with another partner. He and his mother had a very close relationship.

Even as a child, Morang was something of a polymath.

 Yes, he learned from Carrol S. Tyson and other American Impressionists. He was also the youngest-ever solo violinist to play at Jordan Hall in Boston. I mean, he was a very accomplished musician. His wife Dorothy was a member of the music conservancy in Boston. That’s where he met her.

Alfred Morang- The Artist's Studio Portland Maine- Pen and Ink- Matthews Gallery Blog

Alfred Morang, Artist’s Studio-Portland, 1932, Pen and Ink

 

He and Dorothy lived in Portland, Maine before his tuberculosis forced them to move to Santa Fe in 1938. Morang had a successful a writing and painting career back East. What are your thoughts on his early work?

I’ve seen some of his work from back then. Like a lot of artists, when Morang came to New Mexico and saw the color and the light and everything, it inspired him. I think that’s the biggest thing.

It’s almost akin to my life. I thought I enjoyed art, but until I moved to Santa Fe, until I drove by 100 galleries every night on my way home and everybody that I associated with and talked to was in the business in some way, shape or form, something about that was really inspiring.

Artifacts of Santa Fe Artist Alfred Morang to Appear in December Exhibition- Matthews Gallery BlogSanta Fe New Mexican columnist Lorraine Carr covered Morang’s memorial service in February, 1958

 

How did you start hunting for the box of Morang’s possessions?

I was writing a story about Morang, and I went to the library to find out what the newspaper said when he died in 1958. I was reading all of the articles and eulogies and things, and I thought, ‘This is an amazing man.”

After I went to the library that day, I realized I needed more research, so I went to the New Mexico Museum of Art and searched their archives for anything I could find in Alfred Morang’s folder. That’s when I found Dorothy Morang’s folder, and saw her letter. It said that she had sent this box of Morang’s possessions away to Carrie Morang Robinson in Atlanta, Georgia. All I had was the name Carrie Morang Robinson and this address in Atlanta. I did my research and found out that she was deceased. I couldn’t find any relatives, and her former house had a different owner.

 That must have seemed like a dead-end.

Yeah, I made several phone calls and then just kind of gave up for a while. Then something hit me a couple months later and I said, “Damn it, I’m going to try again.”

I did some more research and tried to find Alfred’s relatives. Carrie Morang Robinson was the daughter of one of Alfred Morang’s uncles because she was a cousin and had the family name. I found one uncle’s name through the Morang Chevy dealership in Ellsworth, but then I ran into another dead-end.

A couple months later I got a Maine antiques publication, and there was something about ancestors in it. I got some other names of who Carrie Morang Robinson’s father might have been. I found some members of the Robinson family, and started researching them.

You were making some headway!

 I just start calling people again, and this woman whose name was Robinson came up. I called her, and she said, “Oh, our cousin Alfred. Our mother used to tell us about him.” I started telling her a little bit of the story, and she said, “You have to talk to Gwen.” I just lit up, because Gwen was Carrie Morang Robinson’s granddaughter and lived with her grandmother in the final years of her life. Now Gwen owns Carrie’s house.

I called Gwen up, and she had all of these family stories about Alfred, that he used to go through the woods with his violin and his cats following him. “Weird cousin Alfred” or something like that. She said, “Well, if my grandmother owned the box, it’s probably still up in the attic.” Then I got excited.

You were one step away. It must have been tantalizing. 

Well, Gwen was renting the house, so she told me she’d search for the stuff the next time she was in Atlanta. A month or two goes by, and I call her up again. She says, “We’ll be selling the house, so I’ll look for it then.” A long period of time goes by, and all of a sudden I hear the phone ring one day. “Well, I found your box,” she says. “I’ve got a couple more things—a violin and a painting.”

 Paul Parker Surveys Artifacts of Legendary Santa Fe Artist Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery BlogParker surveys sketches and other artifacts of Alfred Morang

 

How did it feel when Morang’s artifacts finally arrived at your door? 

It was absolutely phenomenal. It was like the biggest Christmas ever. To see that violin and just to touch it. Talk about personal.

The box was full of many different short stories and manuscripts, which he submitted to radio stations to be read as radio plays. Many of these stories were never published, and might have been lost forever.

Did this elaborate hunt make you wonder why someone didn’t try to keep the artifacts in Santa Fe? 

Dorothy and Alfred got divorced in 1950, but even then Dorothy kind of watched out for him. When he died, she knew about this cousin Carrie Morang Robinson, who was the only rightful heir to his possessions. Dorothy stepped up to help contact her, and at the time it wasn’t a big deal to send them away.

One of the stories that Morang’s adopted daughter Claire LaTour has told me is that they didn’t know what to do with his ashes. They left them in a closet in the art museum after the last memorial service. Claire came back, and somebody flew her over Canyon Road and she dumped his ashes out the window of the airplane, which was a difficult task. She told me, “I was wearing a fur coat, and I always laughed that forever afterward I was brushing Alfred out of my coat.”

Alfred Morang- Autumn in the Park- Oil on Canvas- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang, Autumn in the Park, 1954, Oil on Canvas

 

Morang’s colorful personality often overshadows his artwork. Is that frustrating for you, as a big fan of his work ?

It’s the same frustration that I have now with van Gogh. I know from all my research that van Gogh was not a crazy man. He had epileptic fits that affected his life and personality, but he was a very brilliant man and definitely not insane.

It’s almost the same thing with Alfred. People like the story of a bohemian alcoholic, something that fits better with the story of Toulouse-Lautrec. He wasn’t an alcoholic. He couldn’t have done the things that he did if he were an alcoholic.

The greatest quote that I’ve ever heard about an artist is from Morang’s memorial service. It’s not attributed to anybody specifically, but an unknown artist said, “It’s no wonder that we in Santa Fe mourn the loss of Alfred, he taught half of us how to paint and the other half how to see.” After Morang’s death, all of a sudden people started to realize that he was a great artist. People regretted that they didn’t pay enough attention to him.

Coming up next week, Paul Parker digs up more mysteries of Alfred Morang’s life and travels to Paris to complete a mission in Morang’s memory. Make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily updates on MORANG AND FRIENDS.

NEW RELEASE: Fremont Ellis of Los Cinco Pintores

Fremont Ellis- La Plata Mountains- Matthews Gallery Blog

 

In 1921, Fremont F. Ellis and his friends Jozef Bakos, Walter Mruk, Willard Nash and Will Shuster founded an avant garde art society that would change Santa Fe forever. The five men were in their early 20s, and most of them had recently migrated there from the East Coast. They chose a name inspired by their new life in the Southwest: Los Cinco Pintores (The Five Painters).

In December of that year, Los Cinco Pintores mounted their first group exhibition at Santa Fe’s Museum of Fine Arts. Their work was diverse in subject matter, but their rallying point was modernism and the art of early Taos painters Robert Henri and John Sloan of the Ashcan School.

“These men believe in color and are not afraid to use it,” wrote a critic who attended the inaugural show. “Upon entering the galleries, visitors are greeted with a great shout of color that’s almost stimulating.”

Fremont Ellis - Watercolors - Matthews Gallery Blog

Over the next few years, Los Cinco Pintores worked together to build a row of casitas along Camino del Monte Sol near Canyon Road. This earned them another nickname, “The Five Nuts in the Adobe Huts”. Meanwhile, word of their exploits had reached other artists back home.

By 1923 another group called the New Mexico Painters was exhibiting paintings of sweeping Southwestern landscapes across the Midwest and the East Coast. Artists like Randall Davey, Andrew Dasburg and Theodore Van Soelen settled in the area, and the Santa Fe Art Colony was born. The City Different has fostered a vibrant art community ever since.

Fremont Ellis- Watercolor Diptychs- Matthews Gallery Blog

These newly released works on paper are by Fremont Ellis (1897-1985), who was the last surviving member of Los Cinco Pintores. Ellis grew up in Montana and was inspired to become an artist at 14 when he saw Albert Bierstadt’s paintings on a trip to New York City. He worked as a photographer in California before settling in Santa Fe, and used his photographs of landscapes to inspire his painted compositions. This body of work holds the vigor and immediacy of the artist’s many outdoor adventures.

Learn more about Fremont Ellis on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr for daily gallery news. Also, don’t forget to mark your calendar for our exhibition NEW MEXICO MODERNS: The Lumpkins Files, opening next week!

ONE WORK OF ART: Salvador Dali’s “Frontispiece for Goya Suite”

Salvador-Dali-Goya-SuiteMaster

Salvador Dali, Frontispiece for Goya Suite (1973), multi-plate etching

You can see rare prints by Francisco Goya at the New Mexico Museum of Art’s Renaissance to Goya: Prints and Drawings from Spain, the only U.S. stop of a special traveling exhibition from the British Museum. Learn about Salvador Dali’s twist on one of Goya’s most famous works below, and come see it at Matthews Gallery on Canyon Road. 
In 1797, Francisco Goya embarked on a political art project that almost brought him up against the Spanish Inquisition. In a series of 80 aquatints entitled Los Caprichos (The Whims) he outlined the “innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized societies.”
The hardly whimsical opus was a critique of 18th century Spain, which Goya depicted as full of deformed monsters and foolish beasts. The artist avoided punishment at the hands of the ruling class when the king spoke up for him, but the prints were still withdrawn from public sale in 1799.

426px-Museo_del_Prado_-_Goya_-_Caprichos_-_No._43_-_El_sueño_de_la_razon_produce_monstruos

174 years later, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (left) from Los Caprichos was considered one of Goya’s most iconic works, and another Spaniard by the name of Salvador Dali decided to create a Surrealist tribute to the series. In the etching Frontispiece for Goya Suite Dali used the first image from Los Caprichos, a self-portrait of Goya in a top hat. 

2cb338d5fe19d368d2ee3639caf7a649Dali drops Goya into a universe even more bizarre than that of the original Caprichos, stitching his predecessor’s visage atop the body of a dragon-like beast. A second, more monstrous head with a drippy nose and lumpy halo emerges from behind Goya, and a shadowy figure in the distance leaves a trail like a comet. 
Is Dali’s remix another critique of Spanish society, refreshed for the weird world of 1973? The artist drops a slippery hint in this work’s alternate title, Lenguado Menguado. Lenguado could mean “flat-fish” or “sole”, and menguado is either “well-dressed” or “diminished”.
So, Dali could be calling Goya a stylish fish or a diminished one. The title might refer to the worn—or fashionable—shoes of the pedestrian in the background. In any case, the artist seems to be commenting on Spain’s obsession with appearances, a theme first explored in several of Goya’s Caprichos. Of course, Dali was himself an offender when it came to sartorial dalliances, but that adds some spice to the criticism.
View Dali’s bizarre reworking of a classic Goya print at Matthews Gallery, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more news from Canyon Road.