January 25, 2008

Fifth Avenue and The High Road to Taos: The Art Pilgrimage to the West

See related posts for Fifth Avenue and The High Road to Taos: Mabel Dodge, Georgia O'Keeffe and New York City.

Readers of this site who also regularly peruse The New York Times may have picked up today's NYT (January 25, 2008) art section to see yet another article on art in New Mexico. In this case, Roberta Smith reviews Richard Diebenkorn in New Mexico, a new exhibit at the Grey Art Gallery (NYU) that features a selection of paintings that the Ab-Exer Diebenkorn made while living in Albuquerque in the early 1950s. Smith gives the exhibit a glowing review - you can't miss it, a large reproduction covers the front page of the art section, and I plan to write something about the exhibit myself here over the next few days.

O'Keeffe's visit to New Mexico was certainly just one among many. John Sloan, who I've written a lot about here, visited Santa Fe in 1919, the same year as Mabel Dodge made her move, and he bought a house there in 1920. He spent four months of every year in Santa Fe from 1920 to 1950. Sloan learned of the place from his pioneering mentor, Robert Henri, who had visited in 1916 an 1917. It was a craze really, one that also attracted Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Stuart Davis. American modernism, with its taste for the exotic, couldn't do without the New Mexican landscape and its people.

Throughout the latter part of the twentieth century, New Mexico continued to attract more artists, many from New York. Some stayed permanently, and others divided their time between the two places. Marfa, Texas has a similar appeal, one made even more enticing by its easy lack of access.

Another group of artists began to make their way to New Mexican outposts in the 1970s and 1980s. Feminist artists like Judy Chicago, whose flower paintings were directly inspired by O'Keeffe's core imagery, found the region congenial. Lucy Lippard, one of feminist art's important theorists, makes her home there as well.

The reasons New Mexico continues to lure new residents remain the same as a century ago. After the busy syncopated rhythms of a large metropolis and where skyscrapers block the setting sun, the uninterrupted desert vista, with its warm daytime sun and cool nights, forces a steadier and slower pace. The land and its people seem to belong to the long cycles of human history as opposed to the short ones of the city and the fashionable whims of manufactured fads and consent.

It made sense that galleries and the art business would follow the artistic pilgrimage out west. Santa Fe is the third largest art market in the United States after New York and Los Angeles. Canyon Road, where many of the galleries are located, is always a pleasure to walk.

Images: Landscape panorama by Walking off the Big Green Chili Pepper, and Robert Henri. Gregorita with the Santa Clara Bowl, 1917, oil on canvas, Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University.

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