Southern Utah Museum of Art and Modern West exhibit concurrent shows in Utah examining the legacy of abstract expressionism in the Southwest, featuring Taos Moderns Beatrice Mandelman and Louis Ribak and contemporary arts Shalee Cooper and Arlo Namingha.
In the 1950s, the American Southwest became a crossroads for abstract expressionists from New York and San Francisco. Beatrice Mandelman (American, 1912-1998) and Louis Ribak (American, b. Lithuania, 1902-1979) were two of the most influential in the creation of the group known as the Taos Moderns, including renowned artists Agnes Martin and Edward Corbett, among others.
The artists had met and married in New York and made their way to the Southwest, settling in Taos, New Mexico in 1944. Not only were they at a new nexus of artistic collaboration and cross-pollination, but the landscape and local cultures of New Mexico pushed Mandelman and Ribak into unexplored stylistic realms grounded in abstraction. They established a lifelong practice and livelihood in the Southwest, opening a gallery space out of their home, establishing the Taos Valley Art School, and leaving behind a legacy of thousands of original artworks inspired by the light, shape, color, and form of the desertscape.
Through a growing partnership, Southern Utah Museum of Art and Modern West are excited to exhibit two concurrent shows in Utah featuring these artists who represent the legacy of influential abstract art forged in the American Southwest. At Modern West through September 10, the exhibition MANDELMAN + RIBAK showcases works from the Mandelman-Ribak Collection, managed by the University of New Mexico Foundation. On display at SUMA through September 24, The Space Between juxtaposes works by Mandelman and Ribak with contemporary works by Shalee Cooper (American, b. 1978) and Arlo Namingha (American, Tewa/Hopi, b. 1974). Both Cooper and Namingha’s works embody the enduring legacy of their predecessors and the new visions emerging from movements established by the Taos Moderns.
Cooper and Namingha come from different backgrounds of artistic practice; however, both are inhabitants of the American Southwest and inheritors of the modernist tradition examining geometric abstraction. Innovative and interactive, both of these artists’ works can be transformed into countless compositions, engaging viewers to curate their own interpretations and participate in the dialogue of past, present, and future Southwestern modernism.
Cooper trained as a photographer and came to painting by exploring light and the relation of positive and negative space. She cuts out and collages shapes composing bold photomontages. Cooper transitioned from photography and collage to painting using gesso on raw canvas to create larger works. Her connection to 20th-century abstractionists such as Mandelman and Ribak is clear through a shared interest in cut paper and a preference for expressionism over representationalism.
Namingha, a native of Santa Fe and a citizen of the Tewa/Hopi tribe, was born into a family of internationally recognized artists. His sculptural works made of bronze, polished wood, and stone, are reductionist interpretations inspired by the landscapes of his home, the culture of his community, and the lasting impact of modernism. His work engages universal themes of exchange and collaboration and can be assembled and rearranged differently by the artist and the viewer, demonstrating the possibility of exchange and the coexistence of divergent perspectives in art and beyond. He is bound to and inspired by the land, beliefs, and symbols of his Tewa-Hopi community in New Mexico, but his artistic expression is rooted in modernist minimalism. His work is both regional and global, personal and universal.
Echoing the dynamism of the desert, these artists each engage space, shape, and scale in parallel but different ways, each finding meaning where these elements meet and in the spaces between. All works exhibited in The Space Between: Visions of the Southwest and in MANDELMAN + RIBAK are available for acquisition through Modern West.