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Agnes Pelton
Desert Transcendentalist
Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist is the first survey of this obscure American painter in over 24 years. Born to American parents in Stuttgart, Germany, Pelton (1881-1961) and her family briefly lived in Basel, Switzerland before returning to the United States in 1888. A graduate of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, she began experimenting with abstraction in the early 1900s in New York, eventually exhibiting in the Armory Show of 1913 at the invitation of Walt Kuhn. Intentionally moving away from the “mainstream” arts community, Pelton eventually settled in Cathedral City, California. She painted conventional desert landscapes to make a living, but it was her abstract studies of earth and light, biomorphic compositions of delicate veils, shimmering stars, and atmospheric horizon lines, that distinguished her work. A believer in numerology, astrology, and faith healing, Pelton’s abstract compositions propelled her into an esoteric world epitomized by the Transcendental Painting Group (1938-1942), a short-lived group that promoted abstract, non-objective art. Although Pelton received some attention during her lifetime, she has been relatively unknown within the field of American Art. Approximately 40 – 45 works will comprise this exhibition shedding light on Pelton’s artistic contribution to American Modernism, while examining her practice against a broader, international framework of spiritual and esoteric abstraction. Accompanied by a fully illustrated exhibition publication edited by the organizing curator of the exhibition, Gilbert Vicario with contributions by Elizabeth Armstrong, Director, Palm Springs Museum of Art; Dr. Michael Zakian, Director, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University; Dr. Susan Aberth, Associate Professor of Art History; Coordinator, Theology, Bard College; and Dr. Erika Doss, Professor, Department of American Studies, University of Notre Dame.
Event information:
Phoenix | Phoenix Art Museum
03-09-2019 - 09-08-2019
Accompanying publication:
Cover for  Agnes Pelton
Agnes Pelton
Desert Transcendentalist
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.
Event information:
Santa Fe | New Mexico Museum of Art
10-05-2019 - 01-05-2020
Accompanying publication:
Cover for  Agnes Pelton
Agnes Pelton
Desert Transcendentalist
Agnes Pelton (1881–1961) was among the generation of American artists in the first decades of the twentieth century who rejected realism in favor of portraying their inner emotional states. But unlike her peers, who based their abstractions on the exterior world, Pelton used her vocabulary of curvilinear, biomorphic forms and delicate, shimmering veils of light to depict the unseen forces she believed exist in nature. Pelton’s art was included in the 1913 Armory Show, but her decision to remove herself from the art world meant that even within her lifetime she was relatively unknown except for her participation in the short-lived Transcendental Painting Group (1938–1942). Its members, like Pelton, believed in numerology, astrology, and faith healing. Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist, the first survey of her work in more than twenty-four years, brings together approximately forty paintings dating from 1917 to 1961 that will illuminate her artistic contribution to American modernism and place her art within the context of international spiritual and esoteric abstraction. Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist is organized by the Phoenix Art Museum, and curated by Gilbert Vicario, The Selig Family Chief Curator. The installation at the Whitney Museum is overseen by Barbara Haskell, curator, with Sarah Humphreville, senior curatorial assistant.
Event information:
New York City | Whitney Museum of American Art
05-13-2020 - 06-21-2020
Accompanying publication:
Cover for  Agnes Pelton
Agnes Pelton
Desert Transcendentalist
Agnes Pelton (1881–1961) was among the generation of American artists in the first decades of the twentieth century who rejected realism in favor of portraying their inner emotional states. But unlike her peers, who based their abstractions on the exterior world, Pelton used her vocabulary of curvilinear, biomorphic forms and delicate, shimmering veils of light to depict the unseen forces she believed exist in nature. Pelton’s art was included in the 1913 Armory Show, but her decision to remove herself from the art world meant that even within her lifetime she was relatively unknown except for her participation in the short-lived Transcendental Painting Group (1938–1942). Its members, like Pelton, believed in numerology, astrology, and faith healing. Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist, the first survey of her work in more than twenty-four years, brings together approximately forty paintings dating from 1917 to 1961 that will illuminate her artistic contribution to American modernism and place her art within the context of international spiritual and esoteric abstraction. Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist is organized by the Phoenix Art Museum, and curated by Gilbert Vicario, The Selig Family Chief Curator. The installation at the Whitney Museum is overseen by Barbara Haskell, curator, with Sarah Humphreville, senior curatorial assistant.
Event information:
Palm Desert | Palm Springs Art Museum
08-01-2020 - 11-29-2020
Accompanying publication:
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