New Mexico Museum of Art

How The West Is One: The Art of New Mexico

April 09, 2008


Santa Fe, NM— How the West Is One:The Art of New Mexico organizes key objects from the museum’s collections so that they outline an intercultural history of New Mexico art, from the arrival of railroads in 1879 to the present.

This long term exhibition presents 70 works by Native American, Hispanic, and European-American artists which illustrates the changing aesthetic ideals that have evolved within southwestern art over the last 125 years.

How the West Is One views New Mexico art as a holistic tradition that has been produced by important interactions between aesthetic perspectives. Over the last few decades, historians have emphasized the fracturing of New Mexico art into competing ethnic, aesthetic, and conceptual groupings. This fractured history promoted the idea of three separate cultures in New Mexico, and implied that little interaction had occurred between these differing aesthetic perspectives. The one-ness of New Mexico art is the unique, unpredictable, often contradictory unity that developed from cultural interactions among people from various ethnic backgrounds living in New Mexico.

The core of the exhibition focuses on the most popular works from the early twentieth century: Gerald Cassidy’s Cui Bono?, Marsden Hartley’s El Santo, and John Sloan’s Ancestral Spirits. In the past, these classic works from the collection created a misimpression that New Mexico art was only made by European American artists who only depicted the indigenous peoples of the Southwest, such as E. Irving Couse’s Taos Pueblo—Moonlight.

How the West is One shows the relationship between the development of modernist art in New Mexico and innovative works by Native American and Hispanic artists, such as Maria Martinez’s invention of matte on black pottery, and José Dolores López’s wood carving Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

The museum’s mid-century collections will be showcasing new acquisitions: Stuart Davis’s New Mexico Peak, Jan Matulka’s Pueblo Dancer, and Agnes Pelton’s Awakening. Together with Georgia O’Keeffe’s Red Hills and the Pedernal and Raymond Jonson’s Suspension, these works describe the aesthetic tensions between earlier academic painters and the mid-century moderns.

T. C. Cannon’s painting Washington Landscape with Peace Medal Indian exemplifies the cross cultural fusions that have occurred in New Mexico. Contemporary works like Teri Greeves’ beaded tennis shoes Yee Tah-lee continue the combination of traditional and experimental perspectives.

How the West is One investigates the confusing, imprecise categories of art often dismissed as craft, folk art, illustration, journalism, and popular culture. Ray Martín Abeyta’s painting Indios addresses this issue by presenting "Indians" from both the Americas and from India. The resulting painting points to the perplexing meaning of the term "Indian," as well as the contradictory notion of one people "discovering" another.

Marsha Bol, PhD, director of the Museum of Fine Arts says of the exhibition;“I know that New Mexicans and tourists alike have been longing to see the best of our permanent collection go on exhibit. Our staff has been striving to meet this expectation by creating a meaningful exhibition and catalog. I am delighted with the end result.”

The issues addressed in this exhibition are clarified in a 288 page catalog with 228 full color reproductions of New Mexico art. Joseph Traugott, PhD, wrote the essay for “The Art of New Mexico: How the West is One, The Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts.” Traugott is also the exhibition curator and is curator of twentieth century art at the Museum of Fine Arts.

The exhibition opens to the public on April 20, 2007 and will be on permanent display. The opening will be hosted by the Women’s Board on April 20, 2007 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

This Museum of Fine Arts exhibition and the related Museum of New Mexico Press publication have been funded in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous additional funding has been provided by Earl H.and Barbara Hoover.

For images please contact Steve Cantrell at 505-476-1144 or at A limited number of exhibition catalogues are available to the media.


Related Photos

The Black Shawl
El Santo
Cui Bono?

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