The infinitely expansive horizons and ruggedly majestic terrain of the Southwest’s high deserts have enraptured generations of artists. For Indigenous artists, traditional materials, forms, and symbols connect their original work to their ancestral lands. For many transplanted artists, on the other hand, immersion in this enchanting landscape has inspired departures from convention and new experimentations with color and abstraction. The Space Between brings together works from four artists who represent the past, present, and future of abstract art forged in the creative crucible of the desert: Louis Ribak (American, b. Lithuania, 1902-1979) and Beatrice Mandelman (American, 1912-1998), the groundbreaking forces behind Taos Modernism; and Arlo Namingha (American, Tewa/Hopi, b. 1974) and Shalee Cooper (American, b. 1978), two exciting contemporary artists who embody the enduring legacy of their predecessors and the new visions emerging from this environment. Echoing the dynamism of the desert, these artists engage space, shape, and scale in parallel but different ways, each finding meaning where these elements meet and in the spaces between.
Ribak and Mandelman first came to New Mexico in the mid-1940s, seeking to transcend the competing forces of social realism and abstract expressionism within New York’s art scene. Informed by European and East Coast modernist movements, this couple transformed conventional western-art into a new form of American Modernism that centered on abstractions of nature. Although both Mandelman and Ribak lived and painted in the same artistic community they helped to found, these two artists responded to their shared influences and environment differently. Whereas Ribak employs organic forms and lyrical brushwork reminiscent of Asian calligraphy, Mandelman engages in a more geometric abstraction, playing with color and collage.
A native of Santa Fe and a citizen of the Tewa/Hopi tribe, Arlo Namingha was born into a family of internationally renowned artists. His sculptural works not only draw on the landscapes of his home, the culture of his community, and the lasting impact of Modernism, but they also engage universal themes of exchange and collaboration. Components comprising two of his sculptures featured in The Space Between can be reassembled in different arrangements, creating a conversation between the artist, curators, and viewers that represents the possibilities of new ideas and multiple perspectives coexisting and co-creating. Similarly, the multi-piece installation and monumental works of Salt Lake City artist, Shalee Cooper challenge curators and viewers alike to create individualized and varied experiences through mutable layouts. Her black and white paintings echo the geometric abstractions of the Taos Modernists as she seeks to capture the relationship between light and shadow in its most basic and meditative forms.
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