Exhibition Details

Location: Steele Gallery
Dates: March 9, 2019
to September 8, 2019


Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist is the first exhibition on the little-known American painter in more than 24 years. Born to American parents in Stuttgart, Germany, Agnes 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.

Agnes Pelton, Day, 1935. Oil on canvas. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of The Melody S. Robidoux Foundation.
Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist is organized by Phoenix Art Museum. It is made possible through the generosity of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and SRP.
Accompanied by a fully illustrated 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.



Tour Schedule

Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona | March 9–September 8, 2019
New Mexico Museum of Art, New Mexico | October 3, 2019–January 5, 2020
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York | March 13–June 28, 2020
Palm Springs Art Museum, California| August 1–November 29, 2020


Circles Exhibition Preview
March 7, 2019  |  6–8 pm

Members' Preview Day
March 8, 2019  |  10 am–5 pm


Channeled Visions: Women, Esotericism and Modern Art Lecture

April 27, 2019  |  1–3 pm

Sound Baths

May 18, 2019  |  1–3 pm

June 15, 2019  |  1–3 pm

September 7, 2019 |  1–3 pm 

Spiritual Searching in Modern Times: Agnes Pelton's Desert Transcendentalism

August 17, 2019 | 1 - 3pm 


Free for Members, veterans and active-duty Military, and youth aged 5 and under.

General Admission
$21 — Adults
$18 — Senior Citizens (Ages 65+)
$16 — Students (with ID) 

$12 — Youth (Ages 6-17) 

All exhibitions and installations are included with General Admission. 


Voluntary-Donation Admission

This special–engagement exhibition is offered to the public for $5 (no General Admission required) during voluntary-donation hours from 3–9 pm each Wednesday, from 6–10 pm on the First Friday of each month, and on the second Sunday of each month from noon–5 pm. General Admission is reduced to a voluntary donation during the times listed above.


Group Sales

Interested in coming as a group? For group sales information, click here. 

Press Information

Media images and credit lines: Download here
Press release: Download here
Media Contact: Margaree Bigler, Marketing and Communications Manager, margaree.bigler@phxart.org 

Image Credits

Agnes Pelton, Messengers, 1932. Oil on canvas. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of The Melody S. Robidoux Foundation.

Agnes Pelton, The Fountains, 1926. Oil on canvas. Collection of Georgia and Michael de Havenon.

Agnes Pelton, Fires in Space, 1938. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.

Homepage: Agnes Pelton, Orbits, 1934. Collection of Oakland Museum of California, Gift of Concours d'Antiques, the Art Guild of the Oakland Museum of California.