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.
Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist is organized by Phoenix Art Museum and curated by Gilbert Vicario, the Selig Family Chief Curator. The exhibition is presented by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
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Exhibitions page and left: Agnes Pelton, Messengers, 1932. Oil on canvas. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of The Melody S. Robidoux Foundation.
Right: Agnes Pelton by Robert Hillery from Cathedral City, The Early Years: 1925 to 1981. Courtesy of Robert Hillery and Desert Sun.