After trekking through Western Oklahoma's prairies creaking with windmills across the border, New Mexico's sun-dried adobe buildings stand against the snow-streaked Rocky Mountains and shock through color and form. It's not surprising that so many artists are drawn to the Southwestern state, reproducing the light that pours over the landscape and the diverse heritage that make it known as the "Land of Enchantment."
"Sooners in the Land of Enchantment: Oklahoma Artists and New Mexico" illuminates the influence of New Mexico's art and landscape on Oklahoma artists in the 20th century. The exhibit is on display through Jan. 3, 2010, at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
"I think that the lure of New Mexico was very strong because it was such an established arts colony," said Mark White, the museum's Eugene B. Adkins curator. "Beginning in 1898, artists began settling in Taos and Santa Fe. In Oklahoma, you have artists who are not just drawn to the colonies, but it also affords them a cultural experience that is distinct in that not only is there a strong Hispanic community, but also a strong representation of both Native American and European artists."
The exhibit of around 55 works includes Oklahoma artists of the early 1900s like Oscar Jacobson, Nan Sheets and the Kiowa Five, through post-World War II artists such as T.C. Cannon, Allan Houser, Woody Crumbo and Doel Reed. All of these artists spent significant periods of time absorbing New Mexico's vibrant culture and environment, with some even making the state their adoptive home.
Additionally, there are a few pieces by New Mexican artists with whom the Oklahoma artists associated, including Ernest Blumenschein, Victor Higgins, Maria Martinez and Bert Phillips.
"I hope that people see that there's been this long history of interaction between the two states and it's really closely tied with the museum's history," said Susan Baley, curator of education at the museum.
Oscar Jacobson, the first director of what became the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, purchased much of the work that comprises "Sooners in the Land of Enchantment" for the museum's permanent collection. He also encouraged his OU colleagues and the Kiowa Five "? an influential group of young Native American artists studying at the university "? to visit New Mexico. Pieces on loan from the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma complete the exhibit.
"Most of the works in the exhibition haven't been seen recently or within recent memory," White said. "A lot of the work has been in storage for quite a bit of time, so it's really great to bring it out and to give it a new or fresh viewing."
MESAS, MOUNTAINS AND CACTI
Pueblos, dancers and horses mirror New Mexico's history, while the mesas, mountains and cacti reflect its Southwestern terrain. Some of the artists interpreted these in realistic paintings with intensified natural colors and movement, like in Cannon's "Buffalo Dancers," while others transformed them through hyperstylized works, like Crumbo's "Spirit Horse."
"On one hand, you can talk about their interest in landscape, and obviously, the New Mexican landscape is very different from that of Oklahoma, so there is an engagement with the desert," White said. "But I would also say the spiritual aspects of the Southwest struck many of the artists who went down there."
Alongside the exhibit, the museum will hold a 6 p.m. Friday screening of "Finding Lee Mullican," a documentary about an Oklahoma artist who worked in Taos. At 3 p.m. Tuesday, it will host a gallery talk with White; at 6 p.m. Oct. 23, there will be a staged reading by the OU Drama Department of "From Russet Mantle" by Lynn Riggs, an Oklahoma playwright who traveled to Santa Fe, N.M.
Sooners in the Land of Enchantment: Oklahoma Artists and New Mexico displays through Jan. 3, 2010 at Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, 555 Elm in Norman.