Agnes Pelton, Day, 1935. Oil on canvas. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum; Gift of The Melody S. Robidoux Foundation.
Agnes Pelton, Awakening (Memory of Father), 1943, oil on canvas. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Museum purchase, 2005 (2005.27.1) Photo by Blair Clark.
Organized by Phoenix Art Museum, Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist is the first survey of the obscure American modernist painter in more than 23 years. Although she painted conventional landscapes and portraits, Pelton (1881–1961) is most celebrated for her abstract compositions that reflect her interest in esoteric subjects, including numerology and Agni Yoga with its principal focus on fire as a guiding force. The exhibition of more than 40 works from various private and museum collections sheds light on Pelton’s artistic contributions to American Modernism, a movement more commonly associated with artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) in the Southwest and Marsden Hartley (1877–1943) in New England. Furthermore, Pelton’s interest in spirituality and abstraction links her to a larger international movement that is only now being properly studied and contextualized. Desert Transcendentalist represents a fascinating reexamination of an overlooked female artist and her rightful place within the canon of modern and contemporary art history.