by Elizabeth Cunningham
Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company: American Moderns and the West premiered at the Harwood Museum of Art on May 20th amidst much celebration. Relatives and friends of Mabel’s, and museum officials and guests from Buffalo and Albuquerque, numbered among the dignitaries. A ground swell of critical acclaim added to the excitement. Some critics predicted a blockbuster (The Denver Post) and deemed the exhibition a tour de force of epic proportions (Taos Magazine).
Coverage in major publications added interpretive value. Enhancing the audience’s experience, these insightful overviews also captured the exhibition’s essence:
Mabel Dodge Luhan was the real deal, the lightning rod and the lightning. She was an original, advocating…a way of organizing society that begins with culture and evolves fluidly through the clashing and crashing of diverse forms.
Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company: American Moderns and the West highlights this woman [Mabel Dodge Luhan] and her profound influence on this country’s artistic development. Mabel was a change-maker who carved out her own oasis in the high desert, even as she catalyzed relationships that inspired some of the most important works of modern art in America.”
The story of Mabel Dodge Luhan is “one about a creative force in American arts and letters, a central participant in a truly American artistic movement, a linchpin in New Mexico’s integration into a broader national and international conversation, and a character as original as any, in a part of the country filled with them.”
Mabel Dodge Luhan catalyzed American modernism as a creator of creators….Salon hostess, art patroness, writer and self-appointed savior of humanity, Luhan positioned herself as the magnet drawing such stars as Georgia O’Keeffe, D. H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, John Marin, Leopold Stokowski, Martha Graham and Marsden Hartley into her gravitational orbit.
Set up in eight sections, Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company utilizes the trajectory of Mabel’s life. to depict her evolution from the Victorian era to American modernism. The exhibition’s 160 paintings, photos and sculpture provide a parallel evolution in American art. This narrative arc contains the art and ephemera that Mabel inspired in her circle of artists, writers, composers, and dancers. Many who attended her New York salon (1912-1915) later became her guests in Taos. The luminaries Mabel hosted at her complex found inspiration in the landscape and cultures of northern New Mexico. Their creative output—books, music, dance, art—is a snapshot in time. Their collective work captures the landscape and cultures of Taos from 1918 to 1947.
In her essay, “Mabel Dodge Luhan: A Force of Nature for Art”, Rebecca Allan opined that the exhibition’s true revelation would come from directly experiencing the art works. Yet the exhibition is more than Mabel’s story intertwined with American modernism. It also addresses Pan American influences, and the interaction between established modernists from New York with Hispano and Pueblo artists of Taos. Among other of the curators’ goals, these works critically evaluate the cross-pollination between Anglo, Pueblo, and Hispano cultures.
These are but several themes that run through the exhibition. Over the next few months I will explore these. For those of you unable to view the show, I will act as your tour guide through the exhibition.
For those fortunate enough to travel to Taos, here’s the Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company symposium schedule happening on Saturday, June 18th. A host of related events round out the weekend. These include a performance of “The Passions of Mabel Dodge Luhan”, special tours of the D.H. Lawrence Ranch and Taos Pueblo, and an open house at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. Docent tours at the Harwood Museum of Art are available throughout. The festivities wind down with a Community Dialogue on Sunday afternoon. One of three, this one is titled “Anglo Patronage and Cultural Influences of Hispano Society in Taos.” Facilitated by co-curator and historian, Dr. Lois Rudnick, Sylvia Rodríguez will present “Mabel’s Bohemian Legacy in Taos” and Carmela Quinto will present “American Moderns and Cultural Preservation”.