Southern Utah Museum of Art features Southwest abstract exhibition

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Southern Utah Museum of Art features Southwest abstract exhibition
Shalee Cooper, West, 2018, Gesso on raw canvas, On loan from Modern West, SLC

CEDAR CITY, UT.- Southern Utah Museum of Art on the campus of the Southern Utah University (SUU) exhibits The Space Between: Visions of the Southwest, in partnership with Modern West Fine Art. The exhibition is on view through Saturday, September 24, 2022.

The Space Between brings together works from four artists who represent the past, present, and future of abstract art forged in the creative crucible of the desert. Louis Ribak (American, b. Lithuania, 1902-1979) and Beatrice Mandelman (American, 1912-1998) were the groundbreaking forces behind Taos Modernism. Arlo Namingha (American, Tewa/Hopi, b. 1974) and Shalee Cooper (American, b. 1978) embody the enduring legacy of their predecessors and the new visions emerging from this environment. Echoing the dynamism of the desert, these artists engage space, shape, and scale in parallel but different ways, each finding meaning where these elements meet and in the spaces between.

In the 1950s, the American Southwest became a crossroads for abstract expressionists from New York and San Francisco. Mandelman and Ribak's works radically changed by the move. Not only were they at a new nexus of artistic collaboration and cross-pollination, but the landscape and local cultures of New Mexico pushed Mandelman and Ribak into unexplored stylistic realms grounded in abstraction. They allowed color and space to express their own feelings about the increasingly complex world they inhabited, while seizing viewers’ imaginations and evoking a myriad of personal responses.

Mandelman and Ribak were influential in the development of the group known as the Taos Moderns including renowned artists Agnes Martin and Edward Corbett. Through The Space Between, SUMA is premiering some of these works that have never been shown publicly, and continuing its unique partnership with Modern West in Salt Lake City as they simultaneously exhibit a show of works by Mandelman and Ribak, on exhibition through September 10.

Similarly, contemporary artists Cooper and Namingha come from different backgrounds of artistic practice; however, both are inhabitants of the American Southwest and inheritors of the modernist tradition examining geometric abstraction. Both of these artists utilize the universalizing visual language of minimalism and unexpected flexibility with their compositions to evoke notions of curation, dialogue, and interactivity.

Cooper trained as a photographer and came to painting through an interest in light and geometric abstraction. As a photographer, she cuts out and collages shapes to create bold geometric designs. She transitioned from collage to painting using gesso on raw canvas. Cooper's connection to 20th-century abstractionists such as Mandelman and Ribak is clear through a shared interest in cut paper and a preference for expressionism over representationalism.

Namingha was born into a family of artists: he is the son of one of the most celebrated Hopi-Tewa artists in the world, Dan Namingha; as well as the grandson of Dextra Quotskuyva Nampeyo, the first Nampeyo potter to make commodity works for public sales; and his aunt, Camille (Hisi) Nampeyo, is an internationally recognized potter. Beyond his family, Namingha's artwork is inspired by the Southwestern landscape and narratives and symbols of the Tewa and Hopi. His sculptures, made of bronze and polished wood and stone, are reductionist interpretations of pueblo buildings, landscapes, and animals as well as abstractions of cultural beliefs.

SUMA is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Additional information about exhibitions can be found on SUMA’s website Admission to the museum is free and open to the public thanks to Cedar City RAP Tax, Utah Arts and Museums funded by the Utah Legislature, the Sam and Diane Stewart Family Foundation, and Zions Bank.

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