Wednesday, May 31, 2017

An Agnes Pelton Puzzle Picture at LACMA

LACMA has bought Agnes Pelton's Lost Music, II (1950). Now on view in the American galleries, it's a gift of the Fannie and Alan Leslie Fund and Virginia and William M. Carpenter.

German-born and well-travelled, Agnes Pelton (1881–1961) lived in Cathedral City, Calif., from 1932 onward. She was once about as famous as Georgia O'Keeffe. Lost Music, II is part of a long series of abstractions inspired by desert skies. As a sandstorm whips up, an odd-shaped, indecipherable object—a golden balloon, dragon, or giraffe?—disintegrates in an updraft. White and gold contrails trace out the letters SNX or ISNX. The deep blue curve at upper right is a puzzle piece, or the curtain falling on this farce of a world.

A 1995 retrospective, "Agnes Pelton: Poet of Nature," revived interest in the artist. Organized by the Palm Springs Desert Museum, it travelled to smaller institutions only (among them Pepperdine's Weisman Museum of Art). The show and its catalog led to a wave of Pelton acquisitions by major museums: the Whitney, the Orange County Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges, and just last year, the Huntington.

Another index of the Pelton revival is a recently renamed street. The reticent artist is now in the unlikely company of Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, and Frank Sinatra.

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