The Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art (NEHMA), a part of Utah State University’s Caine College of the Arts, opens a new exhibition, “Enchanted Modernities: Mysticism, Landscape and the American West,” with a reception April 16 at 6 p.m.
In addition to the art on exhibit, the opening reception will feature musical works by Beethoven, Foulds, and Scott related to the theme of the exhibition and performed by the Fry Street Quartet.
Also in conjunction with the opening reception a symposium, “Exploring Theosophy’s Influence on Visual Art and Music,” is presented April 17 from 12:30-5 p.m. at the museum.
Both events are free and open to the public.
“The exhibit, ‘Mysticism, Landscape and the American West,’ opening April 14, argues that the dynamic intersections between mystical movements, ideas and the landscapes of the American West were significant for the work of a wide range of artists who sought to create spiritual and enchanted forms of modern art and music in the 20th century,” said Katie Lee Koven, NEHMA director.
The exhibition, open through December, explores the role of the American West as a site for rebirth and enchantment, specifically through artists and composers who explored the visionary interpretations of the landscape in visual or musical form inspired by theosophical ideas, said Christopher Scheer, assistant professor of musicology in the Caine College of the Arts, and co-curator of the exhibit.
“Theosophy, as explored in the exhibition, grew out of the 19th century mystic Helena Blavatsky’s writings,” Scheer said. “Blavatsky was also one of the founders of the Theosophical Society, an institute still in existence today.”
The exhibition, curated by a group of international scholars, displays selected works that convey the local and regional connection to theosophically-inspired artists and musicians while also placing them within the international network of enchanted culture that flourished in the early 20th century, said Lee Koven.
Scheer believes searching for a single definition of Theosophy is an exercise in frustration because there are so many different historical interpretations and variants.
“The Theosophy explored in this exhibition is a reaction to the gulf between religion and science in the late 19th century opened by the enlightenment and industrialization,” Scheer said.
Theosophy provided individuals a flexible worldview that claimed to reconcile these within the context of the modern world.
“The movement has been attacked as both pseudo-religion and pseudo-science, however, it cannot be denied that the ideas it promulgated remained influential well into the 20th century, and were especially inspirational to artists and composers in the American West, suggesting a web of influence that has hitherto been little explored,” said Scheer.
Although many of the individuals whose work is included in the exhibition openly discussed their interest and involvement in mystical movements such as Theosophy, this is the first display to specifically explore the pervasive influence of theosophical ideas on 20th century art and music in the American West, Scheer said.
Art included in the exhibit draws largely on NEHMA’s collection, supported by key loans from public and private collections, including the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, the Gerald Buck Collection, the Raymond Jonson Gallery at the University of Arizona, the Center for Visual Music, the San Diego Museum of Art and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.
“The work of contemporary photographer Andrew McAllister prompts us to think about the legacies of these ideas and about what traces of these enchanted landscapes are apparent now, while the contribution of graphic designer Mike Daines conceptualizes the complex intertextuality of theosophical influence into a visual map,” said Sarah Victoria Turner, assistant director for research at the Paul Mellon Centre in London and co-curator for the exhibition.
The exhibit at USU is made possible with support from the Leverhulme Trust and the Tanner Charitable Trust.
As a component of the Caine College of Arts, NEHMA is dedicated to collecting and exhibiting modern and contemporary visual art to promote dialogue about ideas fundamental to contemporary society and provide meaningful engagement with art from the 20th and 21st centuries to support the educational mission of Utah State University. NEHMA also provides programs such as lectures, panels, tours and symposia to serve USU as well as the local and regional community.
The museum is located in the Chase Fine Arts Center complex at Utah State University and is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information and a complete schedule, see the museum’s website.
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