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The 1940s was an important transition period for the Taos art community. A group of modernist artists arrived who would set a new artistic course for a generation. Following World War II, Taos became an important crossroads in contemporary American art, a place where the influences of European and American modernism came together. Artists from New York and San Francisco, the cradles of post-war abstract painting, found in Taos a conducive place to work devoid of the distractions of the big cities. Many of the modernist artists arrived in Taos with little if any knowledge of the earlier artists, as if inexplicably drawn to the Town's inherently creative atmosphere. Many came to study under the G.I. bill.

Joining Andrew Dasburg as mentor to these new artists in 1939 was Thomas Benrimo, another early American modernist. New York artist Louis Ribak arrived in Taos in 1944 with his wife, painter Beatrice Mandelman, and emerged as a leader of the younger generation. Agnes Martin, now an internationally acclaimed artist came to Taos a few years later as a student with the University of New Mexico's summer Field School of Art. In the early 1950s, Clay Spohn, an abstract expressionist, and Edward Corbett, an artist with a growing reputation as a modernist, arrived from San Francisco. Their colleague, Richard Diebenkorn, although not a Taos resident, showed at the Town's premier art gallery, Galeria Escondida, as well as the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque where he received a Masters Degree in Art in 1951. In the same way that the Taos Art Colony in earlier decades attracted other artists to the area, these new artists were visited by their friends and associates, including such major figures as Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Clyfford Still and Morris Graves.

The influx of dozens of artists by the 1950s had established Taos as one of the centers of modernist artistic activity in the United States. In the middle part of the decade, a number of them began showing together in art galleries and museums and were collectively known as the Taos Moderns. Although they never created a formal group such as the Taos Society of Artists had done, they changed the artistic direction of the community.

Their paintings were either abstract, using subject matter, or non-objective compositions of pure form. The stark New Mexico landscape brightened their palettes just as it had that of earlier artists. Cultural influences continued to be important as well. The timelessness they perceived in Pueblo Indian culture and the deep connection to the land they noted in the everyday life of both Indians and Hispanics influence experimentation and innovation in their own art.

If there was any one guiding philosophy during this period, it was a commitment by artists to seek 'the new' in their visual imagery. Many of them were not content with depicting the surface beauty of the landscape or the figurative portraits done by earlier artists. Instead, they wanted to capture the underlying structure of a subject to reveal its true meaning.

Sorted AscendingTitleDateArtistClassificationDimensions
Personages1952Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
print 10 × 13 in. (25.4 × 33 cm)
Portrait of Bea Mandelmanc. 1944Louis Ribak
Louis Ribak (1903-1979)
LOUIS RIBAK (1903-1979), moved to Taos in 1944.

In his first show in eight years [Louis Ribak] reports from Mexico and the Southwest with added strength and color. There is new freedom with emphasis on forms as such rather than on objects ...

—New York Times, May 1954

Beginning with work that was included in the 1934 Venice Biennale and continuing with his social realist painting of the 1930s, Louis Ribak captured vibrant images of urban life with considerable power. He was making an important career when, in 1944, he abandoned New York for Taos with his wife, Beatrice Mandelman. Various reasons have been suggested for the move: Ribak’s health; John Sloan's suggestion that the couple move to New Mexico; and their general disenchantment with New York. All these were probably contributing factors, but, since there was a good deal of wanderlust in Ribak, perhaps he just needed a change. As curator Harry Rand observed in the catalog of a 1984 exhibition of Ribak’s late paintings,

Something entirely unsuspected gripped Ribak in the Southwest and he was never able to disenthrall himself from the heady solemnity of the landscape, its beauty or emotive potential.

Ribak's approach shifted from social realism to full abstraction during his Taos years. Much of his early Taos work consists of semi-abstract landscapes, artistically descended from the paintings of American artist Albert P. Ryder. In Ryders’ work there is a living aspect to the environment in which humankind is not isolated, but is instead an intimate part. Ribak seems to have brought this concept with him from New York but, under the powerful influence of contact with New Mexico's pueblos, it was dramatically reinforced, expanded, and adapted to the changed circumstances of his life. He had to change to meet the demands of the new environment. Mandelman later said, “We had to start all over again. We spent the first couple of years painting the landscape” as a means of coming to understand the West.

Highly respected by his peers, Ribak was looked up to by the Taos Moderns as “an elder compadre,” a role model. In 1947, he opened the Taos Valley Art School for returning veterans who used their GI Bill benefits to pay tuition and living expenses. In addition to attracting beginners, mature artists who needed no training used the stipend to enable them to continue painting and drawing. Ribak, like Andrew Dasburg, offered no ideology to his students: “I’m not truly anything. I’m against everything. Damned abstract[ionist]s, realists, illustrators …” He condemned taking any single approach—he believed this would lead to academicism, an art of deadness, whether abstract or representational.

Ribak was well-acquainted with the work of the abstract expressionists and knew artists of the New York School. In the mid-1950s, Mandelman and Ribak sojourned in New York, then returned to Taos. From that time, Ribak developed the lyrical abstract expressionism that would occupy much of his subsequent career. Movement No. 1 and Movement No. 2 are examples. The flowing calligraphy evident in much of his work developed from decades of landscape drawings. His abstract paintings seem not to have come from cubism so much as out of his own preoccupation with working directly from nature.

Edited excerpt from David L. Witt, Taos Moderns: Art of the New (1992).
painting Overall: 29 x 24 1/2 in. (73.7 x 62.2 cm)
Portrait of The Honorable Dorothy Brett1956Robert D. Ray
Robert D. Ray (1924 - 2002)
Dates in Taos: 1954
painting Overall: 60 1/4 x 31 7/8 in. (153 x 81 cm) frame: 61 x 32 1/2 in. (154.9 x 82.6 cm)
Rio Grande River, New Mexico1919Marsden Hartley
Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)
drawing support: 17 1/2 x 27 3/4 in. (44.5 x 70.5 cm) frame: 25 3/16 x 35 1/2 x 1 3/4 in. (64 x 90.2 x 4.5 cm)
Struggle1951Ted Egri
Ted Egri (1913-2010)
sculpture entire piece: 13 1/2 × 21 3/4 × 13 1/2 in. (34.3 × 55.2 × 34.3 cm)
Taos Canyon1930John Marin
John Marin (1870-1953)
painting 15 9/16 x 20 1/2 in. (39.5 x 52 cm) Framed: 21 3/4 × 27 × 1 3/8 in. (55.2 × 68.6 × 3.5 cm)
The Grottoc. 1960Louis Ribak
Louis Ribak (1903-1979)
LOUIS RIBAK (1903-1979), moved to Taos in 1944.

In his first show in eight years [Louis Ribak] reports from Mexico and the Southwest with added strength and color. There is new freedom with emphasis on forms as such rather than on objects ...

—New York Times, May 1954

Beginning with work that was included in the 1934 Venice Biennale and continuing with his social realist painting of the 1930s, Louis Ribak captured vibrant images of urban life with considerable power. He was making an important career when, in 1944, he abandoned New York for Taos with his wife, Beatrice Mandelman. Various reasons have been suggested for the move: Ribak’s health; John Sloan's suggestion that the couple move to New Mexico; and their general disenchantment with New York. All these were probably contributing factors, but, since there was a good deal of wanderlust in Ribak, perhaps he just needed a change. As curator Harry Rand observed in the catalog of a 1984 exhibition of Ribak’s late paintings,

Something entirely unsuspected gripped Ribak in the Southwest and he was never able to disenthrall himself from the heady solemnity of the landscape, its beauty or emotive potential.

Ribak's approach shifted from social realism to full abstraction during his Taos years. Much of his early Taos work consists of semi-abstract landscapes, artistically descended from the paintings of American artist Albert P. Ryder. In Ryders’ work there is a living aspect to the environment in which humankind is not isolated, but is instead an intimate part. Ribak seems to have brought this concept with him from New York but, under the powerful influence of contact with New Mexico's pueblos, it was dramatically reinforced, expanded, and adapted to the changed circumstances of his life. He had to change to meet the demands of the new environment. Mandelman later said, “We had to start all over again. We spent the first couple of years painting the landscape” as a means of coming to understand the West.

Highly respected by his peers, Ribak was looked up to by the Taos Moderns as “an elder compadre,” a role model. In 1947, he opened the Taos Valley Art School for returning veterans who used their GI Bill benefits to pay tuition and living expenses. In addition to attracting beginners, mature artists who needed no training used the stipend to enable them to continue painting and drawing. Ribak, like Andrew Dasburg, offered no ideology to his students: “I’m not truly anything. I’m against everything. Damned abstract[ionist]s, realists, illustrators …” He condemned taking any single approach—he believed this would lead to academicism, an art of deadness, whether abstract or representational.

Ribak was well-acquainted with the work of the abstract expressionists and knew artists of the New York School. In the mid-1950s, Mandelman and Ribak sojourned in New York, then returned to Taos. From that time, Ribak developed the lyrical abstract expressionism that would occupy much of his subsequent career. Movement No. 1 and Movement No. 2 are examples. The flowing calligraphy evident in much of his work developed from decades of landscape drawings. His abstract paintings seem not to have come from cubism so much as out of his own preoccupation with working directly from nature.

Edited excerpt from David L. Witt, Taos Moderns: Art of the New (1992).
painting Overall: 16 x 12 in. (40.6 x 30.5 cm)
Three Indian Women (Three Witches)1949Dorothy Eugenie Brett
Dorothy Eugenie Brett Great Britain (1883 - 1977)
Dorothy Eugénie Brett was a British painter, remembered as much for her social life as for her art. Born into an aristocratic British family, she lived a sheltered early life. During her student years at the Slade School of Art, she associated with the Bloomsbury group. Among the people she met was novelist D. H. Lawrence, and it was at his invitation that she moved to Taos, New Mexico in 1924. She remained there for the rest of her life, becoming an American citizen in 1938. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Brett

Her work can be found in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C., in the Millicent Rogers Museum and the Harwood Museum of Art, both in Taos, at the New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, the Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell, New Mexico and in many private collections. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Brett

painting Overall: 24 x 11 15/16 in. (60.9 x 30.3 cm)
Tio Vivo # 12n.d.Howard Cook
Howard Cook United States (1901 - 1980)
painting Other: 24 x 30 in. (61 x 76.2 cm)
Tundra1967Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
painting 72 × 72 in. (182.9 × 182.9 cm)