From the vault: Raymond Jonson and the transcendental painting group
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
By Aubrey Hobart
Curator of collections and exhibitions
Roswell Museum and Art Center
About two and a half years ago, Scott Shields, chief curator of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Calif., Contacted the Roswell Museum and Art Center (RMAC). He knew that there were several works by Raymond Jonson (1891-1982) in the RMAC collection and he wanted to borrow one for an exhibition he was mounting on the Transcendental Painting Group (TPG). The TPG was a movement ahead of its time, but little known outside of New Mexico, so Shields decided to visit a transcendental art exhibit across the country and offer an alternate thread of how we let’s understand American abstraction in the 20th century.
The TPG was co-founded by Jonson and Emil Bisttram in 1938, and its stated aim was to “take painting beyond the appearance of the physical world, through new concepts of space, color, light. and design, towards imaginative realms that are idealistic and spiritual. … The work is not concerned with political, economic or other social problems. This contrasted directly with social realism, which was the dominant art form in America in the 1930s, and used realistic depictions to draw attention to the social, political, and economic issues of the Great Depression. Due to this trend, the 10 members of the TPG were largely ignored by a population not yet interested in abstraction, and the group disbanded within a few years.
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Shields’ interest in mounting a traveling exhibition of this material struck me as a noble goal, so I put together a document detailing the 14 Jonson pieces in our collection. He chooses the one illustrated on this page: “Watercolor n ° 5”. Its date places the creation of this work at the end of the ephemeral TPG movement. With one work selected, the long process of lending a work of art to another museum was ready to begin.
At RMAC and other accredited museums, art loans begin with approval. Once we have all the loan details, we submit the request to the museum board for discussion and a vote. Most loans are approved, but every now and then the board will say no. This happened not too long ago, when another museum asked to borrow our “Brown Leaf Ram’s Skull” by Georgia O’Keeffe. Knowing that visitors often come to CMCR just to view this piece, they decided that it was not in our best interest to lend it. However, they were happy to lend Jonson’s work, so we moved on to step two.
The next step was the paperwork. We started with a loan agreement, which is basically a contract that the two museums sign. In the agreement, we detail exactly what works will be on loan, how the work will be packaged and how it will travel, who is responsible for insurance and / or damage while the work is in transit, what to do and what not to do. do if the work is accidentally damaged, who pays for the transport and how borrowing institutions may or may not use the image of the work for advertising purposes. We then request that each location on the tour provide us with an installation report that documents the light, temperature and humidity levels in their buildings, so that we can do our best to make sure the room is clean. not damaged by its environment because it moves from one place to another.
Once the papers are in order, the physical work begins. The piece is matted in acid-free cardboard and framed to cover its acrylic or glass face. Then, it is wrapped in a fabric, surrounded by hard and soft foam, and securely inserted into a protective custom-made wooden crate that will keep it from moving during transport. The crate is placed in the care of a certified artwork manager – with more paperwork to show it was picked up – and shipped to its first destination.
This is all a lot of effort on the part of a lot of people, but the results are worth it. Not only will Shields be able to put together the best exhibit possible, but visitors from across the country will learn more about Neo-Mexican art and RMAC, so I think it’s worth it. Our watercolor will be on display in Albuquerque from July to September of this year; at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa from October 2021 to February 2022; in Naples, Florida at the Baker Museum from March to July 2022; at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento from August to November 2022, and finally, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from December 2022 to April 2023. The exhibition is called Another World: The Transcendental Painting Group, 1938-1945. Make sure to check it out if you get the chance.