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‘Another World The Transcendental Painting Group’  at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

IN 1938 IN NEW MEXICO, a loose configuration of artists came together to form the Transcendental Painting Group. Led by New Mexico painters Raymond Jonson and Emil Bisttram, and joined by painters such as Agnes Pelton and Lawren Harris, the members of the group sought to explore spiritually heightened abstraction by employing free-wheeling symbols and imagery drawn from the collective unconscious.


January 28, 2023

By Lydia E. Ringwald

A visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to view ‘Another World: The Transcendental Painters Group 1938-1945’ exhibit is a transcendental experience itself; a rare opportunity to be in the proximity of many edifying and uplifting spiritual images assembled together.

Each artist in the exhibit ensemble explores the mysteries and miracles of transcendence. Each artwork offers an insight, an instinct, a nuance, a visualization and an invitation into spiritual enlightenment. 

This unique exhibit curated by ‘Art in America’ art critic and editor Michael Duncan, explores the transcendental artworks of artists who came together in 1938 in New Mexico to be inspired by the desolate beauty of the desert and clear sky and to share a common commitment towards creating and cultivating the spiritual through art. 

Since these artists did not benefit from the publicity bestowed on those artists in the New York art scene and whose movement was somewhat short-lived due to the onslaught of World War ll, their work was not well known.

 Now, for the first time, this ensemble of art may be experienced together in one space to garner the recognition that it deserves.

Artists including Cathedral City artist Agnes Pelton who was for a while an honorary president of the group led by Raymond Jonson and Emil Bisttram, would often access spiritual realms through symbols, referencing ancient civilizations or native cultures, Buddhism and meditations into the archetypes of the collective unconscious to create uplifting images, abstractions in color and light that would transcend the physical world.

In one section of the museum gallery space, a series of Agnes Pelton’s spiritual abstractions explores the ‘miraculous’; miracles inspired through her exploration into  the mysteries of nature and natural phenomenon that would often motivate the imagery in her art.  

An open notebook in the exhibition space with her sketches reveals insights into her evolved visual thinking process.

Agnes Pelton’s images are an evocation. Through subtle elucidations, the crescendo and decrescendo of color and light, an image ‘descends’ into the visible. 

Several artworks by Emil Bisttram explore the visible spectrum, the mysteries of light frequency where colors radiating as energy levels of light arrive at a transcendental image.

In a series of graphic works, Florence Pierce experiments with transparent and opaque, gradations of shade and subtle light to create elucidating images that shimmer in the subconscious.

Although the term ‘spiritual’ is often a reference to the artists in the group, their spirituality would supersede associations with conventional religion, rather reaching into the realm of Theosophy and other esoteric teachings that bind over time the many multiple facets of the spiritual quest. 

Spirituality for these artists is often a heightened human experience with an energy that is intrinsic to human experience. 

Miracles that are revealed in scientific study of the natural world are often the conduit into ‘Another World.’

The stellar exhibit of 80 artworks by 11 artists includes paintings, works on paper also includes an elucidating slide presentation of a series of artworks set to spiritual music of Transcendental Painting Group advocate artist, writer and composer Dane Rudhyar.

The installation of the artworks in the meditative museum exhibition space were strategized by Los Angeles County Museum of Art, American Art Director Leah Lehmbeck allowing viewers to contemplate each artwork individually, or in a scope together. 

Most enlightening is the publication that accompanies the exhibit, ‘Another World: The Transcendental Painting Group 1938-1945,’ edited by exhibit Curator Michael Duncun, whose deeply researched biographies offer insights into the psyche and creative career of each of the individual artists. 

Duncan’s edifying introduction locates the Transcendental Painting Group artists in the position they deserve in American art revealing the relevance of these artists and their influence on not only on contemporary artists but also on artists in the future who continue to explore, elicit and express spirituality in art.

In a multi-faceted essay Crocker Art Museum Curator Scott Shields examines the work of Transcendental Painters Group artists from many angles in an art historical and philosophical context. 

The chapter ‘Women of the Desert’ by LACMA Curator Emerita Ilene Fort offers intriguing insights into the work of Agnes Pelton and Florence Pierce.

Excerpts from the 1938 manuscript of Transcendental Painting Group by advocate Dane Rudhyar and elucidating essays by Malin Wilson-Powell and occult scholar Catherine Whitney make this valuable publication with stunningly beautiful plates of the transcendental paintings a cherished treasure.

‘Another World: The Transcendental Painting Group, 1938-1945’ will remain at the Los Angeles Museum of Art until June 19, 2023. 

This is the last opportunity to view the exhibit that has been on a national a tour for almost two years with opportunity to be in the proximity of so many spiritual artworks together in one exhibition space.

Please visit LACMA.org for museum hours and further information and for a schedule of gallery tours with art experts.