Art Review

Review: Mary Chenoweth Needs a Retrospective, Not Just a Solo, at CSFAC

Review: Mary Chenoweth Needs a Retrospective, Not Just a Solo, at CSFAC (4)
Courtesy of the FAC
From the early 1920s to around 1960, Colorado Springs was the unrivaled center for art in this state. Artists were drawn to southern Colorado for the instruction and exhibition opportunities available at the Broadmoor Academy, which later morphed into the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. In recent years, the CSFAC has highlighted this illustrious history by presenting solos dedicated to the artists who were important to its development as an institution. FAC Legacy Series: Mary Chenoweth is the latest in this tradition.

Mary Chenoweth, who died in 1999, was one of the most significant abstract artists active in Colorado during the post-war period. She created her first non-objective works in the late 1940s; in the early 1950s, she became a teacher at the CSFAC and later a professor at Colorado College. Curator Joy Armstrong presents Chenoweth as a vanguard artist, with selections revealing her sophisticated referencing of abstract expressionism and constructivism.

“Peace No. 5,” by Mary Chenoweth, oil and collage on canvas. - COURTESY OF THE FAC
“Peace No. 5,” by Mary Chenoweth, oil and collage on canvas.
Courtesy of the FAC
The show focuses on Chenoweth’s works on paper, in the form of collages, prints, books and cards. Chenoweth’s picture-making involved assembling simple shapes — squares, rectangles, circles — and then arranging them into pleasing compositions. The forms have been simply rendered, and it’s apparent they were drawn without any help from straight-edges or compasses. The margins of these would-be geometric forms are wavy and look almost like doodles. The shapes are employed not only as formal elements, but as blocks of color: Chenoweth was not only an expert at creating elegant compositions, but in making striking, and often perfect, color contrasts. The show includes dozens of first-rate pieces, and it would take hours to study everything.

click to enlarge Installation view from FAC Legacy Series: Mary Chenoweth. - COURTESY OF THE FAC
Installation view from FAC Legacy Series: Mary Chenoweth.
Courtesy of the FAC
Chenoweth also did figural abstracts, but those are few and far between here, and they weren’t her strong suit, anyway. Still, I was disappointed that her paintings were largely ignored, other than a couple of exceptions that include the wonderful “Peace No. 5,” an oil and collage on canvas. Also MIA are her wood carvings, except for one. Which means we are still waiting for the proper retrospective that Chenoweth so richly deserves — especially now, with all the increased attention given to women working in abstract styles.

click to enlarge COURTESY OF THE FAC
Courtesy of the FAC
The show runs through May 21 at CSFAC, 30 West Dale Street in Colorado Springs; call 719-634-5581 or go to csfineartscenter.org for additional details.
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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia