The Fiery Visions of Agnes Pelton

Emily Pothast
Form and Resonance
Published in
5 min readSep 30, 2021

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Two exhibitions highlight the landscapes and abstractions of an underrated modernist

Agnes Pelton, “Mount of Flame.” Oil on canvas, 1932.

In 2012, very few people had heard of the Swedish mystic and painter Hilma af Klint. Then, in 2013, her solo retrospective at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet became the most heavily attended exhibition by a Swedish artist in the museum’s history. Virtually overnight, interest in the spiritual and esoteric dimensions of early 20th century abstraction became a hot topic, along with the desire to give an underappreciated woman painter her art historical due.

A remarkably similar dynamic — if not quite on the same scale—may be observed in the uptick in interest in the American painter Agnes Pelton (1881–1961). After its 2019 debut at the Phoenix Art Museum, Pelton’s retrospective Desert Transcendentalist traveled to the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art before its final stop at the Palm Springs Art Museum, just a few miles from the cabin in Cathedral City, California, where Pelton lived and worked from 1932 until the end of her life. It was here, in this impossibly hot and dry desert, on the final day of the final iteration of this traveling exhibition, where I finally stood in the same room with Pelton’s paintings.

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Emily Pothast
Form and Resonance

Artist and historian. PhD student researching religion, material culture, media, and politics. emilypothast.com