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The Great Unknown: Artists at Glen Canyon and Lake Powell

At the New Mexico Museum of Art

Klett Wolfe Solnit Byron looking into pool (detail)

This is the story of a place — a place where millions of years of the Earth’s development are openly revealed and where the hopes and aspirations of the human race have been inscribed for centuries. The place now known as Glen Canyon on the Colorado River has inspired artists since the time of its first human inhabitants.

Through Sept. 15, 2019, the New Mexico Museum of Art exhibition The Great Unknown: Artists at Glen Canyon and Lake Powell explores how Glen Canyon and its later incarnation as Lake Powell became catalysts for art, environmental activism, and an examination of human values and how small communities of artists have had an impact on each other. Working from a variety of perspectives, the exhibition explores the canyon, the dam, and the lake while raising issues of sustainable living, cultural dominance, a sense of shared purpose, and the future of Glen Canyon.

Located in canyon country along the Colorado River, Glen Canyon stretches from southeastern Utah into northern Arizona, not far upriver from the more famous Grand Canyon. The canyon carved into the rock of the Colorado Plateau attracted the attention of the US Bureau of Reclamation when it was looking for a place to build a dam in the 1950s. Amid much controversy, Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1966 to generate hydroelectric power, submerging much of Glen Canyon under a reservoir called Lake Powell.

Using artifacts, photographs, paintings, writings, and archival material, the exhibition shares a long history of responses to Glen Canyon, beginning with the Ancestral Puebloans who first inhabited the region and concluding with twenty-first-century artists who have visited the canyon and lake to assess it in the context of climate change.

Among the artists whose works are included are Byron Wolfe and Mark Klett, Peter Goin, Greg Mac Gregor, Tad Nichols, Georgia O’Keeffe, Eliot Porter, Martin Stupich, Kathleen Velo, and Todd Webb. The exhibition articulates their individual responses to this special place while also touching on the shared experience of artists who traveled together and created collaborative projects, primarily books.

The New Mexico Museum of Art is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, May through October; closed Mondays November through April. Admission $7 for New Mexico residents. $12 for non-residents, free for children 6 and under. The first Sunday of each month is free for New Mexico residents with ID. Wednesdays are free for New Mexico resident seniors (60+) with ID.

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