The survey exhibition of contemporary art, which Joan Mondale yesterday presented to the press at the Vice President's House, has a flavor that is regional. The show reflects the wealth, the landscape and the light, of America's Southwest.
Although there are some Indians, a view of the Grand Canyon, and one tall pointed boot in the pictures on display, this is neither a show of cowboy art nor of notably provincial selections. Famous artists from both coasts - Warhol, Wyeth, Oldenburg, and Diebenkorn and Ansel Adams - are among those represented. Its scope is national, but one region of the country seems to rule.
All the works displayed were borrowed from museums in four southwestern states - Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Harry S. Parker, who was asked by Mondale to assemble this collection, once worked in Manhattan at the Metropolitan Museum but, as director of the Dallas Museum of the Fine Arts, he is a Texan now.
He selected artists, famous and unknown, who work in many different stles with varying materials - oils, stainless steel, watercolors, clay - for the one-year exhibition. There are 49 of them. Of these, 32, at one time or another, chose to live and work in the sun of the Southwest.
Their shared preference shows. One sees it in John Marin's 1930 view of Taos, in the open airiness of Agnes Martin's pencilled grid, in Frederick Sommer's photograph of Taylor, Ariz., and in the two related lanscapes, one of 1977, one of 1953, by Georgia O'Keeffe.
Mondale herself seems to have a fondness for wholly abstract art. She used to be a docent who led tours through art museums, and at lunch yesterday her experience - and her preference for abstraction - were equally apparent.
Two large abstract pictures, by Helen Frankenthaler and Ellsworth Kelly, dominate the dining room. An equally abstract canvas by Hans Hofman rules the front hall of the house. Each day when the vice president takes his seat at table, he will see through tall windows the gleaming stainless steel sculpture, "Cubi XVII" of 1963 by David Smith, that has been installed on the lawn outside.
While joking with the press ("What is red and green and goes 60 miles per hour?" Answer: "A frog in a Cusinart"), and teaching them art history ("David Smith learned welding when he worked at Studebaker's"), she patiently discussed seven works of art. Of these only one - Merrill Mahaffey's large only one just-completed view of the Grand Canyon - was entirely representational.
Since Mondale became the Carter administration's chief advocate for art, she has logged 70,000 miles visiting American studios and museums. Also she believes, as this slow attests, that America has more than one art center.
In part because of her support of regional exhibits, she and her art colleagues in the administration recently have been accused of Balkanizing" the arts in this country by neglecting New York's "excellence" in favor of "the provinces" and "proviincial art."
Mondale yesterday was asked whether her southwestern show undermined Manhattan. She stood before the Frankenthaler and looked out at the David Smith. "Of course not," she said and she laughed.
This is the second annual exhibit Mondale has mounted on Observatory Circle with works that she has borrowed from regional collections. Last year's show was drawn from the Midwest.