The romantic images of southwestern life seemed irrelevant after WWll. Los Alamos, NM was the home of the Manhattan project during the war years, and the Trinity Site near Alamogordo, NM was the site of the first atomic bomb explosion. Many New Mexicans had fought and died in the war, and the state became more connected to the rest of the country and world.
The arrival of the Atomic age ended New Mexico’s cultural and technological isolation. The postwar boom increased industry, transportation, tourism, and the population. Albuquerque became the population center, and the arts community at the end of the 1940s blossomed there as well. The University of New Mexico became the center of a thriving community of modernist artists.
Raymond Jonson moved to Albuquerque to teach at the University and opened the Jonson gallery, the only gallery in New Mexico devoted to abstract and non-objective art. Jonson attracted a broad range of students to the university's Fine Arts program, including returning veteran Richard Diebenkorn, from the San Francisco Bay area, and native son Joe H. Herrera. Though artists continued to congregate in the enclaves of Taos and Santa Fe, Albuquerque became the center for younger, more progressive artists.
In the Cold War era of Sputnik and the arms race, science and technology became dominant forces in the culture. New Mexico became well-known for its scientific laboratories in Los Alamos and Sandia and the top scientists who migrated to the state. Artists working with abstraction embraced two opposing formalist strategies in response to the times and trends: rational/geometric styles and expressive/ intuitive styles.
Native American art also began to change radically during the Cold War era. In 1962, the Institute of American Indian Arts replaced the Studio at the Indian School. The school hired new faculty who were engaged in contemporary issues and styles. Fritz Scholder became an important teacher there, and he energized a rebellion against the prevailing formalist styles of the day. Scholder combined Native American stereotypes with abstract expressionist brushstrokes. He influenced many young Native American artists including T. C. Cannon, who attacked Native American stereotypes and transformed them into political commentary. Subsequent movements in Native American arts became more political. Bob Haozous’ Apache Skull, and Jaune Quick-To-See Smith’s Matching Smallpox Suits... have clear political messages about tragic events in Native American history.