Saturday, August 27, 2011

My interview with Santa Fe painter Joan Watts has been published on the BeingBlog, park of NPR's radio program OnBeing.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Kelly McLane "Fragile"

Beginning in the 1940s, contemporary artists confronted sculpture, painting, drawing, printmaking, and photography and laid traditional definitions of these media mostly to rest. EVO gallery’s current exhibition, “Beyond Graphic: Contemporary Drawing and Works on Paper”, presents innovative approaches to contemporary drawing over the last twenty years. Some of these works have been seen in international venues many times and are not as relevant now as they were initially. But next to more recent works, a conversation about the recent history of drawing, and its future possibilities, starts to emerge.

“Beyond Graphic” includes works by Ann Hamilton (Ohio), Cuban-born José Bedia (Miami), Tony Fitzpatrick (Chicago), Ethan Murrow, Walton Ford, Donald Sultan, and Gary Simmons (New York), Julian Opie (London), Kelly McLane (Los Angeles), Bernar Venet (Paris), Hirosi Sugimoto (Japan)—as well as recent drawings by College of Santa Fe painter Gerry Snyder and alumnus Luke Dorman. A wall piece by Sol LeWitt is installed upstairs. Works by Basquiat, Lucien Freud and James Rosenquist, listed on the exhibition announcement card, are being shown at Art Basel, Miami and are not presently in the gallery.

The late conceptual and minimal artist Sol LeWitt challenged the notion that a drawing had to be made by the artist’s hand. He created sets of directions by which someone else would execute the work. His directions often allowed some choice (make lines that are not straight), so that the decisions of others became part of the work. He effectively killed the notion that the artist is more important than the work itself. The LeWitt work at EVO, a fire-engine red square with a circle in its center, has been painted on the upstairs office wall by Gerry Snyder. Visible from the ground floor, the work glows a nearly solid crimson. Walk upstairs, and from an angle, the mat circle contrasts with the gloss square so that the two separate, until, walking in front of it, the two shapes begin to merge again. Close-up, the red will dramatically reflect onto the viewer’s face, making her part of the work as well.

LeWitt’s reductive contribution to the history of art seems dramatic until one confronts Julian Opie’s recent, oval work, “Christine Swimming 02”. It’s easily missed, and that is part of the intent. Slyly installed over the gallery’s informational text at the base of the stairs (where one could interpret it as a hip decoration), Opie’s slick works refer to advertising signage and video games—the places where minimal, abstracted information is used to quickly convey a banal message. We have been subliminally trained to pay attention—for a second or two--when we see flat and coded images such as these, and this work only requires the time it takes to descend the final steps of the staircase.

Santa Feans may be unfamiliar with the work of Los Angeles-based painter Kelly McLane, but her 2002 work, “Fragile” is a great introduction. For over a decade, McLane has been using the direct, intimate line of the pencil with the color and mark of oil paint in large works on canvas. In this particular work, giant whales are stacked on top of each other in a wooden pen of sorts, situated in the ocean. To the left, a mammoth, decapitated human leg stands in the water—perhaps the remains of a statue after an apocalyptic war (as in the final scene of “Planet of the Apes”). McLane’s process of adding and subtracting marks and images on the surface of the canvas has a direct relationship to the loss and gain she conveys in her work. This loss and gain is personal, global and historical—a constant state of flux and flummox.

Luke Dorman
"Grimalkin Conflict"

Luke Dorman’s ink drawing on gessoed panel, “Grimalkin Conflict”, is a good work to end with. A figure that looks much like the artist himself, in a horizontally striped shirt, is represented in duplicate. The figures form a check out line of sorts. When one of the figures reaches the front of the line, three cat-headed, skirted women in boots shoot him with rifle-fire, leaving the clones bleeding on the ground. It’s a funny, and not-so funny, re-visioning of Goya's “The Third of May and/or Manet’s “The Execution of Maximilian”. Dorman is trying to figure out where he belongs within the raging, transforming river of art history. Each artist in this exhibition has looked behind, at the traditions and artists and methods of working that came before him, and asked “What else can I add?”

Beyond Graphic: Contemporary Drawing and Works on Paper
Through January 10
EVO Gallery
554 South Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe (in the Railyard District)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pretty Disease(d)


During the early years of the 19th century in Russia, one could buy sweet, delicate porcelain figures depicting drunks and corrupt government officials to place on the fireplace mantel. During the Russian revolution, when ceramic factories were nationalized, one could add pretty farm girls flush with patriotic fever. During the Cold War, one might move some of those figures over to make room for a little national heroism: Polar explorer Ivan Papanin and his crew, perhaps, with their dog, Jolly.

Porcelain didn’t originate in Russia, of course. The material came to Russia through France and Italy by way of Marco Polo, who returned to Italy with a small, white vase from his travels to China in 1292.

Pure white porcelain, called Blanc de Chine, is the name the 19th century French gave to the porcelain they imported from Dehua county, China, where the pieces had been made primarily in the 17th and 18th centuries. The white clay is covered in a white glaze, sometimes with a bluish, brownish, or pinkish tint, but overall the works appear simple and austere. In 18th and 19th century Europe, the passion for porcelain ran parallel with the popularity of exotic items like coffee, tea and chocolate (all which could be stored in porcelain containers). Porcelain quickly symbolized wealth, status, and nobility.

All of this history is central to understanding why the contemporary porcelain figures of Linda Cordell, whose works are included in “Reconfigurine” at Santa Fe Clay through December 13, are so impressive. (Also included in the exhibition are ceramic figures by Lisa Clague and Debra Fritts.)

Cordell creates immaculately sculpted animals in white glazed porcelain. At first glance, before one recognizes unnerving details, the animals look like cliché reproductions of the 19th century figurines that might decorate a blue and white country kitchen: chickens, squirrels, deer. But her work is far from cliché. These are animals ravaged by ecological disaster, riddled with disease and unease. Like the ceramic propaganda manufactured in Russia, Cordell’s ceramics are not just pretty things.

“Mange” is a little dog twisting around to lick itself. At first look it one might assume the dog’s name is likely “Spot”, until one realizes that the spots are mange and the scratching and licking is the result of illness. “Infectious” is another dog on its back, genitals and open, tumor-like sores exposed on its underbelly. A squirrel stands on a tree stump, one arm raised toward the enormous tumor coming out of its right eye in “Tumor”.

"Rocket Deer"

Two works suggest messages that are layered rather than direct. “Rocket Deer” is just that—a deer with a rocket sticking into its back. It is just a matter of time before it explodes and the deer…oh, well...poor deer. The upper portion of a squirrel is mounted to a decorative plaque in “Fight/Flight”. This squirrel dons boxing gloves. He wants to fight back, but he can’t move. He can’t flee. He is firmly taxidermied. Cordell can be funny, but her message is sobering.


Cordell currently lives and works in Fredonia, New York, near Buffalo. She received her MFA from Louisiana State University and her BFA from Alfred University, which is well known for its ceramics program. This year, Cordell’s works have been included in several additional exhibitions, including “Confrontational Ceramics” at the Westchester Arts Council in Westchester, New York and “A Human Impulse: Figuration from the Diane and Sandy Besser Collection” at the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe.

Cordell’s works are painstakingly crafted, but not for the sake of craft alone. It is easy to get involved in glazing and surfacing techniques in ceramics, without any connection to the intended meaning or message of the work. Part of what makes Cordell’s works so extraordinary is that all of her choices—of clay body, glaze, style, scale, color—contribute directly to a clear point of view about animals and the environment. That she is aware of the history of her material, and is using all its references to the advantage of her message, is even more impressive.

White is the color of death and mourning in China, and some historians suggest that traditional Blanc de Chine symbolized loss. Whether or not that is accurate, Cordell’s work is certainly about loss—the loss of environmental balance and the suffering that results. That she crafts her ideas in a material that for centuries has represented gain and wealth only makes the works more ironic and unnerving. In Western terms, white represents purity, and if this is Cordell’s meaning, the irony is even stronger. How pure is our environment right now? Under the surface of manicured lawns and clean, public parks, how is nature actually faring? The fact is that few of us personally witness the erratic swimming of a dolphin lost in a river, or beaches covered with dead fish four deep. Cordell brings those realities to the gallery and the living room in the form of pretty, decorative, passive objects—physical representations of our psychological and emotional relationship with the truth.

Reconfigurine: Lisa Clague, Linda Cordell, and Debra Fritts
Through December 13
Santa Fe Clay
1615 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe (in the Railyard District)

This review was originally published in the November 28, 2008 issue of the Journal Santa Fe, in the column Object Lessons.

Everything In Its Place

Lee Friedlander is a natural observer and careful organizer.

Just take a look at his 2005 photograph of a Santa Fe street titled “1684-26: Santa Fe, New Mexico”. The viewer might wonder exactly what he was taking a picture of—the telephone pole that is slightly to the left of center? Or perhaps the house between the telephone pole and the parking meter? There are obstructions at every turn: objects cut off unexpectedly, an unwieldy bush on the left pressing itself up against the telephone pole unattractively, the shadow of the pole leading the eye nowhere—it disappears off the right side of the composition. This is not a photograph of beautiful things, the viewer might hear herself mumble. But it’s really beautiful.

Which is exactly the point. This is not how most people using cameras take photographs. Most eyes looking through viewfinders idealize the world, pretty it up, edit out the rotten parts. They rely on beautiful subjects to make beautiful pictures, and that’s easy (and boring). Friedlander allows the world to present itself as it is—uncomfortable, thrown together, and humble. The camera’s viewfinder is a surrogate for Friedlander’s eye, which observes the underlying order in all that appears haphazard.

Between 1995 and 2005, Friedlander focused his camera on New Mexico, a subject he has returned to regularly since the 1960s. Nearly fifty in all, these photographs are on view through January 15 at Andrew Smith Gallery.

The world in Friedlander’s photographs is the eye-level, everyday world in which we all walk and drive. He often photographs what most of us edit out of our daily field of vision: telephone poles, road signs, fences, truck beds, the frame of the car window though which we admire the mountains. And he renders these banal objects so exquisitely that one wonders why we don’t give them equal time. As observers ourselves, we are clearly missing much.

Friedlander is a formalist, concerned with how he divides the rectangle of the photograph, how light and shadow divide space, and how foreground and background relate and merge. Many of his landscapes have strong verticals, horizontals, and diagonals, which Friedlander uses to create additional frames for smaller stories within the frame of the photograph.

The side and front car windows are both frames in “1499-14: New Mexico”. The edge of the car door splits the photograph in half, simultaneously splitting the roof of the gas station in the background. On the left side of this split a car points to the left; mirrored on the opposite side a car points to the right. The driver’s side window is open half way, splitting the window frame and the rear view mirror frame in half. The edge of this window cuts exactly between the two buildings reflected in the rear view mirror. All of this cutting-in-half is not accidental. This is the photographer, seeing what is ironically beautiful about this particular perceptual moment. In the midst of banality there is geometry and beauty. Foreground and background merge into a single visual field that can be cut into neat sections like a construction paper pie.

Friedlander has been photographing the landscape from his car for decades now. There is a truthfulness to these images that is jolting; we like to pretend the car isn’t part of how we experience nature, but for many of us, it is the only way we experience the landscape. Friedlander not only reminds us of this, he shows us how the car can be a compelling part of the visual story.

In other compositions, Friedlander pacts the photograph nearly edge to edge with leaves, bushes, trees. It is difficult to see through the brush, and if we do, as in “1684-18: Santa Fe” we might see a glimpse of something (in this case, the American flag). Again, this is a natural and realistic representation of how we see the world. Our vistas are often dense and obstructed. If Jackson Pollock made photographs, they would look like these: all-over mark, edge-to-edge, lacking a focal point or a way through.

The urban landscape is divided into vertical strips in many of Friedlander’s works. In “1499-3: New Mexico”, a nearly vacant intersection is host to a row of skinny poles (roads signs, telephone poles, and a stop sign) which stand like cartoon characters on a triangular island. Their shadows cast long, dark, diagonal lines toward the viewer. There is nothing emotionally or psychologically striking about these objects or this space. What is striking is Friedlander’s intuitive ability to recognize the moment when the bland becomes miraculous.

Considering the time in which we are living, when the magical Disney-like years of massive wealth and privilege are gone and we are, like our grandparents, finding inventive ways to conserve and stretch our resources, these photographs seem especially poignant. They are not about excess, glamour and status. They don’t rely on beautiful faces or places.

After the events of the last year, we know we can’t rely on glitter. Friedlander shows us that we don’t need to.

Lee Friedlander: New Mexico
Through January 15
Andrew Smith Gallery
203 W. San Francisco Street, Santa Fe

This review was originally published in the November 21, 2008 issue of the Journal Santa Fe, in the column Object Lessons.

Get Real

Today’s column is the fourth in a four-part series about group exhibitions. These reviews illuminate the qualities that make (or break) a group show and the curatorial decisions that successfully frame multiple perspectives under a singular vision.

Margaret Bowland "Models"

Aware of how difficult it can be to draw a convincing sketch of, say, a sailboat, during a game of Pictionary, many of us are awe-struck by an artist’s ability to create a painting that copies nature so exactly that it’s mistaken for a photograph. It takes years of careful observation and daily practice to master realist techniques. It isn’t easy.

But what does realism provide the viewer beyond the “wow” factor? Skill alone is a cool visual trick. It’s impressive and fun. But skill combined with something else—something emotionally or intellectually convincing—is worth a longer look.

The 15th Annual Realism Invitational at Klaudia Marr Gallery in Santa Fe is an opportunity to compare the works of realist artists from around the world. There is a wide range of realist styles in the show, but the variety is curated well and it is possible to appreciate each work individually.

Some of the artists (Doug Webb, Daryl Poulin, Robert Peterson, and Bill Fogg) make works that demand nothing more from the viewer than admiration for the artist. There is little suggestion of a point of view about the world; there is simply a landscape or a still life or a figure presented with concentrated neutrality. As a conceptual or theoretical position this would be dynamic and interesting. But these artists are concerned with making a living rather than making a point. And that’s why these works are ultimately forgettable.

Gustavo Schmidt attempts to turn his skill into something more, but his trickiness is so silly that it obscures his sincere desire to illuminate the spiritual within the physical. “Ascension Series-Understanding”, is a traditional still life of lemons on a glass shelf in front of a shiny red silk background. Except that a lemon is ascending, literally, like Christ or the Virgin, up the center of the composition. Worse, the artist has painted “speed lines” (as comic artists call them) which indicate to you, dear viewer, that the lemon is moving up. It’s beautifully painted and intellectually embarrassing.

Aristides Ruiz
"La Llamada"

Aristides Ruiz is as technically skillful with watercolor and a ball-point pen as Schmidt is with paint. His urban landscapes and portraits (rendered with the sitter’s eyes closed) are about as photo-realist as it gets, but they reveal an honest humanity that is visceral and moving. The materials and the technique are secondary to the emotional impact of the work. In Ruiz’s work, realism is a means rather than an end.

John Brosio’s work, “Jerk in a Field”, is a poignant human comedy. A man drinks a beer while he passively watches the tornado heading his way. The message (trouble is on the horizon, and we are absurdly partying down) is what sticks in the viewer’s mind. The realistic style of the work keeps the message from being abstract; copying nature is not what the painting is about. In his artist’s statement, Brosio writes, “I tend to think of my work as more allegorical than anything, often calling juxtaposition into play, grabbing for what is "larger than life" and exploring its role in modern American identity. It is this identity which fascinates me, our increasingly constant - maybe even numb -relationship to the overt and extreme which drives the work. And the challenge for me, the fun, is an exploration of how to anchor a choice of visually allegorical elements - often seemingly disparate - into the truly inevitable relationships they actually are.”
John Brosio "Jerk in a Field"

Margaret Bowland’s large, ambitious paintings are welcome surprises in the show. At first, Bowland’s highly skillful and academic rendering of the figure and her ability to paint just about anything (sky, crows, people, jewelry, balloons) seems to be the point of the work. But then sly commentaries reveal themselves--about gender, power, race, beauty, and contemporary art. In Bowland’s work, the bravado of the artist’s hand is perhaps a slight-of-hand.

Bowland’s impressive rendering makes surreal situations believable and odd juxtapositions acceptable. But there are conflicts. The naked bodies we see in advertising and the movies are mostly female and white; most of Bowland’s are dark-shinned and one is a dwarf. The discomfort comes not from Bowland’s choice of subject but from the viewer’s conventional notions of female beauty, “normalcy”, and race.

A female dwarf, Anna, who is a frequent model for Bowland, stands naked next to a disheveled bed in “Models”. A dark-skinned female, topless in her black underwear, stands on the left, her body cut vertically in half by the left edge of the canvas and her head cut off by the top. She wears a good necklace and bejeweled heels. We are confronted equally with what compels us (signifiers of sex and desire) and what repeals us (“the other”). Bowland’s choice to render her ideas realistically keeps us from intellectually running off into the comfort of abstraction or suggestion. This is it, as it is, and the viewer must deal with it.

Anna stands on art magazines tossed on the floor and open to images of paintings by New York art stars Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin. Yuskavage and Currin are known for their overtly sexualized images of (mainly white) women. But under the feet of the naked dwarf, Yuskavage’s and Currin’s messages seem easy and comfortable. Bowland is being ballsy here, and it’s smart.

Margaret Bowland "Murikami Wedding"

The messages in “Murikami Wedding” are also complex and intelligent. A dark-skinned woman in white-face, wearing a wedding dress, looks straight out at viewer from the center of the composition. She is flanked on either side by young girls in party dresses, also dark-skinned, one in white-face and the other not. The wallpaper behind them, and the floor beneath them, are spotted by helium balloons and packed with images by the Japanese pop culture artist Takashi Murikami. There are conflicts here as well: between celebration and insolence, us and them, high and low culture, acceptable and unacceptable ideas of beauty. Why aren’t Bowland’s snappy, smart and powerful images in the contemporary art spotlight? They should be.

In her artist’s statement, Bowland writes, “… After watching Anna leave my studio, I have knelt on the floor, stooped even lower, crawled, to see the room as she sees it.” Realist artists who show us what we’ve already seen aren’t giving us much. Realist artists who reframe our experience, who ask us to metaphorically “kneel on the floor or stoop a little lower”, are demanding that we stop idealizing or inventing our experience and instead directly see the truth. In doing so, they ask us to be a little more compassionate, a little wiser, and a lot more real.

15th Annual Realism Invitational 2008
Through November 30
Klaudia Marr Gallery
668 Canyon Road, Santa Fe

This review was originally published in the November 14, 2008 issue of the Journal Santa Fe, in the column Object Lessons.


Today’s column is the third in a four-part series about group exhibitions. These reviews illuminate the qualities that make (or break) a group show and the curatorial decisions that successfully frame multiple perspectives under a singular vision.

Karen Gunderson
"Churning Sea (after Moby)"

Last year, William Siegal moved his gallery from the corner of Palace and Grant to a 5,000 square foot space in the Railyard. The move allowed him to hang the Andean textiles and Meso/South American, Chinese, southeast Asian, and African antiquities he has assembled over three decades next to mid-century and contemporary art. This aesthetic combo-platter could easily result in an unappealing visual cacophony, but not under the sharp eye of Siegal and his staff. Despite the fact that the works in this gallery span centuries of time and innumerable human perspectives, it works. This is true even of the Diego Rivera studies for the Detroit mural, hung next to a large case of mostly Pre-Columbian figurative sculptures in stone and clay. Both groupings share clean, graphic lines and simplistic, bold forms that describe figurative details with economical skill. All of the gallery objects share textural, sensual qualities that dominate any narrative or representative content. Siegal presents art that is graphic, formally dynamic, and sophisticated—work that hits the visual gut.

Currently intermixed with antiquities, mid-century art, and a contemporary stable of artists are works by six artists new to the gallery: three from New Mexico and three from New York. Their works are on view through November 21.

“ We chose artists for this show who are unique, whose work is not derivative,” explains Ylise Kessler, an art consultant who joined William Siegal Gallery a few months ago to curate and sell contemporary art. (This is a laudable intention, but the absolutely unique is rare and normally so off-kilter that it is initially rejected, particularly if the work lacks the current, socially accepted requirements of good taste.) The new artists represented by Siegal make work that is meticulously crafted, aesthetically pleasant, and in the very best sense of the word, decorative. Karen Gunderson’s paintings are painted with the blackest of black paint in rolling waves that seem inches thick. The surface is surprising thin, but the grooves created by the brush reflect light and suggest intense, implied depth. One painting, “Curning Sea”, which hangs near a window, reflects the blue tones of the New Mexico sky and is placed next to a huge black torso from 1976 by Pedro Coronel (a supurb juxtaposition). Another Gunderson, “Rounding the Cape”, reflects the yellow of the overhead lighting. As the viewer moves around the room, the waves of black paint appear to move as well. Gunderson’s paintings are quite hypnotic and perceptually fun.

But they are not derivative-free. In her artist’s statement, Gunderson says that, “My paintings are universally recognizable, and familiar to anyone who has ever seen the sea.” They are also familiar to anyone who has ever seen the graphite drawings or wood engravings of Vija Celmins, whose images of the sea are as much about light and movement as Gunderson’s, using exactly the same subject matter and composition. Celmins began her sea drawings in the 1960s.

Willy Bo Richardson grew up in Santa Fe, got his M.F.A. at Pratt, and returned to the southwest. His oil paintings are vertical washes of color, mostly greens, blues, and golds, that bleed into each other. The titles of the works suggest content outside of the formal abstraction, even though the paintings seem only to be about paint, color, line, and process. The vertical washes in “Poseidon” are curved slightly in such a way that the canvas itself seems warped. (Poseidon would strike the ground with his trident if offended, causing shipwrecks and earthquakes, but this may not be the interpretation Richardson intended.)

Patrick McFarlin’s tiny, thickly painted landscapes and still lifes, hung at varying distances from the wall, are the most highly saturated objects in William Siegal Gallery. McFarlin’s style references Bay Area figurative painting and Abstract Expressionism. Most of the images are deserted, southwestern spaces with dilapidated billboards or empty roads. In one painting, a billboard, surrounded by a yellow sky, reads simply “Peaches”. Yummy.

Cyrilla Mozenter

Cyrilla Mozenter hand sews wool into boxes that suggest architectural forms. Each sewn seam is animated with loose threads. These works, from Mozenter’s “Warm Snow” series, are sweet and tender like fairytales. They suggest a solitary childhood, where imagination is one’s best friend. In her artist’s statement, Mozenter says that she is “attempting to push felt to do what it doesn’t want to do while maintaining its integrity as a material.” She succeeds, but pushing the scale to near impossibility would be an exciting next step. Right now, the works are the size, and comfort level, of a microwave.

Chris Enos’s large format Polaroids of decaying flowers are technically beautiful, but the metaphorical suggestion (what is young and fresh decays, but the decay itself is beautiful, too) is a cliché one-liner. Enos has an eye for composition, color and scale that makes these photographs worth looking at anyway.

The most unique work is by New Yorker David Henderson, who creates other-worldly sculptures; each piece seems to float with one “finger” lightly touching the wall to steady itself. The Jetsons-like, bulbous, indefinable forms look like they were bashed by meteorites and somehow survived slick and sexy. Inspired by a 1928 pulp science novel given to him by his uncle, Henderson is a space-ship builder wanna-be. He designs his sculptures on the computer, makes positive shapes from a variety of materials from which he crafts molds, and uses the molds to form the final fiberglass and carbon fiber works.

David Henderson

Henderson’s sculptures are the reason to visit this show. He uses forms, processes, and materials that all refer back to his initial desire--to build a spacecraft—an idea, literal at first, that transformed into a series of interesting questions about weight, gravity, physics, and the perfection of imperfection. As visually gorgeous and meticulously crafted as Henderson’s sculptures are, they are not at all decorative.

New Artists New Work
Through November 21
William Siegal Gallery
540 S. Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe

This review was originally published in the November 7, 2008 issue of the Journal Santa Fe, in the column Object Lessons.

Re-Newing New Mexico

Today’s column is the second in a four-part series about group exhibitions. These reviews illuminate the qualities that make (or break) a group show and the curatorial decisions that successfully frame multiple perspectives under a singular vision.

Armando Espinosa

“Re-new”, the Santa Fe Community Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, highlights the diversity and breath of northern New Mexico art and craft. According to gallery manager Robert Lambert, seventy-eight artists submitted portfolios and additional artists were recommended or discovered. A curatorial committee of four arts professionals who represent local galleries and arts organizations narrowed the selection down to a few dozen, and Lambert made the final choices. During the curatorial process, the committee was sensitive and thoughtful about representing the breath of artistic practice and cultural tradition in northern New Mexico. In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, local Hispanic artists were particularly emphasized; their works are indicated by bright orange tags.

The title of the show, “Re-New”, cleverly refers to the renewal of the convention center itself, as well as the re-visioning of Santa Fe as a regional and international center of art and culture. The premise is optimistic and fun. Only three of the twenty-nine artists, Marie Romero Cash, Julian Romero, and Nancy Hidding Pollock, made works specifically for the show, and the remaining works do reference the theme of renewal in some way (Mateo Romero’s large painting of a military tank, “Fallujah”, is, according to Lambert, “a curatorial stretch”). But the title, “Re-New”, is untenably broad and does little to unify the wide range of works represented here.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t compelling work to look at—there is. James Koehler’s “Harmonic Oscillation XL”, a 40 inch square monochromatic blue weaving made with hand-dyed wool is quiet and meditative. If a work of art can actually educe tenderness, compassion and peace in a viewer, this work succeeds. Koehler’s compositional structure references the works of Bauhaus painter and color theorist Johannes Itten. Three squares nest inside each other, evenly spaced. Unlike Itten’s paintings, though, the two inner squares are nearly obscured by soft rippling forms that shift in value so subtly that the viewer can not locate where the shifts begin and end—quite a feat, particularly in a hand-made textile. The work is based on a famous Zen koan, A Woman Comes Out of Absorption, in which an enlightened being, Manjushri, unsuccessfully attempts to bring a woman out of meditative absorption. Instead of illustrating the scene, Koehler creates a work that elicits the meditative experience in the viewer. The inclusion of Koehler’s work recognizes Santa Fe as a center for spiritual and contemplative practice. It also exemplifies the local art community’s appreciation for reductive and minimalist art.

Artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, Marsden Hartley, and Paul Strand brought modernism to New Mexico from New York, and their lasting influence is represented here as well. Siddiq Khan’s mixed media painting, “Lineage Series 4” is a series of large, abstract forms emerging from painterly marks. Chip Dunahugh, who moved to Santa Fe from the east coast himself just a few years ago, owes much to 1940’s geometric abstraction in his painting, “ A Little Jig Number 7”.

Nancy Hiding Pollock
"History 1"

The works that diverge from American modernism to form hybridizations with other traditions, or with contemporary perspectives and subjects, are some of the most intriguing works in the show. Nancy Hidding Pollock combines expressionist painting, the Southwest landscape, local history, and scientific/mathematical equations inspired by Los Alamos in her mixed media work on metal, “History 1”. The merging of these elements visually represents the eclectic mix of culture, history, science and nature that defines New Mexico. In fact, a tourist in Santa Fe who visits the exhibition, and who wants to learn about what made the city so unique, should start with Pollock’s work.

Two represented modes of creative practice illustrate Santa Fe’s extreme artistic breath: traditional arts, particularly those that exemplify New Mexico’s Hispanic history, and works that prove Santa Fe’s deepening connection with the international, contemporary art world.

Ruben Gonzalez’s wooden doors, made from antique wood he found in Illinois, are a gorgeous example of the tenderness with which local craftsmen and women link the past to the future and preserve the skills New Mexicans deeply value. Miquel Chavez’s talent is represented by a traditional tin mirror frame and carved banco. (Chavez will demonstrate traditional wood carving techniques in the gallery tomorrow, Saturday, November 1, from noon to 4:00 pm, admission free). Julian Romero’s work, created specifically for this exhibition, is a relief wood carving of a skeleton being brought to life by God’s touch. Also included are Marion Martinez’s “mixed tech media” sculptures, made from discarded circuit boards, inspired by her Hispanic and Native American roots and her childhood in Los Alamos.

Carol Coates

Carol Coates’ towering work, “Dialogue”, a wavy sculptural box on the wall, rising 144 inches, contains images of peachy bodies transferred onto layered scrims of canvas and mesh. Her impressive work, along with an altered book, “Hopi Maiden”, by Joy Campbell, and a video, “Despertar (Awakening)” by Armando Espinosa, represent contemporary artistic practices that honor culture and history. Espinosa and his partner, Craig Johnson, have recently completed a collaborative project with a village in southern Oaxaca, Teotitlán del Valle. The artists call their work “fair trade art and anthropology” and their primary purpose is cultural understanding. Espinoza and Johnson were visiting artists at the Santa Fe Art Institute last summer, and their inclusion in this show illustrates the collaborative possibilities between the city and the region’s private arts organizations.

The purpose of a community gallery is to celebrate local talent, and the Santa Fe Arts Commission, with Lambert’s leadership, is off to a good start. But while local visitors to the gallery will recognize artists’ names and New Mexico’s cultural traditions, visitors from outside New Mexico might not. The lack of informational text for this exhibition is intentional; Lambert wants to leave interpretations open. While his desire to avoid didactic discourse is understandable, contextual information will only enrich and sharpen how regional art is experienced and understood by tourists. Without information, visitors will leave the gallery with a mental snapshot of New Mexican art divorced from its multiple contexts—and context is the heart of any story.

“Re-New” at the Santa Fe Community Gallery
through December 12
201 W. Marcy, (at the intersection of Marcy and Sheridan), Santa Fe
505) 955-6705

This review was originally published in the October 31, 2008 issue of the Journal Santa Fe, in the column Object Lessons.