Shared ex­pan­sive­ness Art on the Edge and Ma­te­rial Mat­ters at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art


Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Michael Abatemarco I The New Mex­i­can

The Friends of Con­tem­po­rary Art and Photography’s Art on the Edge bi­en­nial ex­hibits have a tra­di­tion of show­ing no­table work by emerg­ing artists. For its past few in­car­na­tions, Art on the Edge has fo­cused on a smaller num­ber of artists, let­ting guest cu­ra­tors se­lect more pieces from each par­tic­i­pant. For the 2015 show, on dis­play at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art, Nora Bur­nett Abrams, as­so­ciate cu­ra­tor at the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Den­ver, chose seven artists out of nearly 300 ap­pli­cants from New Mex­ico and bor­der­ing states: Jill Chris­tian, Will Clift, Danae Fal­liers, Ian Fisher, Sarah McKen­zie, Chris Oatey, and Kate Rivers. What caught Abrams’ eye was the un­usual way th­ese artists em­ploy tra­di­tional medi­ums of paint­ing, photography, col­lage, and sculp­ture. It’s a chal­lenge when hang­ing a group show like

Art on the Edge to make sure the pieces sit well to­gether but also stand out on their own. Abrams clearly had this as a pri­or­ity when she se­lected this it­er­a­tion’s art. Jill Chris­tian’s paint­ings Noc­turne and Third Light ex­plore the qual­ity of light at var­i­ous times of day. Sub­tle al­ter­ations in color are ap­par­ent as the eye moves over th­ese can­vases. Chris­tian’s tech­nique in­volves mak­ing a se­ries of short, im­pres­sion­is­tic brush­strokes in uni­form, rhyth­mic pat­terns. While a sin­gle color dom­i­nates (blue, for ex­am­ple, in Noc­turne), the over­all ef­fect is one of shift­ing tones, as when day tran­si­tions into night, and vice versa. Near to her pieces are sev­eral strik­ing cloud­scapes by Ian Fisher that of­fer a more representational view of na­ture’s shift­ing light and colors. Fisher’s brush­work is ges­tu­ral. Soft, sub­tle tones of grays, blues, tans, and vi­o­lets oblit­er­ate the sky. The colors range from dark to light, cap­tur­ing in de­tail the moody at­mos­phere to pro­duce a free-float­ing feel that de­fies be­ing an­chored by hori­zon lines.

Chris Oatey’s draw­ings, par­tic­u­larly Gold­fish, seem to har­bor hid­den fig­ures. The amor­phous work con­sists of many lines that ap­pear to be shim­my­ing. An un­ti­tled drawing by the artist has a near-uni­form un­der­struc­ture of rec­tan­gu­lar forms ar­ranged in a grid and over­laid by crosshatches that are more dense in some ar­eas than in oth­ers, pro­duc­ing, as in Gold­fish, a sub­tle sense of fig­u­ra­tion.

Kate Rivers’ col­lages seem pain­terly. Her Three Wise Vir­gins is an ar­range­ment of book spines that feel as though they are ex­plod­ing, as from a vol­cano. Mutiny, an­other work by Rivers, is com­posed of book cov­ers, ar­ranged much like books on li­brary shelves, but their ti­tles have van­ished be­neath mul­ti­ple ap­pli­ca­tions of col­or­ful oil sticks. They re­late vis­ually to the pho­to­graphic work of Danae Fal­liers, whose li­brary56 and li­brary70 are ver­ti­cal bands of color that have a book­like ar­range­ment and that lie some­where be­tween re­al­ism and ab­strac­tion in genre. Th­ese pho­to­graphs may not be of books at all, but may sim­ply sug­gest them. Fal­liers is con­cerned more with line, color, rhythm, and pat­tern than merely with photo doc­u­men­ta­tion. Fal­liers’ land­scapes, also in­cluded in the show, are near-fea­ture­less de­pic­tions of desert ter­rain that ap­pear as hor­i­zon­tal bands of color di­vided by hori­zon lines.

Sarah McKen­zie’s re­al­ist paint­ings show in­te­rior and ex­te­rior hu­man-made en­vi­ron­ments. De­void of peo­ple, they some­how feel in­ti­mate any­way. Empty seats in an au­di­to­rium and in a wait­ing room evoke a sense of ab­sence. Frieze and Gate (White Cube, Ber­mond­sey With Mark Brad­ford, 2013) are near-pho­to­re­al­is­tic de­pic­tions of ar­chi­tec­tural spa­ces whose in­te­ri­ors are ob­scured.

Frieze, which de­picts the ex­te­rior of box­like forms shrouded in plas­tic tarps, hints at what might lie within their in­te­ri­ors at the points where a sub­tle glow of yel­low light can be per­ceived. Be­hind the glass doors of Gate, the rec­tan­gu­lar forms of paint­ings on the walls are dis­cernible — but their washed-out colors and un­de­fined forms can­not be re­lated to any­thing tan­gi­ble. McKen­zie’s paint­ings are as much about per­cep­tion as they are about the ab­sence of hu­man form.

The only sculp­tural works in­cluded are those by Will Clift, who cre­ates his grace­ful, curvi­lin­ear ab­strac­tions from hard woods, steel, and car­bon­fiber com­pos­ites. Some call to mind the free-form qual­ity of naked tree branches, while oth­ers are

more sym­met­ri­cal in ap­pear­ance. His Di­min­ish­ing

Form, Hor­i­zon­tal, com­posed of a se­ries of in­creas­ingly smaller arched forms, ex­udes a stac­cato sense of move­ment — per­haps a re­ver­ber­at­ing echo made vis­i­ble.

Friends of Con­tem­po­rary Art and Photography is a mu­seum sup­port group, staffed by vol­un­teers, that pro­vides fund­ing for ex­hibits and ac­qui­si­tions. Their Art on the Edge bi­en­nial awards a “pur­chase” prize to one of its par­tic­i­pat­ing artists. This year, Oatey’s Gold­fish won the prize — it is now part of the mu­seum’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion.

In her ju­ror’s state­ment, Abrams wrote that the artists are “ad­vanc­ing the long-held no­tion of the West as a site of con­tin­ual cre­ative ex­pan­sion and ex­plo­ration,” but that they do so out­side of the typ­i­cal West­ern themes that dom­i­nate the re­gional arts of the South­west. Sim­i­larly, Ma­te­rial Mat­ters: Se­lec­tions From the Joann and Gif­ford Phillips Gift is a group of works that, ac­cord­ing to mu­seum cu­ra­tor Merry Scully, “re­sisted re­gional pre­con­cep­tions as they rein­vig­o­rated and ex­panded their re­spec­tive art scenes.” That makes it a good pair­ing with Art on the Edge 2015, and the two shows share an ex­hibit hall. But

Ma­te­rial Mat­ters is an older body of works, hav­ing been col­lected by the Phillipses in the 1960s and ’70s. For the past five years, the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art has been show­cas­ing art from its col­lec­tions, and

Ma­te­rial Mat­ters is an­other such ex­hibit. Six­teen paint­ings by Cal­i­for­nia artists such as Mat­sumi Kane­mitsu, Ynez John­ston, Frank Lob­dell, and John McLaugh­lin were gifted to the mu­seum in 1980. This was fol­lowed by gifts of work by New Mex­ico artists, in­clud­ing Eu­gene New­mann, Emmi White­horse, Forrest Moses, and Al­lan Gra­ham. Scully dis­cov­ered the ex­tent of the Phillips gift while look­ing into the prove­nance of McLaugh­lin’s #22, a min­i­mal­ist, hard-edge paint­ing from 1961. In all, 28 se­lec­tions from the Phillips col­lec­tion are in the ex­hibit, which takes as its theme the ex­per­i­men­tal use of ma­te­ri­als and pro­cesses. The ma­jor­ity of the works on view are paint­ings, but some sculp­ture, prints, and pho­to­graphs are in­cluded. All are ab­stract, in­clud­ing Moses’ 1983 mono­type Pur­ple Iris, which, though fig­u­ra­tive, is ren­dered in the spare, swift brush­strokes that char­ac­ter­ize his more ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ist can­vases.

White­horse’s com­po­si­tions have not changed much in style over the years. Her at­mo­spheric Kin Nah Zin

#223, a pain­terly col­lage from 1983, shows lin­ear forms that float in am­bigu­ous spa­ces. The work has a strong affin­ity with the pieces she makes to­day.

The hap­haz­ard ap­pear­ance of Al­lan Gra­ham’s wall sculp­ture Chartres can be dif­fi­cult to ap­pre­ci­ate aes­thet­i­cally, though its themes of dis­so­lu­tion and de­cay are in­trigu­ing. It makes ref­er­ence to the fly­ing but­tresses that help sup­port ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ments of Gothic cathe­drals. The in­clu­sion of torn pages from a Bi­ble that has been trans­lated into Navajo high­lights the theme of Chris­tian­ity’s spread through­out the world by way of mis­sion­ary ef­forts. This work, made in 1984,

shows that Gra­ham’s use of text, a pre­dom­i­nant fea­ture of his re­cent prac­tice, extends back over decades. Thomas Barrow’s 1981 mixed-me­dia pho­to­graphic work f2 Down­town

Al­bu­querque is a frag­mented, re­con­structed im­age, made from gelatin sil­ver prints, that blurs the line be­tween fine-art photography and col­lage. It stands as an ex­em­plary in­stance of the hy­brid works that seem to have been at the heart of the Phillips’ aes­thetic in­ter­ests — as Ma­te­rial Mat­ters can at­test to.

Richard Diebenkorn’s 1954 Berke­ley #15 was painted in Cal­i­for­nia af­ter a stint at the Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico as a stu­dent of Ray­mond Jon­son’s. While in school in the mid-1950s, Diebenkorn had wanted to pur­sue Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ism. But there was re­sis­tance to the genre at that time in New Mex­ico, where ro­man­ti­cized de­pic­tions of the Old West still held sway. The in­clu­sion of Berke­ley #15 in the ex­hibit serves to re­mind vis­i­tors of the crossovers be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and New Mex­ico that took place dur­ing the post-mod­ern pe­riod. Com­bin­ing Cal­i­for­nia and New Mex­ico artists was a cu­ra­to­rial de­ci­sion to high­light the per­ceived affin­ity be­tween artists work­ing in both re­gions dur­ing the same gen­eral time pe­riod, but it was not an or­ga­niz­ing fea­ture of the orig­i­nal Phillips col­lec­tion.

In re­cent years, art his­to­ri­ans and cu­ra­tors have be­gun to rec­og­nize New Mex­ico as an im­por­tant hub for Amer­i­can mod­ernism. The in­flu­ence of aes­thetics de­vel­oped and ex­plored in Ma­te­rial Mat­ters con­tin­ued through the post-mod­ern pe­riod, though some of the artists on dis­play here have not yet re­ceived the crit­i­cal at­ten­tion now paid to New Mex­ico’s Taos Mod­erns. Post-mod­ernism was an ac­tive move­ment in New Mex­ico, a set­ting that en­joyed its share of in­no­va­tive artists in the genre. The artists in Ma­te­rial Mat­ters were re­ject­ing tra­di­tional no­tions of art and ex­pand­ing into more con­cep­tual realms, as did their coun­ter­parts on the coun­try’s coasts. Pe­rus­ing a body of work from a sin­gle col­lec­tion can of­fer in­sights that ex­tend be­yond its col­lec­tors’ per­sonal tastes. The Phillipses seemed to rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of th­ese artists early on. That their lega­cies have con­tin­ued sug­gests th­ese col­lec­tors had im­pec­ca­ble in­stincts.


Danae Fal­liers: li­brary56, 2014, pho­to­graph; op­po­site page, Sarah McKen­zie: Frieze, 2014, oil and acrylic on can­vas

Emmi White­horse: Kin Nah Zin #223, 1983, col­lage on pa­per; op­po­site page, top left, Will Clift: Cir­cu­lar Form in Ten Pieces, 2014, hard wood, steel, and car­bon-fiber com­pos­ite;

right, Ian Fisher: At­mos­phere No. 61 (The Mil­vian Bridge), 2014, oil on can­vas; cen­ter, Richard Diebenkorn: Berke­ley #15, 1954, oil on can­vas

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