Lis­ten Up

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James M. Keller looks back on a Shake­speare-in­fused month

Many Santa Feans spent the month of Fe­bru­ary brush­ing up their Shake­speare, spurred on by the visit of a copy of the First Fo­lio to the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art. The First Fo­lio, as cul­ture-minded folks in th­ese parts should be well aware by now, was the orig­i­nal com­pi­la­tion of Shake­speare’s com­plete plays (or at least nearly all of them) into a sin­gle vol­ume. The edi­tion was pub­lished in 1623, seven years af­ter the au­thor died, and 233 copies are known to ex­ist to­day. To mark the 400th an­niver­sary of his death, the Fol­ger Shake­speare Li­brary in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., which owns 82 of those sur­viv­ing vol­umes, mas­ter­minded a tour to place one on dis­play in ev­ery state of the na­tion in the course of the year, with New Mex­ico com­ing up early in the ro­ta­tion.

In­spir­ing Amer­i­cans to re­visit the writ­ings of the most revered wordsmith of the English lan­guage is a fine and wor­thy en­ter­prise, and we should be grate­ful that Santa Fe snagged the honor within our state. At the cen­ter of the pro­ject was the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art, where the Fo­lio was on dis­play from Feb. 5 through Feb. 28 be­fore mov­ing on to its next stop, but it prob­a­bly could not have got­ten the green light on its own. In se­lect­ing the tour venues, the Fol­ger con­sid­ered both cu­ra­to­rial nuts and bolts — like en­vi­ron­men­tal and safety con­cerns — and the city-wide con­text that would sur­round the show. Santa Fe rose to the oc­ca­sion, promis­ing and de­liv­er­ing an im­pres­sive bat­tery of Bard-re­lated ex­hi­bi­tions, per­for­mances, read­ings, lec­tures, and other pub­lic ac­tiv­i­ties.

Things worked out pretty well on t he whole, al­though it was hard not to over­look bits and pieces that fell short of ideal. The most ob­vi­ous was the ex­hi­bi­tion Stage, Set­ting, Mood: The­atri­cal­ity in the Vis­ual

Arts, which in­cluded as its cen­ter­piece the Fol­ger’s tour­ing show ti­tled First Fo­lio! The Book That Gave

Us Shake­speare. To­gether th­ese oc­cu­pied one room in the Mu­seum of Art; from a vis­i­tor’s per­spec­tive, they seemed a sin­gle show. The book was housed in its own plex­i­glass case in the middle of the space and was sur­rounded by a hand­ful of large pan­els, pro­vided by the Fol­ger, which pro­vided back­ground on the First Fo­lio and stressed the rel­e­vance of Shake­speare to cur­rent pop­u­lar cul­ture. On the walls of the room were hung the Mu­seum of Art’s con­tri­bu­tion: 40 paint­ings, prints, and pho­to­graphs that had some con­nec­tion to the con­cept of “the­atri­cal­ity.”

The joint ex­hi­bi­tion could have been more im­pact­ful. Ar­riv­ing was a let­down. One reached it via a dif­fer­ent ex­hi­bi­tion that opened the same day — a colorful, vi­brant, and al­lur­ing show about the his­tory of the gui­tar. As things were ar­ranged, the

Fo­lio/The­atri­cal­ity show seemed ter­ri­bly se­date in com­par­i­son. Its sin­gle an­cient vol­ume, in an unglam­orous box, ex­uded lit­tle mag­netism. One imag­ined a set-up in which the mu­seum had con­structed an al­ley lead­ing vis­i­tors di­rectly to the main show, with­out the dis­trac­tion of the gui­tars — a dis­crete walk­way in which pan­nels could have built an­tic­i­pa­tion, per­haps as­sisted by an au­dio com­po­nent broad­cast­ing great ac­tors of pa st and present de­claim­ing fa­mous morsels from Shake­speare’s plays, the whole de­posit­ing at­ten­dees at an im­pres­sive al­tar on which was dis­played the holy ob­ject of ven­er­a­tion. As it was, the ex­pe­ri­ence suf­fered froom a touch of “meh.”

The sur­round­ing The­atri­cal­ity show seems a stretch. Thhe open­ing wall text pro­claims that “New Mex­ico has beeen de­scribed as ‘dra­matic, al­most the­atri­cal’ ” — one won­ders by whom — and then ob­serves, flatly, that “flat planes of adobe struc­tures can im­part a dio­rama or stage-like qual­ity to the ar­range­ment of flat two-di­men­sional sur­faces in three-di­men­sional space.” Fair enough, and a few nearby oils bear this out, such as Frank G. Ap­ple­gate’s circa 1925 Pue­blo In­dian Dance, in which per­form­ers in a cen­tral area are viewed by on­look­ers at the fringes, and James Sto­vall Mor­ris’ dra­mat­i­cally il­lu­mi­nated WPA-era Velo­rio, which de­picts a wake as a sort of stage set. Else­where one en­coun­ters pic­tures of ac­tors and stage pre­sen­ta­tions, but as the show pro­gresses, the con­nec­tion to the pre­sumed topic grows in­creas­ingly vague. The most im­pos­ing paint­ing is Julius Rol­shoven’s large oil The In­dian Coun­cil (circa 1916), an el­e­gant ar­range­ment of five robed fig­ures, a druum, and some pots. But fig­ures and ob­jects in paint­ings are al­most al­ways “ar­ranged” by the artist in some spe­cific bal­ance, and I never grasped why this piece was more rel­e­vant to the ar­gu­ment than an­other might have been. The loose­ness con­tin­ued. Of an Ed­ward S. Cur­tis pho­to­graph of an In­dian ( Spidis, 1910), we read, “Cur­tis’ ro­man­tic pho­to­graphs of in­dige­nous peoople were care­fully staged.” Well, yes. Ditto Arnold New­man’s pho­to­graph Por­trait of Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe

at Ghost Ranch. Didn’t Ge­or­gia al­ways pose when a cam­era was in the vicin­ity?

Com­pletely on topic, in con­trast, were four large color etch­ings pub­lished in Lon­don in the years aroound 1800 by John Boy­dell, gor­geous, bright-hued im­ages of mo­ments from Ham­let, Mac­beth, and

The Laugh­ing Jester by an un­known artist, 15th cen­tury, Nether­lands

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