Alcoves 16/17.3 at the New Mexico Museum of Art
COMA BERENICES IS A CLUSTER OF STARS located near the constellation Leo. The name translates as Berenice’s Hair and is taken from an ancient story about Queen Berenice II of Egypt, wife of Ptolemy III Euergetes. The queen made an offering of her hair to Aphrodite in exchange for her husband’s safe return from war, but the hair disappeared from the goddess’s temple. Conon of Samos, the court astrologer, explained that the offering had so pleased Aphrodite that the goddess added the queen’s hair to the mantle of stars. Alcoves 16/17.3, the third in the New Mexico Museum of Art’s yearlong series of small solo exhibitions, includes a sculptural piece by local artist Heidi Pollard that was inspired by the tale of the Egyptian queen. Berenice’s Hair is a wall hanging composed of a series of vertical paint stirrers thick with congealed paint. The work itself has no obvious connection to the legend. “There’s a story there, but it’s a pretty abstract object, really,” Pollard told Pasatiempo. She joins Tom Joyce, Eliza Naranjo Morse, Cecilia Portal, and Christina Dallas for the latest in the museum’s round of alcove shows, which are set in small galleries situated on the ground floor. The contemporary alcove shows are modeled on similar exhibits the museum started in its infancy when it maintained a open-door policy; artists added their names to a list and, eventually, got an alcove show. The exhibition series extends into 2017 in advance of the museum’s centennial celebration. The majority of Pollard’s works on view are paintings. They are primarily abstract with a hint of representational imagery. “My paintings seem to occupy this kind of middle ground of abstraction that glories in the material of the work, and imagery that is suggestive of things that are familiar to us,” she said. “It gives me kind of a range, and it seems to be my natural language.” Her paintings are a combination of delicate linear forms, large shapes, swaths of brilliant color, and patterns, whether it’s the woven patterns of her painting Diamond Mind Highway or her composition called Ear, or the honeycomb pattern of Burgeon and its conflations of small and large elements. “It’s almost like you have have a microscope and a telescope collapsed into one where you can kind of zoom in and zoom out. Within one image, these things become macro or micro. They are part of my regular vocabulary. I let them make their appearances as if the painting is kind of a stage that actors are entering and exiting.”
Pollard titles her works only when a name presents itself, starting the painting process with, at most, only a glimmer of a subject. “It can be as simple as a color or certain turn of the light or a shape. Sometimes the paintings really do kind of title themselves. Sometimes they’ll almost be speaking to me, saying ‘This is my title,’ and other times there’s nothing.”
Pollard is an intuitive painter, allowing an element of spontaneity into her works. “I used to try to have important ideas about all of this, but I’ve surrendered to the fact that there’s a world in there, and if I just relax, listen, and look, everything kind of shows up. The painting Diamond Mind Highway is a reference to how the mind works. I allow all these things that are rattling around to just surface.”
The works in Alcoves 16/17.3 have no unifying theme, and the pieces, as well as the processes used to create them, are diverse. Tom Joyce is known primarly for his metal sculpture but also works in mixed media and is showing some two-dimensional photographic works along with Surge I, Surge II, and
Surge III, a series of high-carbon steel sculptures. Joyce premiered the results of his recent ventures into digital photography and video last year in his show
Aftershock at James Kelly Contemporary. Cuban-born photographer Cecilia Portal’s early works are informed by her experience of being an immigrant. Recent images, which are included in the show, are from La Vida de lo Blanco (The Life of White), a body of abstract works that includes three sections or chapters: Capítulo Uno, Blanco sobre Cartón (Chapter One, White on Cardboard); Capítulo Dos, Blanco sobre Papel (Chapter Two, White on Paper); and Capítulo Tres, Blanco Sobre Asfalto (Chapter Three, White on Asphalt). The last images are of highway lines that stand out in sharp contrast to the dark pavement that surrounds them.
Eliza Naranjo Morse contributes a sculptural installation called The Space Between, part of the series Universalies. The installation’s title references
the space between molecules, and the work is inspired by the idea of an artist’s working space and practice as something that lies within the range of everyday life, and not outside of it.
Christina Dallas is a portrait photographer showing selections from Secret Signals, Teen Angel Magic Spirit Photography, images derived from hand signals including blessings, mudras, gang signs, and magical signs. “I just moved back six months ago to Santa Fe,” said Dallas, who spent the past few years living in Brooklyn and who is a former Albuquerque resident and graduate of the University of New Mexico. Dallas has had a diverse career as a window-display designer, a prop stylist and set designer for film and television, and a photographer. “I’ve always done different versions of portrait photography. When I first moved out here, I really liked a lot of the people that were working in New Mexico at the time, like Joel-Peter Witkin. They had a very good photography program at UNM. I was really, really influenced by the whole stage set-up for the camera.”
Dallas’ photography involves making small staged sets outfitted with props, and her models are dressed in costumes. Each portrait subject is making some kind of hand sign or signal, and each is surrounded by symbols derived from world religions, objects of magic and ritual, and graffiti. The title of the series is derived from Teen Angels
Magazine, which she collected when living for a time in Los Angeles. “The photographs also reference the magical properties of the photographic process,” she said. Dallas is inspired by spirit photography, a practice in which photographers attempt to capture an image of a ghost, a spirit, or perhaps a person’s aura. “In essence, these images were using signs and symbols in a way that a magician might, with the camera as their witness, the camera as a tool of magic, a conduit of light that can transform spirit into matter.”