Art in Re­view

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Al­coves 16/17 #5, Sum­mer of Color) Small Won­ders,

Four shows at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art

The fifth en­try in the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art’s on­go­ing Al­coves ex­hi­bi­tion is a strong show­ing by five New Mex­ico-based artists whose works are re­lated by their un­com­mon use of ma­te­ri­als, an em­pha­sis on struc­tural form, and a clear Post­min­i­mal­ist aes­thetic. Al­coves 16/17 #5 fol­lows the pre­vi­ous four it­er­a­tions of the se­ries, con­tin­u­ing the for­mat of five solo artist ex­hi­bi­tions that draw from lo­cal and re­gional con­tem­po­rary tal­ent, on dis­play for seven weeks. This cy­cle in­cludes works by Dara Mark, Signe Stu­art, Mira Bu­rack, Shaun Gil­more, and Kelly Eckel.

The ex­hi­bi­tion de­rives its name from a num­ber of re­cessed niches within the main ex­hibit space on the mu­seum’s main floor. The first of these (or the last, de­pend­ing on your ap­proach) fea­tures photo-col­lages by Mira Bu­rack in which do­mes­tic el­e­ments are con­verted into sym­met­ric, monochro­matic, man­dala-like forms. Her Laun­dry Piles I, from her Bed se­ries, is a geo­met­ric, flower-like ar­range­ment com­posed of im­ages of piles of laun­dry. Bu­rack’s work draws from the mun­dane and trans­forms it into some­thing won­drous, but not at the ex­pense of irony. For in­stance,

Sleep Cy­cle 2, a sim­i­lar geo­met­ric ar­range­ment of pig­ment prints, this one of bed­ding, is mounted above a three-di­men­sional com­po­nent: a small box of folded linen. The ref­er­ences to the do­mes­tic realm are in­escapable, but the 2-D com­po­nent that hangs above the folded linen sug­gests a dark flower of night open­ing like a por­tal — an al­lur­ing, but also fore­bod­ing, con­trast to the idea of the com­forts of home. It brings the for­mal­i­ties of do­mes­tic duty into sharp re­lief against the chaos of the un­known.

Kelly Eckel presents the Mor­phogenic Se­ries, a new se­lec­tion of pho­tomon­tages that take el­e­ments from pho­to­graphs of nat­u­ral his­tory col­lec­tion spec­i­mens and other sources, ar­rang­ing them into com­po­si­tions that re­sem­ble or­ganic bod­ily forms. The se­ries ref­er­ences bi­o­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion and re­flects the pro­gres­sion of artis­tic ma­te­ri­al­ity. These pho­topoly­mer etch­ings, all black-and-white prints, use a mod­ern means of rep­re­sen­ta­tion while sug­gest­ing, and draw­ing from, a tra­di­tion of sci­en­tific il­lus­tra­tion re­al­ized with a tech­ni­cal skill and de­tail that sug­gests a long fa­mil­iar­ity with such im­agery. Eckel’s in­ter­est in bi­ol­ogy ex­tends to re­search in ge­net­ics, and some of the pho­to­graphic el­e­ments were de­rived from spec­i­mens placed un­der a mi­cro­scope. The im­per­fect sym­me­try of her print se­ries strikes a nice bal­ance with Bu­rack’s Bed im­agery.

Dara Mark’s Ele­gies, a se­ries of wa­ter­col­ors on sheets of translu­cent polypropy­lene, is as fluid as Eckel’s prints are pre­cise and de­fined. Mark re­lied on grav­ity and chance to dic­tate the flow of the paint that pools and runs to form her non­rep­re­sen­ta­tional com­po­si­tions. The translu­cency and the un­der­stated in­ter­play of soft and warm col­ors lend the works a light but melan­choly tone. Ele­gies was made in re­sponse to the death of the artist’s hus­band, and with­out even the slight­est hint or sug­ges­tion of sen­ti­men­tal­ity, the se­ries evokes the sense of tran­sience, mem­ory, and loss that its ti­tle sug­gests.

Signe Stu­art ex­plores pat­tern and struc­ture through use of ephemeral nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als. Her wall-mounted fiber pieces, made from un­ryu pa­per, are lin­ear, geo­met­ric struc­tures that are semi-skele­tal in ap­pear­ance, as though a layer were pulled off to re­veal the un­der­ly­ing con­struct. At the ma­te­rial level, her work re­minds one of the el­e­gant sim­plic­ity of na­ture-de­rived forms and the re­mark­able com­plex­ity that un­der­lies their per­ceived sim­plic­ity.

The largest of the al­cove spa­ces con­tains the work of Shaun Gil­more. Whether/Weather is a se­ries of draw­ings of spe­cific lo­ca­tions rep­re­sented by con­cen­tric lin­ear el­e­ments, as in a topo­graph­i­cal map. Gil­more com­bines these drawn el­e­ments with bril­liant flashes of color, con­fined to vi­brant ab­stracted forms within the com­po­si­tion, that con­trast sharply with the mostly monochro­matic and black-and-white pieces by the other par­tic­i­pat­ing artists. The lin­ear el­e­ments from the draw­ings in­spired a se­ries of news­pa­per-wrapped wire sculp­tures and a hang­ing cur­tain com­posed of a se­ries of strung-to­gether cutout shapes made from com­mon re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als.

Artists of­ten de­stroy in or­der to cre­ate and ob­scure in or­der to trans­form. With­out mak­ing it an ex­plicit theme, these five artists are united in the way they use ma­te­ri­als by em­brac­ing their in­her­ent qual­i­ties. Theirs is a hands-on ap­proach to for­mal­ism. The five solo shows, over­all, are well-cu­rated se­lec­tions with a more uni­form and con­sis­tent aes­thetic than pre­vi­ous en­tries in the se­ries.

The Al­cove shows, be­gun when the mu­seum opened in 1917, are a sta­ple of its cur­rent pro­gram­ming, re­vived in 2012 af­ter a nearly 20-year hia­tus. Two more shows will com­plete the cur­rent se­ries run, with one open­ing on Dec. 10 and the last open­ing on Feb. 4, 2017.

Sev­eral other ex­hibits opened at the Mu­seum of Art in Oc­to­ber, in­clud­ing Be With Me: A Small Ex­hi­bi­tion of Large Paint­ings, a three-per­son show of large-scale works by Har­mony Ham­mond, John Zurier, and Nick Aguayo. Be With Me is an ex­am­ple

of how a cu­rated se­lec­tion of paint­ings can achieve its own aes­thetic sense out­side the con­text or in­ten­tion be­hind any one par­tic­u­lar piece in a show. While vastly dif­fer­ent from one an­other in terms of ma­te­rial use and im­agery, these se­lec­tions are in a di­a­logue spurred by their jux­ta­po­si­tions, like sep­a­rate el­e­ments from a com­plete body of work. The em­pha­sis, again, is on for­mal qual­i­ties. For con­trast, a visit to the mu­seum’s up­per floor re­veals a sur­pris­ingly com­pelling se­ries of small-scale pho­to­graphic in­stal­la­tions in the ex­hibit beau­ti­fully ar­ranged in sa­lon style. Cu­rated by the mu­seum’s Kather­ine Ware, who also cu­rated the lat­est round of Al­cove shows, the ex­hibit in­cludes works by Su­san R Gold­stein, David Janesko, Jenna Kuiper, Jan Pi­etrzak, Liz Ste­keete, and Lau­rie Tümer.

On the one hand, it’s re­fresh­ing to see a show of works, like that places em­pha­sis on vis­ual com­po­nents, ma­te­ri­al­ity, and other for­mal qual­i­ties over the­matic or his­toric con­texts. But it can be too easy, which is why sea­son-long, city­wide art events based on such for­mal con­sid­er­a­tions (like 2015’s don’t gen­er­ate much in­ter­est on the part of this writer. This time, and in the three shows I’ve men­tioned, it works.

Less com­pelling and less ef­fec­tive, at least for the fre­quent and semi-fre­quent vis­i­tor to the mu­seum, is the ex­hibit Con­ver­sa­tions in Paint­ing, Early 20th Cen­tury to Post-War Amer­i­can Art, which opened on Oct. 29. That’s mainly due to the mu­seum’s habit of re­cy­cling the same pieces for many of its ex­hibits. Of course, a mu­seum wants to show­case the best works from its col­lec­tion as much as pos­si­ble, but such an ap­proach feels more ap­pro­pri­ate for long-term than short-term shows. I’ve praised the mu­seum in the past for em­pha­siz­ing sel­dom-seen se­lec­tions from its hold­ings when ap­pro­pri­ate, but de­spite some stun­ning work — such as a re­mark­able still life by Hans Hof­mann — too many pieces here have been seen in other con­texts. It seems al­most as though the cu­ra­tors sup­pose that a sim­ple re­arrange­ment of paint­ings, a few re­place­ments here and there, and a lit­tle the­matic ex­po­si­tion, can make for a whole new show. While New Mex­ico’s sig­nif­i­cance to mod­ernism and post­war art can’t be over­stated, works by Mars­den Hart­ley, Stu­art Davis, Agnes Pel­ton, Fred­er­ick Ham­mer­s­ley, John Sloan, and Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe — all of them im­por­tant to the con­ver­sa­tion — get shuf­fled around like so many mag­netic po­etry word tiles. One ul­ti­mately re­mem­bers the works, hav­ing seen them so many times be­fore, but not nec­es­sar­ily the con­texts — which is a dis­ser­vice to why such works are dis­played in the first place. The se­lec­tion here is strong, but it seems like well-trod ter­ri­tory. Fre­quent visi­tors, how­ever, can have a fresher, more en­gag­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with the con­tem­po­rary works in the other ex­hibits, while new visi­tors will, I think, be de­lighted with the over­all qual­ity of the of­fer­ings on view.

— Michael Abatemarco

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