Cypher Space - the Museum of Art Blog

Low n' slow - 5/1/2016

Take a trip back to October 19, 1980 with this video from Meridel Rubenstein showing a special exhibition of lowrider cars and color photographs that were displayed on the Santa Fe plaza:


Martin Guitar Company Museum - 4/1/2016

Museum director Dick Boak shows special guitars in the C.F. Martin Museum, including one made in 1834 and ones made for Johnny Cash, Jimmie Rodgers, Eric Clapton, and for craft artists Goro Takahashi and George Nakashima. Bonus video from the MUSIC episode of PBS Craft in America.


The Art of Life and Vice Versa - 3/15/2016

Today's blog post was written by Sarah Palmeri, the Assistant Director at Nuart Gallery and an artist in Santa Fe's Strangers Collective.

Susanne K. Langer, American philosopher of mind and of art, once said, “Most new discoveries are suddenly seen things that were always there.” Richard Tuttle’s work embodies this statement, turning on the invisible power of humble materials by transforming them into raw yet refined entities. It quietly shakes the foundations of what we consider to be art, to be meaningful, and to be valuable.
The New Mexico Museum of Art acquired about two-dozen works in 2009 from Tuttle’s Loose Leaf Notebook Drawing Series as part of the Fifty Works for Fifty States program set up by collectors Dorothy and Herbert Vogel. These simple watercolor drawings are composed of notebook paper that buckles under the weight of the small, spirited marks of liquid, always reminding you of the material, the physicality, and disposability of the object. Tuttle told Art in America in an interview there was about 7,000 of these drawings, most of which were thrown away. “I was moving,” he said, “I took some of them to the garbage. Herb Vogel came to visit and I said to him, "The garbage truck's coming in five minutes. If you want those drawings, you can have them."’ Luckily, Mr. Vogel saved about five hundred of them, which are now spread across the country in numerous museum collections.
Loose Leaf Notebook Drawing - Box 10, Group 4, 1980-1982, watercolor on paper.
New Mexico Museum of Art, The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States,
a joint initiative of the Trustees of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection and the National Gallery of Art,
with generous support of the National Endowments for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2009 (2009.36.49a)
Tuttle’s unconventional, sometimes detritus materials, such as toilet paper rolls, rough cut plywood, string, and fabric, blur the line between art and everyday life, presenting ordinary items as a phenomenological experience. Some of his work is installed flat on the floor, low on the wall, or hung over one hundred inches high. This carefully considered placement along with focus on the material, construction, and composition create a quiet reminder for us to look for and cherish the neglected, forgotten, and invisible.
Fiction Fish I, 15, 1992. graphite, ink and watercolor on cardboard, graphite line,
7" x 8-1/2" x 1-1/2" (17.8 cm x 21.6 cm x 3.8 cm). Photo courtesy of Pace Gallery.
Two With Any To #11, 1999. acrylic on fir plywood,
11" x 11" x 1-3/4" (27.9 cm x 27.9 cm x 4.4 cm). Photo courtesy of Pace Gallery.
The purpose of contemporary art today is to mirror our society, to give us the resources to not just look, but to see, and to feed our inner life. It gives us permission to rethink the familiar, to open up to the unfamiliar, and to “suddenly see things that were always there.” Richard Tuttle takes it one step further, creating art that enhances one’s experience of the world with uninhibited freedom, allowing every object around us to be discovered, explored, understood, and felt.

Picasso's Guitars - 3/1/2016

The guitar and its stringed ancestors have been a frequent subject of painters for hundreds of years. Some of history’s most important classical and modern painters have featured the guitar in their paintings. In the 20th century, Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) created many abstract painting and sculptures featuring the guitar. This was due to the importance of the guitar in the music of his native Spain. Picasso’s various approaches to the guitar include paintings, collages, and paper sculpture. Two sculptures given by Picasso to the Museum of Modern Art in New York are the subject of the following video by Khan Academy. 

"I have seen what no man has seen before. When Pablo Picasso, leaving aside painting for a moment, was constructing this immense guitar out of sheet metal whose plans could be dispatched to any ignoramus in the universe who could put it together as well as him, I saw Picasso's studio, and this studio, more incredible than Faust's laboratory, this studio which, according to some, contained no works of art, in the old sense, was furnished with the newest of objects... Some witnesses, already shocked by the things that they saw covering the walls, and that they refused to call paintings because they were made of oilcloth, wrapping paper, and newspaper, said, pointing a haughty finger at the object of Picasso's clever pains: "What is it? Does it rest on a pedestal? Does it hang on a wall? What is it, painting or sculpture?' Picasso, dressed in the blue of Parisian artisans, responded in his finest Andalusian voice: 'It's nothing, it's el guitare!'; And there you are! The watertight compartments are demolished. We are delivered from painting and sculpture, which already have been liberated from the idiotic tyranny of genres. It is neither this nor that. It is nothing. It's el guitare!" (André Salmon, New French Painting, August 9, 1919)

Picasso, Guitar: A conversation between Salman Khan and Steven Zucker about Pablo Picasso's sculpture, Guitar and related work, 1912-14 at The Museum of Modern Art

Stage, Setting, Mood – Two Dramatic Portraits by Trude Fleischmann - 2/15/2016

Today's blog post comes from Curator of Photography, Kate Ware.


Trude Fleischmann, Portrait of Toni Birkmeyer, 1935, gelatin silver print, 4 7/16 × 3 5/16 in.
Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art
Jane Reese Williams Collection, Gift of Roberta DeGolyer, 1991 (1991.3.11)

Vienna, the cosmopolitan capital of Austria, was a hub of artistic and intellectual exchange in the early 1900s, with a vibrant culture of theater, cinema, music, and dance, as well as science and philosophy. Sigmund Freud had recently published The Interpretation of Dreams, Arnold Schoenberg was developing his twelve-tone method in music, and Gustave Klimt painted women engulfed by flattened patterns and lozenges of gold. In Vienna and across Europe, artists in many disciplines shared a post-war mission to create art that was freed from the rules of the past.

In 1920, twenty-five-year-old Trude Fleischmann (1895-1990) opened a photography studio in Vienna that quickly became a destination for the region’s cultural elite. During the studio’s eighteen-year run, Fleischmann photographed many luminaries including composer Alban Berg, architect Adolf Loos, conductor Arturo Toscanini, and theater director Max Reinhardt.

Two of Fleischmann’s gem-like portraits from that period are in the museum’s collection and are featured in the current exhibition Stage, Setting, Mood: Theatricality in the Visual Arts. These two prints showcase Fleischmann’s characteristic style. Undoubtedly influenced by Viennese turn-of-the century modernism, the young artist adopted its highly stylized and theatrical approach as well as its tendency to revel in surfaces and patterns.

We see this in Fleischmann’s dazzling 1928 image of Sibylle Binder, a stage and film actress, who is presented as elegant, ethereal, and unabashedly sensational. The artist emphasizes Binder’s spangled headdress and delicate profile, making her appear as rarefied and exquisite as the women in Klimt’s paintings. She is a modernist goddess: accomplished, liberated, and gorgeous. Fleischmann’s portrait of ballet master Anton “Toni” Birkmeyer is also highly theatrical, showing the dancer posing in his stage makeup, his face a mask of dramatic sensitivity.

By crafting images that suffused her sitters in the glow of beauty and sensuality, Fleischmann established a role for herself in this dynamic but short-lived world of creative visionaries. Her studio remained a gathering place until 1938, when she – and many of her portrait subjects -- was forced to flee Austria to escape Nazi persecution. Whatever lives were lived by the people in her pictures, in Fleischmann’s portraits they are preserved forever as intriguing and extraordinary.

Looking Back - 2/1/2016

Today's guest blogger is Rebecca Troy.

New Mexico Museum of Art's exhibition, Looking Forward, Looking Back featured the art of three female artists, Ligia Bouton, Micol Hebron, and Angela Ellsworth. To celebrate the work of the aforementioned artists, and in an initiative to involve the public beyond the scheduled exhibitions, Rebecca Aubin, the museum's Head of Education and Visitor Experience and Merry Scully, Head of Curatorial Affairs and curator of the exhibition, arranged on a wintery morning of the 9th of January, for the artists to visit Santa Fe. The patrons of the museum and the general public would have the opportunity to hear the artists speak and ask questions of these three influential artists. The conversations about art would take place in the historic St. Francis Auditorium located in the New Mexico Museum of Art.

Micol Hebron
Gallery Tally, Ken Nurenburg, Columbus Museum of Art, History
(percentage in the holdings
as listed on their collections website), 2013 – ongoing
Crowdsourced, digitally produced poster, Courtesy of the artists

Micol Hebron, a professor and activist, talked passionately about her feminist posters, which inform the public of the obvious polarization of the female artist. Her graphic depiction of data demonstrates the female artist's overdue need for recognition using a medium similar to the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist conscious group adopted in the 1980s who clearly influenced Micol Hebron. Hebron, also known as "the soccer mom to the art world," urged the audience to support "the women we know, and the women we don't know," and, in closing challenged the audience to constantly ask--incite--questions, because bringing into the light what is not discussed is a method for radically changing the status quo. Hebron runs the hugely successful Feminist Friday, and The Situation Room, a public art space located in LA where Micol Hebron lives and works.

Angela Ellsworth, Seer Bonnets: A Continuing Offense, 9 bonnets, pearl corsage pins, fabric, steel, and white oak plank; dimensions variable, 2009-2010
Installation view, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, Australia
Photo credit : Paul Green

Angela Ellsworth's work, Seers and Bonnets: A Continuing Offense 2009-10 is a vivid re-expression of the female role within the Mormon faith. Ellsworth's critique features nine suspended bonnets, and a hand crafted cart. Each bonnet featured represents one of Lorenzo Snow's nine spouses, and utilizes the opposing forces of fabric and steel--Snow being one of the prophet's of the Mormon faith, and Ellsworth's great grandfather--to demonstrate the stark understanding of women who are confined to domesticity under Mormonism. Ellsworth's short film, Kicking Up Dust, breathes new life into the understanding of womanhood, or, sister-wives, by exploring the need to embrace one's own true sexuality, and by demonstrating the unity of women across the boundaries of color.

Ligia Bouton, Understudy for Animal Farm, 2012-2014, 26 hand-made pig heads, hand painted wooden cart with mirror and racks, 6 custom sand bags, 82 x 128 x 19 in.

Ligia Bouton's Understudy For Animal Farm pays homage to George Orwell's famed novel by engaging her audience through the use of a simple pillowcase, and therefore, creating "a domestic space of absolute power." Bounton uses the traditionally feminine realm of sewing, to transform an everyday household item into animal masks, which when worn renders the wearer unable to see. Bouton's interactive art creates a magnetic pull between desire and control. Desire is felt by the potential wearer as they are given the option of choosing from many masks, however, being made vulnerable in a public space, having to navigate without sight, and Bouton's power to choose from one of the many potential backdrops made available by her, brings the control back to the artist, and the art itself. Over 500 people have been photographed as part of Understudy For Animal Farm.

Merry Scully's expert navigation in the group talk that followed each artist's self introduction demonstrated to the audience how inextricably linked each artist is. Not only did Micol Hebron, Angela Ellsworth and Ligia Bouton create art through the process of transcendence--their choice to comment on and re-imagine their pasts--but, each artist is in the profession of teaching, of, influencing the next generation of artists.

As the event drew to a close the audience members were encouraged to ask questions. The main topic of discussion was the need for more women artists to reach the status of their male contemporaries, and--as understood through the lens of the female artist--for women to achieve this feat they must continue to gain the support they deserve, from major galleries across the world. The New Mexico Museum of Art is one such institution, dedicated to, and, continuing to promote women in the world of art. Looking Forward, Looking Back ended its run January 17th.

The Way Things Work: Photography, Painting, and Particles in the Land of Enchantment - 1/8/2016

Today's post was written by Joshua Finnell. He is the scholarly communications librarian in the J. Robert Oppenheimer Research Library at Los Alamos National Laboratory and serves on the board of Make Santa Fe.

This past summer, we packed up our belongings in Ohio and headed west towards the oldest state capital city in the United States. My wife accepted an offer to teach creative writing at the Santa Fe University of Art & Design and I accepted a position as the scholarly communications librarian at Los Alamos National Laboratory. For the first time in our lives, we would find our professional environments in stark contrast between the sciences and humanities. Back in Ohio, I was a humanities librarian at a small liberal arts college while Anne was finishing her PhD and teaching English and creative writing. Our dinner conversations easily flowed together as we let our sweet potatoes and green beans grow cold talking about literature and what new titles I should buy for the library’s fiction collection.

Though our educational and professional backgrounds were firmly seeded in the humanities, our upbringing was shaped and sometimes overshadowed by science and engineering. My wife’s parents are both audiologists in St. Louis, and she spent her childhood surrounded by conversations about audiograms and cochlear implants. I grew up in Peoria, Illinois, the headquarters of Caterpillar, the world’s leading manufacturer of construction equipment. While my wife’s childhood home was abuzz with talk of double-blind, placebo controlled studies, my entire town’s livelihood depended on the continual discovery of engineering breakthroughs. We both grew up with Neil Ardley and David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work on our bookshelf. We both found our way to the humanities through the prism of the sciences. We would eventually meet as undergraduates in the liberal arts curriculum at Washington University in St. Louis.


As a writer, my wife draws inspiration not only from nature but also scientific discovery. Even her approach to writing is compared to that of a scientist by her colleagues as she tests empirical evidence against the knowable and unknowable of humanness. My own chosen profession of librarianship derives from a fascination in the general as opposed to the specialized. There hasn’t been a single trip in the last few years we haven’t prepared for by reading about the historical, literary, artistic and geological background of our destination. Though written well before our births, we both heeded C.P. Snow’s warning in The Two Cultures that the splintering of the sciences and humanities is a major obstacle to solving the world’s problems. It comes as no surprise that one of our few creative collaborations reimagined human diseases as a manifestation of physiological, emotional, environmental and existential deficiencies.

Working 40 miles apart, separated by desert and mountains, and working in seemingly diametrically opposed disciplines, we find ourselves stitching our interdisciplinary worldviews together. After work, in the quiet of our small townhouse under the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains we pore over technical reports from the lab, a compilation of actinide neutron nuclear data or a NASA manual detailing magnetic shielding in space. In Basin and Range, John McPhee wrote about his fascination with the language of science. “I used to sit in class and listen to the terms come floating down the room like paper airplanes. Geology was called a descriptive science, and with its pitted outwash plains and drowned rivers, its hanging tributaries and starved coastlines, it was nothing if not descriptive.” In much the same way, the language of physics rolls off the page in fragments of spiked excitement and unintelligible nomenclature. “The slope of the sinusoidal rolloff curve in db per octave is equal to 6n!”

Returning to our childhood instincts, we scan the reports for illustrations, read particular passages out loud to each other, and create characters and short stories from inscrutable titles and text. At the same time, these artifacts of science spark conversations that move towards the existence of dark matter and implications of nuclear waste on the environment.

Of course, in the southwest, we certainly aren’t the first to find inspiration in this nexus of two cultures. As the birthplace of the Atomic Age, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Manhattan Project have captured the attention of many artists in New Mexico, manifesting in artwork focused on the environmental, political, social, ethical, and philosophical aspects of the world’s first atomic bomb. What my wife and I have discovered here is that much like our childhoods, we are surrounded by science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while immersing ourselves in a world of art and humanities.


Shortly after arriving in New Mexico, Patrick Nagatani, turned his attention and camera on the nuclear activities in New Mexico. Nuclear Enchantment, a collection of forty images, was the culmination of a five-year project exploring the spiritual depths of and environmental impact of the atomic age.

Patrick Nagatani, Japanese Children's Day Carp Banners, Paguate Village, Jackpile Mine UraniumTailings, Laguna Pueblo Reservation, New Mexico, 1990.
Silver-dye bleach print 20 x 24 in.Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art 
Gift of anonymous donor, 1997 (1997.61.4)

“In my work I intentionally show a leveled world. Polluted skies, contaminated earth, nuclear explosions, fantastic happenings are all seen under the same light (regardless of the effect they have on people that are actually experiencing such events, for whom the events are not images, but occupy their moment); natural, social, mythic, physical, and psychological experiences are all leveled as images.”

Judy Chicago, best known for The Dinner Party, and her husband Donald Woodman would also explore the impact of the nuclear industry on New Mexico’s environment in the Nuclear Waste(d) series. Woodman began his career in New Mexico as a scientific photographer at the Sacramento Peak Solar Observatory. Through a feminist lens, Chicago re-envisioned Woodman’s photographs of nuclear facilities and test sites with the violence enacted on the environment by a historically masculine science.

Judy Chicago, Eureka, or What’s a Mother For? (from the series Nuclear Waste(d)), 1989.  
Sprayed acrylic, oil and photography on photolinen 16 x 20 in.
Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift of Judy Chicago and Donald Woodman, 2011 (2011.11.7)

“I believe in art that is connected to real human feeling, that extends itself beyond the limits of the art world to embrace all people who are striving for alternatives in an increasingly dehumanized world. I am trying to make art that relates to the deepest and most mythic concerns of human kind and I believe that, at this moment of history, feminism is humanism.”

Christine Taylor Patten, who cared for Georgia O’Keeffe towards the end of her life, drew inspiration in her work from the commonalities between the artistic and scientific definition of “looking.” In her micros series, Patten created 2,000 (each one denoting a year) crow quill and ink pieces that evolve from a single dot in space into referential patterns and movements.

Christine Taylor Patten, Tangent #2 (535A.D.-T-2), 2007.
Crowquill/Pelikan ink on Arches paper 9 3/4 x 10 7/8 inches.  
Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art.
Purchase with funds from the Macquarie Group Foundation, 2012 (2012.26.2)

“Artists share with scientists a compulsion to know, a deep longing for clarity and sense and communication. We look at the same things with different eyes, and fill in different parts of the vacuum, describing the world from each perspective, sometimes from the head, and often from the heart, or the soul.”

Patten, Chicago, Woodman, and Nagatani are but a few of the many artists who found inspiration in the scientific landscape of New Mexico. However, the “artistic method” as opposed to the “scientific method” is less defined and tends to include various modes and methods of discovery, across disciplines and mediums, in the act of creation. Science has provided a rich tapestry of idea for artists to remix, reimagine, and re-envision. However, is the relationship reciprocal in the 21st century, specialized world of the sciences? Mae Jemison, an astronaut and dancer, has spoken passionately about the need for scientists to enhance their education with the arts, but is she is merely an outlier?

Perhaps taking a cue from Patten, Johanna Kieniewicz, writing for At the Interface: Where Art and Science Meet, challenged her scientific colleagues to think about how artists can help clarify and reshape scientific narratives. In Why Scientists Should Care About Art she writes, “Artists examine problems from different angles and engage with information in a different way from scientists. Some might see this as a deficiency, and to be fair, you wouldn’t want to conduct science in an un-scientific way. However, I would argue that particularly in the area of scientific visualization, there is a great deal to be gained for scientists who engage with artists.” As the information age eclipses the atomic age in the early 21st century, the scientific world finds itself awash in a data deluge. Not only would significant increases in data creation be difficult to manage, it would also prove challenging to communicate as data sets expanded from gigabytes to exabytes. As a corollary, national laboratories are turning to artists to help stimulate interactions and communication among scientists, artists, and general public.

Lindsay Olson, Illuminated Book: Beam Line (from the series Art and the Quantum World), 
DMC thread and collage on paper 30" x 22"

In 2014, Fermilab launched the laboratory’s artist-in-residence program. This unique opportunity allows an artist to work on-site at the lab and interact with scientists and researchers in their own labs. Lindsay Olson, the lab’s first artist-in-residence, collaborated with physicists Don Lincoln in creating Art and the Quantum World, a visualization of the subatomic realm of quarks and leptons. Needless to say, the scientific community took notice. A piece would appear in Scientific American that same year entitled, “What’s an Artist Doing at Fermi Lab?”

When I showed the article to my wife, she replied, “What’s an artist NOT doing at Los Alamos National Laboratory?” I concurred. Yet, as we reflect on our experience in our new city and its proximity to and influence from the scientific enterprise that surrounds it, we agree that calling Santa Fe home is a residency in and of itself, one that incorporates the creativity inherent in both the arts and sciences.

Part Five--Not Just a “Walk in the Park”: Poetry and Politics - 1/15/2016

Today's blog post was written by Edward M. Richstone. Richstone is a retired school psychologist. He has written articles on a variety of topics for civic organizations and city newspapers.

Central Park, New York City 7/2/2009
Photo courtesy Christy Hengst

In my previous blog, the remainder of the phone interview with Ms. Hengst covered her techniques of construction and strategies for showing.

Christy Hengst’s work inspires me to wax poetic. I am sure that I am not unusual in this regard. Wherever birds appear, they are a welcome sight. For me, doves, in particular. They mate for life. Their calls sound like laments. When I hear them, I always wonder whether they have lost their mate. But the reality is that this bird, an icon of peace, is known to eventually find a replacement, just as we must rebuild after a war.

Always, somewhere in the world, violence rages. Christy Hengst experienced shock and dismay when she witnessed in 2003 how the American public largely reacted to the U.S. invasion of Iraq with unquestioning acceptance. Christy felt impelled to process this and reach out through her art.

At different times in my own life, I have been repulsed by blind complacency and, worse yet, callous disregard. Often humanity seems morally shipwrecked. But Christy’s porcelain birds, like those in nature, bring into view a reality beyond ourselves. In a mystical sense, they appear as messengers, just like the proverbial bottle from a desert island, containing a letter, washed ashore, begging for rescue.

In parting, Christy left me a quote from Hermann Goering, one of the highest-ranking and vilest of Nazis. The pronouncement, included among Christy’s images, bears an “eerie” resemblance, as Christy puts it, to much more recent developments. Goering’s chilling words:

“….Naturally the common people don’t want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany….it is always a simple matter to drag the people along…All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

Christy encourages the public to visit her website:

Part Four - Not Just a 'Walk in the Park': Strategies for Showing and Techniques of Construction - 1/1/2016

Today's blog post was written by Edward M. Richstone. Richstone is a retired school psychologist. He has written articles on a variety of topics for civic organizations and city newspapers.

Tune-Up Cafe, Santa Fe 2/27/2009
Photo courtesy Christy Hengst 

In my previous blog, a phone interview with Ms. Hengst began with the genesis of “Birds in the Park,” and how the artwork has engaged the public in various ways. The remainder of the interview follows.

Ms. Hengst must feel that all her hard work was well worth it. Her “Birds in the Park” theme was launched back in 2008. Over time, more than sixty “landings” occurred (about half of them in Santa Fe, where the project started). Travel and lugging around all those birds with protective packing was never easy. Christy always took along many more birds than she expected to display, having to allow for breakage and needing flexibility in posing the birds, as she made many of her decisions on location. With individualized shapes, gestures, and designs, each bird had to be placed in the right spot for that particular locale. Positioning also took into account how content created a “conversation” within each subgroup of birds. Other logistical considerations included situating the birds in ways that would minimize the risk of their being accidentally knocked down. Also, the language of a hosting foreign country often appeared in text on the birds. To ensure the element of surprise, Christy usually set up each showing at dawn and dismantled everything at twilight, that is, before and after crowds would gather.

Besides the elaborate planning behind each presentation, much thought obviously was given to construction of the art. The birds were individually designed, that is, without a mold. Onto a flat slab of wet clay, serigraphy, or silk-screen printing, was performed very carefully to avoid smudging. The process involved a light-sensitive emulsion coating a fine mesh, which then was covered with a transparency, a clear piece of plastic bearing computer-generated half-tone images. Inked areas blocked out light from above, creating equivalent dark spots in the final product. The clay was wrapped around newspaper, which burned up in the kiln, set at about 2300 degrees F. The porcelain birds were vitrified without a glaze, so that a viewer might imagine a feathery surface. And the exterior, by being minimally reflective yet still smooth, would not interfere with the clarity of the images. Finally, Christy’s husband, a blacksmith, helped with mounting the finished birds-- onto flat stands, if on the ground, or onto clamps, if on a perch like a balcony’s railing. Inside each bird was a stainless steel pipe, which connected to the stand or clamp with a pin.

In 2013, the “Birds in the Park” project ended. Most of the birds were sold.

In 2014, Christy organized a Santa Fe-based conference, which dealt with the interaction between artist and public, a growing international trend. The symposium was named “Evolving Intentions in Public Art.” This year, a book with the same title was published by Axle Contemporary Press ( It contains verbatim transcripts of the proceedings.

A few months ago, Christy started another project exploring interaction with people. She was displaying drawings of organic forms like trees and weeds in a private gallery in Santa Fe. Christy set up a sign-up list, where the public could leave their phone numbers if they were interested in receiving a drawing as a gift. Ms. Hengst is still going through names on the list, and having people come, one by one, to her studio to pick out a drawing. Christy “enjoy(s) taking money out of the equation, and, most of all, meeting each person and seeing what image they are drawn to.” By not offering anything for sale, Ms. Hengst is treating the drawings like “public art.”

Part Three--Not Just a 'Walk in the Park': Genesis of 'Birds in the Park' and Engaging the Public

Today's blog post was written by Edward M. Richstone. Richstone is a retired school psychologist. He has written articles on a variety of topics for civic organizations and city newspapers.


Peenemünde Historical and Technical Museum, Peenemünde, Germany 7/13/2010
Photo courtesy Christy Hengst

In my previous blog, I continued defining “site-specific” art, and provided two very different examples, one of them similar to Christy Hengst’s work by melding with its surroundings.

Ms. Hengst kindly agreed to a phone interview. She discussed the evolution of her work—its purpose and methodology.

Christy’s concern about war and peace, evident in her art, has deep roots. During World War Two, her father’s home was demolished in a bombing raid when he was a child living in the German village of Peenemünde on the Baltic island of Usedom. There Christy’s paternal grandfather worked as an optical scientist on Wernher von Braun’s German team, developing the V-1 flying bomb and the V-2 rocket, the first missile ever to reach outer space. Many of these elite German scientists, including Christy’s grandfather, later joined the U.S. space program after the war.

Christy points out that it was surely an ethical dilemma that many involved in weapons production must face: to be able to provide for one’s family using one’s particular skills and education during wartime. Slave laborers, concentration camp inmates, and prisoners of war worked on construction of the Peenemünde test sites and eventual rocket production.

At the original location, a museum was built in 2000. It deals not only with the history of the technology, but also moral issues. In addition, international meetings and cultural events take place there. In 2002 the museum was recognized for its contribution to reconciliation and world peace by the Community of the Cross of Nails in Coventry, England. This organization is based at Coventry Cathedral. Embedded in the high altar cross are three medieval nails from its predecessor, St. Michael’s Cathedral, destroyed by the Luftwaffe. Given its historical significance, this site was chosen by Ms. Hengst as a perfect setting for one her bird “landings.” A parallel site where Christy has exhibited her birds is Los Alamos (NM) National Laboratory.

Before Christy conceived of the “Birds in the Park” project, she experimented with embedding three-dimensional porcelain seed pod shapes in beeswax. A mother of two young children at the time, Christy, in a particularly nurturing frame of mind, gravitated to the gently rounded outlines of seed pods, and found their purpose in nature to be symbolically life-affirming.

Although Christy never completely abandoned seed pods in her work, she turned much of her attention, starting in 2008, to something similar in its curvy form and gentle image: the torsos of dove-like birds. The idea of a flock of birds developed organically out of playing with the material. Another "aha” moment arrived when Christy realized that placing illustrations of both war and peace on the same individual birds made her uncomfortable. Instantly, she decided it was precisely the impact she wanted to have on the viewer. The birds could serve as “mirrors of human activity,” and that included the difficult moral “choices” that we must make. She employed the element of surprise as a way to shake up the viewer’s perspective about war and peace. Beyond that, Christy hoped to make her audience “more observant of their environment, maybe even more conscious of their own processes of perception.”

V-1 bomb, Peenemünde Historical and Technical Museum, Peenemünde, Germany 7/12/2010
Photo courtesy Christy Hengst

To maximize her impact, Christy added a dimension to her art: engaging the public. She dubs this “borderline performance art.” which just lacks theatricality. Christy’s audience, even when not aware of her presence, felt free to take pictures of themselves with the art. Even lying on the ground to do so! At the same time, Christy would introduce herself to individual viewers, and encourage questions and comments. (All the while, she was also guarding the fragile and very portable birds.)

Wherever Christy’s art appeared, in places as diverse as New York City and the Galapagos Islands, the exhibit elicited very favorable comments. Emotional reactions ranged from delight to anguish. Serious discussions with the artist herself about the causes of war and solutions for peace often ensued.

There was sometimes another form of public participation. Early in the morning, friends assisted with transporting, unwrapping, mounting (while Christy directed the specific placement of the birds), and, around dusk, collecting and re-packing.

© 2003-2012 The New Mexico Museum of Art, a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. 107 West Palace, off the historic Santa Fe Plaza
Mailing Address: PO Box 2087, Santa Fe, NM 87504
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