Cypher Space - the Museum of Art Blog

The French Connection - 7/14/2014

Today’s blog post comes from Sharifa Lookman, an undergraduate student in Art History at Wesleyan University and summer intern at the New Mexico Museum of Art.
 
The acclaim of New Mexico’s artistic culture derives from the work of artists such as Georgia O’Keefe, who immortalized the Abiquiu landscape in paintings, to Maria Martinez, who examined her heritage through traditional Pueblo pottery. A transformative component of New Mexico’s artistic identity that, unlike the aforementioned artists, cannot be solely attributed to one hand, is the Taos Society of Artists. The Taos Society of Artists was established by a group of explorative American painters who, upon arriving in Taos, were infatuated by its unique culture and seemingly virgin landscapes. Pioneered by Joseph Henry Sharp in 1915, a Cincinnati based artist who first visited the region in 1893, this cooperative was soon joined by Ernest Blumenschein, Bert Phillips, Oscar Berninghaus, E. Irving Couse, and W. Herbert Dunton. This was a commercial society with the mission of selling artwork through traveling exhibitions, a mission that eventually helped the modest town evolve into an international art center. Of these six artists, four traveled to Paris where they studied the Western historical tradition. Though equipped with this canonical understanding of Western art, these artists found it difficult to properly articulate the unique imagery of New Mexico. This stylistic and aesthetic struggle instigated conflict and confusion in defining both artistic style and cultural identification. As evidenced by their work’s style and imagery, these artists attempted to define realistic and romantic styles while struggling to represent the cultural differences between Europeans and indigenous New Mexicans.
 
 
                                                        Ernest Blumenschein                                                         
Mountains Near Taos, 1926-34 
Oil on canvas 
Dallas Museum of Art
 
 
Paul Cezanne
Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bellevue, 1885
Oil on canvas
Barnes Foundation of Philadelphia
 
Within their work these artists all exhibit a mastery of painting techniques that can only be attributed to careful academic study. In addition to the influence of the old masters, their works recall the palette and compositional technique of their European contemporaries. One contemporary in particular, whose work each artist would undoubtedly have been exposed to in their studies, is Paul Cézanne. At roughly twenty years older than these artists’ median age, Cézanne’s transformative work was the subject of debate and analysis when these young artists engaged in their Parisian studies. This European influence is easily illustrated, both in defiance and emulation of, in Ernest Blumenschein’s Mountains Near Taos when compared to Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bellevue. Mountains Near Taos references the light of Mont Sainte-Victoire in its sculptural quality. In both works it is the contrast between light and dark that establishes form, particularly in the mid-ground houses. Notwithstanding, however, Cézanne’s light source is quite vaguer than the directness of Blumenschein’s, though the sun does appear to be off canvas to the right in both pieces. The arrangement of Blumenschein’s composition nearly identically quotes that of Cézanne’s. Like Cézanne he depicts a land fractioned into green and brown squares, a mid-ground dotted with yellow ochre houses, and a large-scale mountain range that consumes roughly half of the composition. Despite these similarities, it is important to acknowledge the stylistic differences. Though both are representational, Cézanne’s piece is of a proto-cubist aesthetic while Blumenschein’s imagery is more inclined to realism. This divergence concisely illustrates the necessity of marrying artistic styles in an effort to properly represent the nonconformity of the New Mexican landscape.
 
 
Joseph Henry Sharp
Taos Indian Portrait, 1914
Oil on canvas
Gift of Joseph Henry Sharp, 1914
94.23P
 
In addition to defining an artistic style capable of visually representing New Mexico, artists struggled to respectfully depict its indigenous culture. Joseph Henry Sharp, who is colloquially termed the father of the Taos art colony, had an intent interest in Native Americans. True to his training in European techniques, Sharp created portraits with acclaimed anthropological accuracy. His European sensibilities were assets in such cases, but they proved to be crutches when realistically depicting the people’s culture. Many foreigners to New Mexico perceived it as an exotic nation, though it was part of the United States, and thus imposed national and international aesthetics on a culture that they found to be raw and malleable. The artists claimed to have sympathy towards their Native American models, which they likely believed in naivety. Despite his enthusiasm for Native Americans, Sharp did not possess an extensive knowledge of their culture and would dress up his models (in indigenous garb of his own collection) that actually derived from a different tribe. In turn, his pieces were realistic, but not real. Many historians attribute the many scowling faces and sorrowful glances of Sharp’s subjects to this notion that they were angry and offended to be forced into another tribe’s attire and then painted. Though perhaps overly inferential, this interpretation is validated in Sharp’s Taos Indian Portrait where the figure’s annoyance is palpable and his grimace stern.
 
New Mexican art was transformed and enriched with the introduction of European artistic techniques. With them newcomers brought wisdom gained from the great European painting masters and subsequently introduced the possibility of increased skill and international acclaim to New Mexico. With them, however, they also introduced a cultural bias that manipulated the physical and emotional façade of preexisting indigenous cultures. This was a difficult transition for many, but it was through this effort of the Taos Society of Artists that, through many trials, we were able to discover a style with the necessary technique and cultural accuracy to depict the rare beauty that is unique to New Mexico’s landscape and people.

 

Cats in Art: Painting Light on Society - 7/10/14

Today’s blog post comes from Sharifa Lookman, an undergraduate student in Art History at Wesleyan University and summer intern at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

Today images of cats dominate the media in kitsch memes that (albeit humorously) propagate illiteracy, laziness, and awkward eroticisms. Within the historical context, however, cats have embodied a variety of artistic renderings that go beyond the entertaining and decorative. One underappreciated role of cats in art history is their articulation of societal structure. Through the context and stylistic rendering of felines in art, paintings in particular, a social class is imposed on the cat itself, that of royalty, poverty, and everything in between. I further argue that, with this power, the use of cats in art, both historical and contemporary, is a technical tool that demarcates social class for the accompanying figures using a feline-figure parallel.
 

Pierre Auguste Renoir
Julie Manet, 1887
Oil on canvas
Musee d’Orsay
 
While cats’ attendance in art dates from antiquity, this case study will focus on art of Western modernity. Beginning in the late 19th century with Pierre Auguste Renoir’s Julie Manet, we do, however, see a cat with a status similar to his Egyptian predecessors: royalty. The dreaming eyes and tight mouth poised for a yawn speak to an innate feline languor as the cat revels in the young woman’s spoiled embrace. In furthering the figure-feline relationship I posit that the personality of the cat echoes that of the figure. This can initially be drawn from parallels in appearance. Just like the feline’s resting eyes and yawning mouth, the young woman’s eyes are half closed, glazed, and seemingly on the verge of succumbing to fatigue. Additionally, the palette and paint handling used to mold the cat are identical to that of the young woman. In the bottom register of the composition the feet of the feline nearly dissolve into the dress of the young woman and the brown pigments composing the cat’s coloring echo the hues of the woman’s hair. Such similarities in appearance insinuate a similarity in disposition. Observation can be extended, however, to present a divergence in this parallel: while the cat is undeniably granted select qualities of kingship, it is not in control. Rather, there is a very particular relationship between the sitter and the cat. The cat acts as an accessory and an amusement that the model manipulates. In many ways the cat has devolved into an infant in need of coddling and supervision, a submission that the cat apparently enjoys. This elevates the status of the figure.
 

Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski)
Therese Dreaming, 1938
Oil on canvas
Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998
 
A contrast to the affluence presented by Renoir is seen in Therese Dreaming by Balthus, a representation of a different point on the societal spectrum that emphasizes hardship and need. In this work a pubescent young woman suggestively reveals her underwear in mock modesty. Unlike in Julie Manet, our feline is positioned in the composition’s exterior. Despite the distancing of figures there are very strong parallels that substantiate the reading of the figure. The gray toned palette of the cat quotes the coloring of the young woman’s shirt and the curvilinearity of the cat’s spine echoes the twisted stretch of the figure. The cat is lapping at milk and underscoring the woman’s sexuality: a seductive lick of the tongue into white milk mirrors the figure’s provocative stretch and display of her white underwear. This superficial reading then lend to an interpretative analysis of the figure’s status. For instance, the shared coloring of the figures is rather muted and the whites are sullied and thus not virginal, an element that further accentuates her sexuality. Both figures appear content, however there is a temporality to the scene: the cat, stationed hesitantly on its haunches, is attempting to steal a quick taste of milk while the young woman’s pose is straining and soon to leave her muscles sore. Both figures lack sincere comfort and instead there is an urgency and need for quick fulfillment. Whether interpreted sexually or otherwise, the dialogue of qualities between the cat and the figure acknowledge a need and discomfort that can best be attributed to more impoverished means.
 

W. Victor Higgins
Juanito and the Suspicious Cat, 1916
Oil on canvas
Union League of Chicago
 
Using these pieces as context, we see two sides of the spectrum that provide a glimpse into the versatility of feline function in art. Most importantly, however, we see how the cat adds emphasis to the societal presentation of the figure. In Juanito and the Suspicious Cat by W. Victor Higgins, an artist who resided in New Mexico, the presentation of both the feline and figure differ. Unlike the work of both Renoir and Balthus, the palette of the cat does not directly quote that of the figure, the only parallel being to the figure’s waistcloth. There is a stark contrast between the two figures: light versus dark. Despite the figures’ differences, there aren’t signs of social disparity seen between the figures of Julie Manet. By holding up the cat to eye level he is literally putting the cat on an equal plane. Unlike Renoir the presence of the cat does not give superiority to the figure nor does it accentuate discomfort like that of Balthus. Instead the man is looking at the cat appreciatively without hints of patronization or self-indulgence, and vice versa. The figures are assessing one another almost quizzically and yet with reciprocal respect. This exchange pronounces a curiosity about the figure or, as the title suggests, a suspicion. This curiosity is reciprocated by the native, unlike the rather emotionally detached figures in both the Renoir and Balthus, and thus puts on display as well as the figure. Rather than being passive the man is taking an active interest in the cat. Equipped with the artist’s New Mexico influenced biography, I couldn’t help but read social issues concerning the continuing struggle between Native Americans in New Mexico and Europeans into this piece. The cat-figure discourse is emblematic of a relationship that, though burdened by a history of curiosity and suspicion, is welcoming of respect. Though perhaps overly inferential, this interpretation contextualizes the social influence of cats into the New Mexico art scene.
 
This illustration provides a focused look into the diverse interpretations that can be drawn from cat’s presence in art and their purpose outside mere decoration. In these three pieces our lovely felines are artistic tools used to acknowledge the emotional and societal undertones of the human experience.

Communicative Art Viewing: Developing a New Perspective on Local Color - 6/27/14

On Saturday, June 14th, the New Mexico Museum of Art hosted its very first art making workshop. This event is part of a summer trio of art workshops centered on the exhibition, Local Color: Judy Chicago in New Mexico 1984-2014. This workshop focused on drawing, however the subsequent two in July and August explore painting and collage respectively. These workshops combine the history and abstract interpretations of art with its physical creation, a marriage of two diverse educational styles that I believe will enrich viewer experience of the NMMA collection.

Judy Chicago
Crippled by the Need to Control/ Blind individuality from PowerPlay, 1983
Sprayed acrylic and oil on Belgian linen
Courtesy of David Richard Gallery, Santa Fe

For Saturday’s workshop we met in the lobby and, nametags having been assigned, visited the Judy Chicago exhibit. We first looked at Crippled by the Need to Control/Blind Individuality, a large scale painting that depicts a muscular figure exercising control over a woman in an act of puppetry by tugging at what appears to be either her hair or her skin. This piece exhibits a violent struggle for power between a man and a woman with the man appearing to be in command. While there is an evident emphasis on the submission of women as inflicted by the patriarchal system, Judy is also noting its disservice to men. The male figure doesn’t look masochistic or malicious, but rather passive. He is blindfolded and thus devoid of an identity, perhaps an indication that he himself is a mere pawn in patriarchism. Indications of abuse to the man are also observed in the textural application of paint on his leg, markings that are likened to scratches or scars. After exploring these observations many of us struggled with the notion of empathizing with the supposed persecutor.

Judy Chicago
Woe Man with Mask #11, 1986
 Sprayed acrylic and oil paint on hand-cast paper
Gift of Mary Ross Taylor in memory of Edmund Gaultney III, 1986
 

A second piece that we considered in the vein of sexual identity was Woe Man with Mask #11, a paper mold relief that depicts a portrait of an anguished face. Within our discussion group the piece was likened to the New Mexico landscape and work of Georgia O’Keeffe. What I found most interesting was that within this discussion we had burdened the piece with gender binarism by referring to it as “he”, even though there was a pre-established sexual ambiguity in the title "Woe Man". This association was made simply on the basis of the face’s pronounced musculature. This made us wonder: why is musculature automatically a masculine association? This forced us to return to Crippled by the Need to Control/Blind Individuality and revisit its gender constructions. We questioned whether it actually was a man acting as the puppeteer or if it could plausibly be a woman. The figure didn’t exhibit any indications of reproductive anatomy. Looking at both pieces together, we wondered, if our demarcation of masculinity is musculature and strength, are we inferring that women are incapable of such strength?

In essence, the questions and concerns prompted by these pieces were unanswerable. Instead, the result was a multiplicity of interpretations given by the diverse group of workshop participants. Participants came from different backgrounds and it was fascinating to hear their interpretations on such a socially and emotionally charged subject. Their analyses not only enriched my own, but also conflicted with them. While art viewing is frequently a solitary activity, these interactions forced me to consider the exhibit with greater depth.

With this newfound complexity of the human psyche managed, we sat down to look at ourselves in small-scale mirrors. Using a range of artistic techniques, from “coiling” to “hatching” to “ten second sketches”, we were forced to look at ourselves closely, though not critically. As one participant noted, we had the opportunity to “be seven again” and thus engage with art and ourselves from an entirely new perspective. Using graphite and colored pencils, markers, and oil pastels we explored ourselves: our facades through perspectival exaggeration and our emotions through an expressive color palette. In addition to providing knowledge of the political, social, and technical narratives of Local Color, this workshop was a chance for strangers to come together, not as man or women, mother or daughter, artist or self-proclaimed stick figure creator, but as people. Despite the true narrative complexity that burdens Judy’s subjects, it is important to believe that sometimes it can be that simple: while we are wonderfully diverse, we are all still people who love, hurt, and feel.

   

Still Lives, New Mexico - 6/24/14

Richard Baron, Gallup, New Mexico (from the series Still Lives, New Mexico), 2013, pigment print, courtesy of the artist

Photographer Richard Baron’s collection of photographs entitled “Still Lives, New Mexico” included in the Grounded exhibition, the New Mexico Museum of Art’s year-long focus on photography, is a wonderfully interactive series of photographs that encourages the viewer to fully engage with each image. Baron’s photographs – pigment prints in black and white – are images of anonymous graves that the Santa Fe based photographer found in cemeteries throughout New Mexico. Baron visited all regions of the state, starting in San Antonio in Socorro County, where he took the first photograph in the series.

The graves bear no crosses, monuments, plaques or hidden numbers that would allow a family to find Uncle Ed, for example, buried on Row 37, plot D. What do you learn when you look at a granite or marble monument anyway? The name of the occupant: Peter T. Smith. The dates in which he inhabited the planet, say 1882 – 1948, for example. Beneath Pete’s name is a word or two, usually the following: Beloved husband and father. If the rest of the family is nearby, you might learn a little more. But you never learn if Pete had a hobby. Was he a golfer? Was he a Democrat? Was he generous? Did he have a dark side? He was born in 1882. He died in 1948. What about the years in between? We have to fill in the blanks.

In viewing Baron’s series, the viewer is compelled to fill in the blanks thus creating a narrative or biography. Each photograph in “Still Lives, New Mexico” treats the subject with dignity and respect. As a result, the viewer senses the care that went into laying the dead to rest. The graves might have been dug by the family in a cemetery near the ancestral community. At one time, the graves may have been marked with whatever the survivors had available: wooden crosses, bouquets of flowers, a rosary, or a favorite Santo.

Many of the graves are marked by rocks now, but the rocks and stones are organized in circles, squares, even piles, crude monuments perhaps, but celebratory nonetheless. The simple markings are clear evidence that the individual resting there left more than a footprint. Their lives mattered. They still do. The dead represent our history, our past. Each grave is someone’s mother or father, son or daughter, husband or wife.

Many of the graves Baron photographed appear unkempt and overgrown with weeds, but the photographer says the cemeteries are all in beautiful locales, peaceful places near pastures and mountains. Perhaps the descendants of these individuals had to move on. That doesn’t mean they abandoned their ancestors. As we pull up roots, we take our history with us, often documented in photographs that allow us to celebrate the lives that passed before ours yet enrich our lives today.

To learn more about Richard Baron’s fascinating project, the museum will host an informal gallery talk. Baron will discuss his work. The lecture will be held on Friday, July 11, at 5:30 p.m. It’s free.

Women’s Board Historic Furniture - 6/19/14

This blog is written by Tazbah Gaussoin & Marcos Martinez who are both interns at the New Mexico Museum of Art through the Governor’s Internship Program. During the course of the Governor’s Internship Program, students will garner valuable experience working within their fields of study and enhance their appreciation for public service.
 
The pungent smell of wax filled the lobby, a cloth and a bucket of water was standing between volunteers and 100 year-old layers of grime. Some might say that cleaning a piece of furniture can be done with a blindfold; not in our case. The Women’s Board Historic Furniture Project required volunteers from the Women’s Board (Tana Bidwell, Jean Eddy, Suzannah Sale, Charlotte Whitecomb, Peggy Ater, Kay Lewis, Kathy Brooks, Margaret Jones, Susie Herman, and Lynda Kellahin) two interns, and the Museum’s Collections Manager to conserve the many pieces of furniture of the Women’s Board room. The historic furniture is the original furniture that was made for the Women’s Board room (there are two chairs, three benches, one chest, one cupboard, and two tables) located throughout the New Mexico Museum of Art.
 
 
It all began when the Women’s Board volunteers went to the museum’s Collection Manager in hopes of learning how to clean and protect their furniture. It was then decided to ask the State Conservator to demonstrate the proper way of conserving furniture. A workshop was later scheduled to exhibit the proper procedures of cleaning and waxing the historic pieces.
 
We began our “cleaning mission” by first using a very mild soap with no perfumes, dyes, or harsh chemicals called Orvus. We learned that it is the same soap that is used to clean horses, so it could be found at a local feed store. Only a small quantity, about a quarter teaspoon, is needed per quart of water (Orvus is very concentrated). The furniture needed to be cleaned with a few washes with the soapy water and a cloth that is 50% cotton, and 50% polyester. The furniture is used in the main lobby of the Museum, where the public is welcomed to enjoy them, so one can imagine the amount of dirt and grime. Let’s just say that our white cloths were black in a matter of minutes! To our belief, the furniture had not been cleaned in many years. In the photo below, the difference seen between the cleaned and not cleaned is huge.

After the furniture was cleaned, with a minimal amount of wet time, a thin coat of wax was applied and then buffed. The wax used is a Johnson’s paste wax which consists of Carnauba wax, Microcrystalline wax, Paraffin, and Deodorized Napth. Johnson’s paste wax is a soft wax that will not stain, not leave residue, and will provide the right amount of protection. A plethora of wax was used; in total 3 cans of wax were completely emptied. This is because some of the pieces required multiple coats of wax, reaching up to five or seven coats! Normally that many coats of wax may be too many; due to the fact that it is historic furniture and a glossy look is avoided. Needless to say, the wood was extremely dry and soaked in all the wax. The Women’s Board furniture definitely needed some T.L.C. They don’t look a day over 20, and can hopefully be around for another 100 years!

Thanks Dad: Exploring Artistic Lineage - 6/16/14

Today’s blog post comes from Sharifa Lookman, an undergraduate student in Art History at Wesleyan University and summer intern at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

As another father’s day came and went this year I began thinking about heredity and the parts of myself that I possess thanks to my paternity: dark eyes, large teeth, and short stature. But these things are all superficial and scientifically determined through genetics. What about skills and passion? There is no punnet square that dictates the probability of having a child devoid of any artistic affinity over one likened to Michelangelo. Artistic skill is not a biologically founded phenomenon, and instead concerns the attainment of skill through one’s nurture. This is why there are frequently artistic families where both parents are artists and subsequently influenced their offspring to pursue art by sharing their passion and technical skill. Historically this is seen in the father-son relationships of John Constable and Lionel Constable as well as Paul Gauguin and Emile Gauguin. What I find most fascinating is exactly how artistic paternity affects the offspring: in some ways the child seeks to defy all paternal influences, and yet in others there is an attempt to mimic. One example rooted in the New Mexico art scene is seen in the artists Paul and Peter Sarkisian, father and son respectively. They are antithetical in medium, however the paternal influence is striking in style and subject matter, thus emphasizing the inherent influence that parents have over their offspring.
 
Paul Sarkisian’s style evolved immensely throughout his artistic career, from pure abstraction to more representational imagery. For the purposes of this discussion I am going to focus on his more figurative work that can best be described as surreal. One series of his involves large scale, photorealist paintings that depict monochromatic storefronts. One exemplary work from this series is Untitled (Santa Barbara). These murals are composed of hundreds of photos that were projected onto the panel in the form of a photomontage. These large-scale pieces are described as being photo-realist and so realistic in form that one could almost walk into it believing that it were real. However, the gray toned monochromatism shatters the illusion, as does the obsessive tendency towards realism. This mimesis borders on hyperrealism and surrealism because, from the straight lines and precise shading, the objects become flat, abstract, and peculiarly out of place. It becomes an illusionary trick of the eye. Sarkisian also embraced surrealism and illusionary collage, with the addition of color, in his figurative works. This can be seen in the work Untitled (Phil Hefferton). He is exploring the classical figurative style with an abstract collage aesthetic. This style diverges from his photorealist murals because they are not attempting to mimic reality. The goal, rather, is to create an imaginary world full of color with a disregard for gravity and proportion.
 
Paul Sarkisian
Untitled (Phil Hefferton), 1967-68
Acrylic on cotton canvas. 129 x 116
 
Paul Sarkisian
Untitled (Santa Barbara), 1970
Acrylic on canvas
110 x 191

Paul’s work was innovative for the time, however it also recalls historic nudes that are evocative of Western Classicism. His son, Peter, a product of an entirely different time, lacks these references and instead incorporates technology into his work. His work is both fine art and digital art and is somewhat unclassifiable. In contrast to the work of his father, his works, while not small, are not extensive in size. In the modest piece, Ink Blot, a miniature man is escaping from an inkwell. His pieces are part sculpture and part digital projection. It is difficult for the viewer to differentiate between the two mediums, however, and thus, like his father, he is creating an illusion. Like Untitled (Phil Hefferton), it is a fictive world. The illusionary aspect of Peter Sarkisian’s work is more likened to Untitled (Phil Hefferton) than Untitled (Santa Barbara), because it is not attempting to replicate reality. Peter’s work addresses more social issues than that of Paul. Paul’s work stems from the imagination with less of the political and social agenda used by Peter. In Peter’s Registered Driver, a projection of video footage of a man driving recklessly throughout the city in the window of a freestanding car door, Peter quotes the destructive nature of video games on youth.
 
 

Peter Sarkisian
Ink Blot, 2011
Power coated steal and aluminum, found ink bottle, tinted polymer resin, notepad, video projection, audio (mixed media)
26 x 16 x 13 inches
 
 

Peter Sarkisian
Registered Driver, 2010
Molded fiberglass, steel, clear polycarbonate, vellum, video projection, audio, 47 x 169 x 8 inches
 
Peter and Paul explore different styles and aesthetics: the elder Sarkisian is rooted in manipulations of historical artistic styles while Peter explores the new wave of technological art, and yet they land on very similar themes. Within artistic families there is definitely skill that is translated, not through a biological foundation, but by nurture and influence of a parent to a child. This paternal influence of passion and skill is something that you don’t just find in the arts, but in any discipline. Using art as a case study, it can be concluded that, try as we might, we can’t escape the influence of our fathers. And maybe, despite how much we scream, fight, and kick in opposition of our parents, they are a huge part of us, both physically and mentally. Our individuality make us unique, and yet who we are and what we do, regardless of whether or not we pursue their same career and passion, is influenced greatly by those who brought us into the world.

 

Patrocino Barela: External Influences on New Mexican Art - 6/10/14

Today’s blog post comes from Sharifa Lookman, an undergraduate student in Art History at Wesleyan University and summer intern at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

Something old, something new, and something borrowed: the definition of New Mexico’s marriage of artistic traditions. I have always been curious about the origins and influences of New Mexico’s pastiche of artistic styles. Does the art predominately derive from one sect, or is it a breed all its own? In a recent art history seminar I studied the arts of Northern Europe, Spain in particular, an introduction that subsequently influenced a parallel between Spanish sculpture and the sculptures of 20th century New Mexico artist Patrocino Barela. The styles are superficially antithetical, the former being hyperrealist polychrome and the other abstract expression, and yet through different means the structure and form of both lend to the emotional and spiritual experience of the viewer.

   

Pedro Roldan
Our Lady of Hope (Maria de la Esperanza Macarena)
early 17th century
Polychromed wood
Basilica of Macarena, Cathedral of Seville
 

Spanish polychrome sculpture of the 17th century boasts life-size renderings in hyper-realistic detail. By definition polychrome is the “practice of decorating three-dimensional elements in a variety of colors”, and in historic Spanish polychrome sculpture, Encarnacion, the goal was to be as realistic as possible in an effort to translate the figures’ emotions to the viewer. In Pedro Roldan‘s Our Lady of Hope (Maria de la Esperanza Macarena) from 17th century Spain, the piety and sorrow of the Virgin Mary as she grieves for her son is emphasized in its extensive details. The figure is frozen in time in a moment of sorrow: her teardrops hesitate on her palpable flesh as she moves her rosaries to touch her breast with one hand, a handkerchief in the other. It is a universal action that is involuntary – the act of crying and grieving. The viewer resonates with the figure through empathy and experiencing its very same pain onself. This is the devotional goal integral to Catholic iconography dating from the Middle Ages: the viewer is meant to engage with the figure on a spiritual and emotional level and embrace its piety.

         

Patrociño Barela, Untitled (Spiritual Figures)                          Patrociño Barela, The Annunciation, 1950s
Gift of Mrs. Ward Lockwood, 1969                                                       Private Collection
 

With this breed of devotional art examined, the religious work of Barela can be appreciated in a new light. Viewed together Our Lady of Hope and Barela’s abstract rendering of the Virgin Mary and Angel Gabriel in The Annunciation are similar in iconographical subject matter, though antithetical in style. The forms of the Virgin and Angel Gabriel in Barela’s work are simplified and abstract in form. In contrast to the ornate aesthetic of Spanish polychrome sculpture, they are stripped of any embellishment, specificity, and color. In another Barela work of spiritual context, Untitled (Spiritual Figures), housed in the NMMA collection, the abstraction of the religious sculpture is furthered to the point that the figures are interconnected. Absent in both of Barela’s works is the narrative and temporal specificity of Spanish polychrome sculpture.

Barela’s denial of such decoration is a sophisticated simplification that lends itself to the evolution of iconographical imagery. One doesn’t need everything perfectly illustrated in order to resonate with the figures represented and understand their emotions. The details in The Annunciation are few, but they have specificity: the closed eyes, straight mouth, and crossed arms are all representative of the Virgin’s calm piety, a theme integral to the Annunciation scene. The narrative may be vague when viewed without the title’s context, but the power and emotions of the figures are undeniably present. Barela created the sculptures out of a single piece of wood in the belief that the “inherent power of the saint might be better represented through a single piece of wood.”

Barela’s work does not illustrate how the viewer should feel upon looking at the piece, thus inviting a freedom of emotion. I posit that Spanish polychrome sculpture can be viewed as a precursor to Barela’s sculpture, no in aesthetic similarities, but through the iconographical spirituality and emotion. Barela is defying all aesthetic components of Spanish polychrome sculpture in size, structure, color, and detail in favor of creating a religious experience that is equal parts specificity and interpretation. He is not telling the viewer to feel as though a tear is rolling down your cheek, but rather creating the emotional foundation. He is introducing a new way of viewing iconography that derives from Spanish polychrome sculpture in concept, though it differs in execution. Barela’s work is not an imitation of Spanish iconographical sculpture, but rather a derivative that has undergone his own personal interpretation and expression. This case study provides a look into the many external influences on New Mexican art from antiquity to today.

Blue Towel and Remote - 5/29/14

Today's blog post comes from Ja-Mei Or, a Masters student in History of Design at University of Oxford and editor of fashion and culture blog hyperficial.com.
 
 "After all, we were young. . . , scornful of childhood, remote from the world of stern and ludicrous adults. We were bored, we were restless, we longed to be seized by any whim or passion and follow it to the farthest reaches of our natures. We wanted to live – to die – to burst into flame – to be transformed into angels or explosions." - Pultizer prizewinning novelist Steven Millhauser on youth.
 

Wendy Young
Blue Towel and Remote (from the series Teenagers)
17 x 14 1/16 in. Pigment print
Gift of Wendy Young, 2012
 
It is within this spirit that New Mexico Museum of Art presents the recently acquired and currently on view photograph "Blue Towel and Remote" from Wendy Young's Teenagers series. Captured in 1997, this portrait of Young's own preteen daughter recalls the canon of adolescent portrait photography by artists including Rineke Dijkstra and Sally Mann. Coming of age is an infrequent subject in art photography that is gaining momentum in the contemporary scene, adding to the rich exploration of young adulthood in other humanities, especially film and literature. Adolescence is an experience defined by contradiction and uncertainty and, in "Blue Towel and Remote", cannot be defined solely by the subject's undaunted gaze and sophisticated drape of loungewear or by the vestiges of childhood abandon represented in the plush toys in the background. By extension, adolescence can neither be wholly encapsulated by the nonchalant leisure of the preteen in Sally Mann's "#7" in her At Twelve series (Figure 2), nor by the awkward glamour of the subject in Rineke Dijkstra's “Hilton Head Island, S.C., USA, June 24, 1992″ in her Beach Portraits series (Figure 3).
 

                   Sally Mann                                                                Rineke Dijkstra 
           #7 (At Twelve series)                               “Hilton Head Island, S.C., USA, June 24, 1992″
                                                                                             (Beach Portraits series)
 
The spirit of adolescence is a universal experience and ever-more pronounced in an increasingly visual culture that emphasizes self-establishment of identity and public persona, while at the same time reinforcing body image conventions that are increasingly sexualized and unrealistic. Late 20th-century portraits like these - of young adults attempting to establish their stakes in the world - seem even more significant when considering the rise of mass DIY amateur photography and of a culture of self-curating public identity and image via social media platforms. Today, artificial posing has taken over the norm in photography, especially self-photography among adolescents in the Web 2.0 era, and yet these efforts are neither more nor less comprehensive in delineating how and what it means to come of age. (And in "Blue Towel and Remote", the girl's grasping of the television remote seems proleptic to the proclivity of today's youths toward increasingly complex technologies and networks.)
 
We are in a "society of spectacle", able to self-publish our own images and generate our own personas, yet we are no closer to easing the liminality of adolescence. And, yet, this is an age - in all of its angst and awkwardness - that should be celebrated. After all, what is life if we can't reflect kindly on our own youthfully ambivalent awkwardness, confidence, uncertainty, beauty, naivete, and striving to be taken seriously with an undaunted gaze toward the outside world. As Marcel Proust notes, "In later life, we see things with a more practical eye, one we share with the rest of society; but adolescence was the only time when we ever learned anything."

 

Art and Literature in Santa Fe - 5/23/14

On June 1st, local author Lynn Cline will be talking in St. Francis Auditorium about her book, Literary Pilgrims: Life in the Santa Fe Writers’ Colony. If you aren’t familiar with the history of Santa Fe, then you might not realize that the Santa Fe “writer’s colony” was deeply intertwined with the “art colony” in the early part of the twentieth century. There are several reasons for this. Santa Fe was a small city (population 11,176 in 1930) and artists and writers are both creative types with similar interests. The artists and writers of early 20th century Santa Fe published their work together, banded together politically to affect local legislation (particularly in the area of historic preservation) and even married each other.

Two power couples of this era stand out as prime examples of these artist/writer connections: artist William Penhallow Henderson and his wife, poet Alice Corbin Henderson and artist Gerald Cassidy and his wife writer Ina Sizer Cassidy. Ina Sizer Cassidy served as the Director of the Federal Writer’s Project from 1935-1939 and wrote articles about art and artists for New Mexico Magazine. She was also extremely active in the community, participating in the New Mexico Association on Indian Affairs, the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, the Historical Society of New Mexico, the Folklore Society of New Mexico, and was active in the Daughters of the American Revolution. Her husband, Gerald Cassidy was one of the first painters from the east to live and work in Santa Fe and two of his works are currently hung in the galleries. The Hendersons moved to Santa Fe only a few years after the Cassidys. Like Gerald Cassidy, William P Henderson was a painter married to a writer who was also active in the perpetuation of New Mexican traditions and customs. Alice Corbin published several books on poetry, the last of which, Brothers of Light: The Penitentes of the Southwest, was illustrated by her husband.

William Penhallow Henderson
Holy Week in New Mexico
Support: 33 x 41 in. 
Oil on panel
Gift of Mrs. Edgar L. Rossin, 1952

 

The relationships between artists and writers in Santa Fe are too vast for one blog post to cover entirely. If you are interested in learning more, there are a number of books that delve deeper in the topic. In addition to Lynn Cline’s book, Marta Weigle's Santa Fe & Taos: The Writer’s Era 1916-1941 and Sharyn Udall’s Spud Johnson & Laughing Horse are excellent resources.

Right at the Blinking Light - 5/12/2014

Today's guest blog post comes from Sara Ford, a Santa Fe resident and member of the museum's docent program.

Some years back, the late Fayne Lutz, a popular columnist with The Taos News, told me that whenever she volunteered to welcome visitors to Taos, she looked forward to that sincere tourist, who could be counted on to ask: “Where exactly is the art colony?” Fayne confessed that she was tempted to tell the visitor to turn right at the blinking light, a Taos landmark at the time.

Since then I’ve wondered what those eager visitors were looking for. A garret? No, that’s La Boheme. A cluster of lofts? To me, that says SoHo. Real live artists, then? Skinny, of course, because they must be starving. They’ll be wearing paint stained smocks and jaunty berets while they stand in front of easels perched precariously on the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge, where they’re breathing plein-aire.

Or, do the tourists expect to find the art colony in a bar, where raucous bohemians can be overheard arguing? “A cube, Pablo? You must be kidding.”

Now that I think about it an intense discussion about Cubism, Modernism, Impressionism, techniques, philosophy or marketing is one of the ingredients essential to an art colony. Art colonies began in the 19th and 20th centuries in villages usually, where creative souls interacted with one another. The key seems to be interaction.

In viewing Southwestern Allure, The Art of the Santa Fe Art Colony, I was struck by two paintings by John Sloan, an artist who summered in Santa Fe for more than thirty years. Sloan’s Picnic on the Ridge depicts a group of his friends, and their dogs, making merry around a campfire. Their joy is infectious. Their freedom complete.

 
John French Sloan
Picnic on the Ridge, 1920
Oil on canvas
26 x 35 inches
Private Collection, Los Angeles, California
 

For me, the painting typifies the camaraderie among the artists who arrived here in the late 19th and early 20th century, seeking a locale, where they were free to experiment and grow. Many of these artists were encouraged to come by artist Robert Henri, invited by the Museum’s first director, Dr. Edgar Hewett, who wanted to build a museum that would be a nucleus for the growing art colony, similar to those in Europe. Artist studios were provided in the Palace of the Governors, where the museum was first located. When the current building opened its doors, all artists were allowed to exhibit their work under the museum’s open door policy, championed by Henri, who, like Sloan, didn’t believe in art academies or juries.

In the second painting, The New Homestead, Sloan again has painted close friends – he and his wife are included - at a housewarming at artist Will Shuster’s small shack, where they’re smoking and drinking with one another, in other words: interacting.

John French Sloan
The New Homestead, 1930
Oil on board
24 x 32 inches
Courtesy of Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Kraushaar Galleries, New York, New York
 

Where exactly is the art colony centered now? The Museum of Art, where most of the artists in this exhibit first found a home, will soon celebrate its one hundredth anniversary in its current location. But it’s not the only museum in town now. There are ten art museums in Santa Fe, exhibiting a wide variety of art, including folk, Indian, contemporary, and Spanish Colonial.

There are art galleries now, galleries galore. According to the New Mexico Department of Tourism, three hundred galleries are in Santa Fe. One hundred fifty galleries and restaurants are on Canyon Road alone. Restaurants and coffee shops often exhibit and sell art, so they’re counted.

How many artists are here I asked? Surely, someone in state government got a head count.

That’s impossible to say, the state tourism person replied. “But I can tell you this,” she said. “It’s estimated that one out of six people are involved in some way in art.”

That means Santa Feans are appraising, framing, packing, shipping and selling art in addition to painting, photographing, working in ceramics, creating sculpture or experimenting with new media, not to mention teaching art. Sometimes that gang you see on the Rio Grande Gorge is made up of art students who come every summer to learn how to draw, paint or work with clay. What about that guy walking around the plaza juggling chain saws? Or the one on the unicycle? Or the mime? Artists? You be the judge.

According to Dr. Hewett, “Art is the great, lasting, self-revealing activity of life. Through it we transmit our spiritual power through the ages.”

You don’t have to turn right at the blinking light to find the Santa Fe art colony or the Taos art colony for that matter. In Northern New Mexico, you’ll find art everywhere. It’s interactive.



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Mailing Address: PO Box 2087, Santa Fe, NM 87504
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