Cypher Space - the Museum of Art Blog

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.

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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.

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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: www.christyhengst.com

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 (www.axleart.com). 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.

Part Two--Not Just a 'Walk in the Park': Site-specific Art

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.

In my previous blog, I described an encounter with Christy Hengst’s birds, suggested their symbolic purpose, and began to define “site-specific” and “installation art,” which characterizes Ms. Hengst’s work.

Site-specific art is sometimes constructed, not just planned but improvised, on-site. This is especially true when live performers are part of the showing, or when the viewing public is encouraged to participate, even something low-key like posing for pictures with the artwork.

I vividly recall two examples of “site-specific” art, the first one achieving perfect harmony with its setting, the second causing a sensation by giving the environment a drastically different look.

Residents of sleepy Winslow, Arizona must certainly perk up when talking about one piece of public art that has arguably become their town’s signature. Consisting of a statue and mural, the so-called “park” is down-home, and, artistically speaking, “site-specific,” in its kinship with the surroundings. Capturing the easygoing mood is an overhead sign on a lamppost behind the statue. It simply says, “Standin’ on the Corner.” It is nostalgia that makes this homespun tableau most memorable. For one thing, the sign’s shape and its street location evoke memories of historic Route 66. For another, the park’s name is part of the lyrics of the classic 1972 song, “Take It Easy,” composed and performed by the still popular rock band, The Eagles.

Easy by Ron Adamson
Photo courtesy artist
 

At this Eagles shrine, tourists find Ron Adamson’s life-size bronze figure of a man, standing in western wear, while holding upright an acoustic guitar. The backdrop is a trompe l’oeil (super-realistic) mural by John Pugh that appears on a façade, just a wall, not a building. On the “first floor”is a faux storefront window that appears to reflect the street image of a pickup truck, driven by a woman. She is the one who ogles the narrator of the song, “Take It Easy.” On the “second floor,” there are two windows—one with a sill on which an eagle is perched (a nod to the rock band), the other window revealing the aforementioned woman hugging the narrator, who, in the song, eventually climbs into her truck.

But site-specific art need not be physically permanent or meshed with its setting like “Standin on the Corner.” Take, for example, “The Gates.” by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. After just a two-week showing in February of 2005, the outdoor exhibition disappeared forever from New York City’s Central Park. But many still remember how approximately 7,500 fabric panels on poles formed a canopy lining twenty-three miles of pathways. What grabbed attention was the saffron-colored nylon flapping in the wind overhead, standing out amidst bare tree branches, and against the bleak sky of winter. Aside from color, it was also a strong contrast between human creation and natural environment. The large crowds, forming a serpentine procession, much denser than the usual flow along the narrow footpaths, became an integral part of the internationally publicized event.

Part One--Not Just a 'Walk in the Park': How Christy Hengst’s Porcelain Birds Do and Do Not 'Blend In'

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.

Swami's Beach, San Diego, CA 3/16/2009
Photo courtesy Christy Hengst
 

Viewed at a distance, the birds blend into their surroundings. In public places like parks, the whitish forms are faintly recognizable from afar as commonly occurring pigeons or doves. On a beach, it is likely they are seagulls.

Passersby who are in a rush or in no mood to commune with nature will not think twice about this group of birds. Never mind that these particular creatures are not flitting around, not scrambling for food, and, stranger still, not taking off, startled, on whistling wings.

More attentive observers, however, might approach the birds and discover the reason for their odd stillness. They are not real birds at all, but rather porcelain figures! Each is decorated with a variety of words and pictures. Grounded birds carry custom-built designs on their backs; perched birds, on their bellies.

Like a messenger, each bird tells a story in its own way. We are drawn to a curious display of jumbled images, all in a Delft-like cobalt blue. Fragments of photos enliven content from snippets of handwritten and printed text. Images pertain either to military conflict or to civilian life during war or peacetime. War-related newspaper articles, photos of battles, and memoirs of veterans compete for space on each bird alongside love letters, recipes, and images of children. One of the sharpest of contrasts to be found is a likeness of the artist herself, holding her own toddler, juxtaposed with an image of an Iraqi mother and child caught in a bombing raid.

In the patio of the New Mexico Museum of Art 4/19/2009
Photo courtesy Christy Hengst
 

These lovely, yet unsettling creations of Christy Hengst were exhibited in her hometown of Santa Fe in the courtyard garden of the New Mexico Museum of Art (NMMA), as one of many “bird landings” in 2009. They were recently brought to my attention by NMMA’s Librarian/Archivist/Webmaster, Rebecca Potance, when we were exploring subjects for my upcoming blog. Like some currently showcased artists at the museum, Ms. Hengst is well known for her ability to integrate art and viewing space, casting both in a fresh new light. The term, “installation art,” is often applied to such projects in formal venues like museums and galleries. In more casual settings like parks and libraries, the label, “site-specific,” is often used.

O'Keeffe in Process - 10/15/2015

In case you missed it, the interview with Curator of Art, Carmen Vendelin, that aired on Saturday, September 19, at 8:35am, during KUNM's broadcast of NPR's Weekend Edition is available at  http://kunm.org/post/whats-behind-distinctive-art-georgia-okeeffe. Vendelin curated the exhibition Okeeffe in Process, part of Santa Fe's Fall of Modernism. In the exhibition, visitors get to see works owned by both the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum alongside each other and archival materials from the O'Keeffe Research Center that further demonstrate the artist's creative process. 

Georgia O'Keeffe, Dark and Lavender Leaves, 1931, oil on canvas, 20 3/8 x 17 1/8 x 7/8 in. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift of the Georgia O'Keeffe Estate, 1993 (1993.51.3) Photograph by Blair Clark © New Mexico Museum of Art

 

On the Road Again - 9/15/2015

When old friends meet, especially after a long absence, they look forward to a reunion filled with sunshine and warmth, laughter and love, and the gentle tug of someone pulling their strings.

“Pull my strings, pleeeese,” said Paco, a marionette that travelled all the way from Taos to greet the Baumann puppets at the New Mexico Museum of Art before the original Baumann marionettes left for Indiana.

“Pull my strings, too,” said Lola, Paco’s partner.

Taos based puppeteer Cristina Masoliver did just that: manipulated her marionettes strings artfully so Lola and Paco could perform their comic puppet show, called Flamenco, before an enthusiastic audience, of both young and old gathered in the museum. After the performance, Paco and Lola met some of the Baumann puppets, old friends of Cristina’s.

The performance also celebrated Gustave Baumann and New Mexico, an exhibit of one of New Mexico’s favorite artists on display at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe now through December 27th.

Even though the original Little People, which is what Papa Gus called his marionettes, will be in the Midwest, there will be a performance of Teatro Duende. The Museum of Art’s Annual Holiday Open House will be held on Sunday, December 20, at 1:00 p.m. WITH THE BAUMANN PUPPETS.

Can the Little People be in two places at once? The answer is yes. Here’s how they do it.

Gustave Baumann was introduced to puppetry as a child in Germany, where he was born. When he first came to the United States, Baumann lived in Chicago, then Indiana, then New Mexico where he lived a long and prosperous life. Over his long career, Baumann established himself as a master in America’s woodcut revival. Baumann’s woodcuts, prints, paintings are considered masterpieces of fine art.

In 1931, Baumann crafted his first puppet right here in Santa Fe. Originally, Baumann and his wife Jane created the marionettes and the shows to amuse their daughter, Ann. Because they were so wildly popular, the performances moved from the Baumann’s living room to larger stages throughout the nation. The marionettes final performance, with the Baumann’s pulling the strings, took place in 1959 here the Museum of International Folk Art. By then, Papa Gus had crafted some sixty five marionettes.

The performances were missed. In 1993, the marionette theater was revived as part of a Gustave Baumann retrospective at the Museum of Art. That how Cristina Masoliver, known in Taos as the “Puppet Lady,” became involved.

Like Papa Gus, Cristina, originally from Spain, came to love puppets as a child growing up in Europe. “It’s my passion. It’s what I do. I’m a puppeteer,” Cristina said.

Once she moved to Taos, Cristina formed Los Titiriteros, a puppet company, which made her the perfect puppeteer to assist with the revival of the Baumann marionettes. “I felt very honored to play with the originals. It was so fun to have all of Baumann’s original backdrops and furniture. We had access to everything. We were making full length shows. It was a lot of work, but it was excellent work.”

Concerns surfaced as well. “It was decided that the original marionettes were too fragile. So we were hired to make replicas.” Cristina said.

Christine and Taos woodcarver, Muria Love, began to replicate some of Papa Gus’s Little People. “It was very hard to make the replicas. Muria would carve them. I did the dressing. Matching the clothes was challenging, and I did the stringing, also challenging,” Cristina recalled.

But their hard work paid off. “After we finished, Gustave Baumann’s daughter, Ann, told us she couldn’t tell which puppets were the originals and which ones were the replicas,” Cristina said.

With the original marionettes stored safely in the museum, the replicas took the stage, creating joy whenever they performed especially during the holidays. Cristina moved on as well, creating Paco and Lola and writing her own shows. Indeed, she is a Taos treasure, one of those selfless individuals who share their artistic gifts to enhance others’ lives. In addition to her work with Los Titiriteros, Cristina worked with the ArcTisTics Theater program in Taos, where she assisted human actors - some disabled, some not – in presenting programs.

Now, she spends half of the year on the road, traveling in Baja California accompanied by Paco and Lola, and her dogs, Basco and Jegeelou. The unique troupe presents puppet shows to Mexican school children, wherever Cristina finds an audience. Because Baja is sparsely populated, many of the students have to stay at school all week. Their delighted by Paco and Lola’s Flamenco antics, which require audience interaction.

Cristina will be back in Taos next spring. She may present a puppet show nearby. Well, worth attending if she does. As for the original Baumann marionettes, they’ll remain at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where they’ll play a major role in the exhibit: Gustave Baumann, German Craftsman – American Artist. October 25, 2015 – February 14, 2016.

Once again, Gustave Baumann and New Mexico will be on exhibit now through December 27, 2015 at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

Santa Fe: A Closer Look - 8/15/2015

When one thinks of the great walking cities in America, what comes to mind are the big ones: New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Seattle and the District of Columbia. Santa Fe should be added to that list. A stroll through the City Different is a delightful experience: Each step a discovery. Any nook or cranny in one of the adobe buildings along the way could contain art, a bit of history or the hint of the compelling narrative that offers a keen insight into our blended past.

It’s impossible to experience the flavor, ambiance, indeed, the romance of the American Southwest in a vehicle, windows shut tight to keep in the air conditioning, while the GPS robot, at best a cyber-nag, continues to screech: “Turn Here.” Why not park the car, dig out some quarters and feed a meter, or choose one of the available parking lots, and see the place on foot. You won’t regret it. This is a friendly city, where horns are rarely, if ever, used. Road rage is something that happens to someone else: somewhere else.

A number of organizations offer walking tours, including the New Mexico Museum of Art. Led by well versed docents, the Museum’s two hour tour features art, architecture and history. It’s casual: Visitors can leave at will. Most don’t because there’s much to see and learn. Here’s a brief sample of what you’ll experience.

The tour begins at the Gift Shop entrance to the Museum on the corner of Lincoln and Palace Avenues on the Plaza near the gold Spitz Clock. As the tour departs visitors pass bronze plaques in the sidewalk in front of the MFA. The “Hollywood Walk” features individual artists and writers who contributed to New Mexico history, including the individual who wrote “Ben Hur,” the novel not the movie. And, no, it wasn’t Charlton Heston.

SPOILER ALERT: The novel was written by Lew Wallace, a Union general and governor of the New Mexico Territory (1878-81). Published in 1880, Ben Hur remained at the top of the best seller list until 1936, when Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind was published. This particular nugget of information combines literature, in other words, art as well as history. New Mexico remained a territory until 1912. While he was governor, Wallace had to deal with corruption, Apache uprisings and Billy The Kid. Wallace convinced The Kid to snitch. The Wallace anecdote is a prime example of how rich each nugget of data can be in Santa Fe.

On the tour, your guide will explain New Mexico architecture, using the Museum, built in 1917, as an example of the Spanish Pueblo Revival Style. Visitors will learn about vigas, lintels, canales, latillas and parapets, all elements of that style. Along the way, other architectural styles will be pointed out.

Inside the Santa Fe County Administration building, visitors will see frescoes by Federico Vigil, encompassing historical themes, including conflicts among the diverse populations – Native, Spanish, Mexican and finally American. The contributions each group made are presented as well. Visitors also will learn the difference between frescoes and murals. Your guide will discuss what attracted – and still attracts - so many artists to New Mexico.

Federico Vigil fresco in the Santa Fe County Commissioners' meeting room in the Santa Fe County Administrative building.

Other stops along the tour include: the Bergere House/O’Keeffe Research Library, the First Presbyterian Church, the Sweeney Convention Center, the Peralta sculpture, the Federal Building and Federal Courthouse, where there are more murals, the Plaza and the La Fonda Hotel, a treasure trove of art, history and architecture, where the tour ends.

The First Presbyterian Church. 1866, 1867. The oldest Protestant congregation in New Mexico. Architect John Gaw Meem remodeled the building in the Pueblo Revival Style in 1939
 

The Museum of Art’s Walking Tour - 10:00 a.m. to Noon - is offered on Mondays (April through November) and Fridays (June, July and August). Weather Permitting. The cost is $10 per adult. Children under 16 are free. The proceeds are used to benefit the Museum’s public education programs.



© 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
505/476-5072 | finearts.museum@state.nm.us