Cypher Space - the Museum of Art Blog

A New Mexico Tradition : Southwestern Realism - 10/15/2014

In 1990, this museum set out to tell the story of contemporary New Mexican artists working in the realist tradition.  The result was an exhibition called A New Mexico Tradition : Southwestern Realism.  The exhibition may be over, but its legacy remains with the catalog and the following video which we have digitized for your viewing pleasure.   

A Winning Ticket - 10/1/2014

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


Visitors to the Museum’s recent Family Day that included a behind the scenes tour of the facility were treated to a bonus – an introduction to the museum’s newest curator. Carmen Vendelin, Curator of Art, greeted visitors on the first stop of the basement tour – the acquisition center, where the museum’s extensive collection of art and photographs is stored, preserved, registered and catalogued. Carmen was joined by Kate Ware, Curator of Photography. Carmen appeared quite at home as the two curators handled their portion of the tour like Wimbledon doubles partners confident that when the rally ended, they’d score their points.

Prior to moving to Santa Fe, Carmen served as Curator of Art at La Salle University Art Museum in Philadelphia, but she’s no stranger to the American West. Indeed, she’s a native. Carmen grew up in Idaho, where her mother encouraged her interest in creativity and art. As she matriculated, Carmen discovered that she had other interests and talents as well, ideal skills for an art historian. “I really enjoy scholarship, and I really enjoy writing,” she said.

Carmen earned her bachelor’s degree with honors in art history from the University of Washington before she headed east. She earned her Master’s in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Criticism and Theory from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From there, Carmen headed to New Jersey, where she completed her doctoral candidacy at Rutgers.

Over the years, Carmen has acquired 13 years of museum experience, ten of those curatorial, at such institutions as the Newark Museum, the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as her recent post in Philadelphia.

But the time had come to make a change. “I was really tired of dealing with a lot of aspects of the big city. I realized that I missed the landscape out west. That was really important to me,” Carmen said. “I was very excited to come to Santa Fe because it’s such an art mecca, and it’s such a beautiful place. I felt like I won the lottery.”

Carmen’s area of specialization is 19th and 20th century American and European art with a particular emphasis on the years between 1870 and World War II. At the New Mexico Museum of Art, she’ll be working mainly with collections prior to 1955.
Hunting + Gathering, which opens November 7th, will be Carmen’s first curatorial effort. The exhibit will present a sampling of artworks that have entered the Museum’s collection since 2010. Nearly two hundred works of art in a variety of media, including painting, photography, sculpture, prints and ceramics will be included. Among the artists featured are: Richard Diebenkorn, Sol LeWitt, Robert Motherwell, and Imogen Cunningham.

Carmen is enthusiastic about the theme as well as the variety. “It’s a great way for me to get to know the art that has come in over the last four-and-a-half years. It’s an opportunity to do things creatively. Showing art work that you wouldn’t otherwise put together. Different mediums, differing time periods, different kinds of subject matter,” she said.

A number of other exhibits, already planned, will follow, leaving Carmen with fulfilling days. In addition to spending time her adult daughter, who moved to Santa Fe, also, Carmen enjoys film. She also plans to learn more about the area. “I like to be out in beautiful natural spaces. I have a list of places I’d like to see,” she said. “There’s no lack of places to go around here.”

Welcome to Santa Fe, Carmen. It is a winning ticket.

New Additions to the Library - 9/15/2014

In November, this museum will be doing an entire exhibtion on artworks we have acquired in the past 4 years for the permanent collection. We have also added to the library and archives collections during this time. Building library and archival collections is a similar process to building an art collection.  In fact, sometimes books and archival materials are donated to the museum together as one collection. Throughout the museum's history we have always relied on donations from the community to build a research collection. Some of the largest collections of books have come from artists themselves. For example, local artist Vivian Sloan Fiske, gave us approximately 900 items on art-related subject matter (about half of them books) after she died in 1978.
Earlier this year, the museum was offered about 800 items about photography from a man named Dennis Cormier. Of those, we kept about 170.  Many of the books donated were rare and/or signed by the author. Some of the highlight of this donation include:
  • Children of War, Children of Peace : Photographs by Robert Capa
  • Lee Friedlander : Sticks & Stones
  • Photographs by Allen Ginsberg
  • William Eggleston's For Now
  • Proud Flesh by Sally Mann
  • Joel-Peter Witkin's Enfer ou Ciel
  • Perfect Documents: Walker Evans and African Art, 1935
  • The Hyena and Other Men by Pieter Hugo
  • The Architect's Brother by Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison
  • Koudelka Gypsies
  • On This Earth, A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt
The list reads like a who's who of 20th and 21st century photographers. All of the books, catalogs and journals Mr. Cormier donated are listed in the library's catalog, SALSA. Cormier also donated a number of photographs to the museum over the years, a few of those will be on view in Hunting + Gathering : New Additions to the Museum’s Collection.

Happy Labor Day - 9/1/2014

Today's guest blog post comes from Tia Harvey of Seattle. Tia is a recent graduate of the University of Washington with a bachelor's degree in Art History.
Have you ever noticed murals that decorate post offices, schools, and other public buildings? Most of the murals depict skilled workers such as farmers in wheat fields, men working on railroads, lumber mill workers, or workers on construction sites. Paintings like Tom Lea’s, Employment in Public Works can be found anywhere throughout the United States. This phenomenon is not a coincidence. At the start of the Great Depression, October 29, 1929 (or better known as Black Friday) the American stock market crumbled, leaving many without a job. By 1932, at least one-quarter of the workforce had lost their job. When newly elected Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933 he sought to stabilize the economy and provide jobs to the suffering in a series of federal programs called the New Deal; in turn giving us one of the most successful programs our nation has seen, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). One way the WPA provided jobs to Americans was through art.
Tom Lea
Employment in Public Works, 1934
On long term loan from the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
The WPA Federal Arts Program (FAP) provided over 3,000 jobs in just 4 months and over 15,000 pieces of art ranging from murals to sculptures in government buildings. Many famous artists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko were part of the FAP whom were provided a means of living during desolate times and according to painter Stuart Davis, artists employed during this period had possessed “a new orientation and a new hope and purpose based on a new sense of social responsibility.”
Carl Morris
Lumber Mill and Agriculture at Eugene Post Office, 1942
Oregon State Archives
To me, the Federal Arts Program helped provide Americans with solidarity of their economically crumbling country in two major ways. First is solidarity of the government. As experts on New Deal Art, Marlene Park and Gerald E Markowitz speculate in their book, Democratic Vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal, the government’s interjection of public art establishes the presence of the government in our everyday lives. Secondly is the glorification of workers. Depictions of workers are often of a group of strong, unyielding men undaunted by the days work.
Carl Mydans
CCC (Civilivan Conservation Corps) boys working, Prince George’s Country, Maryland, Nov 1935
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
FAP artists sought to paint everyday life. The handwork and hard work of individuals resonates in all of us regardless of class. The art of this time serves as a reminder of how our nation was started and how it recovered from the one of the worst economic downturns in history.


Delilah Montoya, "Humane Borders" and "Desire Lines" - 8/15/14

Delilah Montoya is the next photographer to be featured in a solo exhibition in our Focus on Photography series.  The exhibition Delilah Montoya : Syncretism looks at several series' of photographs she has produced throughout her career.

One of these series is called Sed: Trail of Thirst .  Although the photographs were taken in 2004, the issue of people crossing the US-Mexico border dying from dehydration in the dry desert climate is just as relevant today as it was then.  Click below to hear the artist in her own words discuss her work.

My Summer at the Museum - 8/6/14

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.

Ever since I was young I have had a love affair with art, one that I explored wholeheartedly throughout my childhood and adolescence. I wanted to be an artist until I was fifteen and a writer up until age seventeen. It wasn’t until my freshman year of university that I recognized an inherent passion, not solely in the production of art or words, but in their historical context. Through my summer internship in the New Mexico Museum of Art Library and Archives all of these interests coalesced and I was given the unique and highly influential opportunity to explore the inner workings of an international art museum.

Hidden in the basement, in the midst of an often confusing brick-lined maze, lives the museum’s Library and Archives. Lined with books, magazines, and file folders the space beckons to be explored and is enough to tempt even the most adversarial researcher.

I began this internship with the intention of learning about the different opportunities in the line of museum work. I sought multidisciplinary exposure to museum work and the opportunity to work on a variety of projects to clarify my strengths and interests. Soon thereafter I was tasked with writing biweekly blog posts, conducting research, and assisting the archivist in curating the research areas for current and upcoming exhibitions.

Crafting the museum blog entries was great exposure to the museum’s technology platform. It also gave me the opportunity to create my own prompts and reflect on art history, whether Western or indigenous, and relate it to art of New Mexico. This challenged me to apply my university studies to the NMMA collection by crafting essays that reflected on works from canonical historic periods, such as the Renaissance and Early Modern, and draw thematic and technical parallels to New Mexican art. Not only did this force me to refine my technical writing skills, particularly in the subject of art and art history, it encouraged me, through the lens of art of Western antiquity, to cultivate a newfound knowledge and appreciation for arts of the Southwest. The collection was a mere two minute walk upstairs, an immense asset when I sought inspiration for my essays. Conducting research in the library and archives also equipped me with refined research and organization skills.

Working with the archivist on exhibition research areas introduced me to the importance of translating and clarifying sometimes cumbersome artistic themes to a general audience. To do so I created informational handouts that had to be legible, visually stimulating, and written in the vernacular. These requirements exercised my creativity in design and concision in writing.

As an intern I was also invited to take part in the projects of different museum departments and therefore learned about conservation by cleaning the Women’s Board historic furniture and outreach by attending public programming meetings. By attending and taking part in workshops and exhibitions I was exposed to another facet of the museum world that validated all of my backstage efforts.

Any museum, whether big or small, is only possible by the conjoined efforts of its multiple departments. I began this internship with limited knowledge of these many departments and the logistics involved in both the everyday and long-term function of a museum. The archivist was outstanding in orienting me with the various employment positions in museums and speaking to me about educational requisites to get there. This information was both realistic and inspiring. In addition to equipping me with insight into a museum’s behind the scenes operations, this internship experience has reaffirmed my passion for art history and motivated my intention to pursue a museum career.

Capturing the Moon's Beauty - 7/25/14

Today's blog post comes from Elisa Macomber.   Macomber is an artist and feng shui consultant ( living in Santa Fe, with a degree in Art and Design from Frostburg State University.
The moon, with its simple roundness and illuminating light, has always held an intriguing power over us, affecting our moods and the tides of the ocean. It is said that during full moons, more natural disasters occur as well as an increase in pregnancies! Superstitions aside, there is no mistaking the profound effect it has on us all, with its glorious and soft moonlight that has inspired many artists to visually capture its black and white juxtaposed beauty.
Since New Mexico has the perfect landscape to fully view the next super moon coming up on August 10th, perhaps some artistic inputs and scientific facts will inspire you to appreciate the power of the moon. The name “super moon”  has been erroneously mistaken for its size while low on the horizon; it was actually termed that because of the moon being at its closest point in its orbit to Earth.
Many photographers and artists know all too well how evasive the moon can be, due to its 28-day cycle and ever-changing weather patterns that hide it, whereby taking care to plan the perfect time to visually capture of the moon coming up from behind a cloud or a mountain on a clear night. Unlike a tree or mountain remaining still, the moon continuously changes from Earth as we look at it in the dark sky, making it more elusive to get a good, long look at it.
Ansel Adams
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941 (printed 1980)
15 3/8 x 19 1/8 in. (39.1 x 48.6 cm)
gelatin silver print
Gift of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, 1982
Ansel Adams's popular photograph, Moonrise over Hernandez, NM, is one such example of a “quick discovery” because to really capture the moon, the timing must be right, the light must be right, the clouds must not be covering the moon, and Adams, according to his assistants and family, scrambled together the camera and tripod off the side of a lonely dirt road while they were traveling back to Santa Fe for the night. Adams was frantic in trying to get the image captured in time and he succeeded, knowing fully well that a few seconds later would have resulted in a not-so-luminous image of the moon, hovering over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The moon, almost centered in the photograph,  seems to radiate its brilliant light over the clouds and the landscape, leaving the top portion of the photograph in pitch blackness.
Ray Belcher, a New Jersey native, who took Moonset, a photographic image that shows the orbital path of the moon, rather than the moon in still motion, also reflected that “the picture reflects a moment of being and what happens in that moment.” It is clear that the picture evokes movement, the feeling that one is spinning along with the sky. The contrast between the rocky landscape and the streaked sky offers a lonely yet stirring feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere.
Ray Belcher
Moonset, 1978
12 x 9 1/2 in.
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Gil and Eileen Hitchcock, 1984
Many “moonscape” works of art hold a quiet yet evoking feeling over us, since we only can view its luminescence at nighttime. With its whitish gray shape of an orb hanging in the sky alone, it is no wonder it continues to be a source of inspiration for creative artists, over many generations. To see other examples of artistic moonscapes, take a look at the following works here:
Douglas Walter Johnson
Moonset, Winter Dawn
Paul Caponigro


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
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.


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