Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Albuquerque/Santa Fe Museum Tour

For me, seeing art is a key element of any trip. I hadn’t been to New Mexico before, so this recent trip gave me the opportunity to view a sample of the art offerings in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Albuquerque had a small but quite interesting art museum, across the street from the museum of natural history, and next to that tourist trap known as “old town.” Imagine SF’s Fisherman’s Wharf with native American pottery and Route 66 mugs. Albuquerque also has the National Atomic Museum, which I was fascinated by, unfortunately my timing was bad and I didn’t get there.
The exhibit that really spoke to me at the Albuquerque Art Museum was the Albuquerque Now – Winter show (1/24-4/18) which featured contemporary artists with an Albuquerque connection. Mary Tsiongas’s piece Vanish consisted of a monitor (32”?) in an ornate gold frame (at the left), showing an idealized river valley (by Bierstadt) with a small herd of deer and mountains in the background. The artist walks into the scene, stretches and waves her arms above her head. In response, the background quickly fades out, and then gradually reappears as the artist looks on. She looks back at the viewer, as if saying “if we would stop interfering, nature would recover.” I thought it was subtle and lovely.
Also on display was a famous news photo of then President G.W. Bush meeting with President-elect Obama in oval office at the White House by Eric Draper. Seeing a large, clear print of this photo for the first time, I was mesmerized by the symmetry of it. Another piece I really enjoyed was a large surreal oil painting by Scott Greene called Ship Shape (2010, Oil on canvas over panel). In what I assume was meant as commentary on the state of world, a galleon bearing symbols of Western consumerism sails wildly off the edge of a waterfall.
I had one afternoon in Santa Fe, hardly time to do it justice. Santa Fe has made a big investment in the arts, and walking though the snow from the train station to the central plaza, galleries and studios were everywhere. Near the central plaza was the beautiful St. Francis Cathedral, where we watched as 29 couples of all ages marched down the aisle toward marriage (apparently the thing to do on Valentine’s weekend…). Across the street from the St. Francis was the Institute of American Indian Arts. The main galleries of the IAIA were closed for roof repairs, but their museum store filled with art, jewelry and pottery by local artists was worth a look.
About three blocks from the plaza in a small adobe style building was the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (her former home, outside Santa Fe at Abiqui, has been converted into a museum and research center). The museum’s permanent collection had on display many intriguing works by O’Keeffe that I had never seen in person before. For example, they had many of her works in pastel (such as Pederal, 1945, Water Lily, 1921 and The Black Place, 1945). I was struck by the way the pastel forced her to adapt from her normally smooth, blended style to layers of color with a more illustrative quality. Also interesting were The Cottonwoods (1956), a pair of undulating forest scenes reminiscent of Cezanne’s. In the largest room, I was captivated by three contrasting works placed next to each other at the end of the gallery; A Street, 1926, flanked by The Beyond, 1972 and Apple Family 2, 1923. A Street was the only “urban” painting on display, a view down the middle of street with non-descript grey and brown buildings rising in steep verticals on both sides of the canvas. The contrast between the muted pallete and vertical of A Street with the calm horizon painted in rich blues and greys (The Beyond, one of her last unassisted works), and the lively reds in a still life of apples (Apple Family 2) was quite striking.
Also on view at the O’Keeffe were works by the contemporary painter Susan Rothenberg. Known for her abstract horse paintings (such as Cabin Fever,1976, shown on the left), it was interesting to see a wider range of her work. In one series of paintings, she depicts over head views of situations in nature she came upon while riding her horse. Dogs Killing Rabbit, a monumental oil painting from 1991, makes use of wild brush strokes and surface texture to capture the violence of the moment. She is also able to harness and internalize this energy for more meditative pieces, such as her Folded Buddha (1987-88).
After a day full of galleries and window shopping, we were very happy to discover the Margaritas at the Del Charro Saloon (corner of W. Alameda & Don Gaspar). We got on a nice buzz at this warm and friendly place, and it greatly enhanced the train ride back to Albuquerque.

Monday, February 15, 2010

SWTX PCA/ACA 2010 - Albuquerque

I’ve just returned from the Southwest/Texas Popular Culture and American Culture Association’s 31st annual meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This conference, like the other PCA/ACA conferences I’ve attended, had an amazing range of topics you’d never think would get the full academic treatment. There must have been 20 different sessions on the Twilight phenomenon, for example. The entire Whedon-verse (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, Dollhouse) was analyzed every which way, along with every other pop culture or American culture/history topic you can imagine, such as advertising, material culture, film criticism & theory, indigenous studies, The Grateful Dead, Harry Potter, food & culture, all types of sci-fi and fantasy, gender issues, etc…
I was speaking at a session of the American Culture section on the evolution of the Arm & Hammer emblem, part of my ongoing labor graphics project. The other presenters in my group were all really good. The speakers included Andrew Harrington (The House That Cultural Capitol Built: The Saga of the New York Yankee Stadium), Ellen Dornan from the New Mexico Humanities Council (Atlas of Historic New Mexico Maps: Cultural Identity Through Cartography, an on-line interactive project) and Michael Nagle (U of Conn), who was stranded in Connecticut by the stormy weather, but presented long-distance by phone and e-mail (That Magnificent Land of Sunshine, Health, and Wealth: How Early Twentieth Century US Companies Sold Cuba’s Isle of Pines). Thanks the the chair Kelli Shapiro (Brown U) for coordinating (and inviting me!).
This conference had a really active comics and animation section. I heard a good group of papers in the Batman section, particularly Symbol and Color in The Dark Knight Returns: Visual Depictions of Relationality Between Batman and Robin by Andrew Bahlmann (U of N, Las Vegas) and Forever Batman: Neil Gaiman, Identity, and the Compensations of Eternal Recurrence by Brandon Kempner (New Mexico Highlands University). I also enjoyed Serial Pleasure: The Original Flash Gordon by Patrick Enright (Northeastern State U) and No Future Shock Here: The Jetsons, Happy Tech and the Patriarchy by Brian Cowlishaw (also NSU). Other highlights (to me, anyway) were Cinematic Cross-Cultural Collaboration: Alec Morgan and Australian Aboriginal Communities by Davinia Thornley (U of Otago, New Zealand) and Atlantis on our Minds: Through the Stargate and Under the Sea to Find a Lost World by Beth Petitjean (Villanova). There were also mumblers who read their papers like it was their first book report, and others that were so pretentious and full of themselves that I just wanted to slap them.
I’m guessing that about a quarter of the people who planned to come to the conference that live on the east coast couldn’t make it, due either to the blizzards that hit the east coast or the freak storms that hit the southeast (from Dallas to Atlanta and Florida). It was still a good turnout though, and the people who were there were all enthused about the material and actively participated in discussion.
The Hyatt at Albuquerque Civic Center, where the conference was based, was very nice and grateful to have the business. They bent over backward to help. The hotel was just a couple blocks from the restaurant row called Central Avenue, which is actually Route 66. Generally, I found everyone I met in Albuquerque to be warm and chatty. I also made it to some of the museums in ALBQ and in Santa Fe, but I will post about that separately.
Photo on left by Kim Munson, 2010. Cell snap of mountains looking out the window of my room at the Hyatt over the Albuquerque Court House.