New Mexico Trinity
Inspirados at the National Hispanic Cultural Center
Questions about the inspiration behind art are as old as art itself. It isn't hard to imagine some furry, thick-browed critic dressed in animal skins standing at the elbow of a cave painter in France 20,000 years ago pestering the artist with stupid questions: Why did you paint a horse there instead of a bird? Why does that bison look like it's staring at me?
A new exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Center throws together three entirely different New Mexican artists, exploring the different inspirations and strategies fueling each artistic vision. This doesn't necessarily make for a coherent exhibit, but Inspirados is nonetheless well worth a gander.
The show begins with a large, seductive installation by Mary Antonia Wood, an artist currently living and working in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Wood once worked as a window display designer for retail department stores. She also makes no bones about being heavily influenced by dadaism and ancient mythologies.
Her part of the show is very carefully orchestrated. A giant pocket watch floats in some branches up near the ceiling. An antique stereo mounted on a tripod amplifies music across the space. A leopard print chair rests on a platform. Quotes from Einstein to the Upanishads are displayed at every angle. Wood's inspiration comes from pleasingly diverse sources—from science texts to world religions to advertising. Her installation is both beautiful and feminine, but with a hard edge.
In the exhibit's next chamber, we come to an artist whose art is simpler but no less profound. Gustavo Victor Goler is one of New Mexico's most celebrated santeros. Working largely with traditional materials and methods, Goler, who currently lives near Taos, is a master of Catholic image making. His most interesting pieces are a series of crucified Christs arranged along one wall that show off some of the humble pathos of his best work.
In the final chamber is Santiago Perez' work, by far my favorite artist in the show. Perez, who currently lives in Tijeras, paints complex, ambitious fantasies that seem like they've been lifted from a perverse fairy tale for adults. These irresistible paintings are populated by the strangest of creatures—penguins in bizarre flying machines, severed heads with insect wings for ears, a creature that looks half mouse, half chicken. The only downside of Perez' part of the show is that the surrealistic artist commentary included with each piece is distracting. It's a lot more fun to ignore Perez' words and wallow entirely in the mystery of his strange, dreamy images.
There are real connections between these three artists and their work, but they aren't really strong enough to justify the hoopla surrounding their placement in a single show. At the end of the day, though, this is a trivial point. Inspirados presents three very different New Mexico artists, all of whom deserve our closest attention.
Inspirados, an exhibit featuring work by Mary Antonia Wood, Santiago Perez and Gustavo Victor Goler, runs through August 21 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW). $3 general, $2 seniors, free for kids 16 and under. $1 on Sundays. 246-2261, www.nhccnm.org.