Alibi V.15 No.15 • April 13-19, 2006 

Culture Shock

The Deuce is Wild—I'm going to do you a favor. (I know, I know—I'm very giving. Just thank me and let's move on.) I'd like to suggest a couple especially interesting art shows for you to peruse this weekend. The first is over at Artspace 116 (116 Central SW, Suite 201), which is located Downtown next to the Century 14 movie theater. The exhibit is a 20-year retrospective of work by Ken Saville, a longtime Albuquerque arts fixture who is a “permanent substitute teacher” at an elementary school down in the South Valley.

Titled Gusty Winds May Exist, the show consists primarily of multimedia constructions assembled from recycled bits of plywood, clothespins, bottle caps, matchsticks, snapped paint brushes and other similar throwaways. Even if you didn't know already, you could guess that Saville works with kids. His 3-foot-high Dia de los Muertos figures almost look like little skeleton school children, blossoms in the girls' hair, tiny creatures perched on each child's shoulder.

In other ways, too, his work is playful, almost innocent—that's even the case with some of his racier two-dimensional pieces. Although the art is created mostly from recycled materials, it has a glossy, meticulous polish to it. If you were allowed to touch it, you wouldn't get splinters in your fingers. It's this aspect that makes this pleasant work almost seem too safe. The show runs through April 28. For details, call 245-4200.

Take a long stroll down south Fourth Street to the Donkey Gallery (1415 Fourth Street SW) for another interesting solo show, this one featuring recent paintings and sculpture by Tara Zalewsky. Although Zalewsky also seems to construct her sculptures from bits of recycled materials—fabrics, papers, crumpled synthetic sheets—the result is much more peculiar and disconcerting. The work, she says, is based on the mythology surrounding hummingbirds. Beside the gallery's front window, her “oracle birds” are arranged on pedestals. The remaining three walls of the main gallery space contain large-scale images of more such creatures.

You have to look closely to see that they all have eyes. They're thinking something, in their tiny bird brains, observing you while you observe them, yet their body language and range of expression are so alien it's hard to acknowledge that these are living things. Still, these constructions, especially in their dramatically lit painted versions, do seem alive, real, capable of movement (if not flight). Their strange aura of sentience is what makes them so appealing. It's very alluring work. A reception for this show will be held on Friday, April 14, from 6 to 9 p.m. Show up at 5 p.m. for an artist talk. For more information, call 242-7504.