Thankfully, 2006 was about more than just a dead-end war in the Middle East. Here in Albuquerque, our little art scene continued to blossom. It wasn't easy to narrow down, but here are my top 10 local arts events of 2006, in no particular order.
The Exonerated at the Adobe Theater
This was probably my single favorite play of 2006, partly because it was so refreshingly un-play-like. Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen collected the stories of dozens of people accused of crimes they didn't commit and placed on death row. All of these people were later exonerated, many based on new DNA evidence. Blank and Jensen used their precise words and stories to craft this astonishing bit of theater, and a highly talented local cast led by director Tish Miller brought their tragic stories to light. I've never seen anything quite like it.
We were sad to see Magnifico tank, but we were overjoyed to see a newer, bigger, better nonprofit arts organization arrive Downtown to occupy the exact same building at 516 Central NW. With expanded exhibit space on the second floor, 516 Arts is more like a museum than a gallery. We're very lucky to have it back in the heart of our city.
The Mercy Seat at the Orpheum Art Space
To commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the Tricklock Company performed this searing Neil LaBute play at the Orpheum Art Space. Chad Brummett and Dodie Montgomery were both intense in this intricate morality piece about a man who makes a bad choice at the worst possible time. Director Denise Schultz did a fine job pulling it all together, making this one of the best plays I saw all year. Amazing work.
The Tempest at the Santa Fe Opera
Thomas Adès’ operatic version of Shakespeare's last play had its American premiere at the Santa Fe Opera this past summer. The opera got mixed reviews. Some critics complained that it cut much of the meat out of Shakespeare's script. In my opinion, this was a ridiculous gripe. For Adès' gorgeous, oceanic music alone, this opera was worth the price of admission. Combined with a fantastical set and a host of fine performances, The Tempest was definitely one of the better contemporary operas I've seen in the last few years.
Ben Lowney's Antique Bike Collection
Lowney's collection of old-timey bicycle classics isn't actually open to the public for viewing, but stopping by his shop over the summer to check out the goods was some of the most fun I've had over the last year. These bikes, ranging from ’30s models up to the ’70s, are true works of industrial art, and Lowney even let me ride a couple of them around the parking lot. Every once in a while, it's good to be me.
Hamlet: The Vampire Slayer at Gorilla Tango Comedy Theatre
Sure, the title is stupid, but that's fitting because the play was stupid, too—in the best possible sense. Local writers Jason Witter and Aaron Frale transformed Shakespeare's classic tragedy into a pop culture boondoggle, staged by the Eat, Drink and Be Larry comedy troupe, that made me laugh till I wet myself. (Yeah, it was a little embarrassing.) We need more comedy of this quality in Albuquerque. A lot more.
First Seen: Portraits of the World's Peoples (1840-1880) at the University Art Museum
One of the stranger exhibits of 2006 was this oddball show over at UNM, which exhumed historic travel photographs of people from around the world. The exhibit represents the world's first really good look at itself—a cross-cultural experience that we take for granted these days but that in the mid-19th century must have been quite a shocker. The show also provided an interesting glimpse at the difficulties inherent in early photography, as well as a disturbing examination of European racism exemplified by photos that treated members of other cultures more like animals than people.
The 7 Ply Perspective at The Trillion Space
I'm not a skater and I have no real interest in skateboarding, but I really enjoyed this show consisting entirely of photographs created by skateboarders. The themes were quite varied, and the work was surprisingly strong. The element that bound it all together was the willingness of these skater/photographers to embrace and explore outsider cultures and subcultures, many of which extend far outside the boundaries of skateboarding.
J.L. Johnson at the Yale Art Center
I loved Johnson's freaky little one-woman show over at the Yale Art Center. Her surreal “twin series” was like a looping comic strip for adults—mentally deranged adults, that is. Many of these elaborate charcoal images were truly gross, but in a fun, circusy sort of way.
Colección FEMSA at the National Hispanic Cultural Center
There are several advantages to being a humongous multinational corporation that don't involve exploiting third-world labor or rolling around in mountains of dirty money. FEMSA, the largest beverage company in Latin America, put an enormous amount of its profits into its astounding collection of 20th century Latin American art. This exhibit didn't set out to teach an audience. It merely reveled in showing viewers some of the treasures of Latin American art that you'll rarely find in a museum.