The top 10 of 2007
In preparation for the end of 2007, former Arts Editor Steven Robert Allen and I sat down to talk art over hot bowls of phở. Between slurps, we traded memories of our favorite events from the past year—gallery openings, theater productions, book launches and poetry readings. After chewing on hot noodles and waning memories, we narrowed our picks down to 10. Here they are, the Alibi's top 10 art happenings for 2007, in no particular order.
Duet for One at Sol Arts
Tom Kempinski's Duet for One opened early in 2007 and set the tone for professional-quality theater in the Duke City. The ever-talented Paul Ford directed actors Ray Orley (as Dr. Feldmann) and Kristen Loree (as Stephanie Abrahams) in this play about a once-famous violinist whose battle with multiple sclerosis forced her off the stage and into a wheelchair. Many things about this production were excellent, but Loree stole the show by connecting with the character to deliver a blistering performance, including some mean wheelchair maneuvering. Another nod to the folks at Sol Arts for holding a benefit performance for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society during the run of Duet for One.
Out of the Underground at Jonson Gallery and 516 Arts
The body of work produced by the artists in the University of New Mexico's MFA program continues to impress. Each year the art department offers an exhibit of juried works to represent its best and brightest. 2007's installation was juried by SITE Santa Fe's director and curator, Laura Steward Heon, and was split into two venues, UNM's Jonson Gallery and Downtown's 516 Arts. Both displays reaffirmed the greatness being pumped out from behind the walls of the UNM Fine Arts Department.
Extraordinary Bodies at the Albuquerque Museum
The Albuquerque Museum has hosted some funky little exhibits (like Human Volcano and Other Amazing Wonders, currently on display) that are worth the price of admission alone. Extraordinary Bodies featured modern-art photographs and images from Philadelphia's Mütter Museum depicting disconcerting—sometimes gruesome—renderings of the human form. Despite the anguish, suffering and torment found in some of the pieces, there was a haunting beauty about the successful Albuquerque Museum display.
Bug at the Vortex
The Vortex Theatre specializes in the deranged, and Bug is one disturbing play. The Vortex has tackled playwright Tracy Letts' work before (Killer Joe graced its versatile stage a few years back), and Letts fits the daring community theater well. Director Aaron Worley did an especially noteworthy job of pulling all the chaos together to strengthen an already able script and coaxing the talented cast into an incredible state of paranoia. Steven Robert Allen swears it gave him welts.
Raymundo Sesma and Working Classroom's 24-Hour Art Gallery
Transforming ugly utility buildings into aesthetically-pleasing works of art should be a top priority for any city, especially super-hip Burque. We have a fair share of murals around town, but Working Classroom's 24-Hour Art Gallery is more than a beautification effort. Working Classroom brought in world-renowned Mexican artist Raymundo Sesma to work with seven apprentice artists ages 12 to 20 on a mural covering three utilitarian structures behind the Downtown Flying Star. While one structure hides a PNM-owned trash bin, another houses Albuquerque's first 24-hour art gallery, a major step forward for contemporary public art in Albuquerque.
The New Mexico Book Awards
The first-ever New Mexico Book Awards debuted this year with much success. The New Mexico Book Co-op called for submissions of any book with a connection to New Mexico or the Southwest with a July 1, 2007, deadline. When it came time for judging, there were more than 300 submissions, and it already looks like next year will yield even more. The New Mexico Book Awards is a fine way for local authors and publishers to be recognized for their hard work—recognition that is regrettably lacking in our literary community.
Doubt at The Cell
The FUSION Theatre Company unleashed another exceptional season in 2007, offering a versatile lineup of high-quality productions. The company's staging of John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, however, garnered an unusual amount of buzz. The professional cast (Laurie Thomas, Rachel Tatum, Ross Kelly and Angela Littleton) performed the Pulitzer Prize-winning script with sharp tongues and precise delivery to sold-out crowds every night of Doubt’s run—a tremendous success.
Opening of The Box Performance Space
When Gorilla Tango Comedy Theatre closed its doors in early 2007, former managers Doug Montoya and Kristin Berg opened another space quickly to fill the void. The Box Performance Space has been going strong since it opened in March in a small building on the corner of Lomas and 11th Street. The Box offers comedic improv, children's theater classes and a place for the likes of Eat, Drink and Be Larry, and the Pajama Men to let loose. We love The Box.
The African Presence in Mexico at the National Hispanic Cultural Center
The National Hispanic Cultural Center's educational (and well-attended) exhibit The African Presence in Mexico: From Yanga to the Present showcased historical artifacts and artwork documenting Afro-Mexican culture. The artifacts depicted the life of Africans and their descendants in Mexico, many of whom came to Mexico as slaves with the Spaniards. The African Presence in Mexico was a powerful exhibit that offered a historic perspective on Mexican history not often explored.
The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra's 75th Season
The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra hit a major milestone this year, opening its 75th season in September with a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. On Nov. 13, 1932, the Albuquerque Civic Symphony performed for an audience of nearly 2,000 in UNM's Carlisle Gymnasium. Seventy-five years later, NMSO performs for more than 130,000 people a year and strives to keep classical music alive and flourishing in New Mexico. Here's to 75 more, NMSO!
The Worst of 2007
Sprinkled with the good there is also the not-so-good, and 2007 was no exception. A few events of particular note struck the arts community this past year.
Matthew Bubb's Passing
On Oct. 17, 2007, Matthew Bubb lost his battle with cancer. Matthew and his partner, Kenneth Ansloan, were cofounders of The Dolls, Albuquerque's premier theatrical drag troupe. Bubb was known and loved by many, and we know his spirit lives on; the laughter he imbibed us with surely does.
The Blue Dragon's Closing
The day the Blue Dragon closed was a huge hit to the arts community. The Blue Dragon was more than just a coffee shop, it was a cultural epicenter—a place to create and perform. It was the home to MAP21 (a youth-run literary magazine), numerous writers (yours truly included), and a venue for musicians, poets and any other performance art you can name. Let’s hope something tries to fill the tremendous void left in its wake.
The Graffiti Art Battle
2007 was a another rough year for graffiti artists. (I mean aerosol artists.) Last year, Mayor Martin Chavez personally called into question graffiti as a valid art form and this year multiple murals on private walls were painted over by the county graffiti squad. While people on all sides of the issue agree vandalism isn’t cool, the definition of graffiti varies widely. There were a few positive events for graffiti artists this past year, like Bomb the Canvas 2 at the N4th Gallery, but the debate is still far from finished.