Alibi V.13 No.21 • May 20-26, 2004 

Art News

Outside the Gallery

Contemporary Arts in the Public Realm at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and 516 Magnífico Artspace

“Sun Tunnels” by Nancy Holt
“Sun Tunnels” by Nancy Holt

A couple months ago, a few Albuquerque city councilors and their supporters made a big stink about a sculpture consisting of two giant neon green cones that the city planned to install at the Louisiana and I-40 interchange. Whether you side with the complainers or with Tom Waldron, the project's designer, it's nice to see people get worked up over art for a change. It's the kind of conflict we don't see often enough in Albuquerque. Everyone should care about public art in our city, and we should all be willing to air our own views in public.

Those interested in speaking up on the subject will get the opportunity during the Contemporary Arts in the Public Realm symposium being held this Saturday and Sunday at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Organized by the Contemporary Art Society of New Mexico and funded through a grant from the city's Urban Enhancement Trust Fund, the symposium will bring in some of the most impressive public art innovators in the nation.

Detail from "Rio Salado Gateway Project" by Thomas Strich, one of the speakers at this weekend's Contemporary Arts in the Public Realm symposium
Detail from "Rio Salado Gateway Project" by Thomas Strich, one of the speakers at this weekend's Contemporary Arts in the Public Realm symposium

You should swing by 516 Magnífico Artspace on Friday, May 21, for a reception with the symposium presenters. This reception will also give you a chance to observe a related exhibit detailing some monumental art projects created or produced by the presenters.

Nancy Holt of Galisteo, New Mexico, is one of the founders of American land art. Images of her "Sun Tunnels," a 1976 installation in Utah's Great Basin Desert, is a prime example of her enterprising artistic vision. Four giant concrete tubes are aligned in a cross pattern in the middle of a barren plain. These sun tunnels are punctured with seven to 10 inch holes arranged in the pattern of constellations so that they play alluringly with shadow and light.

Anne Pasternak, director of Creative Time, Inc., has been behind some even more ambitious projects. Her company co-produced the twin vertical beams of light which shone in place of the World Trade Center during the 9-11 memorials in 2002 and 2003. Creative Time also co-produced a fireworks show designed by artist Cai Guo-Qiang celebrating the 150th anniversary of Manhattan's Central Park, as well as other large-scale temporary public art spectacles in and around New York City.

In Seattle, public artist Buster Simpson has developed ingenious urban design projects to increase the aesthetic attraction of his city and that also benefit the environment. In Phoenix, Thomas Strich has used related strategies in a contemporary art project designed to serve as the gateway to a five-mile environmentally restored stretch of that city's Salt River. The final presenter at the symposium will be Diane Shamash, former director of Seattle's renowned art program, who is currently helping direct Watershed, a project that aims to install works of art along an 80-mile stretch of the Hudson River in upstate New York.

Nothing defines a region more than its public art. From the prehistoric petroglyphs on the West Mesa to Waldon's alien green cones, public art has been a crucial cultural force in our region for millennia. To create the most stimulating and attractive public environment possible, it's essential that all interested parties take part in an open dialog about these complex and often contentious issues.

One good way to start is by attending this conference.

The Contemporary Arts in the Public Realm symposium occurs Saturday, May 22, and Sunday, May 23, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. All events are free and open to the public by reservation only. Call 342-8037 to make reservations. A reception with the five guest presenters will be held at 516 Magnífico Artspace from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The artspace is also the site of the Contemporary Arts in the Public Realm exhibit, which runs through June 12. 242-8244.