Albuquerque Contemporary 2004 at the Albuquerque Museum
By Steven Robert Allen
Gronk is roughly the sound a goose makes while chasing away a potential predator, but don't let that confuse you. Gronk also happens to be a renowned Los Angeles performance and visual artist best known for his spectacular murals. This year, he was also the juror responsible for selecting entries in Albuquerque Contemporary 2004, Magnífico's 15th annual exhibit of some of the best contemporary artists from the Albuquerque area.
I've scoped out these annual Magnífico showcases for as long as I've lived in Albuquerque. I've reviewed them for as long as I've worked at the Alibi. Most years, I've enjoyed them.
The drawback to these shows in the past, though, has been that they usually seemed like disorderly grab bags of random art. Other than the fact that all the participating artists live in the same region, there didn't seem to be any unifying element to instill the exhibits with a necessary cohesion.
This year's edition is strikingly different. I'm sure this is at least partially due to the fact that Albuquerque Contemporary 2004 was juried by a lone artist with radical but highly evolved artistic tastes. This year's Magnífico show, for the first time in my experience, really feels like the product of a coherent vision.
Unlike exhibits from years past, the lay-out of the 2004 show is anything but haphazard. This year's selections are positioned in the three-room space at the Albuquerque Museum so that each individual piece can be viewed in a complementary context.
Scott Krichau's somber hand-hammered steel sculpture "Coral Depid," for example, depicting a large, seed-pod-like shape on a pedestal, pairs nicely with Christine Chin's cheerier inkjet images of anthropomorphized vegetables and fruits. Likewise, Alan Paine Radebaugh's "Fertile Fragment VII," a painting composed of carefully reconstructed fragments from nature, is perfectly positioned near David Ondrik's fragmented, large-scale photographic image of a highly unromanticized New Mexican landscape.
Anna Tsouhlarakis' "Albuquerque, NM, May 2004" consists of a rough map of New Mexico divided into four quadrants with black squiggles representing the approximate routes of our interstates. Within those quadrants are a series of Polaroids of Native Americans pulling down their shirts to reveal numeric tattoos. These tattoos, we're told, are the actual Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood numbers issued by our federal government to registered tribe members. Small placards next to each photo present the individuals' names along with their tribe and the fraction of certified Indian blood flowing through their veins.
Tsouhlarakis' piece looks like some kind of weird administrative billboard. As such, it has zero aesthetic appeal, but it does present an undeniably potent social message about the shoddy treatment of Native Americans throughout our nation's history.
A couple slots down, Elizabeth Hunt's "Chaos and Order #1" exhibits pure aesthetics with absolutely no social message. Hunt pit-fired, soda/salt-fired and wood-fired 56 ceramic pods, bringing out marbled shades from black to brown to gray to white before setting them in an attractive grid. The piece has a natural allure that contrasts well with the worldly detritus of Tsouhlarakis' work.
Everyone loves interactive art. One of the simplest pieces in the show is undoubtedly Mayumi Nishida's "Ardent Box." A black-lacquered wood box rises to hip level, the top containing tiny red grains resting on a glass surface. The shimmery grains seem to be composed of the same material as Dorothy's ruby slippers. The viewer is invited to finger and manipulate this magic substance. (Just be careful not to spill any on the carpet.)
On the wall beside this hypnotic piece hangs Ted Laredo's equally entrancing—but untouchable—“Blue Spots." Composed of phosphorescent acrylic and glass beads on canvas, this simple composition depicting eye-like dots floating in light space provides a pleasing counterpoint to Nishida's glittery box.
Throughout the exhibit you'll find similar tiny thematic bridges—some subtle, some overt—that make Albuquerque Contemporary 2004 more unified than any of these shows in memory. To create that unity, I'm sure Gronk had to bypass a lot of great local art. There's hardly any figurative art in this show, for example, and much less painting than in previous years.
I'll be the last to complain, though. Gronk has done a fantastic job of assembling diverse visual talents into one whopping doozy of a show. In Albuquerque Contemporary 2004, he's brought together elements of our region's artistic talent in an extremely stimulating and cohesive manner, and for that we should all be grateful.
Albuquerque Contemporary 2004, Magnífico's 15th annual exhibit of Albuquerque area artists, runs through Sept. 5 at the Albuquerque Museum. $4 general, $3 NM residents with ID, $2 seniors, $1 kids 12 and under. 2000 Mountain NW. 243-7255.
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