It all begins on a Sunday morning in October. My fiancé Alex and I arrive at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, pass through the double doors of the lobby gallery and enter the world of Albuquerque Now. As we would at any exhibition—but particularly since this marks our first real introduction to local visual arts, having just moved to New Mexico in July—we move slowly. We spend 20 to 25 minutes with the first six works, marveling at the intricacies of Catalina Delgado Trunk’s cut paper “Cyclical Time” and trying to identify the myriad found objects in Cynthia Cook’s “This Mortal Coil.”
And there it is: The seventh work, “#919 Untitled (Decorative Object).” It’s unassumingly beautiful, an oil painting over what looks like a page from an antiquated physics textbook. The image is of an unusual and unnamable thing—best described as a bouquet of motley-colored orbs—and stands in the frame like it might on a shelf, like I could reach out and pick it up. The technique and the aesthetic echo another time; the muted palette, the cracked surface and the trickeries of trompe l’oeil make me pause for a moment and wonder when and where the artist came from.
But over the next couple of months, whether to interview museum Curator Andrew Connors or to share the talent of our art community with Alex’s visiting mama, I return to Albuquerque Now three times. And it becomes harder and harder to move on from the Anonymous Artist. Even after I wrench myself away from “#919,” I think about it. And not just at the museum, but when I eat breakfast, ride the bus, visit a gallery and almost pass out from holding my breath over the hope that I’ll see another painting by Anonymous. Mostly because I don’t know how to find more of his* work—a circumstance, I finally decide, that must be changed.
I try to access the Microsoft Art Collection online, but you can only see it in person and only if you have a Microsoft employee as your host (monopolists of the art world, too, it appears).
So I move on to the galleries at which Anonymous showed, using the exhibition reviews as my guide. The longest serving staff member at Santa Fe’s Center for Contemporary Arts has been there since 2004; Anonymous doesn’t ring a single bell. Graham Gallery, once at Sixth and Central, is years gone—replaced, it seems, by either a fairly hideous half-finished condo tower or (less likely) Sushi Hana. But Richard Levy Gallery is a different story.
Richard Levy Director Viviette Hunt informs me that the gallery represented Anonymous throughout the ’90s, when he still went by “Anonymous Artist, Late 20th Century.” Though they had much success with his work, culminating in 2001 with the addition of his “Radio” to the Microsoft Art Collection (5,000 pieces strong and counting), Anonymous moved away for a time and took his trompe l’oeil with him. It wasn’t, apparently, until Hunt and others at the gallery saw Albuquerque Now that they realized Anonymous was back in Albuquerque. Hunt explains that the gallery has been aiming to “reintegrate [his] work into our program” ever since, provides me with some JPEG images of his older paintings and apologizes that she can’t offer me more. We lament that they no longer have any of his work on hand.
The technique and the aesthetic echo another time; the muted palette, the cracked surface and the trickeries of trompe l’oeil make me pause for a moment and wonder when and where the artist came from.
At first, I feel defeated and slightly depressed; after all of my searching, I’ve come up with only a handful of decade-old JPEGs and can't find a single, solitary painting. I curse Anonymous and his diligent veiling of identity, thinking that if only I had a name, I would have surely found a work. But then I realize how remarkable it is that—in the field of art, where identity is almost everything, in an age of exposés and instant access, in a global environment of self-aggrandizement and celebrity—he is truly anonymous. And I know that I’ll joyfully keep holding my breath and hope, as hard as I can, that one of these days, I’ll round a gallery corner and see his still-Anonymous work in front of me.
* In an essay prepared by Santa Fe’s Center for Contemporary Arts to accompany a 1994 solo exhibition of Anonymous’ work, author David Clemmer writes that the artist is “purported to be of the male gender.” No one else—neither artists nor gallerists nor curators—I spoke with over the course of this search ever used a pronoun; they diligently referred to Anonymous as “The Artist.” But for sake of ease, Clemmer’s suggestion of “he” will be used throughout.