By Steven Robert Allen
We live in a city that prides itself on its skin-searing quantum creative energy. Stand on almost any street corner—especially in neighborhoods like Downtown, Barelas and Nob Hill—swing your purse in a nice wide arc, and you'll more likely than not hit an artist, an actor or a musician squarely in the jaw.
After five years of serving as Arts and Literature Editor at the Alibi, I have to say the sheer bulk of artists in Albuquerque's population makes my job extremely satisfying. That's not to say, of course, that it makes it easy. The truth is there's so much great and unimaginable art being generated every week in this city that I never get a chance to see it all, let alone write about it all.
Yet we do the best we can here at the Alibi. One way we like to distribute kudos to members of our thriving creative class is by publishing our annual Best of Burque issue, which gives our readers an opportunity to express their own opinions about the best and brightest spots on Albuquerque's shimmering creative map.
In the following 12 categories, we let good old-fashioned, red-blooded, flag-waving American democracy determine who and what are the finest writers, performers, galleries, public art pieces, architectural structures, arts education venues and cultural bargains in town. Do we always agree with our readers? Hell no. But that's what our proud nation is all about. Everyone should get a chance to voice their opinion in the grand marketplace of ideas, and the Alibi is here to make sure people have this opportunity.
I'd like to personally thank each and every voter who participated in this election, and I'd like to express my warmest gratitude to the artists down in a foxhole or crouched on stage, AK-47s in hand, paint smeared across their weary cheeks, fighting the good fight to ensure that all of us here in Albuquerque can continue to live in a free society filled with creative, surprising and ingenious artifacts and events. This city would be just an oversized cow town without you.
Best Outdoor Mural
Second and Central
Albuquerque boasts so many fantastic public murals, it's difficult to rank them, but our readers, as always, rose to the challenge. This year, the mural at Second and Central barely squeezed past all competitors. Actually, though, you might've noticed that there are actually three distinct murals visible from the corner of Second and Central. The one closest to the intersection was created a couple years ago by students from the Arts Summer Institute. This spacey, otherworldly mural depicts a naked man jetting out of some kind of cosmic womb, faces and figures imbedded around him in glowing interstellar dust.
Across the street, Joe Stephenson's 1995 Working Classroom mural, “The Mother Road/Camina de las Caminas,” is a light-hearted ode to the late, great Route 66, depicting such distinctly Southwestern features as kachinas driving a red convertible and a carnivorous roadrunner. The most traditional Second and Central mural, and my personal favorite, is “Frutas de la Expresión/Fruits of Expression” Claire Bain's Working Classroom shrine to the First, 15th and 19th Amendments to our Constitution.
So which of these three murals is the actual winner? There's no conceivable way of knowing, since not a single voter specified which mural they were referring to on their ballot. Therefore, using my omnipotent powers as Arts Editor, I declare all three victorious. Congratulations, murals. You done good.
That lovely mural ornamenting the Main Library Downtown got second place. This brightly colored work celebrates the history of written communication from the ancient Egyptians to Hammurabi to the printing press to laptop computers. By any standard, it's inspiring and beautiful. Third place goes to “Bringer of Light,” another creation of the Arts Summer Institute. Located outside the Convention Center, this elaborate mosaic features a long dragon, a frog, a turtle and additional attractive, colorful iconography.
Best Architectural Gem
Albuquerque is a weird town for architecture, but the longer I live here the more I appreciate the bizarre disorderly mishmash of styles found in almost every neighborhood. Unlike our sister city to the north, Albuquerque doesn't seem to adhere to any sort of aesthetic consistency. Architecturally, this is still the Wild West where absolutely anything goes.
As usual, the KiMo Theatre easily beat out all competitors, and you won't hear any complaints from me. The KiMo has been an architectural fixture in this town for 70 years and is an enduring source of municipal pride. Recent renovations have spiffed up this Pueblo Deco classic 'til it shines. Down to the smallest details, this building is an undeniable masterpiece. From the glowing steer skulls to the weird swastika motif to the cool murals, the KiMo oozes quirky local flavor, and its intimate space still provides one of the best places in town to see a dance performance, a concert, a flick or an art exhibit.
Bart Prince's beautiful extraterrestrial submarine house on Monte Vista nabs second this year. Unlike the KiMo, which is deeply rooted in Southwestern culture, the Prince residence might easily have dropped down from another planet. This is the kind of brave architecture this city needs.
UNM's Zimmerman Library, designed by legendary New Mexico architect John Gaw Meem, is considered the finest example of the modified Spanish Pueblo-Revival style. The building is so celebrated that the American Institute of Architects named it New Mexico's building of the century. The Zimmy got the bronze this year.
Other buildings in the running included the nifty new Isotopes Park, the renovated Old Albuquerque High School, and the sleek new courthouses on the north side of Downtown. Finally, in recognition of God's own remarkable construction skills, the Sandia Mountains received a vote.
Best Architectural Nightmare
All right, I like the federal courthouse. Remember the old one, that nasty circa-'50s hunk of pig vomit at 500 Gold SE? That was a nightmare. The stately new building north of Downtown, to my eyes, is a handsome building. But who cares what I think, right? Our readers do not like it. Consequently, it won the “best” architectural nightmare category.
Chevy on a Stick, which isn't really architecture, came in second. Downtown's Wells Fargo building, which lights up in a sickly shade of green come sundown, and really is ugly as sin, came in third.
In other interesting votes, the God-awful architecture school at UNM got a well-deserved nod as did “Any ’big box' store like Wal-Mart.” “Menaul Boulevard,” “Rio Rancho” and “Everything east of San Mateo.”
Best Art Gallery
Although we cower in the dark shadow of Santa Fe, Albuquerque really is a good art town. We might not have the same stellar art-galleries-per-capita rating as the City Different, but we do pretty damn well for ourselves just the same.
In a surprise twist this year, the Albuquerque Museum rises to the top of the heap in our Best Art Gallery category. The museum presented some great shows last year, from the small but satisfying exhibit of French painting a few months ago to the recent, heartbreaking Pulitzer Prize photography show. The Albuquerque Museum seems to just keep getting better.
The ever-popular Mariposa Gallery, which specializes in contemporary folk art came in second this year. The art community has long loved this stylish corner gallery in Nob Hill. With the addition of the contemporary experimental Galerie E upstairs, the space has become one of the best art destinations in the city. Downtown's dependable 516 Magnífico Artspace and the Heights' and Old Town's Weems Galleries tied for fourth. Very close behind was the Coleman Gallery in fifth.
Other galleries that got well-deserved nods were clustered around Downtown and included [AC]2, the Walls and Trevor Lucero Studio.
Best Cultural Bargain
In the most gruesome possible fashion, the Albuquerque Museum slaughtered the competition, cutting it into tiny chunks and boiling it into a gooey broth. Back in the good ol' days, of course, the museum used to be free. But it's still, according to our readers, the best bargain around. With its fantastic rotating shows, wonderful historical exhibits, film screenings, lectures, performances and other attractions, the Albuquerque Museum is one of the greatest cultural meccas this town has to offer.
The National Hispanic Cultural Center, which has presented so many world-class art exhibits over the last year, came in second. And that old standby the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center nabbed a well-deserved third.
Lots of votes went to the flea market, which, I have to admit, is one of my favorite places on Earth. The Summer Concert Series at the zoo got quite a few votes as well. “Free beans?!” got one vote, although I'm not sure that technically qualifies as a cultural bargain. (Actually, I'm not even sure what that means.)
One vote went to “Western-style hashbrowns at the Frontier,” which, let's face it, is spot on. Additional votes went to “my apartment,” “break dancing” and “Cricket cellular.” Smart asses.
Best Place To Learn/Participate in New Mexico Arts & Crafts
UNM Continuing Education
UNM's Continuing Education program is one of the unsung heroes of Albuquerque's educational establishment. I suffered from three left feet before my wife dragged me by the hair, kicking and screaming, to a beginning ballroom dancing class. To my surprise, I ended up having a blast. I've been jigging and bebopping ever since. Over the years, we've taken several other classes through the program, and most of them have been exceptional. Our readers tell us its also the best place in town to learn about and participate in New Mexico arts and crafts. It takes home the crown in this category.
The Albuquerque Museum gets a silver, and the lovely State Fair gets a bronze. The Harwood Art Center—which like UNM's Continuing Education program offers a wide range of quality classes—got a bunch of votes too.
Finally, some jerk-off suggested “anywhere in Santa Fe.” Hey, this is our Best of Burque issue, buddy. Try to stay alert, will ya?
Best Live Theater/Performance Troupe
Those tricky trickster Tricklockers won this category by a landslide, as they have so often in the recent past. I, personally, feel a profound, strictly platonic love for these endlessly innovative, ambitious, hard-working and, frankly, quite brilliant performers and their gem-like theatrical creations. Albuquerque boasts lots of great theater, but nobody's pushing the theatrical envelope with greater panache and bravery than the Tricklock crew. The Revolutions International Theatre Festival, which the Tricklock Company spawned from its fertile loins, is without a doubt the single best theater event in the state. Keep up the good work, folks. This town wouldn't be the same without you.
Musical Theatre Southwest, which only recently teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, sang its way to silver. And two of my all-time favorites, the Vortex Theatre, which isn't technically a troupe, and the Fusion Theatre Company, which put on so many great productions over the last year at the Cell Theatre, tied for third.
Albuquerque Little Theatre, which also isn't a troupe, got quite a few votes. Those sassy crossdressers The Dolls got several votes, too, as did the equally sassy Lonely Hearts Burlesque. We also got many predictable obligatory votes for TD's and the City Council.
Best Live Theater/Performance Space
Popejoy is, without a doubt, the most acoustically perfect theater in all of Albuquerque. For that reason alone it might deserve to win this category. Yet it also boasts the decade-old Ovation Series, which brings some of the finest theater, music and dance in the world to our little town. Popejoy also invites some of the best minds of our time to lecture behind its distinguished podium. Our readers recognized it for the local treasure that it is.
The Tricklock Performance Space, located in that dreadful strip mall at Washington and Central, might not be the prettiest venue in town, but, as noted above, wild and ingenious things occur inside. It gets second place this year.
The lovely KiMo, this year's Best Architectural Gem winner, gets third place in Best Live Theater/Performance Space. Not far behind are the Vortex Theatre and the Outpost Performance Space, which tied for fourth place. The Albuquerque Little Theatre, the North Valley's Adobe Theater, UNM's Theatre X and the Cell Theatre, that elegant warehouse theater on First Street down by the tracks, all got a few well-deserved votes.
“That theater in Santa Fe” got one vote. Don't make me smack you, dude.
Best Local Visual Artist
Per capita, I'm sure Albuquerque has more artists than almost any other city on Earth. They're like cockroaches, but prettier: You can't seem to turn around without seeing one.
The very uncockroachlike Cynthia Cook has been one of our town's favorite artists for quite some time. Her idiosyncratic multimedia pieces have a distinct magical quality that doesn't take away from the hard-edged and occasionally political nature of Cook's work. She's been the champ in the past, and this year she brushed the competition aside to take home the trophy once again.
Cook currently has a piece in Illustrious, a show of text-based art that's still showing at 516 Magnífico Artspace. Although I didn't have a chance to run a full review, it's definitely one of the best current exhibits in town. Stop by 516 Magnífico Artspace to check out Cook's piece and some of the other excellent wordy art on display.
Second place in this category goes to watercolorist Jan Wright and third goes to everyone's favorite master of organic abstraction, Alan Paine Radebaugh. Other staples of the local arts scene such as John Nieto, Leo Neufeld, Brendan Picker and Frank McCulloch got plenty of votes as well.
“Picaso” (sic) got one vote. God, you're a genius, buddy.
Best Local Writer
The great Southwestern mysterioso, Tony Hillerman, wins this category every year. Of course, we have lots of wonderful writers here in New Mexico, but nobody has achieved the astonishing international success of Hillerman. His Leaphorn and Chee mysteries have also served as unofficial ambassadors from the Navajo Nation, educating the outside world about countless facets of Navajo religion and culture. For his carefully researched fictions, Hillerman has been granted many awards and accolades, and this year Alibi readers bestow him with yet another.
Perennial favorite Rudolfo Anaya, author of the Chicano classic Bless Me, Ultima and mystery novels like Alburquerque, as well as countless children's books and plays, gets second place this year. Judith Van Gieson, who is fast achieving a reputation outside New Mexico as a talented mystery novelist, gets third.
“Captain America” got one vote—huh? what?—as did former Alibi contributor Scott Phillips. (Thanks, Scott.) “Anyone not writing for the Journal” got one vote, too.
Best Dance Company
Keshet Dance Company
The brainchild of Shira Greenberg, Keshet Dance Company is one of those arts entities that everybody loves. Every year they put on the hugely popular Nutcracker on the Rocks, mixing a heady brew of classic rock 'n' roll anthems into a holiday dance event that's one of the annual highlights of the season. Yet this is no ordinary dance company. From the beginning, Keshet has specialized in teaching nonprofessionals with mixed abilities how to dance. Regardless of age or physical ability, Keshet gives everyone a chance to shine on stage. The company often comes out on top in this category, and they always deserve it.
The New Mexico Ballet Company, which puts on a more traditional but just as satisfying annual production of The Nutcracker, nabs second place this year. Pablo Rodarte's flamenco and Spanish dance group, Dance España, gets a well-deserved third place.
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