Suzanne Sbarge calls it the M-word. As far as dirty words go, this one's fairly tame, of course, and she doesn't exactly cringe when she hears it. Still, Sbarge is eager to put Magnifico, the defunct arts organization she once served as executive director, behind her.
In terms of public perception, however, this hasn't been such a simple task. Sbarge and Andrew John Cecil, another Magnifico veteran, have just opened the doors at 516 Arts, a new nonprofit arts organization housed in Magnifico's old headquarters at 516 Central NW.
Both Sbarge and Cecil are eager to emphasize that Magnifico, despite its many accomplishments, is a dead entity, and 516 Arts is an entirely different animal, anyway. The new organization is a unique partnership between the arts community and Downtown businesses. In addition to traditional grant funding, lots of private companies based Downtown (including the Weekly Alibi) have gotten behind the project.
If the inaugural exhibit, Green, is any indication, we're lucky to have this new cultural force blossoming in the heart of our city. They've added an elevator to the building and expanded the exhibit space to the second floor, almost doubling the area available for displaying art. Of course, bigger is not always better. But in this case Sbarge and Cecil, who co-curated the show, have put together an exhibit that explores some of the most exciting trends in contemporary art in New Mexico.
Green includes some of the biggest names in the state. The show is dedicated to the recently deceased Luis Jimenez, who has a couple smaller pieces in the show. You'll also find work by master abstract painter Frederick Hammersley, famed painter and resin artist Florence Miller Pierce, glass sculptor Larry Bell, Native American painter and printmaker Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, and renowned photographer Joel-Peter Witkin. Every one of these artists, and several others in the show, have exhibited all over the world, but they make their homes right here in New Mexico.
Sbarge and Cecil, however, also traversed the state in search of lesser-known artists. One they're particularly proud to include in the show is painter Tom Dixon, who creates his large-scale abstract paintings out of a tiny adobe house in the center of Taos. Dixon's paintings are layered and highly physical, scraped and cut with chisels to achieve a jittery, almost electric effect.
Mark Ouellette is another lesser-known artist in the show, a young painter whose preferred tool is a pastry knife for applying oil to canvas to make his distinctive figurative paintings, blurred with motion, that often capture human subjects in pleasingly puzzling situations.
There's a lot to explore here. It's more like visiting a museum than a gallery. So next time you're Downtown, make sure to stop by. Log on to the organization's website for details about upcoming exhibits and events.