Steven Robert Allen
9 min read
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On the face of it, Burque seems like an ordinary, blue-collar, beer-steak-and-potatoes kind of town. Of course, for those who know it well, nothing could be further from the truth. Scratch a couple millimeters beneath its dusty surface, and you’ll find a whole wide world of weird.

Who’s responsible for this weirdness? That’s a very good question. I’m glad you asked. Personally, I like to blame the artists.

Well, “blame” probably isn’t the right world. The Alibi has always had a taste for the out of the ordinary. We like that this is a funky little arts town. Burque might not get the international attention of Taos and Santa Fe, but most of us like it that way. Our city’s quirky creativity floats below the radar, receiving patronage almost entirely from the people who live and work here.

We’re lucky that way. We’ve got great theater. We’ve got loads of excellent visual artists. We’ve got fantastic galleries and performance halls. Lord knows we’ve also got some astonishing world-class performance poetry.

Thankfully, no one knows the skinny on local culture better than Alibi readers, and they’re generous in sharing their wisdom with the world. If you’re new to Albuquerque, or you just don’t get out all that much, this guide to the best of the best art offerings in the city will get you started. From there, you’ll just have to start exploring on your own. Bring a flashlight. Pack some provisions. Layer your clothing. You’re in for the adventure of a lifetime.

Best Outdoor Mural

This year, that spacey, ethereal mural on the northeast corner of Central and Second Street got the most votes. It might not fit in with traditional mural aesthetics, but perhaps that’s why people like it so much. It’s out of the ordinary. It doesn’t express any particular politics. It doesn’t illustrate any sort of historical struggle. It simply presents a dazzling metaphor for human evolution.

The old mural on the side of the defunct Ice House on First Street came in second place. Unfortunately, the city recently painted over this graphic ode to free speech, calling it a “graffiti eyesore.” It seems the real reason for the whitewash is that our municipal government didn’t like the message the mural portrayed of city government corruption and hypocrisy. Shocking.

Third place went to the Working Classroom mural at Second Street and Gold.

Best Architectural Gem

A couple months ago, the parents of a childhood friend stopped over in Albuquerque. I met them for a cup of coffee at Lindy’s Coffee Shop on the southwest corner of Central and Fifth Street. As my friend’s mom sipped her joe, I saw her gaze shift over my shoulder. “That’s quite a building,” she said, gesturing toward the KiMo, that big beautiful Pueblo Deco masterpiece. She was so fascinated with it that I offered to take them on a tour of its beautiful innards. Most people seem to have this reaction. For that reason, the KiMo has become, in many ways, the ultimate visual symbol of our city.

The renovated Albuquerque High School lofts came in second this year. Bart Prince’s space burger residence in Nob Hill came in third.

Best Architectural Nightmare

Perhaps voters were drunk. Perhaps they simply adopted a broader definition than is customary for the term “architectural.” Who knows? Either way the famous Chevy on a Stick sculpture at the corner of San Mateo and Gibson won this category. Likewise, the giant Indian pots lined along the I-40 median came in second, and the Coors/I-40 interchange project came in third.

Best Art Gallery

The Mariposa Gallery has been a fixture here in town for decades. Although it recently changed ownership, the Nob Hill Gallery continues to offer high-quality folk art from a range of talented artists mainly from New Mexico. The recently expanded Albuquerque Museum came in a close second. Weems Gallery, sponsor of the hugely popular Weems Artfest, came in third.

Best Cultural Bargain

There’s still time to catch the fantastic Picasso to Plensa exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum, this year’s Best Cultural Bargain winner. The exhibit, which closes on April 23, is the third in a series of gallery shows exploring the last 500 years in Spanish art. It’s a crowning example of the kind of cultural experience the museum regularly offers its patrons. Although the days are long gone when admission was always free, entrance is still gratis every Sunday morning from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the first Wednesday of every month. Downtown’s Gorilla Tango Comedy Theatre came in second this year, and the Biopark and National Hispanic Cultural Center tied for third.

Best Poet

Since the Albuquerque poetry slam team’s 2005 victory at the National Poetry Slam championships, Burque is more awash in poetry than ever before. Honey-tongued funnyman Tony Santiago stormed his way to victory this year, followed by veteran man of words Danny Solis. Third place was a three-way tie between Hakim Bellamy (one of the members of last year’s championship team), Don McIver and Jimmy Santiago Baca.

Best Live Theater/Performance Troupe

For the first time in years, we had a tight contest in this category. The much-lauded Tricklock Company once again took home the prize for the inventive experimental performances that have earned them fans far and wide. This year, though, Gorilla Tango Comedy Theatre gave the Tricklockers a real run for their money. The Downtown all-ages improv club has enjoyed a steadily expanding base of support since it opened a couple years ago. During that period, it’s become the star venue for live comedy in the city. Congratulations, you big hairy ape. By no coincidence, the comedy troupe Eat, Drink and Be Larry, which often performs at Gorilla Tango and is currently producing a show there called Hamlet: The Vampire Slayer, came in third.

Best Live Theater/Performance Space

The Gorilla Tango folks did quite an immaculate renovation job on the Downtown building they currently call home. The Gorilla has a beautiful main stage downstairs with an attractive concessions stand, as well as a more intimate secondary stage upstairs. Best of all, this is a youth-friendly joint. No smoking is allowed, so there’s no soot stains on the ceiling, and they don’t have a liquor license, so there’s no vomit stains on the carpet. This place started out pristine, and it’s going to stay that way. Popejoy Hall, on the UNM campus, came in second with its fab acoustics and excellent higher-end programming. Sol Arts, another relative newcomer on the block, came in third. It deserved it for its comfy chairs alone, but Sol Arts also puts on some excellent theater and hosts a popular all-ages live music series.

Best Local Visual Artist

This category is typically a free-for-all. We’ve got a lot of artists in this town and determining who’s the best of the bunch can be a tough business. Cynthia Cook has taken home the prize in past years, and she managed to pull ahead of some stiff competition this year, too. Oddly, the Farfesha Belly Dance troupe came in second. Judges? Are we going to allow that? Yes, apparently this is acceptable. Third place seemed to be pretty much a 50-way tie between every other notable artist in the city.

Best Writer

This year, Jason Witter of the comedy troupe Eat, Drink and Be Larry easily nabbed the gold. If you want to see his work come to life, Witter coauthored Hamlet: The Vampire Slayer, which is currently showing at Gorilla Tango Comedy Theatre. Southwest mystery scribe Tony Hillerman, who almost always wins this category, slipped to second place this year. Third went to Witter’s Hamlet: The Vampire Slayer coauthor and fellow Eat, Drink and Be Larry regular Aaron Frale.

Best Dance Company

Community-minded Keshet usually wins this one. Dance aficionados seem to love Keshet’s accessible, down-home productions that incorporate both professionals and mixed-ability dancers. The exotic ladies of Burlesque Noir nabbed second place for their creative, um, well, you know. … The New Mexico Ballet Company tied for third with the venerable Fishback Studio of the Dance.

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