NEED TO KNOW
On the Map: Unfolding Albuquerque Art & Design, January 31–June 2015. Opening events are scheduled at the Albuquerque Museum, 516 Arts, KiMo Theatre Gallery, Richard Levy Gallery, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Art Museum, South Broadway Cultural Center, Tamarind Institute, UNM Art Museum, and more. Learn more at ABQonthemap.com.
ABQ OUTSIDER: THE UNKNOWN CARVER
Although she bought most of her house’s vintage décor at the weekly flea market on the state fairgrounds, Tey Marianna Nunn missed a chance to snag a carved- wood creation by an artist who signed his works only as “Marco” before fading into obscurity. “When I was doing research for my dissertation on WPA artists,” says Nunn, director of the art gallery at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, “people kept bringing me pieces and asking, ‘Is this WPA?’ They weren’t, but they were signed ‘Marco.’” She had never heard of the art- ist, but a friend of hers in Taos had collected a few and one day called to say she had met a relative of the artist. More information soon emerged about Marco Garcia, a retired coal miner who began carving in 1972 at the age of 70. Nunn has gathered 65 of his pieces for her On the Map exhibit, MARCO!: Celebrating the Legacy of Nuestro Maestro Marco Garcia, February 20 –June. The artist turns traditional santero techniques sideways. When he sees Noah, he imagines him surrendering to Godzilla, who in turn faces death by a hulking dinosaur. His San Ysidro plows a field as a helper spreads corn. Behind them, two chickens peck up every kernel. “He had a wry sense of humor,” Nunn says. “He followed politics, was irreverent at times. He did traditional religious iconography, but also tongue-in-cheek things.” He carved George Washington, skunks, hillbillies, and President Nixon meeting Chairman Mao. When Nunn included a San Pasqual carving by him in an exhibit last year, countless visitors said, “Oh, Marco! I have one of his pieces.” “This is someone who had such a wide influence and who so many people knew of in the Albuquerque area that it seemed only just to high- light his work and his life,” she says. Marco died in 1998, long before galleries and museums discovered him. That his work was available only at a flea market makes him, to Nunn, quintessentially Albuquerque. “There’s a constructed identity in a lot of places, but Albuquerque has an authenticity,” she says. “I’m a native, I love Albuquerque. There’s a lot of corazón in Albuquerque.”
PUEBLO POWER: WOMEN MOTIVATING WOMEN
In the 20th century, some women from traditional pueblo communi- ties abandoned their housewife roles, using artistic skills to create careers. San Ildefonso painter Tonita Peña, Cochiti potter Helen Cordero, and Santa Clara painter Pablita Velarde eventually appeared in museums throughout the world. In turn, those artists inspired a 1960s surge of artists who mixed traditional themes with modern techniques—a jet stream that con- tinues today. In Impetus Seekers: Integral Innovations of Pueblo Women Artists, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center curator Deborah Jojola explores how central New Mexico artists pushed through cultural boundaries while creating tradition-based work. The exhibit, at the KiMo Theatre’s gallery February 6–March 6, underscores the way “sovereign nations kept Albuquerque ‘on the map,’” Jojola says. The Alvarado Hotel at the Albuquerque train station played a crucial role in that. “They were there selling baskets and pottery,” she says. “I remember seeing the pueblo women with the goods laid out, from Isleta, Sandia, Zia. Half the time they would hitchhike or caravan there. That was how the outside world was exposed to their art. Albuquerque helped them build their names as artists.” Albuquerque trading posts provided year-round markets for artists like Velarde, who painted pueblo ceremonies from her modern Midtown home. “These women were always challenged by a male-dominated society,” Jojola says. “They were ready to make big decisions with their art—and they inspired me growing up.” Jojola’s lithographs are among the contemporary pieces included in the exhibit, along with the exuberant oil paintings of Velarde’s granddaughter, Margarete Bagshaw. “I constantly look to the women who inspired me growing up, how they gave me permission to break barriers for myself and push the limits of my creativity,” Jojola says. “Albuquerque influenced them. It gave them the courage to get even more creative.”
After three centuries, the city of Albuquerque knew a thing or two about assimilating outside influences. But all bets were off the day Surf City came to the Duke City.
After meeting in Taos, artists Florence Miller Pierce and Horace Towner Pierce weathered World War II in Los Angeles. They came back looking for work and found it in the postwar boomtown of Albuquerque, thereby establishing a beachhead that grew into a California Modernist invasion—even as the legendary art colonies of Santa Fe and Taos faded into soft-focus sunsets and pastel pueblos.
In Visualizing Albuquerque: Art of Central New Mexico, January 31–May 3, 2015, the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History pays homage to those beginnings, which are still bearing fruit today. Building on a thesis that a city not widely known for its aesthetic sophistication has in fact been pushing the cutting edge of art since the middle of the 20th century, guest curator Joseph Traugott homes in on the Moderns as the phenomenon that put Albuquerque “On the Map.”
“Albuquerque gets its artistic voice after World War II, when a group of California artists come to the region and bring high-modernist abstraction,” he says. “People will be stunned by what they see. A lot of the incredible large Abstract Expressionist paintings from the forties and fifties are quite rare and are very rarely exhibited. They look exactly like what was going on in New York.”
That’s due in part to the number of Californians who found steady work teaching at the University of New Mexico’s College of Fine Arts. One of its first students was Richard Diebenkorn, who enrolled in 1950 on the GI Bill and quickly developed the Abstract Expressionist chops that carried him to global fame. Clinton Adams became dean in 1961 and, two years later, with photographer Van Deren Coke, opened the UNM Art Museum. Garo Antreasian, the mastermind behind Los Angeles’ Tamarind Institute, joined them, as did painter Frederick Hammersley, whose brilliant. geometric abstractions hid a devious wit.
“Thank God for UNM,” said Andrew Connors, a curator at the Albuquerque Museum. “Were it not for the UNM Art School and Art Museum in the 1960s, there would be no mention of who was here.”
Connors is one of the coordinators of On the Map: Unfolding Albuquerque Art + Design, a six-month cultural partnership supporting Visualizing Albuquerque. Participants include some 25 art galleries and museums in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, with a rolling schedule of exhibits, performances, lectures, and documentaries. Topics include Antoine Predock’s space-age architecture, Nancy Kozikowski’s mind-bending weavings, and painter Raymond Jonson’s lasting impact on New Mexico artists. Together, they offer a romp through the city’s contemporary art scene that’s rich with humor, innovation, and finesse. (See ABQonthemap.com for details.)
Traugott notes that On the Map proves the California invasion was no flash in the pan. Before and after, the city’s art roster gleams with names like Léon Trousset, Agnes Martin (who studied and taught art at UNM before eventually moving to Taos), Judy Chicago, Patrick Nagatani, and Angus Macpherson. It’s just as rich in the stories of lesser-known artists—from Mrs. Franc Luse Albright, who established a nationally renowned portrait studio at the turn of the last century, to Marco Garcia, a self-taught wood-carver who sold his works at Albuquerque’s flea market.
If you take Traugott’s long view, Albuquerque Modernism actually begins with an 8,000-year-old arrowhead.
Small enough to sit in Traugott’s palm, the chipped-stone Folsom point opens Visualizing Albuquerque, along with Spanish musket balls found at a 16th-century battle site near Petroglyph National Monument. Together, the weapons reveal both the handiwork of creative minds and the clash of cultures that eventually produced new art forms.
Settled by the Spanish in 1706, the Duke City toddled along as a farming community until the Santa Fe Railway muscled into town, transforming the sleepy village into a blue-collar powerhouse. Trousset, a French painter, portrayed it without a hint of Old World romance in New Town (1885). A man and a horse stand on the future site of UNM. Looking west, they see a modern city sprouting, Old Town fading, and a smeary stream of train smoke signal- ing good news: Everything’s up to date in Albuquerque.
Consider the cultural stew that bubbled—and still does—between Cochiti Pueblo to the north, Socorro to the south, Laguna Pueblo to the west, and Mountainair to the east. In that version of central New Mexico, Traugott finds traditional Native artists, Spanish wood- carvers, weavers, tinsmiths, and potters, followed by a tidal wave of artistic influences from first the railway and then Route 66. Throughout it all, Albuquerque offered jobs, jobs, jobs, including a military base and a national laboratory. Farther north, it didn’t work that way.
“By the early 20th century, Santa Fe is in a depression because the rail line passed it by,” Traugott said. “It reinvented itself as an art colony. But the northern New Mexico vision was looking back to find authentic connections in the past. They promoted a kind of static vision of New Mexico.”
In Albuquerque, residents grappled with the full range of 20th-century life, including a population explosion, the advent of the atomic bomb, and more. Some Modernists explored the contradictions between the quaintness of the past and the realities of the now, creating what Traugott calls “a tension that is one of the real drivers of the art of the region.”
For some artists, the romantic past still beckoned. Route 66 fostered stacks of made-for-tourists art that, in retrospect, rarely rose above schlock.
Compare that, though, with the young UNM art student who set up his easel on Central Avenue and, like Trousset, faced west—away from the pastoral glory of Sandía Peak. His brush caught a railroad overpass and the beckoning neon of downtown bars. William Warder’s 1946 Night on Central Avenue holds its own against Edward Hopper’s lonely cityscapes. In it, Albuquerque stands with other American cities—asphalted, industrialized, notable for more than adobe and kiva fireplaces.
Albuquerque was newly magnetized as a loose-jointed, underground art center. In the late 1960s, Allan and Gloria Graham rehabbed an old Route 66 motor court on North Fourth Street into living spaces, studios, and exhibition spaces. Other artists joined them. Traugott noted other alliances: the Albuquerque Modern Museum, Albuquerque United Artists, the Meridian Gallery. Exhibitions abounded. Artists collaborated. They also absorbed and inter- preted the growing social unrest of Vietnam and the civil rights movement. The result was a new aesthetic that shunned commercial trends and sheltered the starving artist.
“It’s not about a commercial product they’re working to sell,” Traugott said. “Oftentimes, they’re creating objects that don’t even leave the studio. It’s very different than the kind of commercialism that you find outside of Albuquerque. The work is quirky, it’s smart, it’s interesting and highly personal.”
As he finished work on a book that accompanies the exhibit, Traugott pointed to a Bill Adams photo collage, laboriously constructed pre-Photoshop. In it, Adams portrays a museum gallery full of characters, including a furry Neanderthal on a pedestal, a curious female visitor, a bored guard. Other medium-stretchers include Frederick Hammersley’s 1969 computer art on punch cards and Rick Dillingham’s 1976 Globe, a ceramic that he created, then broke apart and reassembled, inviting us to ponder how we care for the real thing. The late-1980s Prayer Sticks, made by the scene’s matriarch, Florence Miller Pierce, of resin on mirrored Plexiglas, refracts natural light as it changes through-out the day—a newfangled utilization of New Mexico’s famous light.
Tourism joins the show with a sampling of tchotchkes, as well as the museum’s 1912 Model T Speedster. Hot-rodded in the 1920s and 1930s, it combines the “high art and low art” of “our most basic American material culture,” Traugott says.
That high-low mix may as well be Albuquerque’s calling card—one that On the Map relishes. “We’re not playing second fiddle to anyone,” Connors said. “So much artistic creativity went on in this community, completely without acknowledgment that it was art or that it was for the community. Now we’re saying, ‘Let’s look seriously at what’s going on.’”
Kate Nelson is an award-winning journalist. She wrote a biography, Helen Hardin: A Straight Line Curved, about the renowned Albuquerque artist.