SANTA FE, New Mexico — Now in its second year, Southwest Contemporary and The Magazine’s 12 New Mexico Artists to Know Now serves as a corrective to common assumptions about the state of contemporary art in New Mexico. Juried by Andrew Connors, director of the Albuquerque Museum, the artists in this year’s show resist easy definition or categorization, spanning cultural backgrounds and artistic media.
“The range of artists in this grouping could be showing in any major art mecca,” Connors said in a phone interview with Hyperallergic. “New Mexico is so much more than the stereotypes.”
Presented in SWC’s gallery and project/office space, the variety of work in 12 New Mexico Artists to Know Now is immediately apparent: on one wall is C Marquez’s installation “728,” painstakingly deconstructed tumbleweeds that branch out from the plaster before reconnecting, like interlocking daddy longlegs; it faces William T. Carson’s “Concision,” a precise canyon of sculptural black coal set in a spare walnut frame; suspended from the ceiling in the center of the space is Eric-Paul Riege’s mixed-fiber piece “regalia for Hóló ‘ -it xistz and …Son, yáázh, mijo…,” a tightly-woven doll rendered in wool and animal skin, bound to a wooden ladder and adorned with dozens of intricate details, like shells and tassels.
SWC’s publisher and editor Lauren Tresp is interested in representing all of New Mexico, not just the connected few, or those who happen to live in art capital Santa Fe. “I really wanted to broaden our scope to include more of the state and the region,” she told Hyperallergic. “We’re trying to tell a different story about what contemporary art is in New Mexico.”
Connors’s criteria for selecting the artists were broad, and he was drawn to the unusual and unfamiliar. Of the 12 artists ultimately selected for the show, Connors was aware of seven before the jurying process, though the selections were anonymous. Several artists selected “don’t always put us in comfortable positions,” and “address ideas that aren’t really about beauty,” Connors said. “MK, just to mention one, encourages to me to understand the complexity of a culture I didn’t grown up in.”
It’s undeniable that certain works in the exhibition are more contextual than others: in particular, those by the show’s three artists who use photography (Rapheal Begay, Frank Blazquez, and MK) each of whom confront the viewer with arresting images and iconography. The photographs by Begay depict scenes from the Navajo Nation, straddling the New Mexico–Arizona border. In “Rez-Dog,” a tawny shorthair with its teeth bared looms over a carcass. The animal’s tail is tucked deep between his legs, and you can count his ribs. Blazquez’s photo montage, “SOS En ABQ, My New Mexican Signifiers,” functions as a visual flashpoint for our most challenging cultural, economic, and political issues — a handgun, a rosary, Suboxone, and a wallet-sized photo of a child’s face overlay the sunny yellow cloth of the state flag, encircling a blood-red Zia.
Other works are downright whimsical, including Andrea Pichaida’s ethereal hand-built ceramic vessels, each of which resembles a different variety of alien seed pod; or Justin Richel’s wood, gouache, and acrylic sculptures, including “Man and His Symbols,” an unnerving stack of near-exact facsimiles: Jung’s paperback book topped with a browning banana, crowned with a sliver of spent chewing gum.
Certain sections are jarring. For instance, moving between MK’s “Our Last Family Portrait” and Danielle Shelley’s cross-stitched samplers “Black Lines 6” and “Modern chair sampler” immediately to the left. “Portrait” is a large print of a grainy photograph of an African American family, posed and in suits and dresses for the occasion. It’s hard to see their eyes, though we search their faces. The print has been crumpled and smoothed many times, is wrinkly and full of holes. Next to “Portrait” are its aesthetic near-opposites, Danielle Shelley’s studies in minimalism: vivid, exact geometric shapes, fine-boned silhouettes of mid-century chairs.
12 New Mexico Artists to Know Now expects and trusts viewers to take this cognitive dissonance in stride. Innovation — and a young annual series dedicated to the undiscovered and unexpected — requires flexibility and a hardscrabble willingness to experiment.
12 New Mexico Artists to Know Now continues at Southwest Contemporary (1415 W Alameda Street) through April 25 by appointment only. The exhibition was curated by Lauren Tresp and juried by Andrew Connors. Much of the work is visible online at southwestcontemporary.com.
Editor’s note: Please note that viewing hours for this exhibition may be reduced in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Discussions around art and culture are important during this time, but we encourage readers to practice social distancing and self-isolation in an effort to mitigate against the outbreak, which may include opting to explore an exhibition virtually instead of physically.