November 2009 Archives

Relevant Landscapes

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Pickering-Landmine400.jpgLand in Art at the New Mexico Museum of Art

October 27, 2009

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO - On day three in New Mexico, I find it's time to differentiate myself as an art tourist, one who travels to see contemporary art, from tourist art. Art made for tourists including the art made to hang on walls is beginning to wear me down, although I consciously avoid looking at bad galleries. However, just walking around Santa Fe my companion has already managed to call some paitings we've walked by 'insipidly lifeless'. The gallery called it Nouveau Surrealism, but the images were like a Doonesbury comic strip, my companion continued until he realized he was insulting the a comic strip. Nauseating, was his conclusion, in the first ever use he has made of that word. Style without substance.


In a few days we'd already seen lots of attempts to recreate, to emote, to aesthetically communicate the beautiful land around us. It's a hard job in a visually clutter world. Georgia O'Keefe's sensuous works usually do it for me, but here in Santa Fe, they are flaunted everywhere amidst the nauseating stuff. And all the copiers of O'Keefe, of dead Impressionists, of dead Abstract Expressionists, of Western Artists like Remington and Russell and of all the copiers of Indian artists.

Realism is boring, O'Keefe said, what's interesting is what an artist emphasizes, points out to you.


New Mexico was the home of a land art collective show this summer, and we'd missed most of it by this fall trip, but went inside the Fine Art Museum of New Mexico to see a more traditionally placed exhibition on the land idea.

The show was based on an old photo show at the George Eastman House, called New Topographics, something about: in today's world what does man do to the land, how does man live in it that makes land relevant to us human folk today. The show is called: ManMade: Notions of Landscape.

Well, it sustains us, said my companion. We are of the earth, not really of the city structure although so many artists today feel city is their environment. Cityscapes are veiled, I think. And we Westerners are lucky to still see the unveiled thing, and feel something about it.

Last night we were in Ojo Caliente, soaking in hot water that people here have been soaking in for centuries (longer than people were saying USA) and when we get out, we and everyone around us, were wearing the same robes like in a sci fi movie set in the future.


About the show: ManMade: it is mostly photography. And a reenactment of a Robert Smithson, . Without that piece, called Atlantis, there was nothing physical about land included in this show. All were snaps of it. Artificial 2-Ds of landscapes, just as Smithson's is a make-believe landscape.


A museum guards told us they brought in 4 tons of glass and broke it in the gallery - wearing safety glasses and respirators. He also observed a couple, in their twenties, who had no idea what Atlantis was.  They, he said, were going to go to Africa and visit it someday.


Sarah Pickering - landscapes of England - pastoral countryside. Photographs of explosions of a land mine, a fuel explosion and artillery. Looking at her pieces you could actually focus on the landscape, see the trees with the various explosions.


An-My Le was included with a good B&W photo of rockets; some accidental images are better than others and just because Famous-Artist makes them doesn't make them beautiful or even interesting. A little curatorial integrity would have been appreciated. I'm feeling skeptically sarcastic as I ask: Is violence necessary to be relevant today? And is it okay to intersperse images of landscape?

Smithson's piece was particularly violent. I imagined impaling myself on it, throwing myself on it, and it was frightening, a better rush of chill than any viewing of horror film or homicidal newscast.


Roni Horn is included with a series of photos of the Thames River. Pretty images. Horn concentrated interest because there were 20 or 39 footnotes on each one, but in this relevant age, we ignore footnotes. How many of us want to know what's in the footnote? And I am bothered by the paper curling and the quality of the print being so poor. If it's about water close ups being pretty, then make them pretty, bad craftsmanship should have a point.

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