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  • Michael Abatemarco

Mining the youth: The Santa Fe Art Project

Thais Mather Lil Wayne Drops Pen and ink micro-pointillism 2016 14" x 17"

Aug. 5, 2015, 3 million gallons of wastewater contaminated with arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, and lead, among other toxic elements from a spill at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, poisoned a tributary of the Animas River. The event was an ecological disaster. Within five days, the waste had reached the San Juan River on the Navajo Nation, contaminating ranch and farm lands, affecting cattle and crops. Two days after that, it had reached Lake Powell. Santa Fe-based artist Drew Lenihan, the digital communications and social media coordinator at SITE Santa Fe, examines issues surrounding the mine spill in a multimedia installation at David Richard Gallery as part of Basins— one of two exhibits in the first Santa Fe Art Project showcase, which opens Friday, Sept. 9.

“[Lenihan is] addressing issues of disaster tourism and activism, digital media and its aestheticizing of sociality, while doing something rather traditional by including photographic prints,” said Radical Abacus’ John McKissick, the curator of Basins. “Drew’s installation will not only include a sculptural ‘nonsite’ of the Robert Smithson variety but will also include prints of Instagram feeds showing people’s collective image-making around this episode.” What Smithson called “nonsites” are abstract indoor earth works that represent actual off-site locations. Lenihan is one of nine local artists showing work in Basins. The exhibit is paired with one curated by the team of David Eichholtz, co-owner of David Richard Gallery, and visiting curator Howard Rutkowski.

Initiated by David Richard Gallery, the Santa Fe Art Project is a series of shows that mine the talents of local artists. The project represents a new exhibit model for the gallery, the primary focus of which has heretofore been on postwar and contemporary abstraction, including Op art, Pop art, and Color Field painting by national artists. The first two exhibits in the rotation, under the heading The Santa Fe Art Project – Part 1, are on view for two weeks. A second pairing opens in late September, followed by a third pairing that debuts in October.

“We’re curating three of the shows that are in the rotation,” Eichholtz toldPasatiempo. “We have guest curators for the other three, and we sort of focused on people from the alternative spaces and local collectives for that. Santa Fe has always had a history of having an enormous number of artists and creative people, but what’s happened in the last couple of years, with the big push now for more affordable housing and studio spaces, there’s been more of an influx. There’s a great new group of young people. In the last several years here in Santa Fe, these collectives have popped up. Collectives aren’t new, but they are kind of new to Santa Fe, I think. At least, my awareness of them has been really heightened.”

Eichholtz and Rutkowski’s roster for the first rotation includes works by 14 local artists. “The past few shows that I’ve curated have been at Radical Abacus,” McKissick said. “This is a more representative exhibition in a venue that I’m not in charge of. It gave me the chance to work with some younger artists in Santa Fe who I haven’t worked with before.” Amelia Fugee is a sculptor and fabric artist working with found scraps of textiles used as the basis for wall tapestries that evoke a sense of natural and domestic spaces. Installation art and sculpture are well represented in Basins, which includes works by Jamie Hamilton, Caley Dennis, Christian Michael Filardo, and Lara Nickel. Angelo Harmsworth is presenting a soundscape.

“Like all of the shows I’ve thrown at Radical Abacus, this show is unthemed,” McKissick said. “ ‘Basins’ is a beautiful word that I found had multiple connections to geography, domestic life, geometry. I was staying in Galisteo this summer, and Drew was telling me about the Gold King Mine disaster. I was thinking about the San Juan Basin. The reason I chose that title was because of the sound and shape and semantic potential of the word. I’m including artists I wanted to work with, who I was confident would produce perceptually compelling, conceptually sophisticated, and socially reflective work. They’re young. They’re driven.”

Many of the artists in the Santa Fe Art Project series are newer and mid-career artists without regular gallery representation, who show their works in pop-up shows or who have been featured mainly in alternative art spaces. These shows and spaces typically feature cutting-edge artwork rarely seen in Santa Fe’s more traditional and established galleries. David Richard, while not the first gallery to include the rising local collectives composed of a largely younger demographic, is poised to become a prime player in promoting them. “The collectives fulfill a really important role,” said Eichholtz, whose gallery moved from the Railyard Arts District to Pacheco Street earlier this year. “It’s a way for them to get together and make art and present it in an organized way. Also, it’s nurturing. There’s critical feedback and critical discourse going on amongst themselves. Those are things that artists need and want and are starving for. I started meeting with some of them and doing different projects. For example, we hosted a couple of Strangers Collective’s salons when we moved here.”

The Santa Fe Art Project grew out of DR Projects, an initiative that Eichholtz and gallery co-owner Richard Barger began last year to showcase the art of emerging artists and older artists who wanted to revitalize their careers or present new projects. “When we moved to this location we decided to dedicate two spaces for local talent,” Eichholtz said. “It gave us an opportunity — which we’ve always wanted to do since we moved to Santa Fe — to meet more, and work with more, of the artists here. I realized that what we ought to do is some really big effort that could concentrate and focus around the really dynamic and vibrant contemporary art scene. Artists need two things to jumpstart their careers: exposure and income. They need to be able to sell enough work here or in other cities and stay in Santa Fe, be part of the community, and not have to leave in order to make a living.”

Northern New Mexico is in a unique position in relation to other art destinations around the country because of its centuries-long history of artistic practice and tradition. In the 20th century, it was a crossroads for American modernism and continues to attract artists to this day. The post-recession art world has seen a rise in art hubs popping up in urban centers in other states. According to Eichholtz, that phenomenon dilutes the critical attention that once favored Santa Fe. “The way the whole art publication world has changed from print to digital, it just doesn’t seem like Santa Fe is getting the critical coverage that we used to when we were a big percentage of the total percentage of art destinations,” he said. “What we’d like to do is make sure people are aware of the contemporary scene here and attract, from outside, serious collectors, patrons, curators, critics, writers. That’s how this all works. You need people to come in and purchase the work to support these artists. Santa Fe has benefited from art tourism over the years. We’ve always had that, but it seems like we’ve had a lull because of the recession, and we need to get those folks back.”

The Santa Fe Art Project – Part 2 pairs the second David Richard-curated show — which includes works by Chris Collins, Anne Farrell, and Caity Kennedy — with Women’s Work, guest-curated by Santa Fe Collective’s co-founder Jennifer Joseph. “When I started thinking about who I wanted to put in the show, they turned out to be all women,” Joseph told Pasatiempo. “A lot of their work entails detailed repetitions. There’s a certain repetition to a lot of craft practices like weaving or sewing, but there’s also repetition in things like block printing.” Women’s Work features selections by five artists: Sydney Cooper, Thais Mather, Terri Rolland, Lucrecia Troncoso, and Joseph herself, who is showing some of her new paintings. Her recent compositions explore patterns, concentric geometric forms, and color. “I kind of make the same painting over and over again, but because of my interest in all the variations of color that exist, I feel like it’s an endless process. Exploring color within the context of pattern is pretty much how I’m working, and I like working within constraints as a discipline. The practice of repetition can be transcendent in that it takes you out of your normal thinking and gets you into a very present space — for me, anyway.”

The final part of the series, The Santa Art Project – Part 3, opening in October, presents artwork by another seven local artists, paired with Outer Local, guest-curated by Crockett Bodelson and Sandra Wang of SCUBA. “Outer Local is a mix of people who moved to Santa Fe, people who grew up here, moved out, and then returned,” Wang told Pasatiempo. “It’s a little bit of a departure from our other curated shows. We usually collaborate on a creative prompt that’s more specific and usually has some audience interactive elements to it.” Outer Local was the name of one of the first sculptures the artist duo made when they moved from the Bay Area to Santa Fe in 2011. It referenced Wang’s perspective as an outsider and Bodelson’s renewed perspective as a native of Santa Fe. “The Outer Local theme can be applied more broadly to our artists because we think that their works speak about the place where they were made,” Wang said. “We feel like their work covers this whole spectrum of one’s relationship with a place.”

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