ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — To pare down the foundation of art-making exposes roots of shadow and light.
Three exhibitions opening at the New Mexico Museum of Art explore that genesis in sculpture, painting and photography. “Carved & Cast: 20th Century New Mexican Sculpture,” “Wait Until Dark” and “Shots in the Dark” open this weekend.
“Carved & Cast” is a survey of traditional sculptural materials, genres and styles used by New Mexico artists across the last century.
Patrociño Barela’s carved pine “The Garden of Eden” combines traditional Spanish colonial techniques with a fluid, modernist sensibility. The self-taught Taos artist worked for the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency that employed millions to carry out public projects during the Depression.
“He was included in an exhibition in 1936 at the Museum of Modern Art,” museum director Mary Kershaw said, “which was a very big deal.
“He carved saints in a very contemporary way,” she said. “He didn’t look to Spanish colonial sculpture, but he was more modernist in approach. He would look to the material to see where the sculpture was going.”
Agnes C. Sims’ carved wood “Deer Dance” resembles oversized pueblo chess pieces. A student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, she visited Santa Fe in 1938 and moved into an 18th century farmhouse on Canyon Road.
“She lived there with her life partner, who was an editor at Harper’s Bazaar,” Kershaw said.
Sims was often inspired by New Mexico’s petroglyphs.
Shortly after her arrival, a friend introduced Sims to the Galisteo Basin, south of Santa Fe. It was dotted with the ruins of prehistoric Indian pueblos and home to tens of thousands of petroglyphs.
The two-dimensional “Wait Until Dark” gallery draws from the museum’s collection of night scenes in paintings and prints.
The term “nocturne” refers to the quality of light in a painting; it can mean twilight, waning or waxing light or the darkness of night. Artists use these gradations to tell stories and set scenes of cultural and community events. Darkness can create a multiplicity of moods: dreamy, ethereal, menacing or meditative.
Gerald Cassidy turned his “Sketch for a Spanish Dance Scene” into a Santa Fe Country Club mural. A crescent moon lingers in a doorway as two Spanish dancers cavort in their finery near a guitarist and some onlookers. The artist’s wife donated the painting to the museum in 1963.
Gene Kloss’ aquatint and drypoint “Christmas Eve, Taos Pueblo” captures the classic image of a procession moving toward pueblo walls sculpted by shadow and light.
“That’s one of my favorites,” Kershaw said. “She really captured nighttime beautifully. And using black and white is a real testament to her talent; she created such evocative images.”
Photography is most associated with light, but “Shots in the Dark” examines the dark side of the medium through the works of four Southwestern photographers. These artists use darkness as a catalyst.
Ken Rosenthal calls “The Forest” “the most complicated and personal series I’ve undertaken.”
Rosenthal shot the images in the forest of Washington’s Selkirk Mountains. A tangle of felled trees and branches webs across the darkened forest floor.
The image pulses with a palpable sense of mystery.
“It really pulls you in if you spend time with the work,” Kershaw said. “The longer you spend with it, the more it reveals.”
Conceptual and experimental photographer Christopher Colville’s “Ouroboros 4 (detail)” is a gunpowder-generated silver print.
“He’s looking at how the light plays in the darkness,” Kershaw said.
“The series began as an experimentation of what photography can do and pushing that, so he makes small explosions and photographs,” she added.
That experimentation creates the eerie aura of an apocalyptic event, either the birth of the universe or the end of time.