'New Mexico Landscapes' looks at the different state interpretations

‘New Mexico Landscapes’ looks at the different interpretations of the state

“A Landscape: San Felipe Day School,” Felice Lucero, 1990, pastel on paper, Albuquerque Museum, gift of Ray Graham. (Courtesy of the Albuquerque Museum)

New Mexico boasts blue skies and vast open spaces bisected by mountains, foothills, deserts, forests and rivers luring artists with a magnetic pull.

Their interpretations have ranged from poetic reflections to violent visions of the history of colonization.

Open at the Albuquerque Museum through March 19, 2023, “New Mexico Landscapes” encapsulates these reflections through works on paper via photography, printmaking, watercolor, paintings and collage. The featured artists include Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Howard Cook, Ernest Knee, Dan Namingha, Eliot Porter, Jerry West, Felice Lucero and more.

“A Prairie Dream,” Jerry West, 1981, acrylic on paper, 24×38 inches, Albuquerque Museum gift of Ray Graham. (Courtesy of The Albuquerque Museum)

The works on view incorporate plants, land forms, and architecture, as well as references to human relationships.

“There’s a lot of juxtaposition in this show,” museum curator Josie Lopez said. “You see artists doing something very naturalistic and something abstract.”

San Felipe Pueblo artist Lucero used pastel on paper to produce a map of San Felipe Day School. With its U.S. Government lettering, it looks more like a prison than a place of learning.

“She’s looking at how colonialism impacted the pueblo,” Lopez said.

In 1977, Albuquerque artist Diane Palley designed lithographed posters for land grant protests in Chilili, located south of Albuquerque. She volunteered for the Chicano Communications Center, then located in the old Harwood School.

“Defend the Land Struggle: Que Viva Chilili!” Diane Palley, 1977, lithograph on paper, 26×20 inches, Albuquerque Museum; gift of Diane Palley. (Courtesy of the Albuquerque Museum)

Palley constructed the graphic image with paper cutouts. The poster shows a pair of bloodied hands emerging from an acequia beneath the headline “Defend the Land Struggle.”

“We had a silkscreen studio in the basement at the Harwood,” she said. “People were working with a lot of the land grant folks trying to get back their ancestral lands. They were having trouble keeping possession of their common lands. It wasn’t in anyone’s name; they couldn’t claim them. They thought it belonged to everyone.”

Palley grew up on an island off the coast of New Jersey. In her Jewish tradition, she was taught not to become too attached to land because she might have to flee it.

“I met Native Americans who belonged to (a) mountain,” she said. “It was the hill that their grandparents were buried under. I was so attracted to that. It was so poignant. Just when I found a place where people were attached to the land, they were in danger of losing it.”

The use of paper cutouts flourished in South American political posters. Palley began by researching Mexican political art, especially the murals of David Alfaro Siqueiros.

“I tried to come up with an image that dealt with the land,” she said. “I wanted to show that it was in peril, so I turned the water into blood.”

“Church, LaManga, New Mexico,” Ernest Knee, 1941, gelatin silver print, 14×11 inches, Albuquerque Museum, gift of Rosser Knee. (Courtesy of the Albuquerque Museum)

In contrast, Knee’s dramatic 1941 photograph of “Church, LaManga, New Mexico” emphasizes the beauty of the clouds and skies as they nearly erupt over the building.

Two of the artists, Alex Harris and Celia D. Rumsey, revealed the landscape as viewed through the windshield of a moving low-rider, the striped lanes dividing the asphalt.

Santa Fe’s West created a fanciful “A Prairie Dream” uniting naturalism with abstraction. His bed floats above low foothills and a purple sky, snakes coiling from the covers.

Porter framed the mystery, textures, shadows, and vastness of White Sands National Monument in his 1977 photograph. Clinton Adams, Forrest Moses and Dan Namingha created abstract renderings of the land operating very differently than photographs. They reference a deep sense of time demonstrating how artists can relate to and communicate connections to place without literal images.

Miguel Gandert’s series documents and reflects on centuries-long connections to the earth through adobe in a groundedness related to shelter and home.

Other artists like AnaMaria Samaniego and Howard Cook created prints highlighting the importance of plant life in the natural world. Sage, cactus and the grasses in each of their works transport us to areas in and around Santa Fe. Palley also incorporated plant life in her political poster calling for the preservation of lands in Chilili, but instead of featuring wild natural settings, the lithograph reflects farming and traditional ways of living.

The exhibit also serves as a New Mexico preview to the upcoming “Historic and Contemporary Landscapes” show opening Oct. 8 and “Thomas Cole’s Studio,” opening on Nov. 19.

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