The Hudson River painter Thomas Cole captured the raw beauty of the land, imbuing his canvases with the power and awe of nature.
Cole’s massive “Dream of Arcadia,” on loan from the Denver Art Museum, began greeting visitors to the Albuquerque Art Museum on Oct. 8. Cole’s landscapes launched the Hudson River School and changed the course of American art.
His masterpiece is a bit of a tease to introduce guests to three contemporary exhibits by artists reflecting on their own relationships with the land. An exhibition of works from Cole’s studio will follow on Nov. 19.
Nicola López and Paula Wilson’s “Becoming Land” reveals each artists’ interpretation of New Mexico. Born in Chicago, Wilson now lives in Carrizozo. López was born in Santa Fe and lives in New York.
Wilson recently learned about the yucca moth and its symbiotic relationship with the yucca plant. In”Yucca Rising,” the monumental figure looks down at her own body which has become part of the landscape and the yucca life cycle. The moth is its sole pollinator and it regularly emerges in her prints and fabric-based installations. López’s print “Never Wild” shows a futuristic ribbed structure surrounded by ghostly plant life against a royal blue background.
“They don’t see themselves as separate from the land,” said Josie Lopez, Albuquerque Museum curator. “They see themselves as part of it.”
This attentiveness is something both artists share with Cole, who often visited the same scenes repeatedly to paint them, watching them change with the seasons and human interactions.
Celebrated internationally for work exploring the human body, the natural world, fable and the cosmos, the artist Kiki Smith’s “From the Creek” features works inspired by New York’s Catskill Mountains.
Smith’s installation features massive tapestries and sculptures woven with a menagerie of animals – birds, wolves, deer and pollinators – many native to the Catskill terrain.
“It’s meant to be an immersive environment,” Lopez said. “She wants people to walk through and experience the Catskills the way she experiences it.”
The exhibit expands from Smith’s installation created in Cole’s home and studio in Catskill, New York. Living about “a mile and two centuries apart,” both share a deep connection to place, as well as a fascination with life cycles and the fragility of the natural world.
The Chinese photographer Shi Guorui visited the sites of Cole’s works and created a camera obscura, a darkened room with a small hole or lens at one side through which an image is projected onto a wall or table opposite the hole.
“He saw himself re-tracing the steps of Thomas Cole and using a completely different media to engage with the landscape,” Lopez said.
The exhibition was originally shown at the Thomas Cole National Historic Sitein 2019 and curated by Kate Menconeri.
Guorui visited museums across the country to see Cole’s work, pored over the artist’s journals and essays, and traveled to the Catskill Mountains to make giant camera obscura photographs of the places that Cole painted almost 200 years ago. The iconic places that Cole painted remain strong and still enough to register in Guorui’s carefully composed, time-lapse photographs.
“One thing that connects them all,” Lopez said, “is the way each of the artists are seeing the land in different ways.”