SANTA FE, N.M. — From social realist Eli Levin’s consistent support for his own work and that of his friends to porcelain artist Heidi Loewen’s discovery of the power of no-color, 2013 was a year of chance-taking and changes on the Santa Fe gallery scene. As the calendar pages turn, this seemed an appropriate time to stop and take stock of the year’s most notable gallery shows.
The year began with a bang with Kristen Johnson’s eponymous gallery, Kristen Johnson Fine Art, opening on East Palace Avenue. She shows an eclectic mix of famous and emerging contemporary artists. Later in the year, Johnson created one of Santa Fe’s only downtown sculpture gardens in the front garden facing La Posada.
Her inaugural show featured work by one of the country’s most acclaimed artists, Wade Hoefer, who emerged from a self-imposed four-year sabbatical with new work. “It’s made me speechless,” Johnson said of signing Hoefer to her stable. “He’s a real A-lister.”
Johnson’s lived in Santa Fe for a few years now, having worked as a gallery director for Pippin Contemporary. After a successful career as a fine art dealer in Washington, D.C. and New York, Johnson spent the last decade as a corporate marketing and public relations executive. Recently, she rededicated her future to work with recognized contemporary artists.
Alexandra Stevens always has a show honoring Valentine’s Day, but it’s generally a one-artist show. In 2013, excited by the coincidence of Valentine’s Day and the Presidents’ Day weekend, Stevens hung a group show of work by all the artists in her Canyon Road gallery. Her gallery shows contemporary, representational award-winning artists in painting and sculpture. The genres range from representational art to impressionism, “illuminism” to high realism and contemporary abstracts.
Called “Heartfelt Expressions” in recognition of February’s status as the month of love and of heart health, the show included participants such as Phil Epp, Katrina Howarth, G.E. Griffith, Barbara Coleman, Walker Moore, E. Melinda Morrison, Jody Rigsby, Steele and Steele, Victoria Taylor-Gore, and Ruth Valerio. It was a warm show.
Interdisciplinary artist Jason Lujan is a living example of the kind of “hybridization of traditional and contemporary elements” he propounds in his work. A Chiricahua Apache by heritage, he makes a conscious effort not to include expected Native stereotypes in his work. He grew up in Marfa, Texas, but he’s lived and worked in New York for a dozen years.
Lujan never attended the Institute of American Indian Arts, but he was selected for a show at the IAIA museum, known as the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, across from St. Francis Cathedral.
His solo show, called “Summer Burial,” spotlighted his interest in trans-cultural experiences. “It is the leitmotif in all my work,” Lujan said. He rather happily predicted that the show would confuse people expecting stereotypically “Indian” themes, and it did. “My starting point is usually something other than Native American culture. I access my own background only when I feel it’s appropriate, rather than habitually basing artwork around it.”
“Dogs Are Forever” was artist Nancy Youdelman’s salute to furry friends and those who love them. Youdelman’s third solo show at Eight Modern on Delgado Street today reflected a continuing refinement of her unique method and style. The artist’s mixed-media sculptures and reliefs used vintage clothing as the foundation for artworks that incorporated vintage snapshots, love letters, buttons, pins, and organic elements such as leaves, twigs and flowers.
Youdelman adds depth to her legacy as a feminist artist through her accessible, honest exploration of the personal objects that interconnect touchstone themes such as love, mortality and femininity. This time it was dogs sparking the love.
Longtime Indian arts expert Mark Sublette’s Medicine Man Gallery on Canyon Road just went from strength to strength this year, earning two spots on our Best of Shows roundup. In May he mounted a show of Navajo and Zuni squash blossom necklaces from his collections.
Indian craftsmen (and women) mostly call them bead necklaces because of the long hours of forming the handmade beads that are strung between the “blossoms.” Many historians believe the name was a mistranslation that stuck. Others think squash blossom necklaces were dubbed that by Anglo traders who saw the similarity and gave the necklace a nice, rhythmic name. Whatever the etymology, the May to July show of squash blossoms at Medicine Man was terrific from start to finish. Then in July, Medicine Man mounted a show of Arizona artist Howard Post’s serene and colorful Western and ranch scenes. Another winner.
Back in June, meanwhile, Dixon-based artist and Santa Fe gallery-owner and life-drawing class leader and etching club maestro for 50 years (yep, he wears many hats) Eli Levin hung a show of his intaglio prints and paintings to celebrate his 75th birthday at his Argos Gallery on Luisa Street.
The show was meant to be a surprise (don’t ask how his business partner Eric Thomson planned to pull that one off) but wiser heads prevailed when the conspirators remembered that Eli doesn’t much like surprises. And sure enough, when they told him, he took charge and started changing all the paintings Thomson had planned to show. But then – who could have predicted it? – he changed his mind and let them hang the show they wanted! And it was a dilly.
A wistful note was struck at the always serene Touching Stone gallery in August, when we learned that the exhibition of two Tanba potters was the first show by master potter Tadashi Nishihata since the tragic, sudden death of his son and heir three years ago – and it was the last show of Touching Stone’s 10-year run as a premiere Santa Fe gallery for Japanese art. Tim Wong and his wife Akiko Hirano had decided to close the gallery and retire. The Nishihata show, which featured work by the father and his daughter Haruna, was the 100th show at the gallery, rounding things off with a spectacular exhibit. Not to worry; Touching Stone will retain an online presence. Stay tuned to see what next occupies that space on Old Santa Fe Trail.
Peyton/Wright Gallery owner John Wright Schaefer thinks he just might be a distant kin of artist Stanton MacDonald-Wright. He’d like to think so, anyway. The September exhibition of the late California-based artist’s work at his East Palace gallery was a stunning explication of Wright Schaefer’s dictum that great art stays in your mind like a lovely tune.
The white space in the paintings of Macdonald-Wright – the white space and the color and the harmony of form are what create the sense of movement in his paintings, almost, we pointed out, like a dance to some unheard music.
“That’s it!” said Schaefer. “The work is like a melody that you wake up and hear it over and over. I’ve had viewers call me a year later and tell me they can’t get a painting out of their minds.” It was a very successful show and added untold beauty to Santa Fe. MacDonald-Wright was one of the creators of the school called “Synchromism,” used to illustrate the synthesis of harmony and color and music. He died in 1973, and Peyton/Wright represents his estate.
Dirk Kortz had a tour de force in October, opening a solo show at Tom Ross Gallery on Canyon Road and, a week later, a two-man show with Steven Boone at Boone’s gallery down the road. He and Boone did a show of what they called “Twisted Portraits.”
At Tom Ross, Kortz showed what he claimed were “no-meaning” figurative oils. “I use figures, but I don’t use them in a narrative. It’s a hard one to explain,” Kortz said. “When people want to know what it means, it’s tempting to say that it doesn’t mean anything, but that’s not exactly the case. There’s no narrative, no analogy, no allegory, no hidden code. I suppose if it was abstract, nobody would ask that question. I like painting people. I did a lot of genre paintings that were narratives and somehow I needed to do something else. I started doing these paintings about three years ago. I find it satisfying.”
October also saw the return of Argos Studio-Gallery for a show of works on paper that Levin shared with three longtime friends: Sarah McCarty, Thayer Carter and Whitman Johnson. The show’s diverse range from etchings to oil paintings – all on paper – reflected the artists’ conviction that paper is one of the world’s primary media and one of its most important. Their show made that point explicitly.
One of Santa Fe’s most ebullient and happy artists – the venerable Jerry West – brought a show to the always-interesting Phil Space on Second Street in November. West was returning from a stint as artist-in-residence (at 80!) at the Roswell Art Museum, and brought some of his joyful landscapes with him. For those of us who have a fondness for the part of New Mexico below I-40, these paintings were a refreshment of talent and seeing.
November was also when the aforementioned Heidi Loewen startled everyone used to her brilliantly colored porcelain by mounting a show of “Snow White” sculptural porcelain vessels at her gallery on Johnson Street.
She said she learned to love the white vessels when a well-known collector came in one day and informed her that the vessels she was planning to paint in red and gold “were finished.”
“She wanted nothing whatsoever to change the pure white! What a concept! Elegant, pure and just to her liking. Such a great idea, so simple, that it never occurred to me,” Loewen said. “Always gilding the lily, I was.”
Don’t fret, though; by December Loewen was back to her colorful ways. Her current show is all red and gold.
The year wound up in a thoughtful way with “Under a Western Sky,” a show of photographer Craig Varjabedian’s heart-stopping landscapes at the William R. Talbott Gallery on West San Francisco Street. It included prints from Varjabedian’s recent book, “Landscape Dreams, A New Mexico Portrait” (University of New Mexico Press), for which he recently was awarded the prestigious New Mexico-Arizona Book Award.
The secret to Varjabedian’s soul-connecting photographs, he said, is simple: “I only photograph what I love.”