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Three artists challenge curatorial conventions with site-specific installations

SANTA FE – SITE Santa Fe has corralled a trio of contemporary artists into “Unsuspected Possibilities,” thanks to a 2013 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation grant.

The resulting $50,000 is funding a new installation of evocative and culturally resonant material. The artists have designed these site-specific installations to be responsive to one another.

“This experimental presentation challenges curatorial conventions in keeping with SITE Santa Fe’s tradition of producing new commissions and exploring new directions,” the Rauschenberg Foundation website states.

“Untitled (Dream Catcher)” by Marie Watt is made of mixed media. (Courtesy of the artist and Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle)

“Untitled (Dream Catcher)” by Marie Watt is made of mixed media. (Courtesy of the artist and Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle)

Two of the exhibition artists boast Santa Fe ties. Sarah Oppenheimer grew up there, while Marie Watt graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts before progressing to Yale University. The third artist in this triad, Leonardo Drew, is from Brooklyn, N.Y. The exhibition is part of the “SITE 20 Years/20 Shows” summer series.


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SITE curator Janet Dees based the exhibit on a premise of collaboration. Normally, group exhibition artists rarely communicate.

“They aren’t talking to each other; it’s the curator” who leads the conversation, she said.

Each of the artists works in a variety of materials ranging from glass to wood to fiber. Drew is known for his dynamic, large-scale sculptural installations often made from wood, cast paper, cotton and burned canvas.

“It’s about texture, the evocative nature of the material,” Dees said.

Although often mistaken for accumulations of found objects, Drew’s sculptures gather new materials subjected to weathering, burning, oxidation and decay. His work challenges the architecture of gallery spaces. Memories of the childhood housing project where he once lived resurface in intricate grids, angles and configurations often pocked, splintered and bristled.

Oppenheimer’s window-like pieces reveal both the space and the people in them by reflecting both sides of the glass at once. Her primary material becomes the exhibition space itself. Her glass “holes” traverse the physical boundaries of the environment by breaking through walls, floors and other boundaries.

An artist of Seneca, Scottish and German ancestry, Watt explores the confluence of myth, history and memory, often through textiles. Her most recent body of work incorporates blankets as both material and metaphor.

Used as gifts for naming ceremonies and memorials, their meaning in the American Indian community makes their use especially evocative. Watt uses recycled blankets in her work, sometimes embroidering them. She based a recent series on a photograph of a potlatch ceremony, where organizers throw blankets into the crowd. Another focused on a flying theme incorporating everything from birds to satellites.

At SITE, 11 of her pieces will hang from the ceiling like flags, the overall shape loosely resembling the elongated rectangle of a traditional long house.

“She likes this idea that they’re objects that have histories,” Dees said.”It’s like painting with textiles.”