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516 Arts’ 10th anniversary exhibition a fascinating tribute

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sometimes slogging but more often jogging or running flat out 516 Arts has cut a wide aesthetic swath featuring more than 1,000 artists and arts organizations during the past 10 years while drawing favorable international attention to the burgeoning Albuquerque Contemporary art scene.

“Penumbra” by Tom Joyce creates shadow forms and burnt image memories emblemizing the heat involved in wrought iron working.

“Penumbra” by Tom Joyce creates shadow forms and burnt image memories emblemizing the heat involved in wrought iron working.

To revel in the institution’s achievement, Executive Director Suzanne Sbarge and her able staff assembled “DECADE: Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of 516 Arts” a 13-artist exhibition closing Jan. 7, and a series of project events running through Jan. 11.

Jessica Angel is an installation artist and muralist who collaborates with other artists to complete on-site projects much like a traveling singer hooks up with the house band to play a gig. I’m gobsmacked by her architecture-nullifying installation titled “Continuum” in the 516 Arts downstairs gallery that creates curves where there are none and turns the concrete floor into a liquid mass of floating colors.

Angel entertains the idea of interdimensional realms that occasionally intersect, offering viewers a wormhole passage between dominions. In her exhibition catalog essay, author and critic Lucy Lippard mentions that historian Sharon Udall described the 2006 opening of 516 Arts as offering “a portal to the extraordinary.”

“Manjushri” by Patrick Nagatani is part of the artist’s “tape-estry series began in 1982.

“Manjushri” by Patrick Nagatani is part of the artist’s “tape-estry series began in 1982.

Angel’s complex hand-cut sheet vinyl composition fulfills that prophecy. The artist also completed a painted mural titled “The Fall of the Ten Suns” on the outside east wall of the Silver Street Market at Silver and Second SW. On a nice day, it’s worth a to-and-fro walk.

Longtime blacksmith and pig-iron sculptor Tom Joyce utilizes his access to a major Midwestern steelworks to create burnt offerings like “Penumbra” whose surface is covered in round “shadows,” where hot steel circular forms were temporarily placed. Joyce sets these pieces onto a substrate just long enough to burn in a memory of their presence.

Joyce is playing with the figure-ground and positive/negative aspects of basic design. His three-dimensional steel sculptures titled “Core Negative I” and “Core V” are fine examples of how far an imaginative artist can develop a Design 101 concept. He also has an interesting video in the exhibition. Joyce designed and built the garden gates at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, along with many other projects throughout the world.

Patrick Nagatani is a longtime hero of mine who once served on the National Endowment for the Arts visual arts committee. He is a photographer who has pushed the boundaries of conventional photography into the outer limits of creative expression. Nagatani is a message artist whose narrative ranges from the tragic invention and use of the atomic bomb to the spiritual nature of Buddhism.

One of his current projects is a multi-author novel about a group of female pilots who solo across the Pacific on reconditioned World War II biplanes. In this show Nagatani offers “Manjushri” the Tibetan Buddhist patron deity of students.

The color print is part of his “tape-estry” series, begun in 1982, in which the artist painstakingly covers the entire surface with masking tape. The results are stunning and elegant.

Aaron Noble offers a superhero comic book-inspired acrylic painting titled “Burden” to the fray. Noble is a talented draftsman and painter who skillfully blends illustration with intelligent abstraction. His large canvases have the look of animation cels from another reality.

Graphic arts play a large role in mixed-media works like “Universal Bunnies” by Floyd D. Tunson. His work comes out of the 1960’s hard-hitting and visually powerful politically inspired post soup-can pop art that vacillates between protest poster and graffiti art. His cross hatched surfaces are as strong as a well-placed fist in the eye. I find Tunson’s work to be successfully engaging with a crystal-clear message. Tunson is an artist for our time since the coming decade may make the 1960s seem like a quiet afternoon tea party.

The galleries are chock-full of many other very intelligent works. My only complaint on the exhibition is the low-hanging placement of Leticia Bajuyo’s “Ad Infinitum” construction, which partly obscures David Leigh’s nicely rendered mural. Bajuyo has a companion piece at the Tony Hillerman Library that is tucked up near the ceiling. Had the 516 Arts piece taken the same approach Leigh’s work would have been spared the intrusive rigging.

Overall it is a great show with many fascinating parts. The past 10 years have been exciting for the arts of Albuquerque with 516 Arts acting as a catalyst for positive change and wide cooperation between all of the area’s art institutions. Sbarge and her staff should be proud of their personal sacrifices and public contributions.

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