Sante Fe

Santa Fe

Various Venues, Santa Fe

The Fiesta staged over the Labor Day weekend marks the climax of an active summer here, and the Fine Arts Museum schedules its Annual Fiesta Show to coincide with the festivities. The Fiesta Show is open to all entrants; there were 181 this year. A jury of three awards small cash prizes (a total of $350) and three honorable mentions. While the jurors state in the catalog that the show is a “good representative cross-section of New Mexico art,” not all the artists currently active in New Mexico are represented, for reasons best known to themselves. Another juror says “We are catching up to the over-all trends of the nation, so that we are no longer at the end of the railroad.” Aside from the question of how desirable it is to “catch up to the overall trends”—as opposed to evolving without regard for trends—the statement deserves some qualification, both in terms of the Fiesta Show and other work currently on exhibit in Santa Fe.

In general, the level of painting is high; the level of sculpture is astonishingly bad, astonishingly, because the area is rich in sculptural sources: the adobe architecture really is sculpture, and there is everywhere present the full force of natural phenomena, colors, shapes, textures, forms, volumes—perhaps too much competition from nature leads to the paucity of sculptural imagination. Of the sculpture in the show, Foster Jewell’s My Pooh Bear, despite the obvious sentiment of the title, was really more concerned with true sculpture, along the lines explored by Chaim Gross, than the other entries. The forms were pure, the grain was exploited to full effect in definition of the forms, and it was left to underline a statement of disarming simplicity.

Of the 181 entrants, all but 26 live in Albuquerque, Taos, or Santa Fe. Albuquerque, of course, has the university to spark creative activity, although Elaine de Kooning’s departure some time ago is rumored to have created a vacuum no one can fill. (I suspect this is true mostly if one is a de Kooning disciple, since there is some pretty good painting going on and someone must be teaching.) Taos is renowned as an “artist’s colony” and seems to thrive on this reputation. Santa Fe abounds with charm and a certain sophistication that blends agreeably with the provincial flavor of its Spanish colonial past. The sense of continuity with the past is strong and its position at the crossroads of the Southwest for generations probably accounts for much of the present activity. Whatever the cause, the atmosphere certainly is healthy. Canyon Road has some 20 galleries and studios which are scattered for a mile or so along either side. The whole thing was set in motion some fifty years ago when George Bellows and Robert Henri, among others, “discovered” Santa Fe and started a move out here of artists and writers who have continued to find the town congenial to their needs. To honor the 50th year of statehood, the Fine Arts Museum also has a show of works by some members of this generation, notably a magnificent Robert Henri portrait of a seated Indian that has some of the presence of Van Gogh’s Zouave. After this initial impetus there was an interregnum of painters who devoted themselves mostly to scenes of the Southwest. The “American” style of the thirties predominated, and still does in some quarters. Much of the work in the Fiesta Show reflects this influence; some of the best current work is to be seen in the two (new) galleries specifically devoted to contemporary “trends.”

The Barn, a cooperative gallery installed in a converted stable, finished up the season with a group show of artists whose work had been seen in one- and two-man shows throughout the summer. Of these, three painters are most memorable; Edward Marecak, from Denver, manages to combine the graphic imagery of Klee and the color, texture, and use of black of Miró, with an element all his own to evolve an original and highly colorful style. Janet Lippincott paints abstract landscapes of great intensity; she balances a range of greens and yellows, which converge with force and feeling. In contrast to the vigor of Miss Lippincott’s paintings, Constance Counter (originally from Laguna) has a lyric, almost floating quality to her work. Indeterminate but carefully arranged shapes drift in a kind of nebulous space, suspended, silent. Best of the sculpture is William Underhill’s bronze, bulbous Cloud Pot.

Farther down Canyon Road: Agnes Sims shows paintings more specifically New Mexican in content. Tome Dryce works in a confusing variety of styles; his Maiden Voyage in the Fiesta Show best typifies the most rewarding one. The Santa Fe Association of the Arts maintains a cooperative gallery where a clutch of local artists show their works. The efforts of the group are commendable, but not noteworthy.

The Contemporaries, on College Street, is the other gallery devoted to the current work of established artists. Here, too, the season was winding up with a group show of artists whose work had been seen during the summer; part of the show was focused on the figure. The paintings here were most consistently interesting. In retrospect, Walter Pickette stands out as the most forceful painter of the group. His paintings are enigmatic: a chunky sort of figure in the midst of an undefined, vaguely striped setting, apprehended on the verge of silently performing some ambiguous act or gesture. The other painter of real interest is Tom Ingle. I am told he is a close friend of John Cage; his painting bears out a similar interest in “silences.” Small, fragmented, shapes, like worn remains of some nearly obliterated fresco, scattered against “silent” intervals of painted white canvas. So the Fiesta Show is only part of the loaf. The quality, variety, and intensity of activity here indicate that it would be provincial to think that nothing happens in the provinces.

Joan Hugo