Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Final Episode in This Five Part Series of Educational Talks at the New Mexico Museum of Art

Herding, Jaune Quick to See Smith, 1985 -- Albuquerque Museum of Art and History Collection

  • December 2: Artists for Art’s Sake
Retired Curator of Art at the Albuquerque Museum, Ellen Landis, will take us through the important artist movements of the 1980s and 1990s and their impact on institutions like the MOA and Spanish and Indian Markets.

Oh? Is that a fact?

I left this final talk in the series with a distinctly bad taste in my mouth.

It appears that Ms Landis, in the fullness of her former position, simply could not find more than one or two Indians or Spanish artists during her tenure at the Albuquerque Museum whose work was worth collecting or showing, and she still bridles at the criticisms she received for her, shall we say, blind spot(s). She was particularly stung by criticisms that she neither showed nor collected works by Albuquerque artists, of whom she apparently thought not at all -- unless they sucked up to her sufficiently to be noticed.

Her attitude struck me as exhibit one for why parts of the curatorial profession have such a poor rapport and reputation with artists and the public.

Her discussion of "movements" was a discussion of artists as individuals whose works she noticed. About half of whom have apparently disappeared or left the field. Whatever became of them she knows not, less does she care.

The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History these days has a strong reputation and an outstanding collection spanning the centuries, and -- now -- featuring the works of many Albuquerque artists and artists of color, including Indians and Hispanic artists. I haven't been there for many years, however, and what I recall of my one visit so many years ago was the relative dearth of contemporary art by local and regional artists and its surprising, nearly obsessive emphasis on Spanish (Conquistador) history. The museum was new when I visited, and perhaps the History portion (focused on the Spanish) was practically all there was to feature, as it's hard to imagine Ms Landis ever found much art worth the trouble to display.

Ms. Landis's tenure as Curator began in the 70's and lasted until the early 2000's. She said she had been a community college instructor in California, got a divorce, and she wanted to go someplace and do something where she wasn't known and where she had no personal associations. Curating art at the Albuquerque Museum seemed like a perfect fit.

The museum was then housed in the former terminal building at the Sunport, the one built by the WPA in the '30's, with insufficient heat and cooling to protect the exhibits. Apparently she hated it.

The building is still there and travelers pass by it to and from the new terminal probably without noticing. It is actually quite a stunning example of Pueblo Revival architecture. I can understand that it may not have been such an outstanding place to work when it was serving as the temporary home of the Albuquerque Museum, but still, it's a remarkable survival from another era and quite worthy of the praise and respect its received from many quarters. In a sense, the terminal itself is a work of art. But I doubt Ms Landis ever noticed, or if she did, I doubt she approved. No doubt she found it too primitive, too balky, and far too limiting.


At any rate, she made sure we knew she didn't like it on top of the mesa at the Sunport, and she didn't appreciate artists "putting demands" on her, either.

Artists such as some of the Indians she refused to show or collect at the Museum because they wanted to be seen as a group, she said, and she couldn't agree to that and "ever live it down." The problem? She didn't think that some of the group (which included Jaune Quick to See Smith) had sufficient quality to be shown at the Museum. She said she could only find one Hispanic whose work was worthy of showing. Everyone else was doing santos and gimcracks and stuff, and I guess everyone who mattered knew that santos weren't art.

So it went.

Some of the works she did choose to show or collect were interesting, but there seemed to be little of it. If she was the only one making these decisions for the Museum back in the day -- as I assume she was -- it's little wonder there was such a paucity.

She did mention Beverly Magennis, however, and how wonderful she was and how extraordinary her tile house was.

So there's that.
Check out Albuquerque's Public Art, too. The link goes to a Flickr page and is only a sampling... Damn, the freeway overpasses are works of art in Albuquerque!

Big I Stone Sweep and Pylons

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