Continuing through May 19, 2013
SITE Santa Fe’s current exhibition is split into three parts, each related to the California Conceptualist Art movement of the 1970s, a period marked by an oft deceivingly insouciant approach toward art making practices and a deliberate shunning of rules and expectations. It is helpful to remember that California during this time was the birthplace of the Black Panthers and, arguably, of the Chicano art movement; it was a breeding ground for Civil Rights reform and Vietnam War protests. Culture and politics converged in California to form a period of radical and concentrated creativity, and the state was poised to influence artists for generations to come.
An exhibition of such a key period of aesthetic transition and emergence as this is necessarily ambitious. It is that much more challenging because the subject matter doesn’t always lend itself to conventional display or explanation.
The first part of the exhibition features Mungo Thomson. In a dark alcove is a looped film of an intensely focused orchestra playing string music, which we learn is based on recordings of chirping crickets. This sound, somehow synonymous with silence, is a lovely point of introduction to the show. To reach the rest of the exhibition, one must pass through a collapsing room divider that is in fact an outsized accordion. This is actually a work, "Acoustic Partition," and is a follow-up to a piece Thomson showed in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, wherein hangers from the museum’s coat room were traded for handmade, orchestra triangle-style hangers. These chimed throughout the course of the day. "Acoustic Partition" is not nearly so charming. Visually, the structure is drab and unremarkable — and not in an edgy or avant garde manner. That the object is repurposed as a giant accordion, which makes wheezing sounds when pumped in and out of the doorjamb, is not self evident, but has to be pointed out.
The next rooms contain an array of objects: photos, installation works, and videos invoking multitudinous themes and theses that underscore SITE’s aptitude for creating personalized, well thought out spaces for art viewing. John Baldessari paid homage to his home state with the photo-based "California Map Project." He took a map of the state and drove to the exact location where each letter was positioned on the paper, recreating it with wildflowers or chalk or river rocks. In one small room, a life-sized cardboard cutout of artist Allen Ruppersberg stands next to a neon motel sign that reads “Al’s Grand Hotel.” A TV monitor plays footage of the artist laughing and hanging out with guests at his installation-performance art piece that doubled as an operating hotel, and which featured weekly concerts and artist-decorated suites like the “Jesus Room.”
Linda Mary Montano’s portion of the show, "Always Creative," is a career-spanning selection of work from the nun-turned-performance artist. Though she isn’t from California, some of her best-known art was made there. Video recordings of performances are featured here, such as the self-explanatory “Handcuffed to Tom Marioni for Three Days” and “Mitchell’s Death,” in which the artist used acupuncture as a means of dealing with the grief of her husband’s death. This trio of related shows reflect a strong curatorial hand, and it’s mostly informative and fun — a worthwhile trip back in time to an era that was enviably both earnest and experimental.