Continuing through September 18, 2011
Both artists in this pair of one-person exhibitions profess to be concerned with the issue of “translation” in their art. Both successfully, though very differently, convey individual and collective aspects of the topic. For both, the medium carries the message. While an intelligent conceptualism is key to these artists’ works, Bocanegra appeals with sheer loveliness overlaid onto the mysteries of compositional choices, while the results of White’s application of stunning craftsmanship to an everyday content has a more cerebral effect.
Bocanegra’s “I Write the Songs” was organized by curator Ian Berry of The Francis Young Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College in New York and traveled to Santa Fe. To state that the exhibition consists of sound installations, performance, and multi-dimensional reconstructions of flower petals from 17th-century Jan Breughel the Elder’s paintings, together with the dots used by Post-Impressionist Georges Seurat, hardly does justice to the entirety and its overwhelming beauty. This is thanks in part to the lighting — highly and effectively tenebristic — which lends a lushly Baroque drama to “Songs.” Most striking are the three-dimensional wall arrangements that reproduce Brueghel’s flower petals in his 1617 painting, “Sense of Smell.” Meticulously recreating each petal in fabric and pigment, the absence of the rest of Breughel’s original content makes the flowers the sole visual element, and they are hyper-present. They float like feathers, as fixed to their surface as ashes are in an urn — memento mori that suggest the fleeting splendor of time.
In the most recent work, “Little Dot,” Bocanegra used as her foundation a painting from her hometown, Houston, where she often viewed pointillist Seurat’s “Young Woman Powdering Herself” (1889) in the Museum of Fine Arts. Examining the piece through a magnifying glass, Bocanegra exhaustively identified and counted the colors (14 of them) that make up the painting according to Seurat’s system of optical color blending. Ballet shoes in all 14 colors are poised on poles on a stage, each hue marked with the number of times it was used in the original painting. Bocanegra collaborated with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet to choreograph an en pointe dance based on the mathematics of the painting. The dancers perform periodically during the exhibition’s run, and the results are breathtaking, bringing Seurat to life in a way that his stilted paintings cannot do from within the restrictions of two dimensions.
For Pae White, the topic of translation comes into play in “Material Mutters.” Her work possesses a strong sense of the ephemeral balanced against the substance of craftsmanship. Her monumental tapestries of smoke caught in mid-air for example, transmute a wispy moment in time into the fabric of materiality. The aluminum foil pieces transform the banality of a kitchen item into the realm of art. Among the site-specific installation of tapestries, “Sea Monster” is a standout, made from a photograph of a flea-market find: A green and blue macramé hanging with shells worked into it lies on its side, blown up to the proportions of a giant squid. Its scale transforms an old piece of ’70s-era handiwork into a thing of wonder. By focusing on ordinary objects and pairing their imagery with conventional processes that aren’t normally associated with the objects themselves, the viewer reconsiders often-overlooked objects. This is especially evident in White’s outdoor installation of barbeque grills in the shapes of stylized animals. When an odd, cast-iron owl, for example, confronts the viewer, it does so in an unrecognizable role: neither as an animal, a barbeque nor as a work of art. It is simply something that doesn’t seem to belong. Anywhere. And there is the “aha!” moment we prize in contemporary art installations, as White effectively and with great intelligence translates the incomprehensible into an experience of enchantment.