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10 11 PA SE O DE P E R A LTA SA NTA FE NM 87501 T 505.954.5800 P E TE R SP R OJ E C TS.C OM


Lynda Benglis James Lee Byars Harmony Hammond Agnes Martin John McCracken Roxy Paine

10 11 PA SE O DE P E R A LTA SA NTA FE NM 87501 T 505.954.5800 P E TE R SP R OJ E C TS.C OM

“THE EXCITEMENT OF THE MIND AND EYE.” There is the conventional view, which is that New Mexico is – as the state’s website proudly declares – “truly an enchanted place.” As anybody who has been there knows, that enchantment can manifest itself across a wide spectrum, beginning with the landscape: canyons; mesas; snow-capped peaks; mountains covered in dense forests; dusty pink deserts. By this accounting, New Mexico is a constantly changing postcard of unparalleled vistas, majestic skies and spectacular sunsets, all of which is true, but, in the end, rather superficial. There are many other things about New Mexico to consider. There are the cultures that have vanished, leaving behind traces of archeological evidence, and those that have left a deeper mark: the Navajo, Pueblo and Apache peoples as well as the descendants of the Spanish colonists. There are the visitors and the rumored visitors and their legacies, from D.H. Lawrence to Area 51 and what is known as The Roswell UFO incident. It is a place where one’s sense of time stretches from the Three Rivers Petroglyph site to the government laboratories at Los Alamos, but that measure of history is certainly not the only one. Finally, there are the many artists who lived and worked in New Mexico, all of whom were influenced by the place, the light and/or the culture. Some of these artists include Blue Corn, Richard Diebenkorn, Frederick Hammersley, Marsden Hartley, Raymond Jonson, Georgia O’Keeffe, Bruce Nauman, Alice Kagawa Parrott, Florence Miller Pierce, Susan Rothenberg and Richard Tuttle. I have no doubt that New Mexico’s enchantments – from its mountains and minerals to its intense light, vast spaces and changing sky – has had an effect on the artists that Ylise Kessler has brought together: Lynda Benglis; James Lee Byars; Harmony Hammond; John McCracken; Agnes Martin; Roxy Paine. Here I would like to make a distinction between the way a place is seen and experienced by artists as opposed to tourists. It seems to me that tourists visit a place to see and experience what they know will be there, which they expect will be decidedly more exotic than they encounter in their daily lives. Meanwhile, artists see and experience what is more than likely overlooked. They see in a new way and, if we are open to it, they teach us about seeing. The poet and first modern art critic, Charles Baudelaire believed: “Genius is childhood recovered at will.” In this receptive and innocent condition, one experiences color, for example, in a heightened state. Baudelaire’s observation points to what I am getting at – an acute openness working in tandem with a rigorous curiosity, an inability to let things simply be. All of these artists have gained our attention for their singular achievements. While they seemingly share little in

terms of style, much less subject matter, I don’t think it is farfetched to suggest that each of them has internalized some aspect of New Mexico’s landscape and culture, particularly the sense of time and timelessness that is central to its geography and light. At the same time, I think that that internalization, the process by which artists absorb their environment and transmute it into what we call art is a mysterious one. After all, as proven time and again, we don’t live in a Newtonian universe. What goes up doesn’t necessarily come down. The other thing that strikes me about the work in this exhibition, all by artists that I admire, is the range of the materials – though I think “stuff” might be a better word – they use. The works in the exhibition run the gamut from drawing and painting to printmaking and industrial processes; the materials include paper, ink, oil paint, enamel, canvas, aluminum, polyurethane, iron, resin, fiberglass, plywood, polymer, stainless steel and gold. Doesn’t this stuff, which is both ancient and modern, conjure up both an alchemist and a materialist? Doesn’t the stuff the artists use call to mind states of irrevocable change, susceptibility and transformation? This is what I think connects these artists like a deep underlying current; they are conscious of the different kinds of dispersal that we experience daily as well as the catastrophic ones we inevitably face. Agnes Martin made On a Clear Day (1973), a portfolio of thirty screen prints, after moving to New Mexico from New York in 1967, and not working for seven years. The title evokes what connect these singular artists have in common – the ability to see beyond surfaces, to apprehend reality on both the macroscopic and microscopic level. Coincidentally, Martin’s title also evokes the musical, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner, which ran on Broadway from October 17, 1965 to June 11, 1966. The musical was adapted into a 1970 film with the same title, directed by Vincente Minelli and starring Barbara Streisand, Yves Montand and Jack Nicholson. The title song is about ESP and the reincarnation of the main character. And while this might seem like an implausible subject for an artist, especially one as abstract as Agnes Martin, anyone who sees Mary Lance’s tender documentary, Agnes Martin: With My Back to the World (2002) might wonder if there is a deeper connection to the song than just its evocation of immensity of the New Mexico landscape, which the artist’s


title also suggests. After all, during the film, Martin talks openly about reincarnation and having lived previous lives, which she believes enabled her to choose a life of solitude, with her back to the world. At the very least, the artist’s statements suggest that her work is not literal, and that her understanding of facts goes beyond the conventional, while underscoring her commitment to a highly sensitive state of consciousness; she wanted to see deeply and register the states of perfection she perceived to exist beyond reality. Made of tinted polyurethane, which is translucent and full of light, Lynda Benglis’ bright orange sculpture, Pi Tangerine (2009), looks as if it has fallen from the sky or been spewed out of a volcano. It looks like the product of human hands and the result of natural processes, resembling something that might have once been alive. In a conversation, when William Corwin asked Benglis if she thought if sculpture had “to address the human form,” she answered: I must feel that, if it’s not the human form, it’s having to do with [the] excitement of the mind and the eye and asking the question what kind of animal is it? Is the form somehow recognizable the way you could recognize clouds: finding form and description in abstraction. In other words, the human condition is that which we immediately recognize as the matter or gestalt of an image and adapt it to our visions so that we can process it in different ways.1 James Lee Byars gilds an iron nail with gold leaf, evoking the alchemist’s search for the philosopher’s stone, the legendary material that could transform lead into gold. On a round sheet of paper we read his words: “A white piece of paper will blow through the streets.” Beauty, which is often ephemeral, can found anywhere - we need only look. In John McCracken’s plinth- and plank-like sculptures, the combination of intensity and subtlety of color, as well as a keen sensitivity to light, suggests that the artist is able draw upon states of awe as a source. More to the point, however, is the otherworldliness that McCracken embodies in his lacquered sculptures, endowing the glowing color with both a visceral and elusive presence. Based on the mycelium – a fungus, which can become a mushroom – Roxy Paine’s meticulous, map-like and diagrammatic drawings and polymer recreations focus on an organism that is essential to marine and terrestrial ecosystems thanks to the role it plays in the decomposition of plant matter.

In 1984, Harmony Hammond, who cofounded both A.I.R. in 1972, the first women’s cooperative art gallery in New York, and Heresies: A Feminist Publication of Art and Politics in 1976, moved to New Mexico. About abstraction, Hammond has stated: I thought of abstraction as a political space or site, and consciously working within that space to be a political as well as aesthetic choice. It’s conceptual.2 With its seemingly bandaged and worked surface, Harmony Hammond’s painting, Frazzle (2014), evokes the wounded body undergoing recovery and repair. Although Frazzle and its counterpart, Fraggle (2014) could be considered monochrome paintings, the gauze-like strips and patches fold in a political content that is not usually associated with what has been called “Radical painting.” Working within a radical tradition and pushing against its boundaries, Hammond exemplifies another commonality among these artists. They did not accept the artistic conventions that they inherited, no matter how radical they might have been, but went on to discover their own territory. From the evocation of infinity and otherworldliness to mysterious alchemical objects; from the joyousness of pure color to the wounded body and the role that tiny organisms, such as mycelium play in the replenishing of our landscape, the artists in this exhibition ask us to consider what we might not have seen, and to see what we might not have considered. There is something noble about their pursuits.


(Endnotes) 1 2



Lynda Benglis

Pi Tangerine, 2009


Figure 6, 2009


James Lee Byars

The Philosophical Nail, 1986


Untitled (Please / don’t touch / this note / give / ?), 1994

Untitled (ICITB), 1994


A white paper will blow through the streets, 1967


Harmony Hammond

Fraggle, 2014


Frazzle, 2014


Aperture #10, 2013

Aperture #16, 2013


Rims (Black), 2011


Agnes Martin

On a Clear Day, 1973



John McCracken

Particle, 2005


Cosmos, 2001


Traveler, 2005


Roxy Paine

Mycellium 3, 2011


RDA, 2013

Swamp Machine Structure, 2013


Greasy Universe, 2012




Lynda Benglis Pi Tangerine, 2009 Tinted polyurethane 29 x 29 x 13 1/2 inches

James Lee Byars A white paper will blow through the streets, 1967 Black type on white paper 32 7/8 x 32 7/8 inches

Lynda Benglis Figure 6, 2009 Aluminum 48 1/2 x 102 x 29 inches

Harmony Hammond Fraggle, 2014 Oil and mixed media on canvas 45 1/2 x 58 1/2 inches

James Lee Byars The Philosophical Nail, 1986 Gilded iron 10 3/4 x 1 1/4 x 1 1/4 inches

Harmony Hammond Frazzle, 2014 Acrylic, oil and mixed media on canvas 64 1/4 x 48 1/2 inches

James Lee Byars Untitled (Please / don’t touch / this note / give / ?), 1994 Ink on gold paper 24 3/4 x 24 3/4 inches

Harmony Hammond Aperture #10, 2013 Monotype on Twinrocker paper with grommets 28 x 20 inches

James Lee Byars Untitled (ICITB), 1994 Ink on gold paper 24 3/4 x 24 3/4 inches

Harmony Hammond Aperture #16, 2013 Monotype on Twinrocker paper with grommets 28 x 20 inches

Harmony Hammond Rims (Black), 2011 Monotype on Twinrocker paper with grommets (variant edition 5/10) 13 x 10 inches
 Agnes Martin On a Clear Day, 1973 Portfolio of 30 screen prints, Edition 32/50 12 x 12 inches each John McCracken
 Particle, 2005
 Plywood, fiberglass, and resin 26 x 12 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches 
 John McCracken
 Traveler, 2005
 Resin, fiberglass, and plywood 94 x 17 x 4 inches 

Roxy Paine Mycellium 3, 2011 Stainless steel and enamel 105 x 99 3 /8 inches Roxy Paine RDA, 2013 Ink on paper 58 1/2 x 71 1/2 inches Roxy Paine Swamp Machine Structure, 2013 Ink on paper 46 1/2 x 66 1/2 inches Roxy Paine Greasy Universe, 2012 Ink on paper 88 1/2 x 61 1/2 inches

John McCracken
 Cosmos, 2001
 Resin, fiberglass, and plywood 92 1/2 x 20 x 11 inches





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