Fine arts

Lynda Benglis's 'Birds of Appetite' at the Harwood

Museum also features exhibition by Izumi Yokoyama and Tasha Ostrander

By Dena Miller
Posted 2/7/19

On Saturday (Feb. 9), the exhibitions "Birds of Appetite: Alchemy and Apparition" and "Bird's Nests" both have their premieres at the Harwood, offering viewers three different perspectives on a subject that is at once challenging and inspirational.

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Fine arts

Lynda Benglis's 'Birds of Appetite' at the Harwood

Museum also features exhibition by Izumi Yokoyama and Tasha Ostrander


There's a brilliant double feature for you to catch this weekend, spotlighting the transformation of humans, the environment and even raw materials. No, it's not a duo of superhero movies playing at the local theater; it's being produced by the Harwood Museum of Art.

On Saturday (Feb. 9) from 3-5 p.m., the exhibitions "Birds of Appetite: Alchemy and Apparition" and "Bird's Nests" both have their premieres at the Harwood, offering viewers three different perspectives on a subject that is at once challenging and inspirational. Admission for all is free.

It's an unusual confluence of opening receptions for two very important shows, acknowledged J. Matthew Thomas, curator of exhibitions for the Harwood. "We didn't set out to plan it this way but as the dates for [them] merged, we saw how serendipitous it was for the premiers to align," he said. "One show deals with the organic transitions inherent in humanity and nature, while the other follows the transformation of visual art from one medium into something entirely different."

"Birds of Appetite: Alchemy and Apparition" has been guest-curated by Dr. Richard Tobin, the title of which alludes to Thomas Merton's "Zen and the Birds of Appetite."

"Proceeding from very different perspectives, the imagery of artists Izumi Yokoyama and Tasha Ostrander quietly subverts the immediate and palpable perception that 'life and death are two' with a vision of nature as the denouement of life with death, the transformation of matter: an alchemy of the spirit," Tobin remarked.

"What makes [this exhibit] so engaging is the sheer beauty of their imagery. What makes it so potent is their capacity to imbue those images with compelling visual conceits on nature and transformation."

This collaborative project hangs in the Peter and Madeleine Martin Gallery, an impeccably harmonious dance between the delicate yet intricate ink strokes of Yokoyama and the photographic light jet portraits of Ostrander.

The "Dreamer on the Mesa" series, a personal and philosophical statement that substantively comprises Yokoyama's exhibition, prompted her to explain, "Living on the mesa I came to appreciate the simple things and I had a profound shift in my thoughts on the cycle of life and death."

"A horse I was tending for an out-of-town neighbor died, and by phone we decided he should be left and reclaimed by nature. I felt it necessary to make sure he was moved to a place that felt safe to me, where there would be honor in his returning to the earth," she said, visibly moved as she recounted the story.

"It was also a time when I was exploring my life experiences through the meditative elements of my art," a reference to the starry night skies beribboned with threads of the Milky Way that regularly appear as a motif in her work from that time.

The Japanese-American artist has delved deeply even to her childhood in illustrating the phases of her life but through her cultural lens. "Since I was a child, I was intrigued and obsessed by the black rain [of Hiroshima]. I am connecting to the empty holes of stars in the night sky as the lines are falling from the holes."

Tasha Ostrander maintains an organic aesthetic, as well, but hers is expressed via her first love: photography. She noted that her series "Chemical Spirit" embraces portraiture and landscapes in such a manner that her medium becomes part of her artistic statement.

"Throughout my life as a professional artist, I've always concentrated on exploring the human relationship with nature, the integrity of wildlife and the environment, and how we as individuals outwardly project our inner spirit in our interface with them," Ostrander said, explaining how her archival prints on plexiglass or aluminum require processing akin to that of old-school darkrooms.

"In the "Chemical Spirit" landscape series I have visually layered an oily and pervasive substance upon the landscape to alter the appearance, symbolizing an invasive spirit or stain that coexists with wild environments," she continued. "My art, then, has an inherent alchemical element that parallels the chemistry of the darkroom," noting that the resultant plasmatic imagery aptly captures the sense of environmental degradation by human activity.

"Though, I don't mean these images to be dark statements," of which she was unequivocal, Ostrander said. "In fact, they are a consideration of our control over our own spirit and how we intend to use it in the world."

Downstairs, in the Caroline Lee and Bob Ellis Gallery, you will find "Bird's Nests" featuring the work of artist Lynda Benglis, whose international reputation and critical acclaim spans over five decades. The Harwood's press noted her work is defined by "exploration of metaphorical and biomorphic shapes, the physicality of form [and by] using a wide range of materials to render dynamics impressions of mass and surface."

"Bird's Nests" resides at the Harwood as not just a unique show but as one which documents the actual nuts and bolts of its content and execution. It visually describes the transformative process between the past and the future-is-upon-us advances of technology.

Benglis - a citizen of the world but with strong ties here - has collaborated with Taos artists Hank Saxe and Cynthia Patterson, who were first approached by the Benefit Print Project with the offer of a commission. "The directors of the project, which specializes in distributing limited editions of the work of well-known artists, asked if we could create an edition of one of Lynda's sculptures, while remaining relevant to their project," Saxe explained.

The sculpture in question was a creation of chicken wire and paper pulp. It represented Bengils's interpretation of the hollowed-out trees she encountered in her childhood and which served as shelters to all manners of small animals and birds.

"The challenge came in duplicating in clay such a fragile sculpture without destroying the integrity of the model itself," Saxe continued.

Enlisting the aid of consultant Alex Sanchez, an expert in 3D imagery, the collaboration employed a 3D digital scan of the sculpture from which a full-size plastic print was made. The print, also 3D, was the basis for the complex, 15-piece slip casting molds from which Saxe and Benglis executed the series.

Benglis has painted the series of 18 sculpture copies in the bold colors that are evocative of her works from the 1960s, when she famously experimented with DayGlo-pigmented latex and polyurethane foam. Five of those sculptures will be on display.

Saxe said, " 'Bird's Nests' exhibits not just the finished products but also the entire collaboration and process through a multi-media display of how the series evolved."

Thomas enthused about these important shows that will be available for viewing through May 12.

"For years Lynda has been on the world stage with her provocative art, and we're honored to be showing this complex exhibition," Thomas said. "To simultaneously be featuring the work of Izumi and Tasha is a curator's dream."

The Harwood Museum of Art is located at 238 Ledoux Street. For further information, please call (575) 758-9826, or visit


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