Hanging an art exhibit involves more than brass nails, fancy lights, four walls and a level. In the hands of an aesthetically tuned curator, a museum can be magically transformed into a performance space and a compelling experience for the visitor.
Michelle Lanteri, the curator of Collections and Exhibitions at Millicent Rogers Museum (MRM), and her small team have done just that, transforming of Gallery 9 into a compelling experience of work by artists from the 29 National Pastel Painting Exhibition presented by the Pastel Society of New Mexico.
Lanteri along with artists Nicholas Tesluk, Nancy Silvia and intern Kendall Bartel "took note of the rhythm between each of the paintings in terms of color palette, theme and frame style. We wanted to ensure a compelling experience for visitors, where each work stands out while also offering connections between each other."
Lanteri has assumed many curatorial roles, most recently at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site and the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. This fall, she graduates with a PhD in Native American Art History from the University of Oklahoma where she held a Mellon Predoctoral Fellowship. Lanteri's dissertation focuses on Native American women's art and exhibition practices in Northern New Mexico.
Tempo asked Lanteri to take us behind the scenes of the exhibition and do a deep dive with a few of the works and the medium of pastel. She began by describing the medium.
"Pastel as the medium offers much of the unexpected. The depth of the colors captivates one's optical perception. From here, the experience finds form in a kind of wandering - a space of performance for both the artists and audience. Pastels provide an immense amount of flexibility and immediacy for artists working in the medium. As a stick, they operate as if they are paint brushes built into them. Upon creating the underpaintings, pastel painters take in the foundation of their composition and then begin their performances of mark making. What they put down on the paper, which is often made of a fine grit, takes form instantly. That embodies an exhilarating experience where the path through the painting reveals itself in a fast-paced way. With this kind of expedience, artists take more chances in composition - they enter extended realms of narrative."
Lanteri said the expansiveness of the exhibition is unusual and exciting.
"Participating artists portray the every day in paintings like 'Power' by Paul Murray, 'Rainy Drive Home' by Lorraine W. Trenholm, and 'Stream Line' by Peggy Davidson Post.They're building a lot of depth and creating unique experiences in their compositions. They often do this through underpaintings of pastel stick and isopropyl alcohol blended with layers of sketch work. Each artist brings their pastel painting to their own personalized finish evoking textures like blurred velvet or a crisp satin."
Lanteri said visitors can "step into a performance space and intermingle their own memories and experiences with the paintings on view. In looking diagonally from painting to painting, the combination of scenes functions much like a prism. We can think about all the different facets of our lives - people we know, places we love, uncertain moments, and even those visits to the power box at the back of where we live and work. All those parts of the every day that connect through fragmented memories become activated by new experiences, like this exhibition."
Tempo asked Lanteri to be our virtual docent for three of the works in the exhibition.
"In 'Power,' Murray puts a colorful spin on what we may take for granted in our 21st century lives. He does this by pairing a bright yellow power box with a vibrant purple house. He asks us to pause and consider this part of a home, so vital to communication. The car at the left of the house emphasizes this theme of mobility. Murray has chosen electrifying colors to signal the lifeblood of the power box, and its extended reach into industrial commerce, like the purple house paint.
"In Trenholm's 'Rainy Drive Home,' she taps into our own memories of this recurring experience in our lives - the excitement, the watchfulness, the sense of the unknown, the change of speed. She situates each viewer as a driver navigating the spray of water and light as it blurs the windshield. This piece offers an exploration into the act of looking, and it calls attention to the transformative properties of water in every aspect of our lives - from feeling, to seeing, to traveling.
"In another narrative of water, Post's 'Stream Line' very much corresponds to the river rocks in the Río Grande. In this painting, she positions viewers in a perspective of looking down into the stream. Through pastel, she's created a transparent layer of rippled water overtop stones in blues and browns. Throughout the scene, Post sketches in a constant flow of currents - lines that remind us of the networks of communication within water bodies.
The museum continues to serve as a commemoration of Millicent Rogers, committed to showcasing diverse arts and continuing her legacy and love for both intercultural and international expressions. Rogers (1902-1953) was a Standard Oil heiress whose inspiration, patronage, and collections form the core of the museum's holdings. MRM also "mirrors both Rogers' fashion style and her jewelry designs that live at the intersections forged between creative expressions by artists from around the world. This Pastels exhibition parallels this dynamic of cross-cultural conversation."
Formed in 1989, the Pastel Society of New Mexico has evolved into a national organization with artists from around the world taking part in their juried exhibitions. Any artist can join the Society, and the group is a member of the International Association of Pastel Societies.
For more information about the Society visit iapspastel.org/index.htm.
For details about events at Millicent Rogers Museum visit millicentrogers.org.