In geologic time, mountains and whole continents move slowly, almost imperceptibly, in a dance resulting from a kind of slow sculpture. Over eons, canyons widen, alpine peaks extrude from a desert floor and water has the power to slice boulders in the landscape like a potter’s knife. 

If you stood in a wilderness meadow, all you’d see would be the sun, the sky, clouds, and grasses bending in the breeze. Unless there was a cataclysm like an earthquake, flood or landslide, this would mostly seem unchanging.

So, it is a strange piece of this evolution to see works by digital artists tapping into this mesmeric dance of time. But, that’s but one of the elements found in the centerpiece of the Fall 2021 Exhibitions, “Remote Possibilities: Digital Landscapes from the Thoma Foundation Collection,” that opens to the public with a public reception Friday (Oct. 22), 6-7:30 p.m., at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux Street. Admission is free to this event.

Also opening that night is “Gus Foster: Photographs of Northern New Mexico,” a visual celebration of panoramic images by the renowned local photographer who started working with the Harwood Museum of Art in the early 1990s and has been a dedicated volunteer, board member and patron for the past two decades, a museum statement reads.

He has made numerous gifts of art, including in 2013 his collection of 341 works by 86 contemporary artists including Ken Price, Larry Bell, Ron Davis, Lynda Benglis, Ron Cooper, Robert Ray, Lee Mullican, Earl Stroh, Emil Bisttram and Vija Celmins. He also started the museum’s Art Acquisition Endowment, and provided tremendously generous gifts to the 1996 and the 2010 capital expansions.

Also part of the Fall Exhibitions, the Harwood is also featuring a special show of photographs and memorabilia — some of which have never been publicly displayed — celebrating the historic return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo 50 years ago, curated by tribal member Vernon Lujan.

Plus, the Harwood is featuring an exhibit of 19th century photographs of the Taos area by William Henry Jackson from the museum’s permanent collection. These images have been selected for their “ties into the rotating shows … which inspired Gus’ work, and of course which feature the Pueblo,” Harwood Curator of Exhibitions and Collections Nicole Dial-Kay said. 

The “Remote Possibilities” and “Gus Foster” exhibitions “investigate contemporary artists’ use of digital and analog technologies in their representation of both natural and cultural landscapes and the passage of time,” Dial Kay added.

Computer technology and the visual artist

“Remote Possibilities: Digital Landscapes from the  Thoma Foundation Collection”  features six of the world’s foremost contemporary digital and media artists who engage the tradition of landscape art: John Gerrard, Kent Monkman, Bruce Nauman, Jennifer Steinkamp, Leo Villareal, and Marina Zurkow, Dial-Kay states in a press release. 

In many respects, this show is a major catch for the museum, one probably more common to large metropolitan venues, but due to its focus on landscape imagery and focus on artists working in the Southwest, it seems perfectly suited here. 

All works in this exhibition are from the collection of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation, a grantmaking and art-collecting organization headquartered in Santa Fe. The Thoma Foundation’s mission recognizes “the power of the arts to challenge and shift perceptions, spark creativity and connect people across cultures. The Foundation lends and exhibits artworks from its collection to support pivotal initiatives in the arts.” Visit  thomafoundation.org

“These artists are at the forefront of using technology to represent nature from a diverse set of perspectives,” Dial-Kay states.

The show is comprised of primarily two-dimensional works that have been altered using computer technology and aftereffects. When entering the upstairs Peter and Madeleine Gallery, the viewer will be struck by stark contemporary high resolution imagery displayed either as a projection on the wall or on large video screens. 

“There are seven works in the show,” Dial-Kay explained during a Thursday (Oct. 14) walk through as preparators were finishing installation. “They’re all working at the forefront of contemporary art … and they’re all looking at landscape in different ways. The idea of how we represent landscapes is one that artists have been battling with for a very long time.

"Emmanuel Kant wrote about it in ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ and how it was impossible to capture nature because of its unpredictability and irreverence for human wishes.“ (As in ‘what we know can only be known because it conforms to the way we think and the way our minds work’) I think the digital landscape world has done more to answer those questions than anyone.”

The Thoma Foundation’s Curator of Digital Art Jason Foumberg notes that the Harwood’s exhibition illustrates that digital and media artists work with new technology, while addressing eternally relevant artistic themes.

“Picasso said when he needed inspiration, he would draw a leaf. He would look to nature,” Founberg said in a statement. “I think a lot of people wouldn’t assume that to be true for digital and media artists because they are on their computers all day. Well, not true. These artists also are looking to nature for inspiration and guidance in life.” 

The artworks are temporal and unfolding works. Bruce Nauman’s “Setting a Good Corner (Allegory and Metaphor)” is a video of the artist installing a fence post for a gate on his Las Madres Ranch in Galisteo, NM, played on a 27-inch box television set. The piece lasts for one hour, but the artist does not intend for it to be watched from beginning to end.   

“This is time-based art, but it’s not a movie,” Foumberg states. “You can experience a time-based piece without feeling like you missed something, though the longer you stay the more you see, as with any artwork, because it does continue to reveal itself.”  

Kent Monkman, a Cree interdisciplinary visual artist, plays with additional concepts of time by bending the lens of history. In his video painting “The Symposium,” Monkman recreates an 1805 painting of the Acropolis, Athens by French artist Lancelot-Théodore, Comte de Turpin de Crissé. Into this scene, Monkman places an artist wearing a full Native American headdress who paints at an easel while Greek figures look on sipping wine. 

Jennifer Steinkamp’s “Bouquet 1” is a mural-sized digital projection which plays with seasonal time. Through the use of three-dimensional animation software the piece combines flowering tree branches from different seasons into an impossible arrangement. The resulting bouquet moves slowly as if in a wind.  

Circles of exposure

“Once I got here, I never really left,” Taos photographer Gus Foster said. “It’s been my home since 1975.” However, Foster has ventured beyond our borders for some significant projects including a monumental pair of walks between the borders of Mexico and Canada, then in reverse, but from different geographical angles, forming a big “X” on a map in the middle of the United States. Then, there were his hikes to the summits of peaks in the Rocky Mountains where he shot his venerable panoramic photographs.

For the show at the Harwood, Foster will be exhibiting a collection of images he shot exclusively in Northern New Mexico. “About 90 percent of it has never been shown,” he said.

Foster has made a considerable name for himself in the art world as the creator of panoramic photos, the technology for which he championed for many years as virtually his own. He purchased a special camera that specially exposed a 35mm negative lengthwise, and built a custom darkroom that features one-of-a-kind equipment he calibrated himself. “I thought for sure I was going to die with my boots on” as the one person in the world who was capable of making and printing these special photos.

Then, in 2006 Kodak stopped making the film he needed. “I felt terrible,” he said. By then, he was the company’s only customer for film they made expressly for him. “They, effectively, put me out of business. I was such low-hanging fruit they didn’t feel they needed me anymore. I basically got cut-off.” 

Today, Foster still makes photographs, but digitally, “not panoramas any more.”

Dial-Kay said the pairing of works by Foster and those in “Remote Possibilities” is “intended to create a dialogue around the concepts of nature and ephemerality as represented by artists across the arc of history.”

After graduating from Yale University in 1963 with a bachelor’s in art history, Foster worked at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts as the curator of prints and drawings for a decade. In 1972, he moved to Los Angeles to establish his own photographic art studio. He was subsequently enticed by his friend, the artist Larry Bell, to move to Taos and refurbish the old Pond Clinic near the Harwood where the two artists have had their studios since the mid-1970s.  

Prior to beginning his work in panoramic photography, Foster made movies in Los Angeles about the passage of time by shooting footage from the passenger’s point of view from the window of a moving vehicle on a stretch of highway. 

“I’d go 60 miles in 60 minutes and make a continuous film of what the passenger was seeing out the window. It was effectively like a very long landscape, a 60-mile long landscape,” Foster explained. 

“My [panorama photographs] are all more than 360 degrees,” Foster explains. “In most of them, there’s an image on the extreme left side and the extreme right side that will be the same. The only way you get that is to move in a circle. Part of that is proof that they are full panoramas, but the appealing thing to me is that the photograph also has the possibility of recording the passage of time. Say you saw a hawk sitting in the top of a tree on the left-hand side, by the time you get back to it 45 seconds later, it’s gone, or something has changed – the clouds shift, or the sun has come out – time has passed.” 

Foster’s emphasis on temporality is also found in the subjects he chooses. 

“Christmas Eve, Taos Pueblo” is a “chiaroscuro study in light and dark with shadowed groups of people standing around the flames of bonfires in various stages of burning at this annual nighttime occasion,” Dial-Kay states. “In ‘Sunset Moonrise Highline Ridge,’ Foster has photographed a moment of shifting spheres of light as daytime gives way to darkness on the mountaintops and the moon reflects the setting sun.”

Foster’s work follows the horizon-line of time from past to present, from the beginning to now. 

For additional information visit gusfoster.com.

Taos Pueblo’s shining victory

Taos Pueblo would have commemorated its 50-year anniversary of the return of Blue Lake to tribal control in 2020. But, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tribe closed its borders and canceled the event. The Pueblo will remain closed through the end of 2021, a tribal announcement reads. 

One of the features of this important milestone will, however, be available to view in the Harwood’s exhibition, “Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo: A New Day for American Indians,” guest curated by Vernon Lujan. 

“It is hard to believe that 50 years have passed since the official repatriation of the Blue Lake and surrounding natural resources to Taos Pueblo,” Lujan writes in an exhibit announcement. “Yet, the passage of time is immeasurable in comparison to the significance of the legislation that culminated in Taos Pueblo’s 64-yearlong struggle to secure their religious freedom — a freedom guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, but which was appropriated in 1906 in the name of production of natural resources under the guise of preservation.”

Blue Lake is a place of great spiritual significance to the people of Taos Pueblo. But, in 1906, when then-U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt seized thousands of acres of land in Northern New Mexico to form the new Carson National Forest, he included this sacred site. It was an affront to the tribe’s ancient and venerable Native religion, which stood fast through occupation by three separate governments. 

The show at the Harwood features a collection that was specially given to the museum for safekeeping and includes some items that have never been seen. It is a testament to the tribe’s tenacious need to take back that which was wrongfully taken and remains a victory that will stand for all Native people.

For more information, visit harwoodmuseum.org or call (575) 758-9826.

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