Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Black Place

Even though Santa Fe, New Mexico is in “Indian Country” with eight pueblos practically in the neighborhood, it has, in recent years, also called “O’Keeffe Country”.  Of course, this refers to the American Artist, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) whose eponymous museum is also one of most popular tourist attractions in town.

A museum devoted to one artist, no matter how talented, has challenges.  The O’Keeffe has to find exhibitions that are not just of its namesake’s work.  So from time to time they include other artists, including contemporary ones.

The exhibition “The Black Place “represents an ideal blend, bringing together  Michael Namingha , a Native American artist, with O’Keeffe in their depictions of the same dramatic location  in a remote  corner of northwestern New Mexico. Georgia kept coming back to the subject in sketches and paintings with her first being in 1936 and her last in 1949.  Here are two of her Black Place paintings in the exhibition. Images of 2 O’Keeffe paintings.

Michael Namingha is a multimedia artist who is probably best known for his photography. His father, Dan Namingha, is a renowned painter  and his brother Arlo is primarily a sculptor. Nonetheless all the Naminghas work in more than one media. They have a family-run gallery, Niman Fine Art, in downtown Santa Fe.  Niman is a Hopi word meaning home or returning home, chosen by the family because they regard the Hopi reservation as their home base.  Dan was born and raised on First Mesa at Hopi but his wife is from Ohkay Owingeh. Michael was born at his mother’s pueblo but the family moved to Santa Fe, just 30 miles away, when he was in 3rd grade.

At the Santa Fe Art Institute Michael  took master classes from a number of well known artists including Judy Pfaff and Fritz Scholder.  He went on to a four-year program in Design Management at Parsons School of Design in New York City.  Michael still goes back to New York regularly to get what he terms his “art fix” and attend performances at the Metropolitan Opera.

A couple of years ago Michael took part in a panel at the O’Keeffe Museum about Modernism and Post-Modernism where he represented the latter. Around that time he was asked to participate in an exhibition at the museum where he would select a landscape subject that O’Keeffe had painted and create his own interpretation. 

He decided on a Black Place.  The best explanation I have found for this area is one in the local newspaper, The New Mexican. Michael had first encountered one of O’Keeffe’s paintings of The Black Place in a course at Parsons and never forgot it.

There was one big difference between the Black Place Georgia discovered in 1935 and the one Michael found almost 70 years later.  It has become the site of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) by gas and oil companies.  Preservationists, and O’Keeffe fans in particular, have raised objections to the despoliation of the area. Recently NASA satellites discovered the largest methane gas cloud in North America covering the location. Michael used these satellite images as part of his analysis of the area.  His blacked out areas represent parts of the landscape that may not be the same for future generations.

In the exhibition Michael has a video and four photographs shown together with three O’Keeffe oils.  The photos are all Digital C-prints face mounted on Plexiglas and they often have a three-dimensional feel to them.  In their own interpretations both O’Keeffe and Namingha have abstracted a landscape that is clearly like no other.

The show closes on October 28.

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