Review: Crossing the Lines and other shows at the Sangre

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Although it’s been open for while, we finally made the trip down to the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center to review Now and Then: Cultural History Captured by Artists Past and Present, a group of three large exhibitions and four smaller solo exhibitions. Here are the highlights:

The Poet Spiels American Values
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Poet Spiel's "American Values"

The Pueblo contemporary art collective 38 Degrees Latitude didn’t disappoint with its commentary on American values 38 Degrees Latitude … Crossing the Lines, an exhibit the group pitched to the museum last year. 38 Degrees played the show well by adding a short bio/artist statement with each work, effectively introducing each member into the formal sphere, although they have shown before in other Pueblo venues.

The Poet Spiel’s installation anchors the gallery. This wonderful work “American Values” combines giant slices of white bread rolling through the wall behind it like a huge thundercloud with roiling blankets and plaster-cast hands gripping scrawled notes below. The scene feels like a tornado ripping through a home.

Spiel's arrangement of a rumpled quilt and pillows is spot-on. His placement of fistfuls of dollar bills spewing from the pillows is weirdly believable. This natural disaster grows even more sinister when you notice each bill is stamped with a portrait of Bernard Madoff. Hand mirrors scattered across the quilt — most cracked, some caked with mud and debris — bear words related to virtuous traits: “empathy,” “dignity,” “love.” Mirrors bearing “greed,” “fraud,” and “betrayal” are left unmarred.

Spiel’s work is a monument to embittered disillusionment in the American ideal. In his artist statement he explains how he was brought up with the “American” notion that “everything will be OK,” a statement echoed in paint across the rolling bread slices. Yet he writes how this turned out to be a falsehood in his own life, and that he will never fit in to the paradigm.

Randy Wixs Learning to Fly
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Randy Wix's "Learning to Fly"

Next to Spiel’s piece hangs Randy Wix’s “Learning to Fly,” a gorgeous, inspired piece that truly lifts your spirits. From a dark corner butterflies flit across a dimpled white plain. Each one floats above the piece on a delicate but charmingly conspicuous wire. The insects emerge from a peeled-back portion of the work, a dark underbelly below the chicken wire-plaster surface that oozes sticky black mud. Upon closer inspection, one finds the butterflies crawling out of the mire, coated in the oily stuff. They appear to shake off the coating and join the rest of the flock in the clean air, free from the troubling world behind them. On the far right panel, a larger, purple-toned butterfly punctuates the progression.

Wix’s piece reads like a hero’s journey. I’m unsure about its relation to American values, but I suppose you can apply the pursuit of happiness or personal independence as ingredients. Either way, it works partially due to its simplicity. Any more adornment would have driven the tone into sentimentality.

Detailed view of Learning to Fly
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Detailed view of "Learning to Fly"

The rest of Crossing the Lines is similarly satisfying. Be sure to take a close look at the works by Justin Reddick, Gabriel Wolff (now an assistant curator and collections manager at Sangre) and Riki Takaoka.

By the front desk you’ll find Jeremy Manyick’s self-titled exhibit. Manyick, of Southern Colorado, won this show through the Colorado State Fair, and the honor is well-deserved. Manyick paints with an incredible aptitude; his photorealistic figures and portraits are striking. But more commendable, in my opinion, is his handle on the moods between different genres of art. His series based on a trip to Japan pose these highly realistic figures standing in front of traditional Japanese ink paintings and a woodblock print. His winning work, “Conclusions” features a young girl mugging before a print emblazoned with battling samurai and a burning fortress. The effect of the ultra-flat print against the highly volumized girl is stunning and made all the more impressive seeing that Manyick painted the scene.

Jeremy Manyiks Conclusion
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Jeremy Manyik's "Conclusion"

The rest of the overarching show, however, is a bit disappointing. Pueblo to Plains displays a fine selection of regional Native American art and artifacts (many works belong to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum) but the quality of the exhibit layout is poor and distracting. Exhibits like this are just as much anthropological as they are artistic, and Sangre failed to supply enough information on the various pots, moccasins, cradleboards and blankets. Dates were missing from the display cards (many of which were crooked). My colleague and I pondered over one such cradleboard that seemed far too small for a normal infant. Was it a ceremonial piece? Was a part of it missing? We had no way of knowing.

Worst of all, the museum installed a giant, rainbow-hued teepee in the corner of the gallery, meant for children to explore. This is fine enough, but with the Buell Children’s Museum literally steps away, it was just silly to include it in what was otherwise an attempt at a deep study of the region’s indigenous art. The museum has already thoughtfully supplied the gallery with an “Art Cart,” for children to fill out educational coloring sheets and puzzles related to the objects.

Despite a few professional missteps, I do recommend a daytrip to Pueblo with a short run through the Sangre. In planning your visit, remember that Pueblo has a lot to offer in its downtown area. Round out your afternoon with a drink from Solar Roast Coffee, which has now set up shop in the Buell Children’s Museum (share the Bull Breaker for some fun) or head out to Hopscotch Bakery nearby. There’s still plenty of time to head down, Crossing the Lines is up through April 24 and Jeremy Manyick through May 8.

For more, visit sdc-arts.org.

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