Odd Nerdrums Man with Burning Branch
Arnot Art Museum. Purchase by exchange through the Dr. William C. Beck Acquisition Fund and the Gallery Gala. 1996
It's always amusing when critics or artists declare a given medium or genre dead.
William Carlos Williams proclaimed the sonnet D.O.A. when he, Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle were busy inventing "imagism" in the early 20th century. In the late 1960s, poet Ted Berrigan took Williams' declaration as a challenge and wrote The Sonnets, a book that used stolen and cut-up lines to create a revolutionary way of building an old form through bricolage.
After World War II, many critics believed abstract expressionism to be the final nail in the coffin of realist painting. During the 1980s, a group of L.A. painters including Eric Fischl, David Hockney and David Salle incorporated the lessons of pop into their paintings and proved them wrong.
Many critics have also said that painting itself had run its course, but after decades of performance art, conceptual art, pop art, op art, crap art and everything in between, artists have again proven that the laws of Hegelian dialectics will always bring back that which has been banished: Painting is back with a vengeance, and the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center has a few extraordinary examples of its current reincarnation.
Simply and loosely titled Magic Realism, this latest show at the SDC is also another fine example of how Jina Pierce has reinvented the art of how to be a world-class small-museum curator. Pierce, for example, found a way to bring "Winter: Man With Burning Branch" by Odd Nerdrum -- one the greatest living painters in the world -- to Pueblo.
If you think I'm being hyperbolic, take your favorite Rembrandt or Jan van Eyck coffee-table book (lest you have an original) and have a look-see for yourself. Nerdrum's control of light in a brooding, shadowy palette is breathtaking. Not only is he (b. 1944) a devoted scholar of painting, he's also been mixing his own pigments and stretching his own canvases since he was 16 years old.
While his style and subject matter may initially have the appearance of a sentimental throwback (and a remarkable one at that), his apocalyptic vision of a future without technology -- or much in the way of hope -- more than justifies his style. A strange, anachronistic hat and a cynical simper give "Winter," a lumpy-faced self-portrait, an arrogant aura -- as though Nerdrum himself knows a powerful secret: that he is the master of a not-so-distant world that will be stripped of its technological mask.
Though his technique boldly incorporates elements from the High Renaissance and the Dutch masters, he's also known for boldly unleashing his vulgarity. In one of his most famous works (not at the SDC), "Self-portrait in Golden Cape," Nerdrum paints himself casually revealing his erect penis in the softest of gold lights.
So how did this and the many other incredibly peculiar and disconcerting paintings (there are just too many to list) get into this show in Pueblo? Unlike many of her contemporaries who are busy trying to raise the profile of their museums by seeking out high-profile, prepackaged shows, Jina Pierce decided to begin cultivating close relationships with gallery owners who are looking to open new markets for their artists' wares.
As a result, Pierce is able to organize shows around her own ideas and tap the networks of her associates in the gallery world. The result: She builds shows with well-established artists like Nerdrum, Christian Vincent and Steven Assael (whose "Bottleman" is as stunningly wrought as Nerdrum's) while fleshing it out with the talents of emerging artists like Bo Bartlett, Brian O'Connor, David Linn, Teun Hocks, along with several local and regional artists like Catherine Porter Brown and Laurel Swab from Colorado Springs and Wes Hempel from Denver. Gallery owners are usually more than happy to share the cost of shipping, says Pierce, for the chance to move their artworks into new markets. So little fish get to swim with the big fish and everyone's happy.
Along with help from Tonya Turner Carroll, co-owner of the Turner Carroll Gallery in Santa Fe, and loans from PPOW and Forum galleries and the Arnot Museum in New York, Pierce is now rewriting the books on how to put together a remarkable show of remarkable painters with an unremarkable budget.
-- Noel Black
Magic Realism: A New Generation, and other shows.
Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, 210 N. Santa Fe Ave., Pueblo, 719/295-7200
On exhibit Jan. 18 through May 10
Opening reception: Friday, Feb. 7, 5-8 p.m.
$4 adults, $3 children
Open Tuesday Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.