Communicative Art Viewing: Developing a New Perspective on Local Color - 6/27/14

On Saturday, June 14th, the New Mexico Museum of Art hosted its very first art making workshop. This event is part of a summer trio of art workshops centered on the exhibition, Local Color: Judy Chicago in New Mexico 1984-2014. This workshop focused on drawing, however the subsequent two in July and August explore painting and collage respectively. These workshops combine the history and abstract interpretations of art with its physical creation, a marriage of two diverse educational styles that I believe will enrich viewer experience of the NMMA collection.

Judy Chicago
Crippled by the Need to Control/ Blind individuality from PowerPlay, 1983
Sprayed acrylic and oil on Belgian linen
Courtesy of David Richard Gallery, Santa Fe

For Saturday’s workshop we met in the lobby and, nametags having been assigned, visited the Judy Chicago exhibit. We first looked at Crippled by the Need to Control/Blind Individuality, a large scale painting that depicts a muscular figure exercising control over a woman in an act of puppetry by tugging at what appears to be either her hair or her skin. This piece exhibits a violent struggle for power between a man and a woman with the man appearing to be in command. While there is an evident emphasis on the submission of women as inflicted by the patriarchal system, Judy is also noting its disservice to men. The male figure doesn’t look masochistic or malicious, but rather passive. He is blindfolded and thus devoid of an identity, perhaps an indication that he himself is a mere pawn in patriarchism. Indications of abuse to the man are also observed in the textural application of paint on his leg, markings that are likened to scratches or scars. After exploring these observations many of us struggled with the notion of empathizing with the supposed persecutor.

Judy Chicago
Woe Man with Mask #11, 1986
 Sprayed acrylic and oil paint on hand-cast paper
Gift of Mary Ross Taylor in memory of Edmund Gaultney III, 1986

A second piece that we considered in the vein of sexual identity was Woe Man with Mask #11, a paper mold relief that depicts a portrait of an anguished face. Within our discussion group the piece was likened to the New Mexico landscape and work of Georgia O’Keeffe. What I found most interesting was that within this discussion we had burdened the piece with gender binarism by referring to it as “he”, even though there was a pre-established sexual ambiguity in the title "Woe Man". This association was made simply on the basis of the face’s pronounced musculature. This made us wonder: why is musculature automatically a masculine association? This forced us to return to Crippled by the Need to Control/Blind Individuality and revisit its gender constructions. We questioned whether it actually was a man acting as the puppeteer or if it could plausibly be a woman. The figure didn’t exhibit any indications of reproductive anatomy. Looking at both pieces together, we wondered, if our demarcation of masculinity is musculature and strength, are we inferring that women are incapable of such strength?

In essence, the questions and concerns prompted by these pieces were unanswerable. Instead, the result was a multiplicity of interpretations given by the diverse group of workshop participants. Participants came from different backgrounds and it was fascinating to hear their interpretations on such a socially and emotionally charged subject. Their analyses not only enriched my own, but also conflicted with them. While art viewing is frequently a solitary activity, these interactions forced me to consider the exhibit with greater depth.

With this newfound complexity of the human psyche managed, we sat down to look at ourselves in small-scale mirrors. Using a range of artistic techniques, from “coiling” to “hatching” to “ten second sketches”, we were forced to look at ourselves closely, though not critically. As one participant noted, we had the opportunity to “be seven again” and thus engage with art and ourselves from an entirely new perspective. Using graphite and colored pencils, markers, and oil pastels we explored ourselves: our facades through perspectival exaggeration and our emotions through an expressive color palette. In addition to providing knowledge of the political, social, and technical narratives of Local Color, this workshop was a chance for strangers to come together, not as man or women, mother or daughter, artist or self-proclaimed stick figure creator, but as people. Despite the true narrative complexity that burdens Judy’s subjects, it is important to believe that sometimes it can be that simple: while we are wonderfully diverse, we are all still people who love, hurt, and feel.


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