By Breanne Reilly
A new exhibit in the Ross Art Museum unleashes themes of mortality, religion and nature from the New Mexico areas of Albuquerque, Taos and Santa Fe.
The show, which opened last Thursday, was curated by a group of Ohio Wesleyan students who traveled to New Mexico for a Theory-to-Practice grant organized by Ross Art Museum Director Justin Kronewetter.
Sophomore Catie Beach, senior Amy LeFebvre, senior Ha Le, junior Bill Milanik, senior Linh Nguyen and sophomore Maddie Stuntz chose over 100 pieces to feature in the show after being able to explore the artists’ homes and studios.
Artist Nancy Sutor, whose series “Compose/Decompose” is featured in the gallery, served as the keynote speaker for the exhibit’s opening.
Sutor presented a preliminary talk, “My Work in New Mexico”, which gave students and faculty a glimpse into her many sources of inspiration.
“It makes me think there is some order to the universe,” Sutor said of her central theme of contrasting dark/light colors in her series of photographs that examine the timeline of her compost pile.
“Compost breaks down to become the richest gold in the garden world,” Sutor said. “The pictures are chronicles of the seasons and show different degrees of decay. It’s a life cycle.”
LeFebvre said Sutor’s work impressed her because it shares a message with viewers.
“I was really interested in how she wanted her images to impact the way that people think about food and sustainability,” LeFebvre said.
Beach said Sutor’s work represents the passage of time and the seasons and is unique since the photographs were unplanned.
“She photographs the everyday object,” Beach said. “Whether it’s something she consumes or experiences.”
LeFebvre and Beach said that although they enjoyed Sutor’s work, initially she was not one of the artists they selected as the speaker.
Justin Kronewetter, who said he has known Sutor for years, asked her to be the keynote speaker mainly because she has experience teaching college students at the College of Santa Fe.
“She is the only academician in the group of artists,” he said.
Kronewetter said certain artists couldn’t come to speak because of scheduling conflicts and complications due to cost, weather and other obligations.
In addition to not presenting a speaker chosen by the students, multiple pieces that the art students wanted to feature in the exhibit did not make the final cut.
Kronewetter explained certain art wasn’t displayed since it is “off the market” and will not likely be sold while at the Ross Museum.
However, Beach said artist Nina Marrow’s jewelry, which is made of driftwood and silver, was all hand selected by the students.
“I am doing the best I can do to honor the preferences of the students,” he said.
Sophomore Zoe Morris, who attended the exhibit’s opening said, “They’re colorful, musical and emotional [pieces]. It makes me want to go to New Mexico, especially since I’m from Massachusetts.”
Similar to Morris, Catie Beach said the artworks echo the artists’ homes and cultures through color, subject and choice of medium.
“Everything was connected there, the land, people, spirituality and cultures,” Beach said. “And it’s reflected in the art.”
Kronewetter said several of the artworks have religious themes because Hispanic artists in the area frequently depict religious icons. He said “La Conquistadora” (Our Lady of Conquest), a statue by Nicholas Herrera and Susan Guevara, exemplifies the value of religion and how saints are frequently idolized.
“Historically and culturally, Christianity is ingrained in the southwest and is a major driving factor in any community,” LeFebvre said.
Kronewetter said various artworks on display have skeletons in them because of the celebration of Dia de los Muertos—The Day of the Dead.
“In Mexican culture, celebrating dead relatives and friends is very common,” he said. “It might seem macabre to those of us that are not familiar with the Roman Catholic tradition or celebration.”
He also said Anita Rodriguez, who painted “Burning of Eden” and “La Santisma Muerte,” which depict skeletons, will be coming to campus on March 27 to discuss the theme of death in Mexican art.
Native American photos, paintings and sculptures are also featured in the exhibit. Kronewetter said he is attempting to arrange for a lecture on Native American art later in the semester from artist Roxanne Swentzel.
Swentzel currently has bronze pieces titled “Held,” “Woman in Stone” and “Special Girl” on display in the museum.
Kronewetter said the goal of the exhibit is to show the local community something they wouldn’t normally expect, something new.