Nuevo Mexicano Heritage Arts Museum debuts new exhibit and new name

May 26—Sometimes pretty things tell ugly stories.

Open at the Nuevo Mexicano Heritage Arts Museum, (formerly the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in Santa Fe), “The Ugly History of Beautiful Things” explores objects created to express environmental concerns, issues of race, the pandemic and even bullfighting.

Each artist tells their unique story, and viewers are invited to choose: solely experience the beauty and complexity of the materials, or explore the complicated stories hidden to the naked eye.

“It’s just a comment on the complexity of art behind the visual,” said curator Jana Gottshalk. “I had my eye out for art that had interesting stories.”

The show features the gouache on paper painting “Wildfire Season in the Southwest” by artist Kat Kinnick. It shows a hawk attacking a pigeon as wildfire smoke billows from behind a hill. Kinnick had been watching the 2022 Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak wildfire.

“Around this time, I had two encounters within a couple days apart where I saw Cooper’s hawks kill pigeons,” she said in an artist’s statement. “One drove a pigeon to hit the exterior wall of the house and then stood on top of the bird as she was dying, and the other was an audible discovery, after I heard a cry and saw the hawk on top of the bleeding pigeon under a juniper tree. Each time, I watched for a moment as the hawks pulled the feathers from the dead pigeon.”

“A lot of her work has to do with the displacement that comes with fires,” Gottshalk added.

Contemporary santero Arthur López’s wood-carved retablo “Essential Isidro” references one of the hypocrisies of the pandemic. Farmworkers were designated essential workers, but still considered illegal.

“San Isidro is widely venerated as the patron saint of farmers, peasants, day laborers and agriculture in general,” López said. ” ‘Essential Isidro’ pays tribute to all the essential migrant farmworkers who selflessly worked to keep food on our tables during the pandemic and every day.”

The 3D figure’s hands and arms emerge in front of imagery of farmworkers in the fields, cradling a plant.

It’s “the irony of being deemed essential and illegal at the same time and still showing up to do the work while living in fear of being deported,” López continued. “Sprouting from San Isidro’s hands is a plant symbolizing hope of new life and brighter future.”

The circa 1930s box by José Delores López features painted and carved birds and plants. López trained as a farmer and carpenter in the town of Córdova, about halfway between Santa Fe and Taos. Working in a traditional Hispanic aesthetic, López created hand-carved, brightly painted furniture and domestic fixtures along with silver filigree jewelry. His work was recognized by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society in Santa Fe and was part of a larger American interest in Indigenous and Hispanic arts produced in the Southwest.

A rare ex-voto painting depicting a battle scene came from an anonymous artist in the 1800s. An ex-voto is a votive offering to a saint or a divinity, given in fulfillment of a vow or in gratitude or devotion.

“They are things that were commissioned by people asking for a miracle of people or having experienced one to say thanks for the miracle,” Gottshalk said.

“It’s very unique,” she continued. “He’s been taken prisoner, so he prays to this image of Christ and he’s saved.”

The Houston-based Patrick McGrath Muñiz’s oil and gold leaf on panel “Clymene’s Children” evokes the Christian iconography of Madonna and child. In Greek mythology, Clymene was the goddess of fame and renown.

“Behind the mother a discarded sanitation mask, a sign of a post-pandemic event, represents humanity’s irresponsible disregard for the environment,” Muñiz said. “The abandoned advertising billboard behind hints at the life/death cycles of nature and human civilization with a green ‘eco-friendly’ recycle logo. Three recently extinct birds with gold halos can be seen in the background: A dodo bird, a mysterious starling and a passenger pigeon.”

In the 18th century, various artists in New Spain created a series of paintings to document the marriage and offspring of interracial relationships.

The “Casta” painting references the attempt to legitimize Spanish aristocracy in Mexico.

For historians, however, these have helped to illustrate the multi-ethnic population that would eventually come to dominate the Americas and find its own artistic voice.

In this painting, the man is thought to be a Spaniard, the woman a mestizo (of Native and African parentage), and the child, a castizo (of Spanish and mestizo heritage).

The private museum occupies a John Gaw Meem building on Santa Fe’s Museum Hill. It opened in 2002, decades after the founding of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, which once managed the city’s Traditional Spanish Market.

Its recent name change more broadly reflects its collections, including its contemporary work, Gottshalk added.

“The majority of our collection is not described (as colonial),” she said. “We have a lot of work by Spanish Market artists. We needed to produce some clarity there.”

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