For one day only on Thursday (31 August), a small contemporary art gallery in Taos, New Mexico, will exhibit Forest Spirit, a group show installed in an alpine meadow accessible only via a two-mile hike (with the option to camp overnight).
"I think a lot of people have the perception that all of New Mexico is Red Rock and desert landscape," says the gallery’s owner, Ari Myers. "And the part of New Mexico that we live in is not quite like that—we're in a high-desert environment with sage grasses in a high-plains landscape punctuated by the Rift Valley."
Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo range, the southernmost tail-end range of the Rocky Mountains, sculptures and paintings alike will punctuate the Bull of the Woods trail and pasture—its lush green grasses and dusty wildflowers framed by towering evergreens. With delicate logistics and hardy conditions for installing the show, the gallery's team packed up their horses to transport and position the works into the prairie-like meadow. (Although they ended up hiking it all in on foot.)
"Taos is a place that has an immense amount of history and resonance, and in terms of art history, most galleries around here show strictly regional craft work," says Myers. Focusing on more than a dozen contemporary artists who create works that reflect a Southwestern sensibility (rather than choosing people who are strictly working in the region) opened the exhibition up to fresh ideas.
"We show many artists that are based in the Southwest and in New Mexico, but not necessarily Taos specifically," says Myers. "That's been intentional: to take the time to understand the dynamics here and to be respectful of existing structures."
The spirit of Myers’s gallery, the Valley, is guided by three sets of concepts: magic and mysticism, craft-based practices and a strong connection to place. "Connection to place can obviously mean landscape but also work that dialogues with the land," says Myers. Returning to regular programming after a break for renovations has reinvigorated the concepts behind the gallery and is reflected in Forest Spirit. "This show is representative of what the Valley is and does as a gallery, and that's partially because so many of our frequent collaborators are included."
The exhibition spans landscape paintings rendered in earth tones (like Will Bruno's brushy compositions) to playful materiality—like Mark A. Rodriguez's rumpled hiking-boot sculptures cast in bronze, or David Benjamin Sherry's chromogenic darkroom prints capturing aerial images of Utah's rocky soil and layered with pigment-dyed sand. All featured works will be placed on the ground, tucked into fallen tree trunks or hung from branches.
Also included are more ethereal abstractions with hints of witchy symbolism (exemplified in Fernanda Mello's acrylic-on-linen painted fractals) and sculptural works that pull directly from the experience and life of the land. For example, Sarah M. Rodriguez's diminutive pieces are made from animal tracks, which she captures using the lost-wax method, then casts in colourful glass.
Showing art in the great outdoors is nothing new, but the spirit with which the Valley approaches its surroundings may serve as a model for other galleries that not only long to work outside the confines of the white cube but hope to see more sensitivity to the natural world.
"The pieces made for this show specifically lend themselves to being exhibited in this particular environment," says Myers. "It's a bit of a different approach, but it has created this kinship between artists that we work with and how they approach artmaking."
- Forest Spirit, 31 August, Bull-of-the-Woods Mountain, Taos, New Mexico