Desert Serenade: Drones, Fences, Cacti, Test Sites, Craters, and Serapes. Reception 5 p.m. Aug. 9; exhibit through Aug. 31, weekends only from noon to 5 p.m. Lannan Foundation Gallery, 309 Read St., 505-954-5149
Although the Lannan Foundation’s group show Desert Serenade: Drones, Fences, Cacti, Test Sites, Craters, and Serapes has been up since mid-July, the exhibition’s official reception isn’t until Aug. 9 — a good opportunity to see this minimal, even spalike gallery space, which is open to the public only on Saturdays and Sundays. The foundation’s generous endowment has allowed it to amass an impressive collection of modern and contemporary artworks, a selection of which is on display for Desert Serenade.
Group shows are tricky. A unified theme — even if not strictly adhered to — goes a long way in directing the viewer’s eye and managing the show’s visual thesis. The seven artists in this particular exhibit adhere to the range of topics mentioned in the show’s subtitle, covering issues specific — but not limited — to the American Southwest, with social and environmental undertones that range from suggestive to overt.
India-born photographer and environmental activist Subhankar Banerjee moved to Northern New Mexico in 2006. In one of his images, a close-up of a cholla cactus foregrounds bare-branched piñon trees, stripped by beetle infestations following years of drought. Photographer Renate Aller, a native of Germany, takes pictures of White Sands that convey a similar mixture of curiosity and concern for Southwestern environments. The dunes there have an interstellar beauty, and though they’re a national monument, they’re also close to the spot where the world’s first nuclear-weapons detonation occurred. Aller’s contribution here is from a series she captured during Easter Sunday visits to White Sands in 2012 and 2013. Children play on the sugary sand, effecting a beachy vibe that’s enhanced by the artist’s choice to pair them with meditative ocean-and-sky photographs from an earlier body of work.
For 2009’s Border series, American photographer Victoria Sambunaris hopped into her car and hit the highway, traveling west from the Texas border town of Del Rio to San Diego, California. Lannan’s blurb about the artist points out her ability to focus on Southwestern terrain that “existed long before the governments that now control [them].” Regardless of its underlying narratives, Sambunaris’ imagery is visually stunning. In Untitled (Border Fence Near Naco, AZ), a work from 2010, we hover over a sea of dirt and scrubby grasses, split by the long black structure that separates the U.S. and Mexico. The picture’s cotton-puff clouds recede almost out of sight, where they hover like drones above a jagged row of distant mountains.
James Turrell needs little introduction. His much-publicized (but still closed-to-the-public) Roden Crater installation has yielded numerous works on paper — from photographs to blueprints — that address the artist’s long-standing focus on the multisensory effects of pure light. Turrell’s inclusion in this show is fitting, given his project’s location in Arizona, but also because of his relationship with Lannan, which has funded portions of the Roden Crater project.
Mexico-born artist Emi Winter studied with Donald Judd at Marfa’s Chinati Foundation, prompting a fascination with light and hue that’s reflected in her brightly colored paintings. In one untitled oil-on-Masonite work from 2004, a horizontal band of neon yellow cuts across plummy mauve swaths of color, which bleed into pale blue. It’s pretty but nowhere near as commanding as Spoonbill, an immersively large (90-by-28-inch) vertical painting made up of five panels layered on top of each other. Brilliant stripes of turquoise and lime are interspersed with hot pink and forest green in an approximation of the jarringly festive colors of a Mexican serape. It’s a lot like the exhibition itself: an amalgamation of boldness and subtlety, blended together to form an unexpectedly cohesive glimpse of contemporary Southwestern culture.