Drifting the art gallery rounds in Santa Fe—in which the same cast of characters orchestrate exhibitions that begin to blur into one long, banal cocktail of visual gizmos—it’s not hard to become a smidge bitter. Jaded. Just plain tired.
New arrivals and one-off events need to happen every so often in order to infuse fresh hype and new hope. The farther toward the fringes the better; anything remotely resembling edginess or underground activity can be like water to a dying man in a town where too many people play by the rules.
So, when Facebook pinged me with the lowdown on a shindig called “Squatter’s Gallery Empty House,” I was goosed for a good time. “Artists in this town do have balls, after all,” I thought to myself. Commandeering an empty house for a night of installations, music and poetry displays enough urban élan to suggest this summer in Santa Fe might sizzle with some global savoir faire—in spite of the poetry.
On arriving at the scene of the art crime, however, it turned out to be a dead fish. Not because nothing was happening—I’m sure people arrived later than me and got their art on and tuned up the bonfire and singer-songwritered the neighbors into mild discomfort—but because the event was being organized by the owner of the house. He was between tenants and decided to have a little soiree. That’s cool. It’s hard to have a problem with somebody getting together with some friends and being all creative and special but, in the spirit of Bill Maher, let’s lay down a New Rule:
If you own a house, you’re not allowed to pretend you’re squatting in it. I know you don’t mean any harm, but squatting is a legitimate socio-political factor in the evolution of culture and society, and using it as the framework for a cute theme party is just plain offensive. Why not host a “pauper’s bar” or institute “Sudanese refugee costume day” at work? Faux squatting is a property owner in blackface doing a charming little number on the fractured bones of social justice—innocent fun at the expense of the oppressed.
As if on cue to make me feel shallow for lusting after the latest, greatest, hippest, weirdest whatever, an exhibition of paintings and photo-collage works by Rudolf Baranik absolutely pulsates with quiet conviction and moral authority at Dwight Hackett Projects.
The works span more than 20 years of Baranik’s career, which he has dedicated to the cause of “socialist formalism.” Nearly every painting is an attempt to reconcile formal composition with moral concerns. As someone with undisguised contempt for the ease with which “artists” churn out “political art,” which is generally no more socially useful than the noise produced by advertising, I was alarmed at the effectiveness of Baranik’s work.
I was first made still by the structure, grace and depth of it and, in the stillness, the work began to induce a slow, steady churning that built toward a roiling of the soul. Baranik exorcised my distractions and then led me through his perceptions—described in the fragmented abstraction of violent scenes against a steady black/blue background—with a quiet, assured mastery that was devoid of bombast or pedagogy. As jaded as I felt at the beginning of the weekend, I had forgotten that good painting could feel like pure philosophical instruction.
Through May 23
Dwight Hackett Projects
2879 All Trades Road