Do you hear that? That’s Mannheim Steamroller. And that means Christmas is almost upon us.
Christmas is a weird time to go to art galleries. On the one hand, there are spaces that continue with regularly scheduled programs and risk seeming indifferent to Santa’s birthday. And then there are the galleries that attempt to capitalize on the spirit of the season and the extra foot traffic by hosting a holiday-themed show—ugh. There is already a year-round, holiday-themed exhibition. It’s called the mall.
I’m no Scrooge. I like Christmas. I just think artists should aim higher. Ideas ought not be seasonal. Otherwise, one is not making art; one is making ornaments. That said, I viewed two exhibitions this week that take the reindeer by the horns.
Bah Humbug, at GF Contemporary, was a benefit in support of The Food Depot and The Empty Stocking Fund. Typically a fundraiser’s success is measured by the amount of fund it raises, but they are not typically as fun and contrarian as this one. Bah Humbug is certainly the first fundraiser I’ve attended at which Santa dropped an F-bomb.
Most of the work was inspired by the rampant consumption that has become the cornerstone of Christmas, with many references to the non-denominational Saint Nick. A lot of the works felt like one-offs and one-liners, but that’s OK. Display them every December, and then put them away when you take your tree down in March.
It’s easy to criticize Christmas, but the art in Bah Humbug was subversive without condescension. Erika Wanenmacher’s clever coyote disguises itself in a motley pastiche of gift-wrap. Tuscany Wenger’s decorated dust masks help their wearers venture festively out in public, while maintaining a barricade against H1N1 or goodwill.
The exhibition space was well-used, including a fake pink evergreen hung upside down from the ceiling and a Santa-skin rug on the floor. On the back wall, a slow-motion video showed shoppers trampling their fellow man as they pressed to get into toy stores. The installation by Tête de Veau, a bedroom scene on Christmas Eve, actually made me feel depressed.
Whether it is advisable to take such a strong anti-consumer theme when trying to raise money is anyone’s guess, but I appreciated the thorough lack of pandering. Bah humbug, indeed.
Next on the list is Santa Fe Clay, where the artists chose to be nice instead of naughty. Strictly speaking, Santa Fe Clay’s new exhibitions, Cups and Pouring Vessels, were not advertised as holiday-themed, but these shows are clearly geared toward itinerant shoppers. And they are wonderful.
Straightforward enough, Cups is a collection of dozens of artists’ (mostly) functional works. The cups are displayed on a single shelf that travels the perimeter of the long portion of the exhibition space, almost like a carnival shooting gallery. The variety of forms, treatments, sizes and even the definition of what a cup is vary wildly. Some appear a bit ordinary in this context, while others would clearly not be good for drinking, but the craft is exceptional throughout.
The works range in price from as low as $20 to as high as $700, which will get you one crazy centerpiece, but the bulk of the works are between $40-60. If you’re like me and you drink coffee all morning from only one mug always, even $100 seems very well invested in a unique object.
The pourers are fewer in number, but no less impressive. Mike Jabbur’s tea service set includes several delicate petal-like cups nested in the base. Bonnie Seeman’s cocoa colored pot stands out for its craft—intricately textured with the surfaces of sunflowers—as beautiful as any Art Nouveau masterpiece.
Even if you’re all done shopping, make sure to stop by. Santa Fe Clay continues to impress with elegantly arranged shows. If you’re still looking for the perfect gift, you’d better hurry. Hours before the opening, the works were going fast.
707 Canyon Road
Cups and Pouring Vessels
Through Jan. 9, 2010
Santa Fe Clay
1615 Paseo de Peralta