Axle Contemporary owner/operators Matthew Chase-Daniel and Jerry Wellman left the mobile gallery space parked in one of the two dedicated spots for vendors on Canyon Road last Saturday morning around 11 am. By 4:30 that afternoon, someone had hurled a fist-sized rock through the retrofitted bread truck's back window and attempted to smash the windshield, cracking it in several places. In 10 years of parking on the bustling Santa Fe art street, Wellman says, there's never been an issue. But now it feels like an attack.
Both Wellman and Chase-Daniel suspect the content of Axle's newest show might have played a role in the event. Feminism in the Era of Trump finds 32 high-quality reproductions of feminist artworks created in response to Trump plastered around the body of the truck. Axle's owners say the exhibit, juried by Lucy Lippard, certainly conveys a lot of rage and a particular point of view but, as always, the goal is to spur conversation about the issues and give a voice to artists—not to issue a finger-wagging statement of fact.
"Looking through a veil of COVID-19…the general lack of civility which we've experienced over the last four years means there's a lot of frustration and a lot of false empowerment going on," Wellman says. "I think it was a reaction to the exhibit, but I can't know that for certain."
Chase-Daniel points to rising cases of vandalism around the city, such as the recent India Palace attack, and at an increase in national partisanship during the Trump administration.
"It feels like a violation of our trust," he tells SFR. "It feels like an attack on the arts community in Santa Fe and the freedom of expression of a civil discourse."
Still, both Chase-Daniel and Wellman don't seem concerned with retribution so much as they'd like to understand why someone would heave a rock at the mobile gallery. They did file a police report, but it's more about insurance than dragging some assailant off to jail.
"I'd love for them to do some exhibition in reparation for what they did, and I would like to tell them that Axle has an open call for anybody to propose an exhibition," Wellman says. "But regardless of where they're coming from, they did something to damage a cultural institution. I do think the significance is larger than it might appear."
For now, they've boarded the broken window and the cracks in the windshield won't impede driving whatsoever. Feminism in the Era of Trump runs through election day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, and will appear across town as is Axle's general MO. Up next for Wellman and Chase-Daniel is the Be Counted project, an arts-based initiative meant to increase both census participation and voter turnout.