What? No Angst?

While Crisis? What Crisis? started out nine years ago (jeez, I can’t believe that…) as a place to bitch about—ah, make that reflect on my personal experiences as I confronted the challenges of aging, I tried to return to my journalistic roots from time to time and report on various events I attended in Chicago, the city of this blog’s birth. (Yes, although not a working journalist now, I did enter college planning to be one and have practiced the craft from time to time over the years. So, I guess that makes me one of the enemies of the American people. The ridiculousness of our current leader’s attack on the media deserves much closer scrutiny, but I’ll save that for another day).

These days, though, C?WC? seems to be reserved more than ever before for personal whining of an often-unseemly sort than for any reportage. I’ll try to rectify that a bit with two brief write-ups on some recent experiences. Not hard news, to be sure, just a look back at a talk I attended and a recent excursion into southern Colorado.

The talk was by Chad Alligood, the curator of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, and recently a fellow at the Women’s International Study Center here in Santa Fe. Alligood came to work on a monograph about artist Judy Chicago, and she was the subject of the talk I attended—and was also in attendance for a brief Q&A (she is a New Mexico resident).

I went knowing only that Chicago was and is a key figure in feminist art, best known for her installation The Dinner Party. Alligood focused on her earlier stint as a minimalist artist, describing the sexism and misogyny she faced as she tried to make her mark in that male-dominated field during the 1960s. Although often dismissed by critics, Chicago set herself apart from her male contemporaries by exploring many different media and learning the skills needed to make her pieces. While the men sculptors turned to foundries and others to fabricate their art, Chicago studied with boat builders and learned how to air brush cars so she could turn her artistic ideas into reality. And unlike some of the massive and geometric examples of the minimalist aesthetic created by men, Chicago turned toward more ephemeral projects, such as one that used the colored smoke of fireworks to create images that shaped both time and space (she apprenticed with a fireworks expert for that one).

img_7843-2By the end of the decade, Alligood said, Chicago had reached her breaking point with minimalism and its dismissal of work that evoked feminine and feminist themes. 3 Star Cunts (1969) he said, marked the “moment where she has had it.” The piece shows three objects that look like donuts, with the large holes in the middle taking the shape of 8-sided stars. After that, Chicago committed herself to depicting women’s experiences and historical impact in her art using a variety of media.

In the Q&A that followed, Chicago lamented the commercialization of the art world and noted how the economics have changed since the 1960s. Back then, she said, she could get a 5,000 square-foot loft for $75 a month. She counseled young artists today to “stay out of the market until you find your own voice.” She also described her childhood, how she started to draw when she was three and then began taking art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago just two years later.  (Chicago took the name of her hometown as her own in 1970.) Her interest in challenging social and political norms, she said, stems in part from her upbringing; her father was a Marxist and victim of the McCarthyist Red Scare. During that period, Chicago said, she came to see that what most people accept as fact is not necessarily true.

Moving from woman-made art, I also had the chance recently to explore natural beauty on a drive though part of southern Colorado (which I documented in photos as I stopped every 25 miles and took a picture of what was around me; you can see some of the results here). It was a cold, clear January day, and I put on some 300 miles before reaching my destination for the night, Taos (a weekend trip there for a writers’ conference is coming up soon; hope to have something to say about that here at C?WC?)

What started out as a more-or-less random drive turned into a trek to see something I didn’t even knew existed: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Imagine my surprise to learn that the tallest sand dunes in North America are just three hours away from Santa Fe.

The dunes were formed when sand from the nearby mountains washed and blew into an ancient lake, now long gone. The wind then blew the lake sand against the mountains, and winds still shape the dunes. The park has seven life zones, reflecting changes in elevation and climate, among other factors. Seeing the dunes when the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains were covered with snow was beautiful, and I enjoyed watching intrepid sledders  raced down the snow on the dunes. I think, though, I’d like to go back in the spring and explore the area some more.

I realized while writing this that these two experiences highlight some of the things I love about Santa Fe. World-class artists of all stripes make the region their home and you can find more culture than you could rightly expect in most small cities that lack a major university. Then, head out in every direction and there is amazing natural diversity. The Land of Enchantment, indeed. I hope in the months to come to spend more time documenting both the culture and the nature around me—a welcome break from the usual recounting of emotional travails, I’m sure.

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~ by mburgan on March 1, 2017.

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