Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Sunday in the Country

By Jeffrey Lee

OCTOBER 12, 1998:  Unless you're stirred by gouged stucco and fusty motel signage, you have to look beyond the city limits to find enchantment. And if the Sandias and soon-to-be-dismantled petroglyphs aren't compelling enough, artists E. Nuevo and Thomas Cates have devised another reason to get out of town. They've set aside 10 acres of their Mountainair, N.M., property as a new outdoor showplace for artists working with natural and found materials--stones, reeds, leaves, sticks and even the odd assemblage of rubbish. The first phase of their project, The Land, is now on view. It's a bit of a drive, but worth every bumpy mile.

The path over Cates and Nuevo's remote, scrub-dotted hillside is a perfect New Mexico stroll. It winds along an arroyo and up a hill with a heart-stopping view. The landscape is so intoxicating you could easily overlook the artwork by Cates, Nuevo and 11 other artists that has been discreetly installed along the way. In part, that's the idea. Most of the 15 pieces are imagined components of this landscape--many, in fact, put together from pieces of it. Found-wood constructions by Loretta Lowman and Susane Mayfield, Cates' Tree Bandages and Michelle Franklin's River Stones--a nest of small, spherical armatures woven out of reeds and tucked under a tree--look as if they'd grown or dropped there.

Other artists have brought materials with them. Ted Laredo's Mountainair Blue Ring is a circle of blue Plexiglas shards on a raised a steel frame. The sun refracts the flame-like ring on the grass underneath. Nearby, Jonathan Siegel has installed a little grove of metal boxes on stems. Each box is open at both ends: not only a sculpture but a "point of view." Look through them and they frame, variously, a yucca, a breach between two junipers and a patch of empty, blue sky. But I think Christine Wallers' Six Movements is The Land's most ambitious and most evocative. Wallers has scattered a dozen eight- or 10-inch squares of metallic screen over a wide, grassy clearing. Though they are fixed with weights and filaments, the squares float on top of the dry grass, catching the light, like fragments of sunlight on water--or like brush strokes on a Monet. Because a section of the path bends around the piece, it changes as you view it, merging into and out of a not-quite-discernible pattern.

Nuevo and Cates stress that The Land is an ongoing project. A winter show, involving art and sound, is in the works for February. As for the pieces currently on display, those with man-made materials will be dismantled. But others will, as Nuevo says, "just go back to the earth." I like the notion that some of this art, inventive, humorous, but in all cases reverential toward the land, will be taken apart by mice and jays, and the wind will blow the rest of it away.

"The Land" is on display every Sunday through Oct. 18 in Mountainair, N.M. For directions and further information, call (505) 242-1501.

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