Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Notes from a Co-Curator

Hey True Believers!

It's me, Neilie Johnson: UNM alum, pop culture journalist and unapologetic comics nerd. When not writing, I'm devising Superheroic alter-egos for myself and imagining what super-powers each of them might have. (Last week my power of choice was flight. This week it's the ability to eat whatever I want without gaining weight.)

One day in the middle of this seemingly pointless exercise, I got an email from 516 Arts, asking if I'd like to co-curate an exhibition about Superheroes. After giggling excitedly like a little girl, I composed myself and accepted.

For “Superheroes: Icons of Good, Evil & Everything in Between”, I and the staff at 516 ARTS (the most excellent Rhiannon, Claude, Teresa and of course, the inimitable Suzanne) combed through a sea of entries from across the 'States and beyond, looking for work that took the Superhero theme to thrilling new heights (or depths, depending on the artists' sensibilities). What we found were a group of exceptional artists committed to using the Superheroic as a conduit for stories both personal and political; the result is a show that's powerful, provocative, and even better than we'd hoped for.

Opening weekend was awesome since it saw the presence of many of the artists featured in the show. To start, Los Angeles contributor (and fellow comics fan – fist bump, Aaron!) Aaron Noble came to the gallery in his “mural artist” disguise and spoke to local high school students:

...then opening night let his Superhero flag fly.

In addition to Aaron, I also had the pleasure opening night, of meeting sculptor Esteban Bojorquez and his gracious and lovely wife, conceptual artist Ben Johnsen looking dapper in snazzy bee necktie; the clever yet self-effacing David Cudney;“self taught” painter Mark Ouellette (who paints circles around most formally-taught painters; Aaron Campbell, the best thing that ever happened to the Green Hornet and Jolene Yazzie, the coolest young Superheroine in the Southwest.

Turnout at the opening was great and the public's response was amazing. Attendees reacted enthusiastically to the show's eclectic mix of ideas and media and went out of their way to shake my hand and congratulate all of us on a job well done. Since art's ultimately about making a connection with an audience, I can't tell you how gratifying it was to find the show resonating with so many people.

Since the opening, the show's positive momentum has continued throughout the month, culminating in Jon Carver of Santa Fe arts publication, THE Magazine, giving the show a stellar review – something I personally am very excited about. I could go on much longer about what a terrific experience it was working with 516 Arts and how pleased I am with what we've accomplished. In the interest of brevity though, I'll end by saying I'm very proud of this show and I urge you if you haven't seen it yet, make the time to do so.

Once again, sincere thanks to Rhiannon, Claude, Teresa and Suzanne for inviting me to collaborate with them on this incredible project, to the exhibition's artists for being so awesome and to the arts-loving community of Albuquerque and beyond who continue to make shows like this possible.

To everyone who works to keep the Fine Arts fires burning, I say—in the words of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch—“Flame on!”

--Neilie Johnson