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By John Arnold



The next great age of art is at hand. At least that's James Mann's theory. The Las Vegas, (Nev.), Art Museum curator believes that postmodern art movements of the past 50 years - the likes of conceptual, installation, performance and environmental art -. are "destined for extinction" and that art containing more traditional elements will soon be favored by the art world. "I know my position is radical, and it's complicated, and it's not easy to persuade oneself that this is truly the inevitable direction," he said recently by phone from Las Vegas. "But I've persuaded myself." And he hopes to persuade others with the help of 15 Santa Fe painters whom he chose to include in a new exhibit opening this weekend at the Las Vegas Art Museum.

The show, titled simply "XV Santa Fe Artists," includes 125 paintings that Mann thinks break new ground while recovering techniques and styles of the past. According to Mann, those elements found in classical, neo-classical, renaissance and even modern paintings have been systematically stripped away and abandoned during the 20th century. This "dismantlement" has reached its limits, he said. "I accept the validity of all these movements," Mann said. "But they're finished." The 15 painters in the Las Vegas show exemplify what Mann believes to be a new, inevitable direction in contemporary art.

That the work contains human figures or resembles older paintings is inconsequential, according to Mann. It's how the painters use those influences that's innovative. For example, he said, artist Joel Greene, whose work is included in the exhibit, uses cubism to depict Southwestern landscapes. "His achievement is at the highest level," Mann said. "It's truly something original, I think." Some of the work in" XV Santa Fe Painters" is abstract, but, for the most part, the paintings contain recognizable figures, like landscapes and people. That's not to say the work is what some might consider typical Santa Fe art, according to Mann. His intention is to "frustrate ordinary expectations" that people may have of Southwestern art.

Styles in the exhibit vary significantly - from Michael Wright's and Trevor Lucero's non-traditional landscapes to polished,
detailed portraits from the trained hand of Geoff Laurence. "These painters have been living in a time when their originality is not accepted," Mann said. Laurence, 55, agrees and hopes that's going to change. He believes that art should function on all different levels - emotional and intellectual - to be successful. A lot of postmodern art fails to accomplish that, according to the painter. What's missing, he said, is humanism, which he believes more or less disappeared from art at the onset of the atomic age. "There was a whole generation of people my age who had 10 years as adolescents of being made to feel that there was no future. It was certain there was no point in everything," he said. when you paint the figure, you talk about yourself, and you're talking about humanity." Laurence said that as a figurative painter, he was an outcast beginning in art school in the 1970s, a time when one student's art project consisted of rotting apples hanging from strings, and artists like Sol LeWitt made a splash with minimalist pencil drawings. "I had to pretend to be a fashion student to do life drawing and meanwhile, they were cheering Mr. LeWitt for his single pencil line ... I literally was not allowed to do life drawings."

But while some may criticize postmodern art and what they see as the abandonment of centuries of tradition, others see the movements as a continuation of that tradition. Artists for centuries have used new techniques and new materials to encourage innovation, said Santa Fe Art Institute executive director Diane Karp. The institute recently housed an environmental installation addressing the health of Santa Fe's watershed. Another installation exhibit - paying tribute to ritual places used to remember the dead - is set to open next month. Karp said that art reflects the social, cultural and political context in which it exists. Beware, she said, of "people who tell you what is and isn't anything, what is and isn't good, what is and isn't art." "You have to beware of people who set those kinds of boundaries and what it is they're protecting," Karp said. Greene - whose work is included in Mann's show agrees that conceptual, installation and other postmodern art forms can't be ignored, even if it's not his cup of tea. "We each find our own ways (of expression), and we each kind of eventually find our own following," he said. "There are people that respond to my work and people who it leaves cold. You can't reach everybody."

In addition to Greene, Laurence, Wright and Lucero, "XV Santa Fe Artists" includes work by Jo Basiste, Dennis Flynn, Paulette Franki, Whitman Johnson, Zara Kriegstein, David Mauldin, Jack Sinclair, Fred Spencer, Mark Spencer, Jody Sunshine and Jerry West.

The exhibit runs through May 22. For more information on the show, call (702) 360-8000 or visit



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