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Peace and War Exhibit shows the absence of war is not necessarily peace

Unlike most presidents but like a lot of other Texans, President Bush and the first lady dropped into Santa Fe for a little golf and shopping a while back. I was kind of hoping the first lady would call me for a few culture tips. She didn't, but if she had, I would have told her to head on over to the Center for Contemporary Arts for The Peace Show.

Cool, cheeky, and highly entertaining, The Peace Show avoids being an exhibition of dreadfully boring political art by bringing together work that catches the nuances of the present historical crisis, has some humor and is a lot of fun to look at. As curator, artist James Westwater preambles, "This is not an anti-war show per se, but an exhibition of works that resonate, sometimes obliquely, with the subject of war and peace."

I can tell you right now the first lady would have bought Joe Girandola's, "Shitkicker," a pair of motorized rotating cowboy boots, faster than you can say "Tigris 'n Euphrates."

The excellent photographer Miguel Gandert's two black-and-white shots "War Protest," and "Peace Protest," taken during Gulf War I in 1991 remind us that if you've seen one protest march you've pretty much seen them all. Even those on opposite sides of the issue look the same.

The highlight of the exhibition may be the Vietnam War-era "Death Masks" and "Tank" by the El Paso master of polyresins and graphics, Luis Jimenez. The four fiberglass masks on the wall with their helmets, umbilical cords and death canisters have that sleek, lethal Darth Vader look ten years before Darth existed. (Lucas got the look from the Teutonic knights in Sergei Eisenstein's film, "Alexander Nevsky.") The hilarious little tank is right out of Claes Oldenburg, who was hot during the Vietnam War, too. And a new watercolor on paper, "Assyrian Lion," show that Jimenez still has that fantastic graphic punch.

One of the most oblique and affecting works in the show is Trevor Ryan's haunting little acrylic on canvas, "Summer Evening." In a murky gray atmosphere a guy stands shooting watermelons in a field. The shattered rusty red remains of the melons could be mistaken for heads and the mistake is unnerving.

Finally, another resonant piece is the oversized teardrop of blood-red resin with the 6-point, 14-karat gold leaf letters "NO" painted on it.

In a show as broadly themed as this you can get away with the most oblique of references, such as David Hirschi's subtly toned, red painting, or the most literal metaphors such as Geoff Laurence's "Orpheus," a large, realistic painting of a female nude in front of some behemoth of a machine, or Ana MacArthur's life-sized figure in black burqa. This show reminded me of a number of things as well.

Just as sex is not love, the absence of war is not necessarily peace. Mark Twain once said that when he died lie hoped to go to hell, since, judging by the pictures, hell always seemed the more interesting place. The same could be said of war. Images of war are more interesting than images of peace. That's what makes war so attractive. It looks so good. The fireball of an explosion is so wildly beautiful that we've been seduced from Breughel to "Apocalypse Now." (This may also be why the new "Matrix" movie made hundreds of millions of dollars in the first weekend.) The Peace Show has humor, nuance and great visuals. In short, it's just the sort of exhibition we need. >



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