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By Rick Romancito


'The American Scene' at the Van Vechten.Lineberry Taos Art Museum
is a treat for the senses

A new exhibition that opened with a reception Friday (Sept. 3) provides a welcome change of pace for lovers of truly fine art. The show is titled 'The American Scene," and it can be seen at the Van Vechten‑Lineberry Taos Art Museum, 501 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

What makes this collection of paintings and sculpture so remarkable is the sheer sense of professionalism that spreads from one end of the L‑shaped special exhibits gallery to the other. In some ways it may be likened to the setting of an upscale city museum, a venue one may find in San Francisco, New York or Chicago, but without the stuffy pretentiousness born of age. Here, in this fine art museum built in memo ry of painter Duane Van Vechten, is a treat I encourage everyone to see.
There is the sense of a story unfolding as you walk from one painting to the next. Although it is not particularly encompassing as the title may suggest, it is, as Jackson Hensley says, "a fine representation of the American scene." Though he asked thai his name not be mentioned. it would be a terrible omission to exclude Hensley's name as one of the individuals who was largely responsible for helping to amass the works for this particular show. According to museum curator Erion Simpson, Hensley was instrumental for more than a year in developing the list of works and making contacts. So enthusiastic was she about reaction to this show, that Simpson hinted it may possibly become a recurring exhibition, featuring yet‑to‑be‑explored facets of "The American Scene." Let's hope it does.
In terms of a story, "The American Scene" is cast with some of the most interesting and unusual characters who provide the setting for this panorama. In one corner, for instance, are the elders who are gone but well remembered: Henriette H. Wyeth, Nicolai Fechin and Peter Ilurd, represented, respectively, in their signature styles by a still life, a portrait and landscape. The portrait by Fechin, incidentally, is titled "Portrait of Duane," a vivid depiction in a pleasing dynamic of angular contrasts and masterful brushstrokes that convey a serene quality about its subject, Duane Van Vechten, namesake of the institution. Flanking it are "The Yellow Iris" by Wyeth and "Afternoon at San Patricio" by Hurd, husband and wife both maintaining that sense of sublime serenity.

Throughout the rest of the gallery are works that touch upon a variety of American themes. From acknowledging the blend of ethnic and worldly influences to inner contemplation, which has often set the tone for Western individualism, to commentaries on other art forms that emerge as singular expressions of their own. Each work speaks volumes. Each, in fact, serves as a chapter by itself.
Highlights, and I use that term carefully because there is not a single piece that isn't one, include works I found intriguing on a purely subjective level. For instance, a trio of landscapes that hang one after another exude that peculiar American sense of wonder at encountering wide open spaces.
Gordon Brown's "Last Rain" depicts the first rays of sunlight as it illuminates the still‑falling curtain of mist over lush hills. The Grand Junction, Cob., artist paints this scene as it overlooks a bend in a river. It is pure romance. Then Peter Nisbet's "Rough Country" casts the most glowing light upon an escarpment of desert boulders, rendered so lovingly they appear to almost be a source of light themselves. Nisbet, a liberal arts degree holder and former Naval officer, said his work is "not exclusively about nature, they are about my relationship with nature." But it is Janis Annus' "Atlantis" that takes the landscape into darker territory. Storm tossed, turbulent and moody, also rendered with apparent emotional concentration, it stands as a stark example of the landscape turned malevolent and mythic.

Youngest son of N.C. Wyeth and brother to Henriette, Andrew Wyeth is probably the best‑known artist represented in the exhibit. Although it may be a little startling to see a seascape in dusty, landlocked New Mexico, it actually fits right in with this character study of the American art scene. "From Eight Bells" is a fairly small piece, but it shouts perfection in its tight composition and beautifully rendered watercolor impression of a flat, muddy coastline beneath soaring clouds.

Nearby are two bronze sculptures by Richard McDonald that nicely convey the grace and artistry of ballet dancers. "Nureyev," a meditative piece that depicts famed dancer Rudolph Nureyev in a private moment, is striking in the way it occupies space. That quality is shared by "The Doves," showing a duet entwined with limbs and angel wings, which, by the way, forms a compliment to "The Art of Biography," an elegant mixed‑media literary comment by Embudo artist Melissa Zink.

Arguably the most arresting work in the show comes from painter Geoff Lawrence, whose diptych titled "The Faith Healer," presents in hyper‑realistic fashion the consuming desire to understand the unknown and those who have, for generations, taken advantage of that vulnerability. The Galisteo artist has been painting for about 30 years and expertly knows the right note to hit with carefully composed elements and dramatic lighting.

Hensley said lastly that he is thankful for the museum to take on an exhibition of national scope. "I'm amazed at what (museum founders) Ed and Novella Lineberry have done for the community," he said. Most anyone who takes the time to view this show would probably agree.

In addition to those mentioned, the exhibition includes works by Vladimir. Bachinsky, Michael Bergt, Susan Contreras, Doug Dawson, Peter dela Fuente, Woody Gwyn, Albert Handell, Jackson Hensley, Michael Hensley, Tresa Vorenberg Hensley,, David Leffel, Sherrie McGraw, Elias Rivera, Burt Silverman and Alan Wolton.

"The American Scene" continues through Dec. 5.

The Van Vechten‑Lineberry Taos Art Museum is a privately owned and funded institution. In addition to special exhibitions, the museum also displays works by founding members of the Taos Society of Artists and the Taos National Watercolor Society. Hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 1:30‑4 p.m. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays and holidays.
For more information, call 758‑2690. Visit the museum online at‑vvltam.




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