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Discussion about the "contemporary art scene" in Albuquerque and Wesley Pulkka's review of the Transitions exhibition in the Albuquerque Journal (fall 2005).

In his review (available online to Journal subscribers), Pulkka wrote that "there is no Albuquerque art scene" -- a statement which has created some lively dialogue. Read some of the responses to his statement and review collected below.

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The recent critical mass of arts activity in Downtown (with the "Transitions" opening, the National Poetry Slam, and OFFCenter's Folk Festival) brought our city's core alive with excitement about the arts. I repeatedly heard the exclamation "Albuquerque is the coolest place to live!"

It's true that Albuquerque's art market is extremely skeletal at best; however, the local art scene is rich and varied. Contemporary art is about communication and is meant to spark dialogue. Questioning and critical thought are necessary to developing Albuquerque's artistic identity and place in the larger art world.

Wes Pulkka's reaction to "Transitions", like all reactions to contemporary art, is his personal opinion. Here is another valid opinion: "This exhibition is much more in line with what's going on in the world than past exhibitions; it's cutting edge and looking forward. It's more in the spirit of contemporary art than anything I've seen here in a long time. We're proud to be next door to this show." (Viviette Hunt, Director, Richard Levy Gallery)

It has been a true honor to work with juror Laura Steward Heon, the new director of SITE Santa Fe, whose luminous vision offers a generous breath of curatorial fresh air to Albuquerque.

-- Suzanne Sbarge


I think the "Transitions" show is fabulous. You feel the voice of one person as opposed to a committee. This exhibition is much more in line with what's going on in the world than past exhibitions - cutting edge, and looking forward. It's more in the spirit of contemporary art than anything I've seen here in a long time. We're proud to be next door to this show.

-- Viviette Hunt, Director, Richard Levy Gallery


To the Journal Editor;

I was saddened by Wesley Pulkka's review of the "Transitions" exhibition in the Arts Section of 8/14. This exhibition is important in the big picture for reasons above and beyond its content. It is re-activating excitement about local contemporary art after the loss of our city's former leader of contemporary art (Magnifico). It is forging a new relationship for Albuquerque artists with an esteemed curator of national and international stature who is new to the state. And, it is bringing normally marginalized contemporary art into the forefront by showing it in a museum-style venue with a published catalog.

This exhibition resulted from the tireless efforts of many people whose work deserves both honor and recognition. The artists, the organizers, and the supporters of this exhibition deserve far better than this review, which is riddled with blatant errors and oddly full of inconsequential negativity about Albuquerque art in general.

The review was both careless and shoddy. For example, Santos Contreras is the name of an extremely interesting artist, not a title of a piece by another artist in the show. Santos's piece is called "Beauty: Anguish". Mr. Pulkka misconstrued the comments of the show's juror, Laura Steward Heon, as recorded in an interview I conducted and wrote for the catalog. There was no intent on her part to slight abstract artists; what she said was that the work they submitted could have constituted another show. No one could be more open to art from outside of urban centers than Ms. Heon. In my interview she expressed deep and sincere regard for the work of New Mexican artists in general and those from Albuquerque specifically. She expressed her pleasure in the quality of the work she saw many times in the course of the interview.

It is, instead, Mr. Pulka who reveals his own prejudice against artists in this city to a shocking extent in comment after comment in this review. He does not seem to realize that his personal likes and dislikes are of no consequence in the context of a Journal review.

The job of a journalist requires some evenhandedness, the ability to transcend personal preferences as well as an attempt to get the information right. If Mr. Pulka is too jaded to write about the "art scene" in Albuquerque, he should quit writing. If he is no longer able to support what goes on here with the degree of support and enthusiasm it deserves, he should not be writing for the Journal. As it currently stands, he does a disservice to the community of artists as well as to the art audience who deserve better and less-biased information.

-- Kathleen Whitney, Contributing Editor, Sculpture Magazine


Thank you for taking the initiative and voicing an opinion about Wesley Pulka's cynical and pompous review of Transitions. I really enjoyed the show, and think that the artists all have something important to say, and will continue to do so - whether Wesley thinks they will survive as artists with kids, jobs, etc or not. That was the statement that annoyed me the most.... How unfortunate for our community.

-- Mary Antonia Wood


I went to the Transitions exhibition. It was reinforcing. It is here. There are some real art makers and the exhibition makes that clear. Wesley's point that the exhibition is uneven and that the works would be lost in any contemporary collection around the world is fatuous and really beside the point. The work is not uneven. Diverse structurally but each piece was carefully constructed with professional artistry. If I have anything to complain about it's that. That the work is too careful. Too painstakingly put together. But maybe that comes from my old 50s posture when abstract expressionism was all about the angst and sloppiness of spattered paint and spattered poetics and spattered artists. Still. I would have loved to have seen something a little bit almost there. These people are good. Already there. And good for Laura Heon for seeing the congruities. I don't know whether I would have curated with her eye but she did a damn good job. And the work is created from and of what the artists are seeing in our Albuquerque despite whatever Pulkka wants to pull in about outside influence. So it is transformative for the viewer. It gives back. It mirrors. It is something for us. It is not art for art's sake, for goodness sake. Did I say I liked it? I really did and was impressed.

-- Sarah Moody


Wesley Pulkka's review of the Transitions show in Sunday's ABQ Journal sparked a spirited discussion.... The review is fairly lukewarm, but what caught my attention was a quote from Richard Levy (Richard Levy Gallery) that Albuquerque 'has no art scene'. While I would not go that far, and I am certainly not an expert, I think he is on to something.

Albuquerque does seem to have a good 'craft' scene; potters, jewelers, weavers etc. who all seem to do quite well. Take them out of the equation (some would say unfairly) and in my opinion the picture becomes more muddled. Certainly there are some artists here doing varied, interesting work that does not involve silver, turquoise or kachina dolls but does that make an art scene? The fact that Magnifico withered and died while Weems Artfest thrives to me speaks volumes.

Has ABQ Arts ever thought about (or done) a piece on what makes an art 'scene' and how does Albuquerque measure up? I realize that this is a highly subjective question, but it should make for interesting debate and discussion.

-- Donald Pizzolato (to ABQarts Magazine)


I'm an artist who lives downtown and I know several artists in the Transitions show and I loved it! Just a wonderful selection of the Abq Art Scene! This is a cross-section of us! We are not New York or other art meccas around the world. We are sometimes unrefined, folksy, whimsical, raw and always real! We are always creating, evolving and unpretentious. God bless us all and keep us humble, true and visionary!

-- Pheonix Forrester


I think you misinterpreted Richard Levy's remarks - it's not the artists who are lacking - it's the people willing to support them financially. People like Richard Levy, Peter Eller, and most of our well-known artists can't make a living in Albuquerque - most of their business comes from out of state. Albuquerque has a reputation for not supporting the arts - particularly when it comes to contemporary art.

Even scarier -- where is the next generation of art buyers and theatre patrons going to come from? We no longer have art in our schools (for the most part), many lovely new homes I visit have no art (no books either!!!). Somehow we have disconnected art from community despite an inherent need to "make nice" (as anthropologists call it) that is as old as mankind.

-- Joan Fenicle


I think Joan is correct. When Richard speaks about there not being an 'art scene' in Albuquerque, he's referring to the buzz that is created by hundreds of people who congregate and talk about and buy art. (He's not talking about the abundance of great artists who live and hang out in Albq ... many of whom he has represented.) We see the same stalwarts at most art openings. One question is, how do we get the people in some of Albq's fabulous houses to look at and buy art here? When we have shows at Artspace 116 (for artists we love who do not have gallery representation), we have been thrilled to see some new, curious, faces. I don't know the answer, but we are trying to invite folks from every one of the facets of our lives and hope the word spreads.

-- Pamela Michaelis


I have no idea if and when I might have said that. I've talked to Wes Pulkka for years about all different sorts of issues. We have at times discussed how we do business in cities all over the country and world, and the importance of art fairs to us. That kind of comment could have come from that kind of discussion. Our last conversation was about Tom Waldron, certainly not Transitions which I haven't even seen. I do more to support the arts in Albuquerque than most people know, but I DO go to other cities to sell artwork. The fact of the matter is I probably sell about 1% of my annual sales in New Mexico. This year it may jump up a percentage or two, but still not much support.

There are times when a "mixed" review is all some shows deserve. I haven't seen this show, but by doing this Wes will get even more people to see the show to see if they agree or not. All in all, it's good for the arts!

-- Richard Levy


It has come to my attention that there is some negativity being generated around a comment in Wes Pullka's review of the Transitions exhibition in last Sunday's Art Section of the Albuquerque Journal. First of all, I would like to state that Richard Levy is out of town and has been since mid-July and therefore has yet to even see this exhibition. Furthermore, this event was supported by a generous donation made by Richard Levy. Without contributors like himself, exhibitions like Transitions would never come into fruition.

Richard Levy has quietly supported the arts for longer than most people would have the patience for. He has enriched this community with his vision for many years. He brings international art to Albuquerque and certainly not for the satisfaction of local financial support (his gallery generates a small fraction of its sales locally). Furthermore, he brings artworks from our community and exhibits them internationally, providing local artists with a presence in the world.

For some reason Wes Pullka chose include a comment in his review that was made at a different time and place. It was clearly being taken out of context. After years (13 to be exact) of blatant unreciprocated community support, I think that most of us would have given up.....but Richard Levy is a better man than that......

Other than an anonymous phone message (from an unavailable number) no one has called regarding this matter. No one has contacted us to verify the authenticity or context of Richard Levy's apparent statement. It seems a little vicious that an issue is being made of this without anyone bothering to check their sources. Richard Levy clearly supports and contributes to the local art scene through his actions, his financial support, and his gallery's exhibitions. I believe that Albuquerque's art scene is richer because of his vast contributions.

-- Viviette Hunt. Director, Richard Levy Gallery


Wes Pulkka ends his review with "a lot of the artists in this show are young" -- I have a piece in the show and have been making art for over forty consecutive years, achieved two degrees in Fine Art and an overly long resume of art activity. My piece in this exhibit was not mentioned in the review and I was relieved lest he rebuke it as irrelevant.

-- Gloria Hajduk



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