Nowhere Man

Photographer A.C. Huerta Takes On The American Way In His "Documents Of The Late 20th Century."

By Margaret Regan

AT THE END of the millennium, people tend to live at a curious remove. Visitors to the Grand Canyon often spend more time gazing at an IMAX movie about the canyon than they do actually wandering the natural wonder outside the theatre door. People drive nightmarish freeways around Los Angeles so they can pay to meander down the carless and quaint and completely artificial Main Street of Disneyland.

Review A.C. Huerta photographs these phenomena of life in America, where real experiences metamorphose into fake, and cultures blur together. In his pictures, now at Dinnerware Gallery in a one-person show called Place and People: Documents of the Late 20th Century, war planes are distilled into tourist attractions and Santa visits religious missions.

We can see the jolly man's back as he enters the dark cathedral out of the white desert light in "Santa Visits San Xavier del Bac." The cultures clash as much as the sun and shadow do. Santa, icon of modern American secularism, strides easily into a church that's part of a theological tradition extending back two millennia. A couple of Tohono O'odham kids are looking at Santa in puzzlement, but some tourists in shorts stride purposefully along, apparently oblivious to the cultural syncretism playing out right under their noses.

"Heart in the Sky" is even stranger. Shot at Davis Monthan Air Force Base earlier this year, the picture showcases a lineup of big fighter planes, the X's of their propellers jutting aggressively into the sky. But these engines of death, now tethered to the ground, have been rendered benign. Families and snowbirds gather around the warplanes for entertainment, while high above the crowds a pair of working skywriting planes trace out a big loving heart in the wild blue yonder.

Huerta renders his ironic commentary on such garden-variety weirdness in classic black-and-white gelatin silver prints, which are technically sharper and more vivid than some of his previous work. The artist arranges them in a disorderly fashion to reinforce a sense of alienation. Each of the 14 works in the show is a panorama consisting of five or six photos; together they add up to a single image, but they're not smoothly connected. The pictures are staggered on the wall--some high, some low--and separated by spaces. Together they suggest a single image, but they don't add up--not precisely. The artist has made them off-kilter to reinforce the sense of dislocation.

He's good at spotting the fakery of much of American life, especially that of the tourist. "Strollers at Disneyland," 1997, shows a pilgrimage to the Small World ride. The cavalcade of parked strollers outside testifies to the fervor of the devotees inside, who pay homage to Disney's commodification of the world's (infinitely varied) cultures. Even real places, as opposed to the fake places of the theme-park ilk, seem curiously unreal here. In "The Cars of Taos Pueblo," the tourists' SUVs overwhelm the Indian dwelling place. One of the most remarkable pieces of architecture in the western world and one of the most continuously inhabited sites in North America has become subsidiary to the car. The ancient pueblo, a real place if ever there was one, is rendered just another roadside attraction.

If Huerta probes the loss of place in American life, a painting show at DC Harris Gallery around the corner from Dinnerware does exactly the opposite. Spring Exhibit features a mix of some 10 artists the gallery has shown since owner Daryl Childs opened it in a Sixth Avenue storefront last fall. About half of them are working within the landscape tradition.

Joe Forkan, a fine painter who frequently does illustration work for the Tucson Weekly, usually exhibits psychological works, with figures placed in ambiguous interiors or landscapes. Here he turns his attention entirely to the land, to salutary effect. The lovely "Monsoon Light, New Mexico," a small oil on panel, is a meticulously observed evocation of sky and land in the Land of Enchantment. A vast western sky of golds, blues and yellows presides above a rolling mountain range painted in storm darks. A second New Mexico piece, "Fading Light (Animas, N.M.)" similarly captures the contours of clouds and colors, a fine blaze of yellow light flashing on the horizon. "Reflection (Oregon Coast)" is a sumptuous rendition of waves crisscrossing in a wild ocean.

Forkan is hardly a strict realist, however; these oils are exuberantly painted in a loose, expressionist style. They're as much about color and brushstrokes as they are about the land. Similarly, Farzad Nakhai, an architect-turned-painter, uses the desert hills around Tucson as a jumping-off point for organic fields of purple, green and gray. But both painters profit from the discipline of gazing at the land around them; their works are an antidote to the kind of alienation that Huerta chronicles. Their paintings find the here in a nation slouching toward nowhere.

Places and People: Documents of the Late 20th Century, photographs by A.C. Huerta, continues through Saturday, May 29, at Dinnerware Contemporary Art Gallery, 135 E. Congress St. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, noon to 7 p.m. Thursday, and noon to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Huerta, a Dinnerware member, gives a free gallery talk at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 20. For more information, call 792-4503.

Spring Exhibit, a group show of gallery artists, continues through Saturday, May 29, at DC Harris Gallery, 41 S. Sixth Ave. Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and by appointment. For more information call 629-9446. TW

 Page Back  Last Issue  Current Week  Next Week  Page Forward

Home | Currents | City Week | Music | Review | Books | Cinema | Back Page | Archives

Weekly Wire    © 1995-99 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth