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University Art Gallery NEA award exhibit to blend art, science

Natural science and contemporary art will ignite the imagination when the University Art Gallery at New Mexico State University presents “GEOMAGIC: Art, Science and the Zuhl Collection” from Thursday, Sept. 8, through Wednesday, Dec. 21. The gallery will host an opening reception from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 8.


White stones being strung from the ceiling over a wood floor
Emily Nachison’s “Metatonic Transfiguration,” which created an intersection between the historical contemporary values of classification, spectacle and mysticism.
Piece of wood cut down the middle, showing the rings inside
Jason Middlebooks’ “Once again a version of nature through my eyes,” with “rings” that boldy define an imagined history specific to this found tree remnant.

NMSU received a $15,000 Art Works award from the National Endowment for the Arts for the interdisciplinary exhibition. The University Art Gallery in the College of Arts and Sciences was selected from among more than 1,700 applicants to receive funding as part of an $82 million grant from the NEA to fund local artist projects and partnerships nationwide.

“‘GEOMAGIC’ and its educational programming are intended to reach the science, contemporary art and educational communities at regional and national levels,” said Marisa Sage, gallery director. “Public programs for the exhibition will include a panel, bi-weekly lectures by scientists and artists, a student exhibition and educational workshops.”

“GEOMAGIC” will pair objects from NMSU’s Zuhl Collection of over 1,800 specimens of petrified wood, fossils, and minerals with works by ten internationally renowned artists. A student exhibition at the Zuhl Museum, titled “NEOMAGIC,” will run concurrently with “GEOMAGIC.”

The Zuhl collection was donated to NMSU by Herb and Joan Zuhl, who retired to Las Cruces after spending 30 years collecting and selling petrified wood as a business. The pieces range in age from 30 million to 200 million years old, some weighing as much as 2,500 pounds.

Featured artists will include Christine Gray, Jason Middlebrook, Megan Harrison, James Canales, Amy Brener, Katie Paterson, Emily Nachison, Andrew Yang and Ryan Thompson. Each artist within their practice utilizes various mediums that resemble, echo and mimic the geological to explore our ever-evolving scientific and technological landscape.

This exhibition transforms the gallery into an interdisciplinary Wunderkammer-like collection of wonder and education. It unifies contemporary visual art and natural science concepts, and inciting exploratory dialogues surrounding the ever-shifting relationships between humans and nature.

Like the many cultures that look for wisdom and signs from the physicality of our earth, the artists in “GEOMAGIC”draw on the knowledge and historical significance of geological objects to inform their practices. These geological objects, like the mineral, crystal, fossil and wood specimens in the Zuhl Collection, are a form of contemporary geomancy or alchemy.

Much like the Italian Renaissance era artists who ground up minerals to paint their magical illusions of space, the “GEOMAGIC” artists blur the lines between art, science, time and spirituality to crystallize their ontological responses to both built and natural environments.

The work in “GEOMAGIC” can bring critical thinking to all that view it. Katie Paterson’s collection of photographs of her 170-piece carved “Fossil Necklace” functions as a mirror of nature and model of geological time.

Another artist, Emily Nachison, contributed the “Metatonic Transfiguration,” a U-shaped suspension of scale-like plates with cast glass “quartz” sections. This installation creates an intersection between the historical and present-day values of classification, spectacle and mysticism.

Jason Middlebrook calls attention to the ways that art practice changes the meanings of natural objects; his “Once again a version of nature through my eyes” is a wooden plank with painted rectilineal “rings” that boldly define an imagined history specific to this found tree remnant.

Andrew Yang calls viewers’ attention to the art of collecting; his natural history geological display within “GEOMAGIC” inspires audiences to question human values of preciousness, preservation and simulation.

“GEOMAGIC” pushes many barriers in the contemporary art world, and gives insight about the new heights that can be reached. An extensive series of free public programs for the Las Cruces, El Paso, and greater Southwest communities is planned.

For more information and the University Art Gallery’s program schedule, visit https://uag.nmsu.edu/upcoming/

The gallery’s hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with closures in accordance with NMSU’s holiday schedule. Admission to the gallery is free. Free parking is available on the west and south sides of D.W. Williams Hall after 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, and all day on weekends.

If approved by voters in November, $22.5 million is planned for a new visual arts facility to replace D.W. Williams Hall, a 78-year-old former gymnasium that currently houses NMSU’s department of Art and the University Art Gallery. The funding is a part of General Obligation Bond C for higher education projects. No tax increases are associated with these bonds.