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Religious Carvings for a New Age

June 12, 1988|ZAN DUBIN

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, rural New Mexican artisans carved wooden santos , sculpted images of Catholic saints, strictly for sacred use. Today, Southwestern folk artists sell these works on the commercial market, often at top dollar.

A 71-piece exhibit at the Craft and Folk Art Museum featuring santos made in the '70s and '80s attempts to show modern influences affecting the traditional folk art form.

"Santos, Statues and Sculpture: Contemporary Woodcarving from New Mexico," through July 31, includes santos from Northern New Mexico urban centers such as Sante Fe and Taos. Animal forms as well as religious images, most from about eight inches to three feet tall, are on display.

"Today, these traditional objects reflect a contemporary personality and cultural experience which includes modernist art, commercialism and the artisans' own personal visions," museum curator Laurie Kalb said.

Some artisans work as their ancestors did, using indigenous wood or gathering herbs to make their own dyes for painted santos, and striving to replicate older works such as those used in churches, according to Kalb.

"At the same time, many attempt to maintain their own individuality; they have their own styles. In the exhibit, there are abstract sculptures and furniture as well as traditional santos," such as an elaborately painted, four-foot-tall figure of Christ, bloodied and suffering.

New marketing strategies demonstrate the difference between the new and the old as well, Kalb said. While some artisans peddle their wares in public markets, others by-pass middlemen to sell out of their home.

But some santos makers still prefer working with agents. "One carver just signed on with Dewey Gallery," a well-known showroom in Sante Fe, where the religious images have recently become very popular and can fetch roughly up to $2,000 a piece, Kalb said.

GRANTS: Ten Southern California visual arts organizations have been awarded a total of $182,500 in grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. The grants, part of $1.79 million given by the endowment to 105 alternative organizations in 25 states, will help support the creation and presentation of new work including painting, sculpture, photography, video and performance art.

The recipients and their grant amounts are: Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, $50,000; the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies, $25,000; Self Help Graphics and Art (Los Angeles), $15,000; the Woman's Building (Los Angeles), $15,000; Centro Cultural De La Raza (San Diego), $15,000; Installation (San Diego), $15,000; Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, $15,000; the Social and Public Arts Resource Center (Venice), $12,500; Sushi (San Diego), $15,000; and the Foundation for Art Resources, $5,000.

ON LACE'S FACE: Beginning Wednesday, two new murals and an artist's banner will grace the exterior walls of Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. Artist Renee Petropolus has painted parts of the gallery's insides--a typewriter or telephone, for instance--on its outsides. Tony Greene and Richard Hawkins have collaborated on "Chains of Bitter Illusion," a two-story mural that "attempts to fuse, in a romantic vein, conflicts of desire and repulsion." Laura Stein will unveil her banner.

The new artworks are part of OutsideLACE, a program in which artists display their works outside of the downtown gallery's walls. The murals will probably remain visible for about a year, says a gallery spokeswoman.

BIG GIFT: While plenty of collectors are opting to withhold their artworks and build museums that bear their own names, others remember that museums increasingly depend upon collectors' largess to expand their collections--especially in the current climate of escalating art prices. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art reports that it recently received works appraised at $1.3 million from the estate of the late Leigh B. Block. The gift consists primarily of pre-World War II French art and contemporary American art, including two paintings by Henri Fantin-Latour, two drawings by Picasso and two works each by Joan Miro and Andre Derain.

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