Breath Taking at the New Mexico Museum of Art examines breath from social, scientific, and metaphysical frameworks.
March 13–September 5, 2021
New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe
It’s subtle before it grabs you.
Visitors to the New Mexico Museum of Art’s Breath Taking exhibition—which displays more than forty-five wall pieces, sculptural installations, and video/sound works—might not initially notice the audio recording of a deep inhale-exhale playing throughout the room. Then it’s inescapable.
The audible breathing could stir topical emotions, ranging from heavy (mortality, pandemic trauma) to beautiful (the sacred nature of the breath), especially when viewing works such as Frank Rodick’s Joseph (2004/09/26/00/15). At close range, the pigment print emulates geological formations photographed from space, but the picture takes a shocking and unexpected human form when seen at a stepped-back distance, depicting the artist’s father taking his final planetary breath.
The exhibition, which examines breath from social, scientific, and metaphysical frameworks, had been in the making prior to the pandemic. Curator Kate Ware was able to pivot to encompass brand new works, such as Tony Mobley’s powerful black-and-white photographs of Black Lives Matter and social justice protests in Washington, D.C. One of Jill O’Bryan’s two drawings honoring George Floyd includes a somber blessing of holy dirt from El Santuario de Chimayó, Chimayó, New Mexico.
Sant Khalsa’s The Sacred Breath, the source of the breath soundtrack (co-produced with David Scheffler), is an elaborate mixed-media installation toward the show’s end. The piece, which contains chemistry flasks with primary elements and a prayer book, comments on the linked relationship between trees and humans.
Shaun Leonardo’s I Can’t Breathe is another work that rattles the core. Leonardo, in a video that shows the artist leading a self-defense workshop and performance, recites impassioned pearls of wisdom about love, identity, and how individuals can blossom when free from the clutches of fear. A Leonardo quote summarizes the exhibition that plays the long game of promoting quality existential questions and (perhaps) some answers.
“Nothing I teach you here will entirely save you,” Leonardo says. “[I] open people up so that they can be themselves.”