The Art of Christmas: New Mexico Style
National Hispanic Cultural Center

art review ABQ, 2017, Vol. 2, p. 5

Immediately upon entering the exhibit, the large-bulbed string lights shining above the themed Christmas trees create an atmosphere of sentimental warmth. Six small trees separated by nativity scenes lead to a room featuring a tall but slender Christmas tree sprinkled with more ornaments than the other six combined.

This is an exhibit of over 400 Christmas ornaments spread across seven trees.

A plaque on the wall explains that the presented collection is that of the Duran family, who have collected the various artworks since the turn of the millennia. Another plaque lists all of the artists whose work is shown in the collection. Aside from the general information provided, no labels can be found. The trees are all obviously themed, however, the theme in question is more obvious on some trees than others. This is both good and bad for the exhibit. On the one hand, a lack of labels is a lack of information that can increase understanding of the artwork. On the other hand, though, human curiosity kicks in from the ambiguity and exploration of all the little artworks ensue.

Many of the ornaments have classic Christian themes: crosses, the sacred heart, Mary and Jesus, various saints, etc. However, beyond these common themes, the collection is an exploration of the culture of New Mexico. This feeling of “the Land of Enchantment” is expressed in this collection in several ways. Several of the ornaments and nativity scenes are clearly made from dried branches of piñon, juniper, or other common New Mexico trees. Most of the ornaments are made of wood and painted, but there are also ornaments made of canvas, leather, hammered tin, and copper. The New Mexican landscape and its architecture are stars of many ornaments as well. Most of all, the bold quirkiness of several ornaments (an oozing vat with “radioactive” scrawled on it, a bear peering out of the tree, and so on) gives the collection a sense of New Mexico.

The largest tree, showcased in the room, unfortunately, lacks the atmosphere of the trees in the hall. The lights in the room are harsh and white, freezing out the warmth of the artwork. The large tree is the only one with lights, perhaps turning them on would make all the difference. There are some small problems with the set up of the exhibit, however, the exhibit itself is not yet “officially” open, so perhaps more labels will be added for the opening on December 2nd.

“The Art of Christmas: New Mexico Style” lives up to its name. Visiting this art collection is a wonderful choice for families or anyone curious about the art and culture of New Mexico this holiday season. There is a fee to enter the museum, but its worth the money, especially because one can peruse the other museum exhibits. “The Art of Christmas” is open from December 2nd, 2017 until January 7th, 2018 in the Art Museum of the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Jessie Holt
Sandia Park, NM