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August 20, 2008

Lucky Number Seven

SITE Santa Fe's seventh biennial, auspiciously titled Lucky Number Seven, aims to distinguish itself from its exhibitory peers. To this end, curator Lance Fung subcontracted the curatorial work to 18 directors and curators from art institutions including Paris' Palais de Tokyo, Barcelona's Centre d'Art Santa MòniCA, and SITE Santa Fe itself. This troupe of spunky curators helped Fung put together a process-oriented biennial that revolves around ephemeral work and experimental collaborations between lesser-known artists, all uninfluenced by and outside of the art market.

With each work commissioned to be created on-site in Santa Fe, artists left the far-flung seclusion of their studios to immerse themselves in the Southwestern community and history. Works are concentrated at SITE's galleries in the city's Railyard District, although several artists have chosen to work at alternate locations around the city and the countryside. Inside SITE, artists contend with the elevated ramps and tight, angular spaces of a labyrinthine exhibition space designed by Billie Tsien and Tod Williams.

Austrian artist Ricarda Denzer subverts the SITE space by exploding a section of wall in a contorted puff of pink insulation, while the surroundings echo with murmured narratives from her encounters with Santa Fe residents. Meanwhile, Los Angeles-based Italian conceptualist Piero Golia has broken through the back wall of a painstakingly crafted viewing mezzanine, inviting viewers to jump off the elevated platform onto a padded landing.

French duo Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni recast a traditional Southwestern bronze that depicted three Navajo children on horseback into a surreal landscape of alien abduction and psychosexual confusion. At once disturbing and funny, the piece will be restored to its original form at the biennial's close.

Along a secretive hallway, Japanese artist Hiroshi Fuji pins delightful illustrations of Franken-toy mashups that he created during a toy exchange with children from the surrounding neighborhood, while the playthings themselves are on view at the nearby Museum of International Folk Art. Fuji also worked with local volunteers to make plastic-bottle chandeliers to light the parking lot outside the Santa Fe Opera House. Polish artists Zbigniew Rogalski and Michal Budny invert regional tradition with their trompe l'oeil "projections," in which three faux projectors appear to limn subtle paintings on SITE's facade. The images reference the rounded, graphic depictions of area churches popularized by Georgia O'Keeffe, one of a handful of artists who established Santa Fe as an art destination.

Australian Nick Mangan chose to work off-site in an abandoned building several blocks away. Reflecting the area's reliance on Native American tourism, Mangan spoofs an archaeological dig, complete with journals and artifacts. In various locations, Rose B. Simpson and Eliza and Nora Naranjo Morse — a New Mexico-based trio of artists from Santa Clara Pueblo — readily embrace the transience of nature with mud-caked serpentine forms that slowly collapse into the dirt when it rains.

Studio Azzurro from Italy goes high tech with an interactive projection of local citizens offering an orientation of sorts to biennial patrons, while Martí Anson brings a piece of Barcelona with him, reassembling a shed-sized scale model of a Spanish flour factory. His challenge of European brickwork is subtle, but potent in a city known for its adobe structures.

-Zane Fischer

Lucky Number Seven continues in Santa Fe through January 4.

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