Christina Rosenberger is an art historian living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Rosenberger received her PhD at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. She studies the materials and techniques of modern and contemporary artists, and her work bridges the disciplines of art history, conservation and conservation science. Ms. Rosenberger served as research coordinator for the Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art at the Harvard Art Museums and taught modern art at The University of New Mexico. Her book, Drawing the Line: The Early Work of Agnes Martin, is forthcoming from the University of California Press in May of 2016.
Interview with Shelly Smith, Tamarind Marketing and Development Specialist, on February 9, 2016.
Shelly: People hear about Tamarind through some interesting channels, almost always outside of Albuquerque. Can you tell us about your first experience with Tamarind?
Christina: In 2005, I received a fellowship through the Harvard Art Museums to research the work of Agnes Martin. While in New Mexico, I visited Tamarind to interview Rodney Hamond, Tamarind’s education director at the time, who knew Martin. Rodney showed me around the workshop while they were printing lithographs by Jose Antonio Suarez Londono. I was so impressed by the artist and the workshop that I bought two prints on the spot. But, to answer your question, I feel like I’ve always known about Tamarind – Tamarind has an international reputation, and is well regarded on the East Coast and throughout the world.
Shelly: A few years back Tamarind started inviting a guest to curate an exhibition – selecting works from hundreds of available Tamarind prints. What were your thoughts while you were combing through all these prints? And, how did you come to California Dreaming?
Christina: Tamarind has such a rich archive of prints, and one of the things I love about lithography is the huge range of artistic effects that can be produced from a single medium. So there was no shortage of material.
The initial idea for California Dreaming began years ago, when I interviewed the artist Larry Bell in Taos. Bell splits his time between California and New Mexico, and his stories of driving across the desert to his studio in Venice always stayed with me. As I researched my book on Agnes Martin, I learned that Bell’s path was well worn; artists had been traveling between the two states for much of the 20th century, creating a vibrant network of artistic information and ideas. Richard Diebenkorn is a great example of this creative exchange in the early 1950s, but there are many others as well—Edward Corbett, Frederick Hammersley, and Clay Spohn come to mind. And, of course, Tamarind was founded in Los Angeles.
I started wondering if there’s a modern day parallel to this artistic exchange, and whether artists are still finding a particular synergy between these two creative centers. Looking at Tamarind’s prints, I realized that the collection actually charts this history beautifully—from Ken Price and Ed Ruscha’s prints in the 1970s to the recent work of Enrique Martinez Celaya, who just moved his studio to Los Angeles. And, with the advent of the film industry in New Mexico, the artistic connection with California is assuming a new dimension. You can find Tamarind prints on the sets of tv shows and movies filmed in Albuquerque!
Shelly: Is there a certain image or artist that stands out as really representing the heart of the exhibition, “California Dreaming?” Why?
I was excited to discover the depth of Tamarind’s collections while working on this show. Finding work by established artists such as Billy Al Bengston, who is so closely associated with California, was really fun. And then Ken Price’s lithograph, which is representative of a very 1970s aesthetic, is a perfect example of an artist who worked in Taos and in Venice, California—showing the back-and-forth between the two locations. Tamarind is also great about supporting younger artists, and I am excited to show the work of Adam Feibelman, who grew up in Albuquerque and now lives in San Francisco.
Shelly: Your biography states that your work, “bridges the disciplines of art history, conservation and conservation science.” Could you expand on that?
Christina: I spent a decade working for the Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art at the Harvard Art Museums, under the tutelage of Carol Mancusi-Ungaro. Working collaboratively with art historians, conservators and conservation scientists, our mission was to study the creation and conservation of modern art. After the Second World War, many artists started to use non-traditional materials, often getting their materials from hardware stores rather than art supply shops. Jackson Pollock, for example, used radiator paint, and Donald Judd used automotive paint. These materials don’t age in the same way that oil on canvas does, calling for a different approach. And although many of these works seem “new” to us, they are now half a century old.
The scientific tools offered by conservation science provide a really powerful way to learn about the materials, which is amplified by art historical research and the expertise of conservators. Creating dialogues with artists is key. Conservators often ask artists very different questions than art historians do; asking nitty-gritty questions about an artist’s materials and techniques, or their intent for the future conservation of their work, quickly leads to philosophical discussions about the intangible content of the work of art. This bridging of art history and conservation is what interests me today.
Shelly: Can you tell us about your upcoming book, Drawing the Line: The Early Work of Agnes Martin?
Christina: I’m very excited about the book. Martin is best known for her celebrated grid paintings from the 1960s, and for years all the scholarship on Martin started with these paintings. Martin’s grids are so revelatory that I couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to the story—how did she arrive at such glorious, fully realized works of art? The short answer: Two decades of hard work. As the first full-length study of Martin’s formative years, Drawing the Line shows how Martin’s early work defines all of her subsequent art.
Closer to home, Martin spent much of her life in New Mexico and became known as a sage in the desert—a reclusive artist who created great art in near solitude. In fact, Martin was very engaged in the world around her. One of the aims of the book is to show the networks of art, artists and information that moved between New Mexico and creative centers in New York and California—providing a larger context for California Dreaming at Tamarind.
Shelly: You’re a print collector, and we’ve got a lot of prints in our inventory – the big question - which print is now on your wish list?
Christina: Just one? There are so many! David Schorr’s Sleepless Nights seems particularly appropriate these days, as I have a wonderful baby who likes to spend time with his mother in the middle of the night. I have had my eye on Hung Liu’s Butterfly Dreams ever since I met the artist during one of her residencies at Tamarind. And I always like Frederick Hammersley’s work, which I don’t think gets enough attention.
California Dreaming will be in the Tamarind Gallery from March 11 through April 29, 2016.