Viva el arte!

Nevada Museum of Art

The 9,000-square-foot space outside the new Nevada Museum of Art is a gallery in itself—the Wilbur D. May Sculpture Plaza.

The 9,000-square-foot space outside the new Nevada Museum of Art is a gallery in itself—the Wilbur D. May Sculpture Plaza.

Photo by David Robert

“Toto, we’re not in Reno anymore,”my way into the new home of the Nevada Museum of Art, The Donald W. Reynolds Center for the Visual Arts, E. L. Wiegand Gallery. (It’s in the same spot as the old NMA, taking up a little more ground and a lot more sky.) Before this coup of invention and function, if I’d wanted to behold architecture that was aesthetically perplexing and intriguing, I’d have made my way, perhaps, to Las Vegas. If I wanted to get drunk on the fine art of internationally renowned artists and on the fascinating stuff of traveling exhibitions, a four-hour drive to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art might have been my nearest fix.

Being a lucky member of the press, I was able to attend a preview viewing of the NMA before its grand opening, which happens May 24. And what can I say? The new musuem and the exhibits it currently boasts makes my heart go pitter-patter and whips my artistic senses into a flurry. I haven’t salivated over art this much since seeing the works of Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol at the Seattle Art Museum.

It probably helps that one of the exhibits currently on display is Diego Rivera and Twentieth Century Mexican Art: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, featuring 14 works by Frida Kahlo. Many people who are familiar with Mexican culture are almost certainly interested in the fascinating personalities of communist and muralist, Rivera, and self-portraitist, Kahlo. It adds to their mystique that the two were involved in an on-again, off-again romance. Their lives were creative, romantic and idealistic—something I have occasionally thought worthy of aspiring to.

There is a fame-factor that comes into play when viewing the art at NMA. And in the name of fame, it’s easy to overlook art that is equally noteworthy. But there is something about standing in front of a canvas that you know was touched, changed and sweated upon by an artist you esteem. Looking at Kahlo’s “Self-portrait with Monkeys” or “The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (México), Diego, I and Señor Xoloti,” was, for me, as thrilling as meeting Diane Keaton, Bill Murray and Tim Roth for afternoon tea would be.

But the pieces by other Mexican artists, some of whose names are familiar and others whose aren’t, are just as visually impressive. Entering Feature Gallery S, on the third floor, Cisco Jiménez’s pieces greet you if you turn right. The oil and acrylic collage, “Chafamex Codex,” which Jiménez toiled over from 1989 to 1997, is an approximately 7-feet by 7-feet piece replete with explicit, sinister and bestial imagery detailed in fluorescent colors—snakes, malicious-looking squirrels, voluptuous nurses in tight, white uniforms, monster-like babies and the words “pinche loco” scrawled across wrinkled breasts stun the unprepared eye. You could gape at the piece for hours and never get bored.

A photograph by Graciela Iturbide, among others, caught the attention of my cold-blooded sensibilities. It pictures a woman staring contently and contemplatively to her left, while eight iguanas rest on and about her head, creating the most elaborate headdress I’ve ever seen. It’s called “Our Lady of the Iguanas, Juchitáh Oaxaca.”

Since I have a particular affection for ceramics, especially pieces that are fanciful and plump, the piece “Untitled (Pegasus)” by Marco Aldaco drew me to the freestanding pedestal on which it was displayed. There were five portly Pegasus creatures—two lying on their bellies with legs outstretched, Superman-in-flight style, and the other three standing upright, appearing both serene and ready-to-bolt. My favorite thing about their rotund bodies was their anatomical correctness; they had dangling ceramic balls attached to their undersides with tiny metal clasps. (I’m not perverted, I just enjoy whimsically dirty jokes.)

Unfortunately, I was a bit rushed to see everything NMA had to offer, so I haven’t yet seen the Permanent Collection Galleries or Beyond the Box: The Architecture of Will Bruder, which elaborates upon the design philosophy of the new NMA’s architect; still, just walking around the outside, through the interior and on the roof will fill you in on what Bruder’s all about—and will fill you up with sweet artistic satisfaction. Mmm … culture in Reno becomes richer every day.