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Nuclear testing effect on post Cold War Southwest landscape subject of Las Cruces exhibit

Eric LoPresti, “Four Corners,” watercolor and gouache on paper. (Courtesy photo)

New York City-based artist Eric LoPresti will have a solo exhibition at New Mexico State University Art Gallery, with an opening reception from 6–7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4. 

This exhibition examines the complicated effects the Cold War and nuclear testing have had on the Southwest American landscape and the global psyche. Comprised of oil paintings, large-format watercolors, digital works and a multi-channel video (a new medium for the artist), “Superbloom” will be accompanied by a series of performances. 

The UAG will host two live Aikido performances from 1–2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6 and from 2–3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. A panel discussion, focusing on the complex history of nuclear development in the West and the potential role art can play as a catalyst of change, will also be at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. 

All events are free and open to the public.

“LoPresti’s oil paintings and watercolors include epic views of gigantic nuclear test sites and the scarred desert landscapes of the American west, counterbalanced by intimate depictions of cacti and desert flowers, symbols of ecology and resilience. The pairing invokes a yin-yang of beauty and destruction, trauma and aesthetics,” said Marisa Sage, director of the University Art Gallery.

“LoPresti grew up near the Hanford site, where the U.S. manufactured plutonium for the Nagasaki atomic bomb,” explained Sage. “This personal history imbues his artworks with a nuanced perspective on blistered landscapes. Avoiding overt politicization, LoPresti’s work focuses instead on observed reality filtered through the eyes of a landscape painter. LoPresti is also a practitioner of aikido, a Japanese martial art founded in the ashes of WWII Japan. Aikido espouses a martial philosophy of non-confrontation, an appropriate strategy for facing all-powerful weapons to which there is no real defense.” 

LoPresti has created a multi-channel video juxtaposing a vigorous aikido performance with a colored screen displaying data from each of the nuclear weapons explosions in history. There have been 2,056 to date, from Trinity to the recent North Korean tests. “Each aikido fall is paired with a detonation. Part data visualization, part endurance piece, the artwork poetically invokes the potential for creative denouement of global violence.”

“Sited a mere 97 miles from Trinity, the location of the first atomic bomb, ‘Superbloom’ outlines an expansive framework within which viewers can meditate on two increasingly relevant antipodes of human experience: the quest for aesthetic expression and the threat of global apocalypse,” said Sage. “Following in the painterly tradition of the apocalyptic sublime, LoPresti explores how our lives are shaped by trauma and aesthetics making works about deserts, nuclear weapons and color.” 

A full programming calendar including all associated programming and partnership events, workshops and performances are regularly posted on uag.nmsu.edu. This exhibition was partially funded by a grant from the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico's Devasthali Family Foundation Fund. 


Information from NMSU