At the Harwood

One venue the pandemic has been unable to dim is the Harwood Museum of Art. Even when you cannot visit in person, executive director Juniper Leherissey Manley and staff have continued to curate first-rate exhibitions that shine like beacons in these difficult times.

By Dena Miller

Summer 2021 will be no exception. In addition to extending its popular juried exhibit of local talent — Contemporary Art/Taos 2020 — the Harwood welcomes summer season with two new shows — one, a journey into an ephemeral, atmospheric otherworld; the other — solidly, down-home Northern New Mexico. 

‘Lowrider Shrine, El Rito, New Mexico, 1997,’ by Nicholas Herrera. Photo by Siegfried Halus. Courtesy of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), HP.2017.38.3.

Ghostly glory

In the Sliver of the Sun,” featuring Bosnian-Herzegovinian artist Maja Ruznic is showing in the Peter and Madeleine Martin Gallery through Sept. 26.

The works in this series depict ghostly figures simultaneously fading into and emerging from the horizon, as if returning from a long journey, Harwood press states.

‘The Return,’ 2020, oil on canvas by Maja Ruznic. Collection of Marguerite Steed Hoffman. Courtesy of the artist and Conduit Gallery

“In the haunting movement inherent in her work, the figures appear to be roaming through a realm not of this world,” Nicole Dial-Kay, Harwood’s curator of exhibitions and collections, explained.

Ruznic’s tumultuous background – leaving her birthplace pre-war, living with her family in refugee camps for four years – is echoed in the subtractive techniques she applies to her paintings, which “leaves a sense of ghostly materiality; an undefined absence,” Dial-Kay noted.

“Her paintings reflect the experiences of her early life with shared trauma, fleeing and loss reflected in the phenomenon of immigration,” said Dial-Kay. “As she begins a painting she pauses to look for someone she recognizes: maybe family, maybe a friend and tries to give them rest.”

Ruznic’s family resettled on the U.S. West Coast, where she completed her BFA at University of California, Berkeley, and her MFA at California College of Art, San Francisco. In the past decade this young artist’s star has risen rapidly in the skies of contemporary art, with shows in galleries throughout the U.S. and Europe, and a series of installation and performance art which received wide media attention.

From San Francisco to Los Angeles to Dallas and finally to New Mexico – where she now resides, Ruznic credits the move here for the direction her palette ultimately landed, “the color of twilight,” she said. It surely lends an evocative, almost melancholic atmosphere to these exquisite paintings.

“In the Sliver of the Sun” is Ruznic’s first solo museum show, a coup for the Harwood and for Taos.

Lowrider love

The Harwood has an exuberant tribute to the unexpected intersection between traditional santos artisans and contemporary devotional artists who prefer refurbished vintage vehicles as their canvases.

Santo Lowride: Norteño Car Culture and the Santo Tradition covers the entire ground floor of the Harwood.

Inspired by the work of scholar Carmella Padilla, Juan Estevan Arellano and photographer Jack Parsons in their collaborative book, “Low ’n Slow: Lowriding in New Mexico,” (1999),  the Harwood’s exhibit includes 30 artists from Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Española, Taos and surrounding communities. Represented among them are specialty artists, car builders, auto painters, graffiti artists, pin-stripers and upholsterers.

‘Chima Altar, Bertram’s Cruise,’ 1992, carved and painted wood, dashboard and seats by Luís Tapia. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Museum purchase with funds donated by Lynn Steuer, 1992 (1993.2.1ab). © Luis Tapia. Courtesy photo by Blair Clark

Padilla, along with Rob Vanderslice and Toby Morfin, served as advisors to the Harwood in the development of the exhibition. Vanderslic (whose own work is featured) noted the uniqueness of contemporary Norteño lowrider devotional art, which “is unlike any other lowriding culture” throughout the world.

Car hoods and trunks, wheel wells, upholstery, bicycles, motorcycles, photographs and videography featuring pre-Columbian imagery, New Mexico altars and churches, and, most commonly, saints, brilliantly convey the links between traditional santo artwork and contemporary imagery.   

Coyote Tales No. 1, 2017, Edition of 5, Limited Edition Archival Fine Art Photograph. Printed by the artist on Legacy Platine Papers. Courtesy Cara Romero.

Chimayó artists Arthur “Lowlow” Medina and the late Randy Martínez are the recognized originators of New Mexican lowrider tradition, and the Harwood has important examples of their work on display. Nicholas Herrera, a beloved contemporary santos carver from El Rito (who has always worked with wood, cars and welding) and Rosa B. Simpson will also see their influential and striking works included.

LowLow Medina makes designing and painting cars a family affair with the assistance of his wife, Joan, and their daughters, a work style that is emblematic of the importance of family, history and culture in northern lowrider culture. 

The way I look at it is we have to make sure we keep on watering that seed, so it does not fade away. And, it gives us the opportunity to show the talent that everybody has. We are blessed.

The museum is committed to ensuring accessibility to the remarkable shows within its walls, whether in person or online. Virtual exhibition tours are available on its website, along with links to featured artists, schedules for future artist talks and archives of those previously recorded.

The Harwood Museum of Art is located at 238 Ledoux Street in historic downtown Taos. Visit for further information, or call 575-758-9826.