The new exhibition "Critical Mass: Photoworks by Meridel Rubenstein" opened Sept. 16 and continues to be on display at the Amarillo Museum of Art (AMoA) through Dec. 3. The exhibit is sponsored by Art Force.
The term “Critical Mass” means the smallest amount of fissionable material that, when amassed, will sustain a self-supporting chain reaction. "Critical Mass" was a collaborative photo/text/video installation "that takes as its subject the worlds of scientists and Native Americans as they intersected at the home of Edith Warner during the making of the first atomic bomb in 1944 in Los Alamos, New Mexico," according to a news release.
In 1989, photographer Meridel Rubenstein and performance artist/poet-(now video artist), Ellen Zweig, received an NEA Inter-Arts grant to create the installation Critical Mass, with technical assistance by Steina and Woody Vasulka. The New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts gave institutional support for the exhibition that premiered in November 1993 in Santa Fe and then traveled for three years, with stops including MIT's List Center, Cambridge; and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago.
Presented at AMoA are Rubenstein’s photoworks and the artists’ book, "They Spoke to the Angels," with Zweig’s poetic text.
"The artists examined the forces of domesticity and history that led to the bomb’s creation. Their biggest concerns were the impact of large historic events on ordinary people as well as bringing mythic historical characters down to human size with their fallibilities and connection to place," the release notes. "The Archimedes’ Device we learned to use in early physics class to measure volume by displacing water, is an apt symbol for one world view replacing another. Here in this exhibition, the artists celebrate indigenous knowledge as equal to the scientific."
Most of the works presented in this exhibition at AMoA are complex portraits. Some of the people the artists came to only know through historical records; others they were privileged to meet and to photograph, which allowed them to record their memories of Edith Warner, the Manhattan Project, and the many ways their lives were affected by both.
Warner’s nurturing teahouse, on St. Ildefonso Pueblo land, drew Robert Oppenheimer to her backyard to build the atomic bomb. Her home was where scientists and Native Americans first met.
When the arrival of the Manhattan Project closed down her tearoom, Oppenheimer asked Warner to serve dinners to the scientists. Her nurturing environment became the one-off-base place they could relax and meet their San Idefonso neighbors. Now, 79 years later, the forces of nuclear destruction vanquishing domestic safe haven and the power of the feminine, which these works evoke, are even greater, the news release says:
"Since Albert Einstein created the Doomsday clock in 1947, we are now closest to Midnight at 90 seconds."
Rubenstein maintains her art studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and has been an active arts educator for more than 30 years. From 2007 to 2018, she was a Visiting Associate Professor at the School of Art, Design, and Media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. From 1990 to 1995, Rubenstein was the Harnish Visiting Artist at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts. She has created photography programs at the College of Santa Fe (1976-80) and the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico (1990-96) and directed the Photography Program at San Francisco State University in California, the oldest Master of Fine Arts program in the USA (1985-90).
Rubenstein has exhibited internationally including the Louvre in Paris and the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin as well as in numerous gallery and museum exhibitions. Her works are in prominent collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and National Museum of American Art in Washington and other locations in the nation and world. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Bunting Institute at Harvard University, awards from the National Endowment of the Arts as well as the PollockKrasner and the Rockefeller Foundations.
She was educated at Sarah Lawrence College in New York and did special graduate studies at M.I.T. with the eminent photographer, Minor White. She received an M.A. and M.F.A. from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, in 1974 and 1977, where she studied with noted art and photography historian and museum directors Beaumont Newhall and Van Deren Coke. Her MFA Dissertation: The Circles and the Symmetry-The Mutual Influence of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz.
The Amarillo Museum of Art is located at 2200 S. Van Buren on the Washington Street campus of Amarillo College. Museum hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m to 5 p.m and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m.
For additional information, visit www.amoa.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (806) 371-5050 or (806) 371-5392 (weekends).
This article originally appeared on Amarillo Globe-News: Amarillo museum hosts 'Photoworks by Meridel Rubenstein'