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Special “Eye” to Watch
June Mattingly // contributing art writer

Revelation: The Art of James Magee
at the Nasher Sculpture Center

James Magee's 40-year commendable and wide-ranging career of making art
will be introduced in the Nasher's exhibition of this admired living artist, albeit
from Texas. Now Magee will receive the critical attention he deserves all
around the world. Nasher's worldly director Jeremy Strick proudly claims
"it is the first instance of a new engagement with art produced in this region."
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The Hill I
The Hill III

Jed Morse, the Nasher’s erudite curator of Revelation, previews Magee’s compelling
body of studio work: “Working with an array of found and castoff materials such as
bits of iron, glass, concrete, wax, enamel, lead, wire mesh, linoleum, grease, brake
fluid, shellac, car parts, ceramic tiles, roof panels, even hibiscus, honey and paprika,
Magee creates powerful, sensuous sculptural reliefs that are at once uncannily
familiar and completely alien.”     

An addition to this artist’s credibility and importance is the co-publishing of the scholarly,
well researched monograph “James Magee: The Hill” by the Nasher and Prestel, and
written by Richard Brettel. The Hill refers to Magee’s immense ongoing outdoor earth
and architectural project secretly set on 2,000 acres in  vast open plains 70 miles
east of El Paso under construction for close to three decades.
The Hill sits on gently rolling plains with unforgettable sights of snow-capped mountains
and limitless West Texas skies, one of the most glorious parts of the world I contest to
have personally climbed in the Davis Mountains, hiked in Big Bend and watched
unbelievably starry night skies at the McDonald Observatory.     

Earth art or “earthworks” names a conceptual movement dating back to the mid-60s
mainly represented by the Americans Michael Heizer, Walter de Maria and Robert
Smithson. Heizer and Smithson moved tons of earth and rock in the deserts of the
American West to create massive earth sculptures often reminiscent of ancient
burial mounds. Smithson’s spectacular Spiral Jetty, a 1,500-foot long rock and crystal
jetty in the Great Salt Lake aggressively assaults the landscape and contrasts with
more ecologically sensitive works like Richard Long’s (British) excursions through the
landscape we know as artistic arrangements of rocks recorded on site in elegantly
composed photographs.

Profoundly original earth or land-related artworks such as Magee’s, Heizer’s Double
Negative and de Maria’s Lightning Field, both geographically inaccessible and the
short-lived environmental spectaculars like Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Running
Fence only become known through documentation in the form of visuals and/or
written material. When records are created by the artist as MaGee is doing in
Revelation, it becomes accessible art as well as historical documentation like
Christo’s stunning screenprints of his projects accomplish. As such this art can be
exhibited in museums unlike the artwork’s origins.
Magee has expertly designed and crafted for the The Hill four buildings of irregularly cut
shale rock, 40 feet long, 20 feet wide and 17 feet high. Nearly 250 eight-ton truckloads
of rock were brought to the site. “Each building is entered through a majestic portal
eight feet wide and the full height of the building, portals that turn easily on their
hinges, testament to the remarkable engineering acumen Magee has brought to
the project as a whole…a product of one man’s infinite patience and unimaginable
labor. ..each of the three completed buildings house enormous metal installations…

On occasion, while visitors take the considerable time required to study the works,
Magee will recite their ‘titles’ – in effect, lengthy poetic texts…The installations
themselves are large, metal-framed and glazed, hinged together in metal
boxes…Fashioned in a great variety of materials such as cinnamon, paprika,
flower petals, oil, wood, metal, rust, paint, textiles and more – the boxes resonate
with the harsh beauty of their site. As these large panels are opened and moved
to reveal yet other large boxes, they evoke a sense of endless complexity, belying
their creation by one man. Shifting and moving with the scale and power of the
natural, they are utterly artificial, completely abstract creations, analogs of the
uneasy coexistence of the natural and the human in these remote plains….
The Hill is like a chapel filled with inexplicable altars belonging
to some unknown religion.”
The Hill II
Exhibit: September 4 - November 28

Nasher Sculpture Center 2001 Flora Street
Dallas, TX 75201

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