Jan Adlmann: Who's Your Dada?

Diane Kell

The sparkling new assemblages by well-known Santa Fe artist, art critic and writer, Jan Adlmann, are perhaps the perfect reflection of his own razor sharp wit and pithy iconoclasm. They evidence his affinity for Dada’s artistic revolt and cognitive dissonance together with touches of the opulence of Fabergé jewels, the zaniness of Rube Goldberg’s inventions, the curious nonsense of Lewis Carroll’s verse, and the wit of Saul Steinberg’s New Yorker cartoons. His very self-aware, tongue-in-cheek art is an interesting counterpoint to the “Outsider Art” in LewAllen Contemporary’s concurrent exhibition of work from the Art Brut collection of Dr. Eugene Frank and Gregory Léon-Baird, for if anyone can be called an “insider” in the world of contemporary art it is Jan Adlmann.

Author of the 1996 publication, Contemporary Art in New Mexico, Adlmann is an art historian with decades of experience as a museum professional. He has been director at the Vassar College Art Museum, the Long Beach Museum of Art, the Tampa Bay Art Center and the Wichita Art Museum. At the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, he served as Assistant Director for External Affairs under Thomas Krens. In recent years, while based in Santa Fe, he has become a popular lecturer and international art tour guide, and has written numerous exhibition catalogs and artists’ monographs. He is also a frequent contributor to such periodicals as Art in America and ARTnews.

Adlmann was an artistic child, always drawing and painting, though he received no art training. As an adult, he made drawings and paintings from time to time but was never pleased with the results and, in fact, destroyed nearly all his attempts. Then, about seven years ago, he discovered assemblage and, as he says, “I felt no intimidation in showing them to the world.”

Adlmann’s quirky constructions are provocative and impudent, intended to shock and disrupt the complacency of traditional artistic values while having a great deal of fun. He combines the detritus of Los Alamos Laboratory and other scientific surplus with things found anywhere and everywhere to achieve, in his words, “a kind of psychedelic trippiness, an oddball communication between incomprehensible science and delicious debris.” He aims to arouse curiosity—and even, as he says, “momentary consternation and kerfuffle.”

He says the works are meant to be incomprehensible. “They have no meaning in the conventional sense. As Picasso said, ‘A work of art doesn’t have to mean. It must be.’ These are. They don’t mean; they are. People can bring their own meaning to it.”

Adlmann professes motives that are similar to those of the twentieth century Dadaists and Surrealists. “One of my pieces is a bouquet of faux flowers seeded with razor blades. Why? Because, my dear, the line between beauty and danger is very fine indeed. Another is an enormous hypodermic on a satin pillow on a marble plinth, Accoutrement (for Marlene). It’s a chrome hypodermic paved with Swarovski crystals. So you have danger plus Fabergé plus medicine equals art. Ornament meets anarchy; or, you could also say, ornament meets danger.”

LewAllen Contemporary is open 9:30-5:30 Monday through Saturday and 11:00-5:00 Sunday. Adlmann’s exhibition runs from Friday, December 2, until Monday, January 2. A public reception for the opening will be held on Friday, December 2, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. A dialogue titled My Art Belongs to Dada, featuring Jan Adlmann and LewAllen Contemporary owner, Kenneth Marvel, will be held on the evening of Wednesday, December 7. For more information on either the exhibition or this private gallery event, please call Diane Kell at (505) 988-8997 or send email to dkell@lewallencontemporary.com.