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Tony Price - Atomic Art
essay by James Rutherford
Life & Times

     New Mexico’s nuclear presence is among the themes artist Erika Wanenmacher explores in her mixed media constructions. “Because I work on these sort of narratives that are a lot of times archetypal narratives, and mythic narratives, and large story narratives, or personal narratives, I think the nuclear mythology is a little more subtle than some of the other ones because it’s a fairly new myth – the idea that you can destroy the world. If you’re here for any length of time as an artist that narrative starts to open up and in a way it’s a really fascinating story". As with others, her perspective evolved over time, “At first I sort of approached it with that ‘oooh evil scientist, oooh they’re bad - we’re good', kind of thing. Then, when you start reading about the story of the Manhattan Project, I really came to realize it’s really a story of human creativity and that the nexus point of the bomb was pretty much inevitable, there were so many people aiming for it. In a way it really is sort of one of those archetypal bouts of dark and light. It also has this really interesting aspect to it – the creative search – that I really could respond to. It really at times takes over my brain – that whole story of it. The deeper

Erika Wanenmacher, Grimoire
mythic levels that we’re involved in, in this state, the ancient myths of the cultures here that have been sensitive to that". Like many others, she drew inspiration and a type of lineage from Price and his work. “The commitment that he made to telling that story was really inspiring to me. He really set his path to do that. It’s like having fore-runners and feeling like I’m another one of those people in the line that’s trying to tell the story. It really is a continuum and I think that’s the way of storytellers. It’s not an oral tradition, it’s a pictoral tradition. Maybe in a way we’re in that same tradition as the people who made the petroglyph".
     An affirmation of our humanity and the transformational power of art, Tony Price’s Atomic Art is ‘an attempt at a compassion for the suffering that’s going on on this planet’. (Reggio). In today’s dialogue about “weapons of mass destruction” let us be awakened by Price’s artistic vision. He reminds us of the need to make a judgment and take a stand against the technology of death. “My prayer is that nuclear energy systems be dismantled and the technology of such be forgotten. For radioactivity is a dead-end path to nothingness. God has given us a nuclear system to use, but His wisdom has placed it beyond our reach in the sun, not on our earth. So it seems a big test is at hand. Can we put away our fear of each other? Can we become earthlings? If we can become earthlings, a fantastic prize awaits us…” (Price29)

James Rutherford, 2002
Nashville, Tennessee



Tony Price, Nuclear Crucifix

“The dreamers are the saviors of the world. As the visible world is sustained by the invisible, so men, through all their trials and sins and sordid vocations, are nourished by the beautiful visions of their solitary dreamers. Humanity cannot forget its dreamers; it cannot let their ideals fade and die; it lives in them; it knows them as the realities which it shall one day see and know. Composer, sculptor, painter, poet, prophet, sage, these are the architects of heaven. The world is beautiful because they have lived; without them laboring humanity would perish.”

James Allen
19th Century author


Tony Price - Atomic Art
essay by James Rutherford
Life & Times

Footnotes

1 Tony Price, 7/16/85 statement on the 40th anniversary of the first Atomic Bomb test.
Poster for Governor’s Gallery exhibition.
2 Tony Price, 7/16/85 statement on the 40th anniversary of the first Atomic Bomb test.
Poster for Governor’s Gallery exhibition.
3 Kirk Varnedoe, 2002 interview from “Faith & Doubt at Ground Zero” produced by
Helen Whitney for PBS, Frontline
4 Tony Price, interview with Gay Dillingham - May 1998, Reserve, NM
5 Tony Price, 7/16/85 statement on the 40th anniversary of the first Atomic Bomb test.
Poster for Governor’s Gallery exhibition.
6 Dr. Joseph Traugott, Curator of 20th Century Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, NM.
Interview with James Rutherford - September, 2002
7 Stuart Ashman, Director of the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts, Santa Fe, NM.
Interview with James Rutherford - September, 2002
8 David Bell– ‘Atomic Art’ Exhibit Site Just One Unusual Aspect – Albuquerque Journal –
September 20, 1986
9 Dr. Ed Ladd, Zuni Pueblo (dec.). Former Curator of Ethnography, Museum of Indian Arts &
Culture, Santa Fe, NM. From the story of the “Big Shell Society” of Zuni Pueblo, as told to
Meridel Rubenstein and included in her piece “The Big Shell”. Asked if the Zunis had a
weapon of ultimate destruction, he told the story of the Big Shell. This was a conch shell that,
when blown, would pierce the hearts and weaken the bravery of the aggressors, who became dizzy and dropped in their tracks. It was used in the battle with the Spaniards during the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 when DeVargas came to Zuni. After there was no need to use it for a long period, the songs and rituals of how to use it were lost along with the disappearance of the Big Shell Society. Usually what happens to an object like this is that it is placed on a cliff or in a cave to let it disintegrate into the atmosphere - a parallel Rubenstein draws to nuclear weapons.
(Tony Price was known to take objects made from Lab salvage and place them in crevices in
the earth in Navajo land and other remote locations in the Southwest).
10 Sandy Bull (1941-2001) Established as the ultimate eclecticist, whose albums combined a
wild assortment of genres and traditions. www.sandybull.com
11 Suzanne Seriff, Folklorist, curator – Folk Art From the Global Scrap Heap: The Place of
Irony in the Politics of Poverty - from Recycled / Re-Seen: Art From the Global Scrap Heap –
catalog from the exhibit of the same name presented by the Museum of International Folk
Art, Santa Fe, a unit of the Museum of New Mexico.
12 Atomic Artist, 1982 film by Claudia Vianello and Glen Silber
13 Joanne Cubbs and Eugene Metcalf, Jr. – Sci-Fi machines and bottle Cap Kings: The
Recycling Strategies of Self-Taught Artists and the Imaginary Practice of Contemporary
Consumption - from Recycled / Re-Seen – Harry Abrams in Association
with the Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, a unit of the Museum of New Mexico.
14 The word “primitive” is used as a generalized term for the art referred to in this essay to
describe more or less non-centralized societies with simple technologies. It is not meant to
imply many of the negative connotations often associated with the term.
15 Jack Flam – Matisse and the Fauves – from catalog for “Primitivism in the 20th Century”, -
1984 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
16 Gail Levin – American Art - from catalog for “Primitivism in the 20th Century”, -
1984 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
17 Tony Price, 7/16/85 statement on the 40th anniversary of the first Atomic Bomb test.
Poster for Governor’s Gallery exhibition.
18 Kirk Varnedoe, - Abstract Expressionism - from catalog for “Primitivism in the 20th
Century”, - 1984 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
19 Atomic Artist, 1982 film by Claudia Vianello and Glen Silber
20 Octavio Paz – Convergences: Essays on Art & Literature- 1979, 1983, 1984 - Harcourt,
Brace, Janovich
21 Atomic Artist, 1982 film by Claudia Vianello and Glen Silber
22 Patrick Nagatani – Nuclear Enchantment / Photographs by Patrick Nagatani – 1991
University of New Mexico Press
23 Patrick Nagatani – Nuclear Enchantment / Photographs by Patrick Nagatani – 1991
University of New Mexico Press
24 Eugenia Parry Janis – essay for Nuclear Enchantment / Photographs by Patrick Nagatani –
1991 - University of New Mexico Press
25 Dr Paula Harper - from a catalogue on Judy Chicago. Published by ACA Galleries,
New York, July 1986
26 Judy Chicago – description of her work Powerplay (1982 – 1986)
www.judychicago.com
27 Ed Grothus – quote from Atomic Artist, 1982 film by Claudia Vianello and Glen Silber
28 Tony Price, interview with Gay Dillingham - May 1998, Reserve, NM
29 Tony Price, 7/16/85 statement on the 40th anniversary of the first Atomic Bomb test.
Poster for Governor’s Gallery exhibition.

Credits / Acknowledgements

Unless otherwise footnoted, all quotes from Dr, Joseph Traugott, Wavy Gravy, Godfrey Reggio, Stuart Ashman, Meridel Rubenstein, Woody & Steina Vasulka, and Erika Wanenmacher are taken from interviews conducted by James Rutherford between May and November, 2002. Special thanks to; Douglas Kent Hall for his photographs and essay on Tony Price and his work.; to Mark Robertson for the CD ROM and composite image of the Music Box; to Gay Dilingham and Tom McCarthy for the exhibition video; and to Lisa Law, Donald Woodman, Mariana Cook, Peter Menzel, James Hart, Bob Shaw, Morty Breier, Rosé Cohen, Deborah Snyder, Marie Harding, Elliott McDowell, Guy Cross and others for their images of Tony Price and his work.

*Meridel Rubenstein and Ellen Zweig (with technical assistance by the Vasulkas) From the collaborative project CRITICAL MASS: Archimedes Chamber 1990-3 12’x12’x12’ including outer portal: "If Archimedes"..4 channel synchronized videowork with poetic text by Ellen Zweig (from collection of NM Museum of Fine Arts) and Oppenheimer/Archimedes #1 & 2 two columns of 5 palladium prints each with steel frames each 101x 32”x1/2”,shown on either side of the video column. interior: - a dark room with video projection device (mini tv., lens system, mirror) video image projected onto round screen on floor, 5’ diameter.

ATOMIC ART COLLECTION

Tony’s long time and last wish was to keep the collection of one hundred forty four atomic art sculptures together, to permanently house it and make it available to public view. The idea for the traveling exhibit of selected masks came from Stuart Ashman, former Director of The Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, so that a wider circle might become aware of Tony’s work and message and learn about the developing plans for the Tony Price/Atomic Art Museum. Initial designs of the museum and sculpture gardens are viewable on this website - CLICK HERE
Several sites in Santa Fe, New Mexico are under consideration. For more information about this project and how you can support it materially or financially contact:
tonypriceatomicartist@gmail.com

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to express my gratitude to Tony Price for his artistic vision and the compassionate commitment he made to his work. My thanks to Rosé Cohen, Godfrey Reggio and Earl Rosner for being there for Tony during his life and for keeping his memory alive – everyone should be blessed with friends like these. Thanks to my family, Adam, Taylor and Mary, who help me with everything, and are the most important people in my life; to all the people I interviewed who confirmed what I already knew of this unique artist; to all the staff at the Museum of New Mexico for their work that made this project possible. I also want to thank and congratulate all the exhibition sponsors, especially Livingry Foundation: Andrew Ungerleider & Gay Dillingham, LifeWorks Foundation: George & Pat Bullard, Elliott & Susan McDowell, Mr. Joe Schepps, Jonathan & Claudia Richards, and Mr. Jack Silverman, for matching the artist’s vision with incredible generosity. A special thanks to Stuart Ashman for his support and encouragement from the very beginning of this project and to everyone who assisted Tony over the years and cared for him in sickness and in health. I would like to dedicate my work on this project to all of these people and to Tony’s children, Roseanna, Zara and Jed, the most important people in Tony’s life who contributed and sacrificed significantly towards their father’s art.

James Rutherford, exhibition curator
Tony Price / Atomic Art