The Examined Life

The artists Linda Fleming and Michael Moore have shared houses, studios, dogs, cooking, cars, and life in general over three properties in as many states for several decades. The main house, if there is one, is a converted bar/restaurant in the bayside town of Benicia, California; another is a house built by them in the legendary Colorado commune of Libre on the slopes of the mountains in southwestern Colorado; the third is a complex of structures and ponds around springs on the western edge of the Smoke Creek Desert. The last is one mountain range over from the Black Rock playa of Burning Man fame. Mike and Linda have shared work for decades, an evolving condition made manifest in a superb mid-career retrospective at the Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Fe.

We’ve exhibited Linda’s work twice at the Museum, both her intricate and massive geometrical steel sculptures and the delicate wooden maquettes through which she tests her ideas. I’ve watched her mathematics grow more complex over time, as well as the recent addition of multiple colors to the work, which adds another dimension. Mike’s paintings include daily renderings of the vista over the Smoke Creek playa when he’s in residence, one of the most disciplined and enchanting renderings of a single landscape over time of which I’m aware.

The exhibition includes some of Linda’s photography and graphics, as well as the sculptures and models, and Mike is represented by an enormous grid of the Smoke Creek watercolors, oil paintings throughout his career, and the complete autobiographical journal he’s kept since the 1970s, basically narrated through the many modestly eccentric vehicles he’s owned. The series will appear a book later this year, which will include 89 “Auto Biographies” plus 22 drawings of “Every House I Ever Lived in from Memory.” Artifacts in cases, a projection using slides loaded into 27 carousels (for those who remember the technology), Linda’s recorded descriptions of all her houses, and a homemade video of the three properties accompanied by a haunting soundtrack from Linda’s son Luz Fleming complete the portrait of their lives. The show is dense with information, yet given enough space to feel rich instead of merely crowded.

CCA curator Erin Elder bills the show as “a new commission, a 3D instruction manual, and an intimate examination of what it takes to develop at art-driven life.” She laughs as we walk through the 6,000 square-foot gallery (formerly a stable for the Santa Fe Armory, then a tank maintenance facility). “Students are awed by a commitment to art that’s three times longer than they’ve been alive!” Plato, quoting the speech that Socrates gave at his trial, famously recorded the adage “An unexamined life is not worth living.” If that be so, then Michael Moore and Linda Fleming’s life is worth a fortune to themselves and those lucky enough to see the exhibition.