Volume 17 • Issue 3 | June 11 - 17, 2004

Tribeca gallery mix gets a new member

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

NIX gallery owners, Leticia Ortega and her husband Dionisio Cortes.

In a restored, abandoned mill outside of Monterey, Mexico, Leticia Ortega and her husband Dionisio Cortes once taught young art students to paint landscapes in oils and watercolors, and displayed local artists’ paintings and drawings on the walls of the old mill.

Years later in New York, the two have bounced around Lower Manhattan, first painting out of a studio on Broadway and Fulton St., and after September 11, 2001, holding art classes out of their home.

Now, the couple has opened a permanent studio and gallery in Tribeca, the NIX gallery, where young students work at paint-splattered wooden worktables, and artists living in Mexico, New York and New Zealand display their work in the gallery’s inaugural exhibit, The Window Group, which opened May 21.

“We love art,” Ortega said. “We like to support other artists in our community and show people’s art, and there’s always a need for more space.”

The gallery derives its name from nixtamal, an Aztec term for cooked ground corn kernels used to make tortillas and tamales. The inaugural exhibit features 34 etchings, oil paintings, photographs and watercolors from 11 artists known collectively as the Window Group, a selection of artists who have previously displayed their work in a window space on 184 Franklin St. that Cortes rented three years ago to introduce new art and artists to the local community.

Pieces include Mexican-born New York artist Armando Rumayor’s sky scenes —seven small sky photographs, each inserted in a clear plastic box and mounted on separate white squares — and Carrie Cooperider’s colorful pop art painting of a young cowboy kneeling beside his horse.

Ortega’s “Simplicity” series mixes exotic desert flowers with childhood memories and keepsakes from Mexico. Recollections of patterns her mother spread out and cut when sewing clothes for Ortega and her siblings inspired the paintings, Ortega said. Tiny birds and flowers also comprise a section of one painting, a design that originates from a handmade Mexican tablecloth.

“This series comes from working with memory,” Ortega said. “I also get inspired by nature — by the colors, the shapes — and I let myself go.”

Memory also plays a part in the work of New York artist Margaret Manning Krug. A trip to Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula inspired her oil paintings, “House on Dingle Peninsula” and “Jetty on Dingle Peninsula,” and several small sketches of family members from Ireland.

“Most of the pieces are based on an ancestry experience, and what impressions that made on me,” she said. Krug is also a senior lecturer at the Whitney Museum, teaches painting at the Parson’s School of Design, and has displayed her work in galleries across the United States and Mexico.

“I just love the [NIX] gallery,” she said. “It’s a wonderful exhibition space and a very supportive atmosphere. There’s a diversity of style that’s very refreshing, and a focus on people looking at their experiences in a very personal way.”

The opening exhibit will end on June 24th with a closing reception, and Ortega and Cortes are currently reviewing slides for the next gallery exhibit, to open in September. “We’re open to any artist who wants to send slides to be considered to show their work in the new space,” Ortega said.

In the meantime, the couple continues to hold art classes for local children, most of whom are from Tribeca and the Financial District. Thirty-eight children ages 6-14 currently take classes at the studio, with eight students at the gallery each day for a two-hour art lesson.

Several former students have been accepted into the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, Ortega said, including her younger son, who has also participated in her art classes. LaGuardia is internationally known as the “Fame” high school.

At NIX, stacks of students’ work line shelves in the gallery’s studio space — a series of oil paintings depicting beagles, golden retrievers and terriers set against bright red, blue and green backdrops — and a running cheetah against a bright green field.

“Parents say their children come to class running and happy,” Ortega said. “They really want to be here. And for those who have been attending classes for a few years, you can really start to see how they develop.”

This July and August, Ortega and Cortes hope to invite local artists to informally show their work in the gallery. They are also renovating the gallery’s back room and plan to hold poetry readings in the space this coming fall.

The NIX gallery is located at 104 Reade St., lower level in Tribeca and is open Tues.-Thurs. from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Fri. and Sat. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and by appointment, 212-267-8100.

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