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The New Mexico State Fair is held every year in early September at a permanent facility in Albuquerque. The Fair has the usual agricultural expositions, horses and livestock mostly, along with a rodeo, a variety of artistic, cultural and commercial expositions.

There was a State Fair in 1881, even before New Mexico became a state (1912) but then it was called the New Mexico Agricultural, Mineral and Industrial Exposition.

The State Fairgrounds is the home of the Albuquerque Downs horseracing track and a concert venue called Tingley Coliseum. The track has a casino, since the horse-racing industry contended that it would be wiped out if all the Pueblos were allowed to have casinos. During fair time there are rodeo events and country music concerts.

The Fair has a “Midway”, where carnival rides and attractions of the kind that move around with “carnies” are huddled. It has the food typical of agricultural fairs in the United States, to wit, food-on-a-stick.

The Fair is clearly a big annual event for rural New Mexicans, especially rural and Native Americans. They bring their prize steer, and then cruise the Midway, and hopefully do not interact too much with the little gangsters of urban Albuquerque. Cowboys in tight blue jeans with enormous belt buckles meet chollos in baggies and hair nets. I try to go in the morning before the teenagers get there.

There are permanent “villages” devoted each of New Mexico’s three major cultures: an Indian Village, Hispanic Village and “Western Heritage” village. The Indian village has dancing, the Hispanic village has great food and often music (mariachi or more modern “Tex-Mex” styles), but the “Western Heritage” village is pretty much abandoned. (I like it because it has a petting zoo, and I have two small boys to entertain).

I like the expositions the best. The Indian art is fairly tacky, compared to what you will find elsewhere in New Mexico. If it’s Indian art you want, you need to go to the Santa Fe Indian Market in the summer.

The Hispanic Art expositions, on the other hand, are superb. The Hispanic crafts of New Mexico are hundreds of years old. There is cabinetry, tin-smithing, wood-carving and the making of santos (wood carvings of Saints) and retablos (paintings on wood or metal, frequently expressing thanks for the intercession of the Saints of behalf of the artist or artist’s family). My favorites are straw appliqué: tiny pieces of straw, painstakingly arranged and glued on a blackened wood surface (usually a crucifix). The straw has a shiny, almost iridescent surface when varnished. However, this is not some craft gallery in Santa Fe, arranged by some ex-Brooklynite with the intent of selling art to Texans. This is an open exposition that has everything New Mexican in it. Mexican influence (numerous images of the Virgen de Guadalupe) sits right next to American Expressionism, or even blends the two in a chaotic multimedia, with a little bit of Elvis-on-velvet thrown in for good measure.

This year (2002) the entrants in the “tacky mural” category (excessively large acrylic canvasses) were two (2) depictions of Liberty, one a “siren” (?) rising from New York harbor with the burning towers in the background, the other a Liberty (looking suspiciously like Kelly Ripa) leading a motley gang of firemen, policemen, Marines in desert camo out of the rubble of Ground Zero.


Sources:

Numerous trips to the fair, and http://www.nmstatefair.com/

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