Museum Studies

New Mexico Museum of Art’s Vladem Contemporary slated for Sept. 23 opening

After many years, controversies including citizens’ concerns over Railyard views and a full-on movement opposed to the destruction of the “Multicultural” mural credited to artist Gilberto Guzman—not to mention a whole lot of construction—the New Mexico Museum of Art has announced it will open its Vladem Contemporary satellite wing at the site of the former Halpin Building on the corner of Guadalupe Street and Montezuma Avenue on Saturday, Sept. 23. Named for donors Ellen and Bob Vladem, who dropped $4 million into the museum, the new space will be a massive and modern undertaking dedicated to—get this—contemporary artistry. SFR spoke with the New Mexico Museum of Art’s Head of Curatorial Affairs Christian Waguespack and Executive Director Mark White ahead of the opening. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

SFR: What can you tell us about the opening exhibit?

Christian Waguespack: The exhibit is called Shadow and Light, and it was curated by [former Head of Curatorial Affairs] Merry Scully before she left to be a director at a museum in California, and the idea is looking at artists who have made work that responds to these almost primordial aesthetic elements of being in New Mexico and the West. The quality of light has had such a profound impact on the art going on out here since the first artists came to work in New Mexico, but it also ties into things like the California Light and Space Movement, so it talks to that dialogue of larger historical ideas. It also gets into more of the philosophical and cultural connotations that go with these ideas of shadow and light; a sort of broad, conceptual idea with works from our collection and on loan from artists. There are figures who will be no real surprise, like Emil Bisttram and Florence Miller Pierce...who were members of the Transcendental Painting Group, this artist collective that looked at philosophical and spiritual forms of art. We’ll have Agnes Martin, too, as well as more contemporary pieces by Virgil Ortiz, Jenny Holzer…Erika Wanenmacher, Yayoi Kusama.

Mark White: Probably the most substantial collaboration as part of that show is the one with Virgil Ortiz. Virgil has been working on [his project] Revolt 1680/2180 for years and creating variations on the narrative, and that’ll be work that’s part of the series shown at Vladem and nowhere else.

Has a curator for Vladem Contemporary come on board?

CW: We’re still in the hiring process but we’re looking to bring on a new contemporary art curator by the time we open.

What’s the shape of curation moving forward? Can we assume it’s a team effort?

CW: Our curatorial team works closely with each other, and while the new curator will be focused on contemporary art, and will be programing primarily for the Vladem, the next exhibit will be a collaborative curatorial project we’re all working on together.

What can you tell us about the future of the Gilberto Guzman “Multicultural” mural and the “Ode to the Multicultural Mural (La Guadalupana)” piece by artist Hernan Gomez Chavez that recently went up?

CW: The [Guzman] mural was recreated, it’s in the possession of the museum and it’s going to be installed on the interior of the building so it can have proper environmental controls to ensure longevity—where people don’t have to pay admission to see it. It’s not behind a paywall...and there will be a bit of didactic info about the mural and that whole story there for people.

MW: Hernan’s piece will be there for two months. He wanted to do it as an homage, and I think he’s looking for a permanent home for it, but I don’t want to put words in his mouth. There were a couple false starts and logistical challenges, obviously, with an active construction site, but we’re finally able to see it come to fruition.

Can you talk about any tech or AR elements within the space?

CW: I can’t give away any specifics, but we have been working with some AI experts and our inaugural exhibition, we hope, will include some augmented reality aspects. That’s part of the whole thesis behind why we’re doing this. We want a space engaged with the contemporary moment, engaging in a way that was never imagined when the Plaza building went up in 1917. And any AR aspects of the exhibitions are entirely voluntary, so if someone wants to come and spend a contemplative moment with a painting or sculpture, they can, but we’ll have bells and whistles and a nice menu for them to choose from, too.

MW: I can’t talk about this too much, but we’ve got an AR experience that we’re working on with Judy Chicago. There’s an installation by Leo Villareal, a digital installation that will be in the breezeway...and be available 24/7. The other thing available 24/7 is the window box project, which is kind of like a storefront window.

Is there anything else we need to know just now?

CW: The inaugural exhibition is going to be stellar, but the other thing this building is doing is doubling our storage capacity. That’ll be the tip of the iceberg. We can continue to build the contemporary art collection as the only museum in Santa Fe collecting all kinds of contemporary arts. Aside from immediate joy, it’s a long-lasting project.

MW: It’s fully accessible and easily navigable for anyone with mobility concerns. We have a passenger elevator, ramps into all the spaces—none of the concerns of the 1917 building.

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