The New Mexico Museum of Art is slated to hold the grand opening for Vladem Contemporary, its new contemporary satellite wing, this week (10 am-5 pm Saturday, Sept. 23 and Sunday, Sept. 24. Free. 404 Montezuma Ave., (505) 476-5072), and with the inaugural exhibit Shadow and Light featuring names like Erika Wanenmacher, Judy Chicago, Yayoi Kusama, Virgil Ortiz and many more, it should be a big deal. Also notable? Officials announced late last week that the space finally has a dedicated curator—Alexandra Terry. Terry comes to Santa Fe by way of the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, where she served in a similar role, and she has other impressive bonafides, too, including seven years as a curator in London for a nonprofit Iranian arts organization, as an archivist and as an arts collective member. Since Monday was Terry’s first day on the job, we thought it would be a great idea to get in the mix straight away with a few Qs. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve got a wide array of impressive positions on your resume—what made you want to come work at Vladem Contemporary/in New Mexico?
I grew up in Colorado, in Denver, and when I was in junior high school, my father bought some land in Northern New Mexico, just across the border [near Questa], and that led to a period spending a lot of time just north of Taos and really falling in love with landscape, the land, the community; it’s almost a second or third home. Most of my adult life, my father has lived here, so I’ve felt sort of a connection to the place. So, when I saw the job listing, I just became fascinated with the history of the museum and really excited about the potential of joining at this historic moment.
I have never lived here, but I’ve spent a good amount of time and have that familial connection. As I flew over Los Angeles yesterday, I shed a tear, but there’s a really different kind of beauty, a striking beauty, to the desert and the mountain regions.
It’s only your first day, but do you have specific goals for what you’d like to do just yet?
I think my priority is to connect with this community, and a big part of that is becoming acquainted with my amazing colleagues, who have all been so amazing and open. I’d like to do a listening tour, a meeting tour to get to know folks in the community. The artists working in the region have a deeper understanding of the land and the city, and that will help me in terms of...exhibition goals.
Given the controversy surrounding this particular museum, and the “Multi-cultural” mural coming down—which you obviously had no part in whatsoever—do you believe curators have an ethical responsibility to the communities in which they work, and, if so, how might that be applicable?
Sure. Yeah. I mean, I know so little about the mural controversy, so I can’t speak to that with any sort of accuracy, but what I can say is that collaboration is incredibly important to my curatorial practice. It’s not just about me working with artists—and I primarily work with living artists—it’s about working with the folks around me and creating relationships with civic bodies, local buzz, other art institutions. I think that all art institutions can really benefit from having a wide array of voices.
In my previous role at the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, for every exhibition I worked closely with the engagement team to identify pockets of the community to really expand upon context...The artwork is here for the public, the local and regional folks and the folks passing through, and any time you can provide more context with the individuals who come to engage it’s deeper.
[When it comes to younger people] I had the privilege of growing up with parents who are artists and people who love culture, though the arts are not always as easily accessible to all individuals and all communities. But accessibility is a major priority of mine. This museum space is for all, and that is the responsibility of the entire staff. That goes across departments to make sure people feel welcome here. A curator’s job is as someone who serves the community. There will be times when there is artwork on view that’s challenging, yes, but how can a curator collaborate with others or create an opportunity for more context so young people feel welcome, curious and engaged? The arts, we know, are incredibly important to young folks in terms of education, socialization and forming relationships with the community around them.