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The Contemporary Side of Things

Pantaloncini Double Untitled, 2019 (courtesy of the artist and Modern West Fine Art)

The New Mexico Museum of Art moves to include contemporary art in its focus by opening a new showcase at the super-cool Santa Fe Railyard


Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin, 2015 (courtesy of the Tia Foundation); Angela Ellsworth

At its inception, the New Mexico Museum of Art was a contemporary museum. Opened on the historic Santa Fe Plaza in 1917— long before such distinctions as “modern” and “contemporary” had specific meaning in the art world—the museum was intended to exhibit works by the new colony of artists living and working along Canyon Road.

More than 100 years later, a new moment in New Mexico’s artistic evolution is on the horizon and it has a new showcase. Slated for its grand opening in the summer of 2023, the Vladem Contemporary will focus on the contemporary side of New Mexico art. Dated roughly from the 1970s to the present, contemporary American art is distinguished by theorists from Modernism, which is typically seen as lasting from the mid-20th century to the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1980s, the art world was a different place, and the Vladem will ref lect that.

Executive Director Mark White says that the New Mexico Museum of Art will remain a singular institution, with dual campuses: the historic plaza site and the Vladem in the Railyard. Although each location’s exhibitions may be different visually, these paired establishments present a continuum of New Mexico’s significant trajectory within the history of American art.

The inaugural exhibition at the Vladem’s Railyard site will further that continuum. Shadow and Light focuses on New Mexico’s indefinable yet incredible light, which has attracted “artists and photographers to the region for decades,” as the museum’s assistant curator Katie Doyle says in her exhibition prospectus.

She has selected artworks by such luminaries as Larry Bell and Ron Cooper of the Light and Space movement, renowned Earthworks artist Nancy Holt, installation superstar Yayoi Kusama, and Agnes Martin, whose deliberately quiet paintings are said to pulse with meaning. Susan York is creating a graphite piece to be installed for the exhibition. Doyle has also chosen one of James Drake’s most stunning video pieces, Tongue-Cut Sparrow. The exhibition will feature the striking Indigenous futurism of Cochiti Pueblo’s Virgil Ortiz, feminist icons Judy Chicago and Harmony Hammond, and self-described “culture witch” Erika Wanenmacher. In all, more than two dozen artists have been selected for this
inaugural exhibition.

Designed by the architectural firm DNCA + Studio GP of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the Vladem complex offers exhibition, storage, and education spaces, as well as a gift store on the Railyard side of Guadalupe Street. The new museum is named after Ellen and Robert Vladem, who made the lead contribution in a recent private-public fundraising campaign. (Steps from the Vladem, the Santa Fe Depot, the northernmost terminus for the Rail Runner commuter line, is receiving a facelift.)

A second entrance to the Vladem on Montezuma Street provides access to the spacious classrooms. Shadow and Light premieres in Gallery One on the first floor, with nearly 5,000 square feet of exhibition space. Upstairs, Gallery Two comprises some 4,000 square feet of raw exposition space. An artist-inresidence area and 4,100 square feet of open storage allow visitors a perspective of the backstage functions of a contemporary museum.

With plenty of valuable wall space— not only necessary for exhibitions but also to keep the natural light from harming artworks on display—there is an abundance of our state’s celebrated light saturating the museum. Windows are thoughtfully situated, as are scrims. And speaking of windows, the public will be able to see several of the Vladem’s ongoing installations during nonbusiness hours. The Windowbox Project on the northern side of the complex consists of an eight-foot-byeight- foot storefront window. Analogous to the Museum of Art’s previous—and well-attended—alcove shows, the Windowbox Project is designed to showcase regional artists, who will display their work quarterly. The museum is partnering with community-based Vital Spaces for the first year of window exhibitions.
Artists Cristina González and Morgan Barnard are scheduled for 2023.

A video window faces Guadalupe Street. The mural by Gilberto Guzmán that was on that side of the Halpin State Archives Building (formerly the Charles Ilfeld Company Warehouse) is to be permanently re-created by the artist inside the museum. Finally, always accessible to those who approach from the Railyard will be a light sculpture in the breezeway above the gift shop and the south entrance. At press time, artist Leo Villareal was completing the site-specific piece.

Together, the dual campuses of the Museum of Art will elevate the place of New Mexico in the narrative of American art. Santa Fe has long drawn visitors and residents, artists and their audiences alike. The Vladem will solidify New Mexico’s place in the art of today and our multicultural past as we look forward to an inclusive future.

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