Let There Be Light

Raising the Curtain on Vladem Contemporary

The oft-stated vision of “one museum, two locations” will soon become reality with the opening of the New Mexico Museum of Art’s Vladem Contemporary. Situated in an architecturally thrilling new building in Santa Fe’s Railyard Arts District, the Vladem Contemporary galleries add nearly 10,000 additional square feet to extend the art museum’s exhibition mission deeper into the community.

Designed to showcase the museum’s postwar and contemporary collections, the Vladem Contemporary’s inaugural exhibition, Shadow and Light, sets the stage for the shows to follow, says Merry Scully, the museum’s head of curatorial affairs and curator of contemporary art. “It’s national, it’s international. And there are such great connections and cross-communications. It might be 70 percent from our collection,” she says.

The exhibition’s title springs from the particular quality of New Mexico light that has been a draw for artists and photographers for more than a century. Moreover, says Scully, its theme echoes one of the original ideas behind the 1917 founding of the downtown art museum.

As the exhibition description puts it, the Vladem Contemporary’s collections and exhibitions will go beyond replication and illustration to “engage the big ideas and experiences of human life.”

Big ideas tend to translate well on a larger scale. On that note, the Indigenous Futurism of Cochiti Pueblo artist Virgil Ortiz dominates Shadow and Light. In Leviathan: Plight of the Recon Watchmen, situated within the inaugural exhibition, Ortiz debuts his largest works to date: a new cast of characters in his ongoing Revolt 1680/2180 series that extends the Pueblo Revolt to two dimensions in time.

Five-foot busts sporting high-fire glazes, a spectrum of colors and flashy LED lights set Ortiz’s new sculptures as relics in a futuristic, video-enhanced environment. The works, which were created during Ortiz’s 2021 residency at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana, embody the avant-garde spirit of the new museum.

Elsewhere in Shadow and Light, Scully is excited about the long-awaited opportunity to display works from the permanent collection that fit the theme. “It’s about light as metaphor, light as media, light in contrast to darkness,” she says.

The exhibition’s arc begins with the Transcendental Painting Group, and particularly, Florence Miller Pierce, who sought to express enlightenment and transcendence. It then moves to incorporate Light and Space and land-based artists, including an early work by Nancy Holt.
Other regional, national and international artists include Larry Bell, Emil Bisttram, Lee Bul, Judy Chicago, Ron Cooper, James Drake, Angela Ellsworth, Gloria Graham, Jennifer Joseph, Agnes Martin, Jen Pack, Helen Pashgian, Charles Ross, Susan York, Leo Villareal and Erika Wanenmacher.

“Shadow and light as a theme,” explains Scully, “was about defining things and making decisions. But now it’s about possibility.”

At the downtown art museum, another exhibition, Transgressions and Amplifications: Mixed-Media Photography of the 1960s and 1970s, offers an innovative perspective on the history of contemporary photography.

Organized by photography curator Katherine Ware which opened July 23, Transgressions traces the development of artists incorporating collage, print-making, photocopying and even sculpture into their photo processes.

Many of these mixed-media artists settled in New Mexico and contributed valuable works to the museum’s collection, including Thomas F. Barrow, Darryl Curran, Robert Fichter, Betty Hahn, Robert Heinecken, Joan Lyons, Jerry McMillan, Joyce Neimanas, Bea Nettles, Keith A. Smith, Michael Stone and Alex Traube.

Funding needs are abundant for both locations, which include exhibitions, education and public programs, and long-term acquisitions. The Vladem Contemporary recently received a generous gift from Harriet and Karl Schreiner to support the museum’s “video window” project, set up to showcase single-channel videos, films and LED light installations that viewers will experience throughout the museum. Funding for audio support for other video installations is also needed.

A $110,000 gift from the Frederick Hammersley Foundation has generously paid for at least two years to fund an artist-in- residence program at the Vladem Contemporary that is expected to bring five artists a year to the museum for work  and research purposes. This funding also includes support for a program coordinator.

“The New Mexico Museum of Art is still actively fund raising for exhibitions, programs and acquisitions at both locations, says Mark White, the museum’s executive director. “The response from members in supporting the Vladem Contemporary has been phenomenal over the last two years.”

To support the New Mexico Museum of Art and Vladem Contemporary, contact Kristin Graham at 505.216.0826 or Kristin@museumfoundation.org.



This article is from Member News Summer 2022. Image courtesy of Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo), Mitz Nopek.