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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: February 3, 2003
Volume 38, Number 13

Renovated UNM Art Museum opens
Opening exhibition represents 500 years of artistic, cultural history

By Laurie Mellas-Ramirez

Art appreciation takes the form of a newly-installed climate control system to protect priceless art shown and stored at the UNM Art Museum.

An $800,000, nine-month renovation primarily involving the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system is complete and will be celebrated at a reopening reception Friday, Feb. 7, from 5 to 7 p.m.

The event features entertainment and refreshments and is free and open to all.

“Highlights of the Collections,” an exhibition of more than 150 works drawn from the museum’s 30,000 works representing more than 500 years of artistic and cultural history, will be on display in the main and lower galleries. The museum holds paintings, photographs, sculptures, prints and drawings. The exhibit is based upon the book of the same title compiled by Director Emeritus Peter Walch.

A new neon snake lights the entrance of the museum, located near Popejoy Hall.

Located in the UNM Center for the Arts a few feet from Popejoy Hall, the museum entrance once blended into a stark façade, but no more. The renovation includes a lively neon snake above the front door designed by Steve Fitch whose exhibition “Gone: Photographs of Abandonment on the High Plains” also shine under a new lighting system in the Van Deren Coke Gallery.

In the freshly painted lower level Study Gallery is “Aquosus: Abounding in Water.” Artist Jocelyn Nevel recreates the environment of New Mexico’s distant geological past in a lush installation of aquatic fossil cyanotypes.

The museum gift shop was updated and expanded and offers museum publications, exhibition catalogs, gifts, books, clothing, cards, postcards and jewelry.

The National Endowment for the Humanities National Heritage Preservation Program largely funded the renovation. UNM provided some funds.

The new system provides climate control and clean, filtered air in museum galleries and storage vaults. Stable humidity and temperature are essential because art objects are remarkably sensitive to fluctuations, as well as light levels and particulate contaminants, said Kathleen Howe, associate director and co-curator of “Highlights of the Collections” with Lee Savary.

Wood, canvas, paper, paint and photographic emulsion—all expand and contract at different rates with climate changes, she said. Over time, paint and photographic emulsion can crack and separate from paper or canvas support.

“That’s not great if it’s a family photo. It’s tragic if it’s a 120-year-old photo that stands at the beginning of photography,” said Howe, who is also curator of the museum’s collections of photographs and prints.

The UNM Art Museum long monitored environmental conditions in collections areas and worked with art conservators to evaluate and conserve works of art. In 1999, UNM joined a nationwide consortium, organized by the Image Permanence Institute, to study the effects of environmental changes on museum collections.

Linda Bahm, museum director, said the HVAC system would help the museum with its application for accreditation by the American Association of Museums. It also opens the door to borrow art from museums and collectors who shy away from such exchanges if climate control, security and fire protections don’t meet high standards.

Howe said “Highlights of the Collections” is a treat for museumgoers used to standard fare. The works are arranged by year of acquisition.

“Usually an exhibit is focused on a medium, theme or historical chronology. This is a chronology of a collection. It’s a look at how the collection was built. It offers some interesting juxtapositions,” Howe said.

Old Master painting, sculpture, prints and drawings stand or hang side by side with early modern art in Europe and the United States and art of Old Spain, New Spain and Mexico.

“There are many stories to be told with this exhibition and that’s why we are so excited about it,” Bahm said.

Howe and Savary will discuss the concept and logistics of the exhibition at a free museum talk Tuesday, March 11, at 5:30 p.m.

Past directors Peter Walch, Van Deren Coke, Thomas Barrow and Bob Ellis will discuss acquisition of the collections at a free museum talk Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 5:30 p.m.

Information and virtual exhibitions can be found at the UNM Art Museum Web site http://unmartmuseum.unm.edu.