The University of New Mexico Museum of Art (UNMAM) recently opened its newest exhibit, Looking Back 2.0: Portraits, Landscapes and Abstraction from the UNM Museum of Art. The hybrid exhibition and project space is dedicated to complicating existing narratives of racism, decolonization, and gender stereotyping in museum collections while decentering curatorial authority and institutional voice.
Curated and created by Collective Constructs, Jess T. Dugan, Angel Jiang, Eleanor Kane and Mary Statzer, the exhibition features over 60 portraits, landscapes and abstract artworks from the UNM Art Museum collection. The exhibition will be on view until 2024.
“The intention behind Looking back 2.0 is to honor and engage the perspectives, interests and concerns of students to make art relevant and alive to UNMAM’s core audience. Over the next two years of this ongoing experimental project, museum staff will engage the university community to generate a critical dialogue that challenges static representation and fixed interpretations,” said Mary Stazer, curator of prints and photographs at the UNM Museum of Art.
Looking back 2.0 asks where the art objects come from, why they look the way they do, and how they earned their place on the museum’s walls. Despite the artistic-historical significance of the objects in Looking back 2.0 it is noteworthy that this exhibition encourages critical thought and conversation about the role of university museums and the practice of art collecting. The exhibition is organized into four thematic sections.
Women portraying women, curator of the UNM Art History Ph.D. candidate Eleanor Kane, celebrates the work of remarkable artists from the past 166 years who have challenged expectations of what portraiture can be. “When curator Mary Statzer asked me if I would be interested in collaborating on a section of Looking back 2.0, I immediately knew who I wanted to elevate and emphasize: women artists. Not all great artists are men, but most permanent collections give that distinct impression,” said Eleanor Kane. Section highlights include Dr. Maryportrait taken in 2015 by Matika Wilber (b. 1984, Swinomish and Tulalip) by Project 562her multi-year project dedicated to photographing all federally recognized Native American tribes.
As far as the eye can see features a collection of 20th-century landscapes that spotlights women artists and artists of color who have unique connections to the University of New Mexico. For example, Betty Hahn (b. 1940) and Patrick Nagatani (1945–2017) were professors of photography in the Department of Art and Art History. This section highlights how personal stories and unique perspectives inform artists’ work. It also features new work by Frances Reynolds and Anna Roti—two UNM photography students and members of Collective Constructs—that respond to and pay homage to their predecessors.
Embodied resonance combines the photographic portraits of Jess T. Dugan and Anne Noggle. Born several generations apart, Dugan (b. 1986) and Nogle (1922-2005) share a passion for portraying people from marginalized groups with unflinching honesty and deep respect. In the 1970s and 1980s, when Nogle was photographing older women (including herself), women over 50 were devalued in society and virtually invisible, making her images a radical departure from societal norms. Duggan develops this radicality for contemporary audiences, creating tender and intimate portraits of their own bodies and other queer and non-binary people. The photographs are accompanied by a personal text written by Duggan describing how Nogle’s photographs have resonated with them over a period of ten years.
Persona: Photographic portraits includes photographs depicting a wide range of settings where subjects project a sense of self outside the protective environment of the home or studio. It also showcases a recent acquisition by photographer Jess T. Duggan, Sky, 64, Palm Springs, Calif., from their series Surviving on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender-Non-Conforming Adults. This photo, along with four others by Dugan, form the inaugural purchase from the 2019 UNMAM Diversity and Equity Acquisition Fund.
Looking back 2.0 honors student perspectives by inviting the university community to contribute to the exhibition. Collective Constructions—created by UNM students Marina Perez, Frances Reynolds, and Anna Roti, with Assistant Professor of Art and Art History Marcella Earnest (Ojibwe)—contribute to the presentation and interpretation of Looking back 2.0 in ways that translate into socially conscious practice. The group provided guidance for works on display in the exhibition, posed questions to museum visitors via wall text, and will continue to engage with the exhibition by publishing a journal, conducting interviews with artists and museum staff, and developing a series of public programs. Additional invitations to respond to the exhibit will be extended to UNM students and faculty.
The UNM Museum of Art’s teaching collection includes over 30,000 objects of art, making it the largest collection of art in New Mexico. Looking back 2.0 connects the past, present and potential of the collection by reflecting on the museum’s history while providing a pathway to relevance for 21st century learners. Through this innovative initiative, UNMAM invites the university community to actively participate in the development, presentation and interpretation of the exhibition.
Looking back 2.0 made possible by a generous grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art. The Terra Foundation for American Art, established in 1978 and with offices in Chicago and Paris, supports organizations and individuals locally and globally to foster cross-cultural dialogues and foster transformative practices that expand the narratives of American art through the program of foundation grants, collection, and initiatives.
Top image: Marguerite Zorac (American, 1887 – 1968)Women in a Garden, 1918