“This exhibition was two years in the making, and it was only open for two weeks,” says Marisa Sage, Director and Head Curator of the New Mexico State University Art Museum. She’s talking about Labor: Motherhood & Art in 2020, the inaugural exhibition of the museum’s brand new facility that opened in late February.
The group show was co-curated by Sage and artist Laurel Nakadate, who aimed to expand and enrich the compelling conversations regarding motherhood in today’s sociopolitical climate. Among the 21 featured artists are Yoko Ono, Marilyn Minter, Laurie Simmons, Wendy Red Star, and Mickalene Thomas.
“But what a great two weeks,” Sage continues. “We had over 1,500 people on opening night, and 1,800 people total on opening weekend. About 200 people were coming through every day after that, which for a small community is pretty spectacular.”
That’s when the Covid-19 pandemic forced art institutions across the nation to close their doors, setting off a scramble to produce virtual programming. As part of the motherhood-themed show, Sage had been planning a series of creativity workshops for kids that would allow their mothers some alone time.
“When we realized that we weren’t going to be able to do any of that in-person—which is really what it was about—I had to decide how to proceed,” says Sage. “That’s how ALONE/TOGETHER came to be.” ALONE/TOGETHER is an online series of performative programs associated with the Labor show, largely developed from the existing programs slated to take place during the exhibition.
Among the museum’s recent ALONE/TOGETHER programs was a Zoom reading by the New Mexico-based group ART practice / MOTHER practice. The consortium of artist-mothers meets weekly to discuss the complexities of parenting while maintaining a professional art practice. Group founder Mira Burack, who has participated in several group exhibitions at form & concept, invited Sage to be a guest speaker at the group’s inaugural meeting.
“We spent the first half-hour just introducing ourselves and telling our stories,” says Sage. “So many of these women had never met each other, even though some of them lived ten minutes away from each other. They have labored for so long in this simultaneous state of isolation and togetherness. In this climate, all of these women have been able to connect in a different way.”
Fostering links like this is Sage’s goal for the Labor show—and the museum as a whole. The institution’s new 9,000-square-foot facility, which is connected to NMSU’s Department of Art, is more than twice as large as its old headquarters.
“One thing we added was the Zane Bennett Collection Study Room, which allows scholars, educators, students and community members to study directly from the NMSU art collection,” Sage says. “Many people don’t know that we have a spectacular collection of nearly 4,000 pieces, which ranges from modern to contemporary art. We have the largest collection of 19th-century Mexican retablos in the United States.”
Zane Bennett Contemporary Art isn’t the only Santa Fe arts organization that supported the museum’s new digs. Santa Fe gallerist William Siegal was a major fundraiser, and one of the exhibition spaces is named for his late wife, Bunny Conlin. Canyon Road mainstay Turner Carroll Gallery contributed a number of works by women artists to the museum’s permanent collection, including a piece by legendary New Mexico artist Judy Chicago that’s on view in the Labor exhibition.
Sage says, “One of the main focuses that I have emphasized with this exhibition, as well as the future of how we hope to collect, is to add more women to our collection, and specifically to make sure that we’re supporting regional women artists and artist-mothers. It is time to add more women into museum collections.” As a start, Sage plans to extend the Labor exhibition in hopes that more people can see it in person when the museum reopens.