By Teya Vitu / Santa Fe New Mexican
Contemporary art envelops Santa Fe, from scores of galleries to the Center for Contemporary Arts and SITE Santa Fe.
The New Mexico Museum of Art is making a $16.5 million leap to formalize Santa Fe’s steeped relationship with contemporary art with its planned annex, the 35,000-square-foot Vladem Contemporary museum.
The Vladem Contempory is proposed for the corner of Montezuma Avenue and Guadalupe Street, just beyond the north edge of the Railyard, alongside the terminus of the Rail Runner Express commuter train.
“It’s important for the museum to stay current,” said Mary Kershaw, the museum’s director. “Perhaps more important is that we collect contemporary art.”
The Vladem will have 3,533 square feet of climate-controlled collection storage space in the basement of the Halpin Building, a brick warehouse believed to have been built around 1936.
The Halpin Building will remain, but a second floor will be added, at an angle to the ground floor. The Halpin was aligned with the railroad tracks to the west and long-gone railroad tracks on the east. The new second floor will be aligned with the street grid, specifically Guadalupe Street and Montezuma Avenue.
DNCA Architects and Studio GP, both of Albuquerque, are the project architects, on board since March 2017. A general contractor will be sought in March.
The Museum of New Mexico Foundation has raised $9.7 million in a $12.5 million campaign, principally to fund creation of the Vladem. The expectation is to reach $11 million by the end of the year, said Jamie Clements, the foundation’s chief executive.
The campaign, with about 400 donations so far, has largely focused on large gifts, such as the $4 million from Bob and Ellen Vladem, the largest donation the museum has received in its 101-year history. The campaign will start a community phase in January to add another 1,000 donations, primarily targeting $250 donations that will get a name engraved on a brick in the community courtyard outside the Vladem Contemporary, Clements said.
The foundation will dedicate $10.5 million from the campaign to the Vladem Contemporary, with $6 million from the state of New Mexico covering the balance. The state still owns the Halpin Building, which until 1998 housed the state archives and, more recently, the state Office of Archaeological Studies.
Construction on the Vladem Contemporary is expected to start in summer with an opening anticipated 14 months later by the end of 2020, Clements said.
The Vladem Contemporary stems from the planning for the Museum of Art’s centennial celebration in 2017. Kershaw visited the Halpin a few years back to consider it for Museum of Art collection storage before the Office of Archaeological Studies moved out in 2012 and the repository for the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture departed in late 2014.
“This building spoke to me,” Kershaw said. “ ‘Mary, I’m not a storage building. I’m a contemporary art venue.’ ”
The 3,967-square-foot main gallery on the ground floor will have a ceiling height of 16 feet, 9 inches, ideal for occasional oversized contemporary art. The loading dock area was designed specifically to make it easy to get large art from a truck into the gallery — and also to the elevator to the second level.
“It allows you to have big, three-dimensional works,” Kershaw said.
The new second level will have a smaller 3,150-square-foot space with a 14-foot-6-inch ceiling. The second level also will have the Museum of Art’s first dedicated artist studio for an artist or artist collective in residency, Kershaw said.
Also upstairs: the museum’s first dedicated education space and a 690-square-foot collection storage area visible to the public — storage as art display, so to speak.
The second level will feature a 2,815-square-foot roof deck for events with up to 56 people. A nearby room by the elevator will serve as a staging area for caterers bringing in food for the roof deck and also lobby events.
The lobby will be a strip running through the center of the building from end to end. This will allow access to the building without passing a pay point, Kershaw said.
The new facility will free up space in the main art museum, where contemporary art now typically occupies 2,000 to 4,000 square feet, depending on the exhibition, of the 11,000 square feet of gallery space.
With a 100-year-old facility, the New Mexico Museum of Art is not ideally suited for traveling exhibitions, Kershaw said.
That will be rectified with the Vladem Contemporary, where space can easily be set aside for traveling shows. The gallery space will be flexible so traveling exhibition exhibitions will not be in the same place every time, she said.
Vladem Contemporary will have about the same square footage as SITE Santa Fe at the opposite end of the Railyard — all of that area designated as the Railyard Arts District.
“We think it will be a great complement to the continuing art scene at the Railyard,” said Richard Czoski, executive director of the Santa Fe Railyard Community Corp., the master leaseholder of the city-owned Railyard. “It will be a very prominent entrance to the Railyard. That corner has been historically underutilized. It didn’t generate any foot traffic.”