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University Art Gallery retablo exhibit gets boost from Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation Museum Program is providing $60,000 to help the New Mexico State University Art Gallery prepare the most comprehensive exhibition to date on the subject of the 19th century Mexican retablo.

San Jose, Mexico, 19th century

The exhibition, El Favor de los Santos: The Retablo Collection of New Mexico State University, will open at the University Art Gallery on Nov. 20 and remain on display there through Feb. 7, 2000. The exhibition subsequently will travel for three years to major museums in Mexico and the United States.

Charles Lovell, art gallery director, said the Rockefeller grant will be used for archival framing and educational materials for the exhibition.

The University Art Gallery has the nation's largest public collection of Mexican retablos, which are religious images typically painted on tin plates. The collection includes more than 1,700 retablos and related objects from 18th to 20th century Mexico.

The El Favor de los Santos exhibition will feature 180 of the collection's best and most representative works of art, which will be displayed in a comparative way with 75 art objects borrowed from other museums in Mexico and the United States. The intent is to show the relationship of retablos to other forms of votive art from pre-Columbian times to the present.

Scholarly research and community activities planned in connection with the exhibition "will help redefine the history of the 19th century Mexican retablo within a broader cultural context," Lovell said.

A 300-page catalog to be published for the exhibition by the University of New Mexico Press will feature essays by 12 scholars from Mexico and the United States who studied the collection through an earlier grant from the U.S./Mexico Fund for Culture, he said. A smaller Spanish-language catalog will be published by Artes de Mexico.

On Dec. 13 and 14, in conjunction with the Tortugas festival honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, the University Art Gallery and the NMSU Honors Program will present a two-day symposium based on the scholars' research. The Smithsonian Institution is co-sponsoring the symposium.

Lovell said the gallery hopes to match the Rockefeller Foundation grant with private donations to help with the costs of the exhibition and related materials. In addition to the full-color catalog, exhibition materials will include bilingual educational handouts and teacher manuals and a 20-minute educational video, with English and Spanish versions, he said.

NMSU expects to provide funding for 100 school bus tours to facilitate participation by area schools, Lovell said.

Total expenses for the exhibition are expected to be more than $800,000. The University Art Gallery has raised about $300,000 so far, with major support from the U.S./Mexico Fund for Culture, the Stockman Family Foundation, the New Mexico Office of Cultural Affairs, and now the Rockefeller Foundation.

Lovell's co-curators for "El Favor de los Santos" are Elizabeth Zarur, assistant professor of art history at NMSU; Elin Luque, director of plastic arts, Casa Lamm, Mexico City, Mexico; and Michele Beltran, director of exhibitions, Papalote Museo del Nino, Mexico City, Mexico.

The retablos in the University Art Gallery collection were donated between the years 1963 and 1973 by Dr. and Mrs. Andrew Babey, Pamela Babey, Mr. and Mrs. Philip Carolyn, Dr. Reginald Fisher, Dr. and Mrs. Ezra Neidich, Andrew Sutherland and Fran E. Tolland.

A selection of works from the collection can be viewed on the World Wide Web at http://crl.nmsu.edu/Research/Projects/retablos/Newretablo.html.

For more information, contact Lovell by telephone at (505) 646-6110 or by e-mail at clovell@nmsu.edu.