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NMSU Art Gallery presents contemporary works, extensive permanent collection

For some people, a bobby pin holds wispy bangs in place. For others, like artist Io Palmer, thousands of bobby pins can be used over and over to create metallic masterpieces.

Thousands of bobby pins used in 2 pieces of artwork
Artist Io Palmer uses thousands of bobby pins in her work on display at the NMSU Art Gallery (Photo by Nicholas Gialanella)
Headshot of Stephanie Taylor
Stephanie Taylor was appointed interim director for New Mexico State University Art Gallery in July 2012. (Photo by Finn Taylor)

"The show was really sort of a hunt for artists who are using materials in way that can create beautiful objects using unexpected objects," said Stephanie Taylor, art gallery interim director and professor of art at NMSU.

With six to nine shows every year, the New Mexico State University Art Gallery is the largest visual arts facility in Southern New Mexico. The gallery is home to 4,200 works in the university's permanent collection, serves as professional exhibition space for faculty and students, and provides outreach to the community.

Its current exhibit, "rematerialized," showcases nine contemporary artists who push the envelope using everyday objects to send messages about our social climate. The current exhibition is open now and runs through Jan. 11, 2013.

"With someone like Io Palmer, she uses the bobby pin because it's beautiful, but she also uses it because people wear bobby pins to keep hair back and out of the way when they're working," Taylor said. "So suddenly, the bigger issue is of class and labor, and less about the beauty of the object."

The idea for the new show originated with Craig Cully, an assistant professor of art in the College of Arts and Sciences. Taylor, an art historian, said Cully noticed how today's artists were using surprising materials and he questioned the materials and messages they were sending.

"It started with Pablo Picasso who began using premade materials like wall paper or even newspaper to cut up and put into artwork as collage," Taylor said. "The French artist Marcel Duchamp is probably the one who took it the furthest with objects like his 1917 "Fountain," which was a urinal he had purchased from a plumbing company and tried to put in an exhibition.

This summer, selections from the gallery's permanent collection will be on display. The collection includes 4,200 works such as two-dimensional paintings and print photography as well as the largest historic collection of 19th century Mexican retablos in the U.S. The collection expands a little each year through a fund made possible by student fees.

"So anyone who is curious to know what we have vaulted away in the back rooms will be able to see some of the highlights," Taylor said.

The gallery also provides professional space for art department faculty and students to show their work. In the spring, the gallery will host a faculty exhibition, which is held only once every three years. Additionally, a juried student show and an MFA exhibition are scheduled.

Next fall, Taylor would like to showcase murals, and she is considering an exhibition based on ice, white or snow.

"Long distance, we're looking at perhaps working with the contemporary artist Harmony Hammond with a retrospective, and perhaps even getting some contemporary Native American art into the gallery," Taylor said. "Lots of big ideas, lots of plans being cooked up right now."

Past exhibitions have included photography exhibits and historical shows. Last year, local art students got the opportunity to work with cutting-edge artists, Meow Wolf, for an installation makeover titled, "Glitteropolis."

"The most interesting art for students, who are making art now, is art by contemporary artists," Taylor said. "But I also feel like this region doesn't have a lot of access to contemporary art. We have a lot of artists who come to the area to show in local galleries, but to get national and international artists to come to the region, who are working with new materials and new ideas, is pretty rare."

The gallery also delivers outreach activities that are designed to get the public in the door. They host show openings, give tours to schoolchildren and hold a lecture series where nationally known artists travel to NMSU to speak with students about their work. Most recently, Io Palmer, whose work is featured in "rematerialized," gave a talk.

"I also started a series of gallery talks on Saturday afternoons for anybody who's interested in all the ideas that surround the art in the gallery," Taylor said.

Taylor was appointed the gallery's interim director in July 2012. She is a tenured assistant professor of modern and contemporary art history and has been on faculty since 2001. Born into a creative family, Taylor pursued an education in art, only to find as an adult, she preferred the academic side.

She received her BFA in art from the University of Colorado in 1989, an MA from the University of Delaware in 1994 and her Ph.D. from Boston University in 2001.

Last year, she put together the campus' first yarn-bomb. Her project, "heARTlines," was nearly a mile-long strip of knitted fabric that physically connected several departments across the university.

"I think that the arts can really open up new ideas about a lot of different areas," Taylor said. "When I look at something that to me is interesting or beautiful, I think it frees up my mind to come at the problem from a more creative direction."

The gallery, located in D.W. Williams Hall, 1390 East University Ave. in Las Cruces, is open from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. The gallery is closed on Sundays, Monday and observed holidays, as well as the NMSU winter holiday break, which is scheduled for Dec 24 - Jan 1, 2013.

For more information contact the NMSU Art Gallery at 575-646-2545 or visit their website http://www.nmsu.edu/~artgal/.