SANTA FE, N.M. — Is SITE Santa Fe, where provocative contemporary art is a tradition, the new people’s museum in town?
No one is saying that, exactly. But with this weekend’s grand opening of SITE’s redesigned and expanded space, its managers hope their exhibitions in the Railyard will be more accessible to everyone, even as the building’s capabilities for bringing in cutting-edge art have been enhanced.
Irene Hoffmann, SITE’s director and chief curator, said re-introducing SITE to the community is something she has looked forward to for years.
The new building represents “greater openness of the institution,” she said during a recent tour.
Part of SITE will now be open daily and year-round, with expanded hours for a lobby that offers a new coffee and snack bar, seating areas for people to eat, drink or hang out with friends and a gift shop that won’t require admission.
“That, I hope along with a lot of other things, signals our desire to be more accessible and open the institution to more people,” said Hoffmann. The building was previously open to the public only during main gallery hours Thursday-Sunday.
Also, a new 2,000-square-foot exhibit space adjacent to the lobby, SITElab, allows for smaller shows to come in and out, and is free for visitors.
This Saturday and Sunday, SITE Santa Fe will debut its new spaces, with free admission for the entire facility. There will be multi-language tours of “Future Shock,” the new-look SITE’s first major exhibition, along with free food and three artist talks.
To expand on the future theme, visitors can participate in an interactive project to send their future selves a postcard, donate items for a time capsule and try to learn about their own coming days from fortune tellers. Tonight, there’s a party for paying customers.
The rehab project, which broke ground last August, kept the contemporary art space’s approximately 15,000 square feet of gallery space – now with climate control for art pieces that need more sensitive holding and exhibition areas – as well as the expanded lobby, a multi-use auditorium with a seating capacity of about 200, a larger education lab for student visitors and a “sky terrace” mezzanine.
The construction cost more than $6 million, according to external relations director Anne Wrinkle.
SITE began a capital campaign last year to raise $11.5 million that goes toward the expansion and SITE’s endowment.
The aluminum-clad, 36,000-square-foot building was redesigned by New York-based SHoP Architects, which had never designed a museum space before partnering with SITE.
“We will always still push the envelope here and show challenging work, what’s new in contemporary art, but now the way we have the spaces will provide more of a balance,” said Hoffman.
A major exhibition, “Future Shock,” also opens this weekend and runs until May 1 (see sidebar story).
The first show in the smaller SITElab space is “The Crime of Art” by Kota Ewaza, featuring about a dozen painting and video installations that tell the story of some of the world’s most famous museum heists.
A new addition that Hoffmann said turned out better than she expected is the sky terrace, an outdoor area overlooking the Railyard Park that can either be rented out for special events or visited whenever the main gallery is open Thursday-Sunday, according to Wrinkle.
The terrace has loaned art, such as an aluminum bench by late architect Zaha Hadid and, for now, vinyl wall installations of insects made by artist Regina Silveira for the “Future Shock” show.
“We always wanted outdoor space with this project,” said Hoffmann. “We always wanted to do something with this building expansion that takes advantage of where we are in this world.”
According to Hoffmann, SITE’s changes will affect the view of contemporary art in Santa Fe. SITE will now be able to bring in pieces it couldn’t before because of its climate control limitations.
And the institution – whose past biennial shows have attracted attention from both the East and West coast art worlds – wants to change how everyday citizens feel about the art.
By opening up more spaces and showing different kinds of exhibitions, it wants to prove that modern art can attract interest from a broad range of viewers.
“My hope is that more people will be interested in contemporary art and feel that it can be for them, too,” she said.
A party tonight called “The Reveal” is for ticketed attendees only. Tickets range from $20 (or $25 at the door), for entry at 9 p.m., to $300 – $250 for members – to come at 6 p.m. for a more private celebration and viewing of “Future Shock.” The $100 tickets are good for entry at 7:30 p.m.
Tonight’s fete with a DJ, food and dancing will also include a performance by indigenous hip hop musician “Supaman.”