International recognition has landed at the Sunport thanks, in part, to the state’s lowrider culture.
The online magazine ArtDesk has ranked the art collection at the Albuquerque International Sunport as among the best nine in the world. It shares the honor with airports in Changi, Paris, Amsterdam, Mumbai, Vancouver, San Francisco, Doha and JFK in New York City.
Stephanie Kitts, marketing coordinator at the Sunport, said it was the “Lowriders and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico” installation that gained the attention of the magazine.
The temporary exhibit showcases two souped up cars along with several motorcycles and bicycles. It also includes more than 100 photographs of lowrider culture.
The cars are switched out every three months. The photos are on loan from the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe. The exhibit will remain at the airport through May 2020.
But the magazine also makes note of the airport’s entire collection, which includes Native American, Hispanic and Southwestern pieces. Kitts said a 2017 appraisal valued the airport’s collection – not including the lowrider show – at $3.3 million.
“We could not be more proud to be recognized alongside such brilliant facilities throughout the world,” Albuquerque’s director of aviation Nyika Allen said in a news release.
ArtDesk (readartdesk.com) is a quarterly magazine and the article was in its fall edition. Each edition features a Top 9 article. The fall Top 9 article, titled “Making Connections,” explores airports around the world. It states that “The (lowrider) exhibit celebrates Nuevomexicano culture.”
According to its website, the online publication started in 2013 is “devoted to the contemporary arts, performance, and thought” and focuses on “regional and national events, exhibitions, and education.”
It is published by the Kirkpatrick Foundation.
The magazine highlights the best the art world has to offer. The fall issue also included a story about internationally acclaimed tap artist Ayodele Casel, who was raised in Puerto Rico; the best galleries and museums in Washington, D.C.; and Oklahoma City philanthropists Charles and Renate Wiggin, who have donated generously to the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and recently established the Wiggin Family Concert Fund.
The lowrider exhibit was the idea of Sunport art curator Max Baptiste, who grew up in Taos. His father lived in Santa Fe and on his many trips to visit him, Baptiste said he was exposed to the lowrider culture.
“Every week I would drive through Española and see the lowriders,” he said. “I always had this idea I wanted to do a lowrider exhibit.”
He enlisted the help of Artemis Promotions owner Joe Romero, who puts on an annual lowrider car show at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
Romero has had one of his cars in the airport installation, which recently switched out many of the lowriders to make room for new ones. The exhibit also displays motorcycles and bicycles. It is displayed on the second and third floors as visitors exit the escalators.
Romero said the magazine’s accolades give recognition to a legitimate art form that is sometimes maligned or stereotyped in Hollywood.
He said the cars and bikes represent years of hard work that includes sweat, tears and sometimes blood.
“Those old bolts get rusted on there,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t come off that easily and you end up with bloody knuckles.”
He said for visitors who may not be familiar with the lowrider culture, it’s an appealing attraction.
“You get the question of ‘Why,’ ” he said. “Why would someone paint it that color? Why did they do that to the car? They are rolling art pieces.”
Meanwhile, the Sunport’s permanent collection has more than 120 pieces created by well-known New Mexican artists including Wilson Hurley, Lincoln Fox, Pablita Velarde, Fritz Scholder, Alan Houser, R.C. Gorman and Tammy Garcia. The collection includes paintings, pottery, carvings, weavings, sculptures and an original 1914 Curtiss Pusher Design Biplane.
“When you travel in and out of the Sunport, you experience a taste of what makes Albuquerque one-of-a-kind,” said Mayor Tim Keller in a news release. “The Sunport is one of the many gems in our city and this ranking helps us showcase to the world how special our culture and history is.”