It’s a first for the University of New Mexico.
An artist group created the project “a Library, a Classroom, and the World,” which is being presented at the 2022 Venice Biennial Art exhibition “Personal Structures,” which is organized and hosted by the European Cultural Centre in Venice, Italy.
It is one of the largest and oldest international art expositions.
“I was ecstatic because the Venice Biennale is truly the gem of art fairs,” said Susanne Anderson-Riedel, chair of the UNM Department of Art. “It is an amazing event that is seen truly by a global audience.”
The event opened April 23 and is a six-month long spectacle with exhibition venues throughout the Italian city.
“I was so fortunate to visit the Biennale during the opening week in April and it was a stunning experience to witness the creative forces in the 100-plus shows throughout the city,” Anderson-Riedel said. “The UNM exhibition stands out in its concept and design, its team approach and shift of how we engage with the art works and ideas as it is unique, yet within the large context of the Biennale.”
The Center of Environmental Arts and Humanities was invited to create the exhibition piece.
“It is that center that has been approached by the European Cultural Center, asking if they would be interested in participating in the Venice Biennale with an exhibition,” Anderson-Riedel said. “The center is headed by professor Subhankar Banerjee and he came to me last summer and told me about this.”
Banerjee is a co-curator who developed the project concept. The team collaborated with Davidson College in North Carolina to represent ideas from the South and the Southwest.
The UNM portion of Venice project pays homage to Albuquerque, including the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge and the Sandia Mountains.
“We have honored our institutions that in my mind are amongst the best in the country, not just New Mexico,” Banerjee said.
Workers for this piece included carpenters and graphic designers from Albuquerque and Venice, along with a master printer from the Tamarind Institute, a master gardener and an architect from Venice, Italy.
For UNM, “a Library, a Classroom, and the World” was about giving back.
“COVID has caused extraordinary pain and suffering in New Mexico as parents of my students have died and many other things have occurred,” Banerjee said. “And in the midst of all the suffering is this project, so it’s our gift to New Mexico and to our communities.”
When Banerjee first saw the piece, he could not believe it.
“We spent one whole month building that classroom, from the get-go, every plan of working with our colleagues in Venice and when it all came together, I was literally in tears,” Banerjee said. “Our primary aim is to create artists who don’t just continue to the commercial part, but to build communities to live in their own communities.”
Though school may be out for summer, UNM already has its eyes on next semester.
“I’m working with my colleagues in Venice, to organize an international conference in October, which will be called ‘Shaping Multispecies Futures,’ ” Banerjee said. “We are kind of solid now with regard to our funding landscape and we have been very grateful that this work will continue.”
Hopefully, UNM can accommodate its students and faculty.
“Then we had the great fortune that we have some money from donors who had given the art departments and funds to make certain projects happen,” Anderson-Riedel said. “Our dean’s office was really supportive and matched our funds and the university, the provost office and senior vice provost for research, all of them came together to help fund this project and students have been visiting already to this location.”
When professor Anderson-Riedel first saw the piece, she was taken aback.
“When I saw the project in Venice, I was really overwhelmed,” she said. “You go to Venice, and it is a dazzling city like no other one with the water and historical buildings.”
While there, you can actually write on postcards that have been created by Banerjee.
“People immediately started to write on these postcards and leave their thoughts in this exhibition,” Anderson-Riedel said. “For me, this was my first experience and it was very inspirational to just sit down and to engage with the visual and the intellectual ideas that are presented in this exhibition.”
Having the international exposure keeps New Mexico artists in the spotlight.
“Sometimes we get the feeling that New Mexico might be a little regional when the big art scenes are what San Francisco, New York, L.A. and others, but that’s not the case,” Anderson-Riedel said. “New Mexico is on par with the rest of the world, and is represented with the rest of the world in one of the major art exhibitions.”