SANTA FE, N.M. — A Taos foundation named for a husband-and-wife pair of modern artists has donated 50 years of the couple’s work and personal papers – worth nearly $8 million and coveted by the Smithsonian among others – to the University of New Mexico.
The collection of work by Beatrice Mandelman and her husband, Louis Ribak, includes 900 major pieces of art, including oils and acrylics, and hundreds of sketchbooks, prints, drawings and archival records.
The couple moved to Taos from New York in the 1940s, part of an art movement that would later be known as “Taos Moderns.” The Mandelman-Ribak Foundation was established in 1997 to preserve their artistic legacies. Ribak died in 1979; Mandelman in 1998.
UNM President Bob Frank and his wife, Janet Frank, hosted a luncheon at University House recently to formally announce the gift from the Mandelman-Ribak Foundation, recognize the foundation’s generosity, and underscore the importance of the collection in the world of fine art. The donation has been in the works for some time.
The president noted that the collection had been coveted by a number of museums, including the Smithsonian Institution.
The Franks opened their campus home to more than two dozen guests to show off five of the works that were on display there temporarily. Two other pieces from the collection are now hanging at the University Art Museum as part of its permanent collection.
“It was an amazing Ali Baba moment,” said Associate Provost and Distinguished Professor of History Virginia Scharff, recalling the moment she walked into the facility in Taos where the Mandelman-Ribak collection is stored.
As the beneficiary of the “unique and significant” collection, UNM is now in the position to “preserve and share the immense legacy of these two important artists with others,” she said. “This wonderful gift will not only enhance our knowledge of the modernist movement, but it will also make UNM a major repository for research for artists and historians around the world.”
“Mandelman and Ribak were pioneering artists in the modernist movement in New Mexico,” said Alexandra Benjamin, executive director of the foundation bearing the artists’ names. “Bea was aware of their pivotal roles and sought to find a place that could preserve and make accessible their artworks and archives. In her own mind, that place was always the University of New Mexico.”
According to the UNM Foundation, Mandelman was inspired by light, local color, landscapes and diverse cultures coming together in Taos. Ribak, too, was moved by landscapes and cultures. As a result, his style evolved from the genre of Social Realism toward abstraction.
The gift will provide insights of the modernist movement to historians, researchers and artists. The archive materials will be catalogued by the UNM Zimmerman Library Center for Southwest Research, a three-year process. Some of the works of art will be sold over a period of time with proceeds benefitting UNM art programs.
“The arts are critical to the uniqueness of New Mexico and UNM plays a critical role in preserving the legacy of New Mexico artists for future generations,” Frank said. “This gift not only honors the legacy of Bea and Louis, but will continue to benefit the students and programs of UNM into the future.”