It is a wonderful feeling to be able to bring a new group of Hands-On Curators back into the Coe building. After shifting from in-person meetings to a fully virtual format way back in 2020, we are thrilled to introduce a new crew of high school students to the Coe’s collection and the process of curating an exhibition from beginning to end.
This year the Coe is joined by students from across Santa Fe. Cruz Davis-Martinez and Skyler Hraber are both seniors at New Mexico School for the Arts, Tyler Gonzales is a senior at Academy for Technology and the Classics, and Himaja Sunkara is a sophomore at Santa Fe High. This group of engaged, creative, and inspiring students has already begun to immerse themselves in the collection. They have found inspiration in the many miniatures from across the world, how and why different cultures depict animals, the visual power of Northwest Coast form-line painting and drawing, and points of contact between popular culture – movies, music, toys—and pieces from different places and times.
After spending a few sessions getting to know each other and exploring shelf by shelf, the curators have begun to brainstorm through words and imagery in a collaborative format. They are working through their individual ideas, explaining, listening, and researching, on their way to an exhibition narrative. Stay tuned for more as they progress.
Although COVID has caused this program to pivot for two years to virtual or a hybrid of virtual and in-person, the 2022 Hands-On Curatorial Program provides an opportunity for high school students to return to work hands-on with the Coe collection of over 2,500 works of Indigenous art from around the world. Through museum visits and weekly sessions over eight months, the curators learn how to create their own exhibition by selecting and researching objects, creating the exhibition title, writing a catalog, executing the press release, designing and installing the exhibition, and working with the public. Within this program, young curators gain a foundation of skills that they can take anywhere throughout their lives. The participants build their own exhibition from the ground up!
Unknowing can be intriguing and fascinating, or it can be frustrating and unsettling. Immense amounts of information have been within our reach for most of our lives. And yet, how does it feel to realize that there is still information beyond our knowledge and many unknown stories beyond what is visible to us? We are taught from early childhood the necessity of understanding and to fear the unknown.
The Coe collection made us revisit this mentality. While we saw plenty of examples of objects that existed for an apparent purpose, there were a few pieces that did not. We returned to the curious mindset of our childhood, asking why it was that these pieces did not have a written history. Were the objects’ reasons for existing entirely erased, and if so, why? Why was it that several pieces did not have complete records in the Coe’s database and others did? And what does it do to an object to lose its context?
Although the Coe pieces have a complete history from before they came into the collection, as curators and artists we encountered a distinct lack of information and even understanding about these pieces. It felt like stumbling around with the lights off. We found this experience of not being able to find the answers rare and wished to capture it in our own artmaking. We wanted to create an exhibition including our own original artworks, that explores the stages of information-gathering throughout the curatorial process. For each of us, the Coe’s collection prompted confusion, intrigue, and inspiration for our own art pieces. We made artworks before, during, and after our research into the Coe’s collection in hopes of capturing the experience of wrestling with our lack of knowledge, hoping that we can finally coexist with the unknown, like a nightlight in a dark room.
The Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts Hands-On Curatorial program student exhibition <NO_RECORDS>, opened to the public on May 13th, 2022, and goes through July 9th, 2022.
Below, you will find the student-curated brochure for your viewing pleasure.
This project is supported in part by New Mexico Arts, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and by the National Endowment for the Arts.