The sad truth about public art is that it's often a lowest common denominator affair. The municipal committees that rubber-stamp these projects might have a deep appreciation for the revolutionary possibilities of contemporary art, but you rarely see it manifested in the decisions they make. Mostly, these committees just don't want to be hassled by vocal critics from the public at large, those loudmouth cretins who habitually take offense at any aesthetic flavor other than vanilla.
So we end up with a lot of bronze statues and giant ceramic pots, which is fine in limited quantities, but Albuquerque deserves a vast diversity in its public art. This is why the newly unveiled Working Classroom project in the parking lot on the corner of Eighth Street and Silver is so refreshing.
The nonprofit organization's mission is to provide life-changing educational opportunities for young artists from diverse backgrounds. With this in mind, Working Classroom's art program director Francisco Guevara brought in renowned Mexico City artist Raymundo Sesma to work with a group of seven apprentice artists, ages 12 to 20.
“It was hard to schedule time for him to come,” says Guevara, “It took a year and a half to bring him here.”
The effort has paid off handsomely. The kids get to work with Sesma, a major international artist whose work is represented everywhere from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris.
Best of all, after 11 days of sweating beneath an unforgiving Albuquerque summer sun, Sesma and his crew have transformed what was once a drab trio of utilitarian structures in the parking lot behind the Downtown Flying Star Café into a bold, geometric public art display.
The humblest of these cinderblock structures surrounds a mere dumpster. The biggest is owned by PNM and stores various electrical utility bric-a-brac. The middle building, however, is the most interesting of the bunch. Donated to Working Classroom by Infill Solutions, it will house Albuquerque's first-ever 24-hour art gallery.
“It's a major step forward for contemporary art in Albuquerque,” says Nan Elessar, executive director of Working Classroom.
Brian Morris of the Downtown Action Team agrees: “It's a real treasure to have such a world-renowned artist donating his time in the heart of our city to create something that will be with us for a lifetime.”
Last Friday morning, a public dedication was held for the project, and we could finally see this thing in all its bold, jagged glory. Sets of footprints have been painted on the parking lot to alert viewers to the best angles to witness the art.
“I'm very happy with the work,” says Sesma. “It was fun to work with the kids. In the beginning it was difficult because they didn't have much experience, but they're smart, and we had a lot of compatibility.”
A permanent testament to that compatibility now stands in our midst. Stop by anytime—even at two in the morning—to see what this collaboration has achieved.