They were all introduced to one another through the UNM art department and continued to connect artistically in the years following graduation. “We had been talking ambiguously about a space,” Tillotson said and then, “we just jumped.” They started looking for a spot in January, signed a lease in February and hosted their first opening in March. The rapid-fire pace of establishing Vitrine has made defining their mission a process of discovery, though what all clearly enunciate is a desire to make the space widely available (for workshops, meet-ups, etc. “If you want to play D&D in here, send us an email,” Reser laughed) and to emphasize displaying work by artists often under represented locally and in the broader landscape.
By definition, a vitrine is a glass display case. The size of the gallery—a single room whose most expansive wall is about 13 feet—and its large picture window providing an eye to Downtown foot traffic make the name quite fitting. The three curators were in the process of taking down the previous month's show in anticipation of May's, so a fading five or six-foot wall sketch of Don Schrader that Tillotson painted watched over us as aspirations and plans were unpacked.
The less tangible spirit of the place is quickly materializing, too. “I know it's not going to be a commercial gallery,” Williams said. “I know we're not interested in making a profit or being a business venture. … It's important to me to have a space where it's not about money; it's not about selling art. It's about work; it's about good art, and not just what we think is good art, but what other curators and other people do.”
That noncommercial aim is something uniquely possibly here, more so than many other cities across the country. It's not just “materially possible,” Reser pointed out—given the relatively low-cost of renting space—but “people here are into this kind of thing. It's a very DIY kind of spirit, anyway that you can get work up and get people to see it.” There's a galvanizing effect to having space—which can be the necessary spark to actually make work, to organize a workshop, to host a D&D bout. “I think in America in particular spaces like this are homogenizing in a way that is making spaces like this more and more difficult,” Williams said. Thankfully Albuquerque hasn't quite caught up. “It's an awesome place to be if you're weird,” Williams continued. “Nobody cares. You can be cool or not. I think that eliminates elitism in a lot of ways. You can just show up, everybody can.”
Just showing up buoys spaces like this, allowing for conversations that spill out of the tiny gallery and into the wider city. “For me one of the biggest gains that I get from this,” Tillotson said, “is just having conversations that are wildly different than the ones that I have in my own head … to hear reactions and experiences. My nine to five desk job doesn't allow much time for art. … I forgot how good it feels—conversation, moving dialogue around.” Reser and Williams echoed this sentiment and said that facilitation is a gratifying part of their personal art practices, making Vitrine all the more valuable.
Williams—who helped to get the original incarnation of Small Engine Gallery up and running—said that back then, they used to joke that running a space like that was, “the job you pay to go to.” Tillotson tacked on to the end of that thought, “I would've spent this money on beer, it's fine.” There was a pause and a laugh before Williams said, “well, it's worth way more than fucking cable television.” There's an unequivocal truth.
May's exhibition at Vitrine is titled Whereabouts, which features creative explorations of geographies by artists Emma Difani, Alessandra Bettolo and Carson Elliott. In June, the gallery will host work by Allyson Packer. Vitrine is currently open by appointment, but check in with them on social media (Twitter and Instagram, @vitrineabq) and their website, vitrineabq.com, to stay attuned to openings and special events.