On the fifth floor of the Ambulatory Care Center at UNM Hospital there is a contemporary art gallery. At first it might seem an odd place for a gallery, but the Jonathan Abrams, MD Art Gallery has been there for decades and serves a critical function that is worth revisiting given the current pandemic that is sweeping the planet. Where do we find refuge? What can center us and give us perspective? If we can’t find solace in art, can we at least find solidarity when we ourselves are ill, or worse yet, someone we love is? Spanning a wide hallway outfitted with a few tables and chairs in this hospital they have attempted to provide some of these answers through contemporary art.
Three works of collage within Holly Roberts’ portion of the current exhibit she shares with her husband Robert Wilson are of particular interest: “Big Head Listening, “Big Head Worrying” and “Big Head Thinking.” They speak to the cognitive side of health care, if not intentionally, certainly within the context of a hospital art exhibit. Their primitive forms are reassuring. These three works seem to say that others are trying to think their way through illness as well. The viewer, cloistered in a hospital with a similar state of mind, can see these three big heads as friends going through the same thing. Illness raises fundamental questions about who we are, our relationship to others and to the natural world. What better way to process those questions and share our answers than through art?
It’s hard to say what role art plays in the healing process. It may suffice to say that we know humans require it as a fundamental component of our humanity. In that capacity, perhaps we should move more artwork into hospitals until we get a handle on this pandemic. While museums throughout the world close as fear of gatherings mount, we need to find ways adapt to a new, hopefully temporary set of interactions with others beyond the masks and handwashing. Maybe the way we show our art will need to adapt as well.