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People stand in front of one of the artworks at "Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition" that opened at Expo New Mexico on June 10. Photo courtesy of SEE Attractions and Bridgeman Images.

Sistine Chapel exhibition comes to Albuquerque

The renaissance arrived in full force in Albuquerque last Friday, June 10 with the opening of “Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” at Expo New Mexico’s Creative Arts Center. The exhibit, produced by SEE Global Entertainment Inc., brings life-sized replicas of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes to New Mexico.

Since its inception, the exhibit has opened in 53 cities across the world. The goal of the exhibit is to allow those who may not be able to afford a trip to Rome the opportunity to connect with some of Michelangelo’s most iconic works, according to exhibit producer Tobias Lerman Matonte.

“The idea is to deconstruct everything, give you the time to really appreciate the art, see it up close,” said Matonte. “It's a much more intimate and … educational experience than just being there.”

The exhibit opens with background information on its conception by SEE Chief Executive Officer Martin Biallas who, in 2015, was disappointed by his crowded and rushed visit to the chapel and set out to create an experience where viewers could connect with the art in more detail and at their own pace. Visitors are then provided with background information on Michelangelo and his work on the Chapel before they enter the main chamber which houses all the frescoes besides the central works depicting biblical genesis, themselves in a side room that finishes the exhibit.

Most of the replicas sit floor to ceiling at about eye level with an exception made for “The Last Judgment,” scaled down due to its massive size in the Chapel. Viewers are encouraged to read or listen to background information on each work and to move as close to them as they see fit, a far cry from 60-foot distance between viewers and the ceiling in the actual chapel.

To visitors Ingrid and Carla Hendrix, the reduced distance from the works helped them connect to the art in a new way, like Matonte described.

“You can see them so much more closely … In the Sistine chapel, it’s pretty high up there. Being able to see those up close, that was pretty awesome,” said Ingrid, who had previously visited the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

Even though they felt the sense of awe from the chapel was lost in presenting the works like this, they still felt the exhibition was valuable.

“The nice thing about exhibits like this … is for people who aren’t familiar with these works of art, it gives them the opportunity to approach the art in a way they never had the opportunity to,” said Carla. “Particularly for college students who might be thinking … of going to Italy or Europe, and traveling, this might be a very nice way to … begin to get a sense in a way you’d never see in the chapel itself of some of the stories.”

Mantonte emphasized the idea of being able to educate visitors while still providing an engaging and overall entertaining experience.

“We call it edu-tainment,” said Matonte. “To educate and entertain … The idea is to really teach you something … to feel the feeling of being surrounded by this art. At the same time, (you) learn about it; learn who the artist was, learn that he was trying to tell a story, not just make something you can put on Instagram.” 

Matonte and his team hoped to bring it to smaller cities like Albuquerque to give them access to these famous great works of art like bigger cities have, even just temporarily.

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“Albuquerque is a city that has … a nice artistic background … It’s got this nice, small-town-feel, but it’s got a lot of local art, and the history is really wonderful.”

The exhibit runs through Sunday, Aug. 7. Tickets are available online or at the event, with discounts available for students, senior citizens, and military.

Spenser Willden is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @spenserwillden

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