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Angel Jiang is the new curator of collections and study room initiatives at the University of New Mexico Art Museum. Photo courtesy of Jiang. 

New UNM art curator breaks barriers between art and audience

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, the University of New Mexico Art Museum will welcome Angel Jiang as their first curator of collections and study room initiatives. In her new position, she hopes to craft a dynamic and intimate experience with artwork for students at the University.

A study room is a special area in a museum which houses pieces that are fragile or otherwise not on display — they are often difficult to access or find, according to Jiang. One of her primary goals in the new position is to increase accessibility and knowledge of the study rooms at the UNM Art Museum. These rooms are special to her; they give students a chance to directly interact with pieces not confined behind glass.

“The wonderful thing about having a study room at a university is that it’s a place that is meant for the students to use. This is first and foremost a teaching collection. It’s a space that serves the student … so (the position) blended a variety of my interests in museums and the kind of work I wanna do there,” Jiang said.

Jiang’s first and foremost goal is to increase traffic to the study rooms and find ways to integrate the collection into coursework for art students. She also plans to communicate with students and find ways to make the study room a place where they can experience works they want to see.

“The main thing for me, I think, is thinking about how to make the collection usable and relevant for students, which starts with just speaking to people and asking what they wanna see, ask how we can help be useful to them,” Jiang said.

Alongside the UNM Art Museum’s robust collection of prints and works on paper — an area of specialty for Jiang — the chance to work in the Southwest piqued her interest, particularly New Mexico, a place which she has long loved for its rich history and culture.

“I’ve always loved New Mexico; I’ve always thought it was such a special place. I’ve visited a few times and everytime I’m there, there’s so much to explore. There’s such rich cultural heritage,” Jiang said.

She spent much of her formative years in Tucson, Arizona. She specifically pointed to the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography and the Tucson Museum of Art as places that stuck with her and drew her into the world of museums. Her interest in art dates back as long as she remembers: she spent middle and high school as a studio artist before settling into art history in college.

It was her experiences as a student at Columbia University and New York University, however, that truly got Jiang interested in museum curation, as well as her work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a recipient of the Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellowship.

“I think it was really in the past few years, with my own research for my dissertation and my graduate course work, where I was going to museums to use their collections a lot, and then finally, my fellowship at the Met, that I decided that a curatorial career is what I wanted to pursue,” Jiang said. “I also had the fortune to have professors who emphasized the importance of … going and seeing objects and looking at them in person. And it’s really that contact, that very intimate contact with those kinds of objects led me to go into museums.”

Jiang said that the size and range of the UNM Art Museum’s collection was unique, especially for the size of the University and the state. When she was shown some of the pieces during her interview, she said she saw work that was quite rare to see outside of the state. She was especially excited to see Santeros devotional sculptures from throughout history as well as recently exhibited photographs from artist Jess T. Dugan.

“New Mexico has such a rich artistic heritage. And I’ve seen some of it here and there in New York and in other places, but it was cool to see it in this place where there’s so many stories about how these objects came into the collection,” Jiang said.

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Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at copychief@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo

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