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Works from the juried exhibition "Concrete Tenderness," which were on display in UNM's John Sommers Gallery from Jan. 23-Feb. 3.

John Sommers Gallery serves up fresh student works this semester


On Thursday, Feb. 2, the University of New Mexico art department kicked off their semester with a reception for their juried exhibition showcasing undergraduate works from across disciplines at the John Sommers Gallery, the main exhibition space at the university where students and faculty present their latest works.

The gallery, which is free to all, rotates shows every two weeks, meaning there is always something new to experience there, according to manager Anna Rotty. This semester, a variety of solo shows from master and bachelor of fine arts students will be presented at the museum, along with a capstone exhibition for the graduating seniors.

Over the next several months, solo shows will be shown from students Santiago Meyer, Marina Ramirez, Heather Bergerson, Asjann Hentsch, Blayne Greiner and Lucien V. Sebastian, alongside an exhibition for the Covington-Rhode Scholar finalists and the capstone show.

The first exhibition of the year, “Concrete Tenderness,” ran from Jan. 23-Feb. 3. This was a juried exhibition in which nine artists were chosen to be shown at the gallery with additional recognition being given to third, second and first place artists: Najwa Bilal, Sebastian and Ruby Kraft, respectively. The event was juried by UNM alumnus Viola Arduini.

“Students shared their work with so much generosity, and it’s always so exciting to see what students are working on and see what matters to this new generation … It’s always very beautiful, it’s a beautiful discovery,” Arudini said.

Arduini was struck by a throughline that emerged between the selected pieces despite the fact that they were juried without a specific theme in mind. The name of the exhibition came from this emerging narrative of “pouring concrete into the cracks” by finding connections between the individual and the environment around them.

“(It) made me think of how these works are placed in the larger framework. I feel like maybe there is some collective process that we all are going through; that’s why I selected the title of “Concrete Tenderness” … You almost feel like, right now, the world is kind of full of cracks. There is a lot of different conflicts that come from the pandemic, and I think these artists really show us that in the cracks there is so much. It doesn’t have to be hard or stressful work to be strong. There is strength in softness as well,” Arduini said.

Bilal’s piece, “Fragments,” was her most recent work which came after blindly taking a mold-making course. This was her first time in a juried exhibition, and she highly encouraged other students to submit their works when presented with the opportunity.

“It’s nice to have an opportunity to be able to show your pieces to people and hear feedback and see reactions and know that you can do whatever you want to do and you can get to where you want to be with your art, especially with the struggling artist narrative,” Bilal said.

The juried exhibition is an annual event designed as a way to honor the work of undergraduate art students at the University. This is the first year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic they’ve been able to hold a reception for the event, according to Rotty.

For Rotty, the student-oriented nature of the gallery is its primary driving force; especially in an art world that often makes it difficult to gain experience with solo shows early on in your career.

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“I think it’s great because it’s something that’s really accessible. A lot of gallery spaces, you have to submit a proposal or you have to pay a fee, outside of the University … It’s nice to have a space where a student can propose a show and generally we’ll accept it and try to do what we can to make it work for them,” Rotty said.

Along with being shown in the exhibition, Sebastian has a solo thesis show scheduled to begin on April 10 in which he expands on themes from a solo show he did last semester in the gallery. He said that one of the great things about the gallery is that you have freedom to do whatever you want in the space to present or install your work.

“I think it’s amazing that we have this resource here and I wish more undergraduate students would take advantage of it, because we have John Sommers but there’s also at least one other exhibition space, and I feel like undergraduate students don’t utilize that to the extent that they could to learn what it’s like to actually show your work in a show and how stressful it is, but how fun it is after you’ve done it,” Sebastian said.

Artist Elba Celeste Rudolfo, whose work was featured in “Concrete Tenderness” is particularly excited for the upcoming thesis shows from the master of fine arts students, and hopes to eventually show her own work in a solo show in the gallery.

“I think it allows students to feel the reality of what it is to express and place your art in the real world and manifest it into reality for people to see … On top of that aspect, there’s also the opportunity for students on campus everywhere  to come and see art and be really involved … This museum is very much community and student-oriented,” Rudolfo said.

The John Sommers Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. A full schedule of shows can be found on Instagram @unm_art.

Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle 

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