FARMINGTON – If your holiday travel plans include the Albuquerque International Sunport, take a moment – between loading up on snacks and a mad dash to the gate – to explore an internationally acclaimed art exhibit.
Lowriders and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico gained international notice when ArtDesk, an online magazine focused on contemporary arts, listed the Sunport’s art exhibits earlier this year in the top nine best airport art collections in the world.
“The lowrider culture is such a part of the northern New Mexico culture,” said Max Baptiste, art curator for the airport. Baptiste, who grew up in Taos, would often travel to Santa Fe, which is where his awareness of the lowrider culture began. “I would always go through Española on Friday, which was cruising day in the ’90s,” he said.
Baptiste, who is in his second year as curator, said one of his priorities is “creating pride in place.” He said it was important to highlight the art and beauty of the lowrider culture and its emphasis on family and community. The cars are often elaborately customized, detailed, painted and upholstered, and are a cultural symbol of what it means to be “home-grown Neuvomexicanos,” according to the Sunport’s website.
The lowriders and motorcycles are all on loan from people throughout northern New Mexico and rotate every three months. Baptiste said it was important to let the culture and community speak for itself.
“We’re not trying to say what it is, we’re just trying to exhibit it,” he said of the community.
In addition to the lowriders and motorcycles, Baptiste collaborated with the New Mexico History Museum to include more than 100 photographs of lowrider culture over the past 40 years.
“I love the photos because a lot are of people,” he said. “It’s a very community-oriented culture.”
Baptiste said it’s not uncommon for many people to have worked on one of the cars or motorcycles.
“It gives people opportunities to be involved in creating something beautiful,” he said. “That’s a very special part of the culture, it’s so family and community oriented.”
While Baptiste’s background has mainly involved working in gallery settings, he said designing displays for airports is slightly different.
“When you go to a gallery, you’re going to see the art, and when you go to an airport, you’re going solely to travel,” he said. The key to a successful airport exhibit, he said, is to create a calming atmosphere for travelers.
“If you’re engaged with your environment, you might engage with the local food and drink culture, too,” he said.
In addition to the rotating lowrider exhibit, the airport has a permanent collection of about 115 pieces highlighting the Native American, Hispanic and Southwestern art scene unique to northern New Mexico, Baptiste said. The permanent display includes paintings, pottery, carving, sculptures and weavings from New Mexican artists.
The lowrider exhibit will be on display until May.