Growing Collections: A brief look at what San Antonio museums acquired in 2023

Three local institutions significantly amped up their collections — with their combined acquisitions ringing in at just under 700 works.

click to enlarge Fausto Fernandez, Burden Narratives While Stuck in Traffic in Pursuit of an Obligation at the Port of Entry, courtesy of McNay Art Museum. - Fausto Fernandez, courtesy of McNay Art Museum
Fausto Fernandez, courtesy of McNay Art Museum
Fausto Fernandez, Burden Narratives While Stuck in Traffic in Pursuit of an Obligation at the Port of Entry, courtesy of McNay Art Museum.
San Antonio museums had a busy 2023 highlighted by memorable exhibitions, leadership changes and new developments.

The McNay Art Museum mounted the powerful “Womanish: Audacious, Courageous, Willful Art,” welcomed Matthew McLendon as director and CEO, and appointed Mia Lopez as its first ever curator of Latinx art.

The San Antonio Museum of Art opened the era-spanning “American Made: Paintings and Sculpture from the DeMell Jacobsen Collection,” and promoted longtime force Jessica Powers to the role of chief curator.

Meanwhile, the Linda Pace Foundation’s Ruby City inaugurated the timely “Water Ways,” named Rachel Mauldin manager of collections and exhibitions and celebrated the completion of its campus in tandem with the latest phase of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park.

click to enlarge Celia Álvarez Muñoz, Chuck Ramirez, courtesy of McNay Art Museum - Celia Álvarez Muñoz, courtesy of McNay Art Museum
Celia Álvarez Muñoz, courtesy of McNay Art Museum
Celia Álvarez Muñoz, Chuck Ramirez, courtesy of McNay Art Museum
But perhaps more tangibly exciting for San Antonio art fans, all three institutions significantly amped up their collections — with their combined acquisitions ringing in at just under 700 works. Representative of the vision of curators and make-or-break input from museum boards, those acquisitions encompass both carefully planned purchases and generous bequests from art collectors.

In hopes of shedding light on this process, we spoke to leaders from the McNay, SAMA and Ruby City about some of their key acquisitions of 2023.

McNay Art Museum

Hailed as the first modern art museum in Texas, the McNay acquired a whopping 304 works of art in 2023. Intriguingly, the museum even invited the community to weigh in on one of them via Collecting Texas — a new annual event set to focus on a different city each year. Held in October in the museum’s Leeper Auditorium, the inaugural event highlighted contemporary works by El Paso artists and invited guests to vote for their favorite piece on display. Created this year by Mexican American mixed-media collage artist Fausto Fernandez, the winning work Burden Narratives While Stuck in Traffic in Pursuit of an Obligation at the Port of Entry depicts a sea of hot-pink cars waiting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

A gift that promises to keep on giving, the McNay’s John M. Parker Jr. bequest added more than 200 objects to the museum’s collection. Comprised of minimalist and conceptual works collected by San Antonio native John M. Parker Jr., the bequest includes pieces by such blue-chip artists as Jasper Johns, Agnes Martin and Donald Judd. Some of those works are currently on view in “Eye of a Collector: The John M. Parker Jr. Bequest,” and a second exhibition is scheduled for 2024.

“We are proud of our growing collection as we aim to reflect and respond to the communities we serve,” McNay Director and CEO Matthew McLendon told the Current. “Each piece helps shape our rich historical narrative for future generations. … Our acquisitions will offer opportunities for deep and critical reflection and engage our community in the discovery and enjoyment of the visual arts.”

click to enlarge Santa Barraza, Emma Tenayucca Retablo, courtesy of San Antonio Museum of Art - Santa Barraza, courtesy of San Antonio Museum of Art
Santa Barraza, courtesy of San Antonio Museum of Art
Santa Barraza, Emma Tenayucca Retablo, courtesy of San Antonio Museum of Art
San Antonio Museum of Art

With areas of interest that run the gamut from ancient Mediterranean to modern and contemporary art, SAMA boasts a collection comprising nearly 30,000 works spanning 5,000 years of history. That collection got even deeper this year, to the tune of 325 new acquisitions.

“We are really trying to collect in a way that’s thoughtful and strategic,” SAMA Chief Curator Jessica Powers said. “The curators are [asking questions.] If we acquire this work of art, how does it fit with what we already have in this collection? Is it building on a strength? Is it filling a gap? Is it adding something new? Is it broadening the narrative that we can share with our public?”

When asked about 2023 acquisitions she’s excited to exhibit in the future, Powers was quick to highlight Yemaya — a 1993 painting by late San Antonio artist Angel Rodríguez Díaz. As Powers explained, Yemaya was something of a missing puzzle piece.

“It’s the centerpiece of Rodríguez Diaz’s Goddess triptych,” Powers said. “The other two side paintings have been in our collection for about a decade.”

Titled The Myth of Venus (1991) and La Primavera (1994), the triptych’s side pieces entered SAMA’s collection in 2013 as a gift from famed writer and former San Antonio resident Sandra Cisneros.

“We’re really excited to be able to present the entire triptych and to honor [Rodríguez Díaz] and showcase his work in late January,” Powers said of the forthcoming exhibition “Ángel Rodríguez Díaz: The Goddess Triptych Reunited.”

Other recent SAMA acquisitions include Kingsville-based Santa Barraza’s Emma Tenayuca Retablo — a 1993 painting celebrating the civil rights activist and union organizer who led the 1938 San Antonio Pecan Shellers Strike — and Margarita Cabrera’s Space In Between: Nopal (Candelaria Cabrera), a 2010 example of the soft cactus sculptures the El Paso-based artist crafts from Border Patrol uniforms.

Ruby City

Although it identifies as a contemporary art space and not a museum, the Linda Pace Foundation’s Ruby City is still a collecting institution — one that acquires work reflecting the distinctive vision of late San Antonio artist, philanthropist and Artpace founder Linda Pace. In addition to focusing on women, Artpace alumni, San Antonians and Texans, Ruby City’s collection is rooted in feminism, identity politics, materiality and interpretations of “home,” among other concepts.

click to enlarge Mona Hatoum, Mobile Home II - Jens Ziehe
Jens Ziehe
Mona Hatoum, Mobile Home II
“Building the collection is among the most exciting aspects of my role,” Ruby City Director Elyse A. Gonzales said. “I get to see and learn about terrific works of art but also apply some critical thinking to potential selections made for purchase as well as for donation. We want to maintain the singular character of the collection — meaning any purchases or gifts must explore similar concepts around which the collection revolves.”

With that criteria in place, Ruby City this year acquired 65 works by 26 artists — 15 of whom are newcomers to the Linda Pace Foundation collection.

A 2023 acquisition currently on view at Ruby City, renowned British Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum’s Mobile Home II, is a kinetic installation from 2006 that winks at its title as domestic objects — tables, chairs, a suitcase, kitchen towels, a raggedy stuffed animal — glide slowly back and forth across the gallery floor on laundry lines.

Another acquisition even closer to home, photographer Celia Álvarez Muñoz’s 2002 series Semejantes Personajes/Significant Personages, functions as a nostalgic and candid snapshot of San Antonio art world movers and shakers, including such late local legends as Chuck Ramirez, Alberto Mijangos, Mel Casas, Adan Hernandez and Alex de Leon.

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