ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A Santa Fe Gallery owner calls it “almost bizarre.” An art museum Curator calls it “horribly frustrating.” And the sister of a now-deceased famous artist says she’s “flabbergasted.”
They’re talking about a 10 foot tall, half-ton artistic masterpiece that’s disappeared. Even though the work of art is mounted in the National Hispanic Cultural Center‘s Art Museum, don’t bother looking for it. It hasn’t been seen in years. No, it’s not lost or stolen. In fact, it’s hidden away, and the only way to find the priceless artwork is to go on a treasure hunt of sorts. The trail leads right to the massive work of art. However, the only thing you will actually see is a white wall at the rear of the gallery.
Trust me; there really is an artistic treasure there. You can’t see it because it’s stashed IN the wall. Peel away the plaster, and you’ll find a magnificent towering stone sculpture crafted by a world-famous artist. “I would describe it as this beautiful and monumental sculpture made out of granite. It’s very large and very heavy,” says National Hispanic Cultural Center Art Curator Dr. Tey Nunn.
“Dakota Wall Relief” is a 10′ by 6′ red Dakota granite sculpture by one of the most accomplished Hispanic artists of the 20th century, Jesús Bautista Moroles. Known for monumental stone carvings, Moroles’s sculptures are in thousands of private and public collections throughout the world. In 2008 President George W. Bush awarded Moroles the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Jesús Moroles was killed in an auto accident in 2015.
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How did a massive world-class sculpture end up entombed in the back wall of a New Mexico Art Museum? “It’s very upsetting and a disgrace to his name,” says the late artist’s sister, Suzanna Moroles. “It’s very disrespectful what they have done. This is really a disgrace,” Suzanna Moroles said.
The Moroles sculpture was originally donated to the Hispanic Cultural Center in 2003 by Dallas philanthropist Frank Ribelin. In a letter from then Museum Director Thomas Chavez, Ribelin was thanked for his generosity, “Your gift … will be appreciated by museum visitors for many generations to come.” The sculpture was added to the Hispanic Cultural Center’s permanent art collection and placed on display.
In 2007 the Cultural Center decided to install a new exhibit in its art gallery. To make room, the Moroles sculpture needed to be moved someplace else. However, there was a problem. Staff members said it would cost between $5000 and $10,000 to move the 900-pound granite sculpture.
“It is a delicate and heavy piece of art to move,” says the Museum’s Art Curator, Dr. Nunn. “We had very little money at the time. And so I made the difficult decision to temporarily enclose it in order to accommodate that other exhibit. I really didn’t know what else to do at the time, and there was no funding to be able to move it,” Dr. Nunn said.
Rather than move the Moroles sculpture, the museum decided to store it in place. A crew was hired to build a wall to enclose and protect the valuable sculpture but conceal it from public view. That was 14 years ago. Today, the wall is still there. The valuable sculpture hidden inside has been largely forgotten. All traces of the iconic “Dakota Wall Relief” have vanished. Even some gallery staff were surprised to learn there is a treasured work of art planted in the wall.
NHCC Art Curator Dr. Nunn says there is no photo of Dakota Wall Relief on the museum’s website and no catalog of the permanent art collection. So how would the general public know there is a Jesús Moroles sculpture called Dakota Wall Relief at the Hispanic Cultural Center? “They’re gonna know because of your fabulous story,” Dr. Nunn said.
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Original National Hispanic Cultural Center object label for “Dakota Wall Relief”
Co-owner of Santa Fe’s LewAllen Galleries, Ken Marvel, calls the Hispanic Cultural Center’s handling of the Moroles sculpture “unfortunate.” Marvel was friends with Jesús Moroles and frequently exhibited his work. He says museums have an ethical responsibility to not only protect artwork but to make it accessible to the public as well. “I find it so unfortunate that this is the mode of storage for this beautiful sculpture because it should be seen. Jesús always talked about how when he makes his work, it’s a gift. It’s a gift to the world, it’s a gift to the public,” Marvel said.
“They’ve hidden a national treasure for 14 years,” Suzanna Moroles says. “If they weren’t ready to treat the piece of art with respect, they should have not taken the gift.”
“The time has come to liberate this beautiful sculpture and make it available for the world to view,” LewAllen Galleries co-owner Ken Marvel said.
Suzanna Moroles has a message for the Hispanic Cultural Center. “Take the wall down, let people see the piece. Now it’s been forgotten. Do they ever plan on bringing it back out? Should have never happened,” the late artist’s sister says.
NHCC Art Curator Tey Nunn tells KRQE News 13 she hopes the museum can find the money someday to tear down the wall and put Dakota Wall Relief back on public display.