Just at one of the main entrance points at the University of New Mexico (UNM), adjacent between Popejoy Hall and the main entrance of Johnson Center – across from the Student Union Building – lies a space on campus that brings attention to both visitors and students.
This space, entitled, “Modern Art” features artist Betty Sabo who was an art student at UNM in the 1940’s. Behind these bronze sculptures that encapsulate “Modern Art”, lie representations of natural human form.
In the unveiling of the art piece, Sabo writes, “I think everyone can relate to some part of it - the piece has a storyline to a certain extent that is easily recognizable. It’s fun. I really want people to enjoy it.”
Since the time of its inception, the art piece has also taken an interactive form as walking through this space, one would often notice scarfs on the bronze sculptures or items in the hands.
The stainless steel tower in the middle tower is the work of Sabo’s brother – Gary Beales, which served at inspiration by Betty’s work. Watching her brother complete his stainless steel tower, Sabo thought the tower looked confusing on what it represents – a soda can from birds eye view – which inspired to create the bronze figures, who are trying to figure out exactly what the tower is. One of the figures sits on the curb frustrated while some stand up as if are having a conversation on their ideas of the tower. Although this space is entitled and renowd after Sabo’s work, it would not be what it is if it was not for Beales initial piece.
Free Speech at The University of New Mexico
“Modern Art” is also significantly related to free speech matters at The University of New Mexico, as many people who come to the University do so while standing at “Modern Art” – which enacted UNM administration to post a sign just before the space with the label, “Free Speech Zone”
In addition to the controversial “Free Speech Zone,” UNM Policy 2240: Cornerstones of a Respectful Campus “calls for the promotion of of an environment which: Individuals at all levels and in all units value each other’s contributions and treat each other with respect. Individuals in positions of authority serve as role models by promoting courtesy, civility, diversity, and respectful communication. Individuals at all levels are allowed to discuss issues of concern in an open and honest manner, without fear of reprisal or retaliation.”
Unfortunately, as a centrally located and well-known space, “Modern Art” has also been one of the most prominent spaces for vandalism on UNM Campus.
According to the 2016 Albuquerque Journal article, “Popular UNM statuses defaced, again” an episode of this vandalism shows purple splotches marred all over the statues. UNM’s Physical Plant department is responsible for cleaning the graffiti.
UNM Planning Records
The University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections contain history of the space where “Modern Art” is occupied, which is Cornell Mall. The art within Cornell Mall makeup “Landscapes,” but according to Only in New Mexico one of the main issues about art or spaces in this space is that with the exception of Smith Plaza, they have never been named.
Before the Betty Sabo piece was a piece of artwork – large stones gathered from Belen, New Mexico that are said to resemble “Pieces of Marble Columns on the Acropolis” (256)
After the ‘Marble Columns of the Acropolis’
The University of New Mexico Southwest Research and Special Collections does not currently have any records on original footprints of the erection of ‘Modern Art’ of 2004, however the Daily Lobo Archives contained an article describing the story of how Sabo’s work got to where it is today.
In the Daily Lobo article, Sabo confirms that the scultptures are a reaction to the fractured soda can. Planning of ‘Modern Art’ started in 2000 when Betty was asked to submit a proposal by the Arts and Public Places Committee because of her contrabution to the Albuquerque community.
In an interview with Roger Lujan, the then director of UNM’s Facility and Planning Department described the revel of the art piece, “This is the beginning of the next and very wonderful chapter in the history and development of UNM”
The Daily Lobo ends with quoting Sabo, “UNM made me what I am today. I never dreamed in my wildest moment that I would have a peice of art at UNM. It’s probabaly the greatest thing that has happened to me.”
“Betty Sabo - An Artful Life”
Announced in 2012 by the University of New Mexico Foundation, Betty Sabo’s life and career is the subject of a new documentary, entitled, “Betty Sabo - An Artful Life.” The announcement also discusses the Betty Sabo Endowment, which benefits art students. When the announcement was published, Sabo was battling alzheimer’s. Sabo passed away peacefully a few years later, on February 10 2016 – which is declared Betty Sabo Day by Governor Susana Martinez.
“Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual - Policy 2240: Respectful Campus.” University Policy, 3 May 2019, policy.unm.edu/university-policies/2000/2240.html.
AlaimoMonson, Rachel. “’Modern Art’ Delivers Wonder to Cornell Mall.” New Mexico Daily Lobo, 24 Aug. 2004, 6:00am,
“Artist Betty Sabo Died Tuesday Morning.” KOAT, KOAT, 10 May 2016, www.koat.com/article/artist-betty-sabo-died-tuesday-morning/5071312.
Box 58. “The University Planning Records of Cornell Mall .” The University of New Mexico, Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections, 1979.
Hooker, Van Dorn, et al. Only in New Mexico: an Architectural History of the University of New Mexico: the First Century, 1889-1989. University of New Mexico, 2000.
Kent, Jackie. “UNM Signs Alert Students to ‘Free Speech Zones’.” KRQE, KRQE, 23 Apr. 2018, www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/unm-signs- alert-students-to-free-speech-zones/1136387617.
“Public Art at UNM: Writing and Research: Examples of Public Art at UNM.” Research Guides, 25 Apr. 2018, 3:02 PM,
“UNM Foundation.” University of New Mexico Foundation, www.unmfund.org/donor-story/betty-sabo-an-artful-life/.