After more than a decade of planning and anticipation, the contemporary art collection of San Antonio philanthropist Linda Pace opened Sunday morning to public view in its new Ruby City home.
In keeping with the red theme of Ruby City and much of Pace’s own art, Mayor Ron Nirenberg cut a red ribbon with red-handled scissors at 11:15 a.m. to mark the occasion, standing alongside architect Sir David Adjaye, who designed the building, artist Isaac Julien, who introduced Adjaye to Pace, and Linda Pace Foundation trustees Kathryn Kanjo, who curated inaugural Ruby City exhibition Waking Dream, and Laura Wright.
During his remarks, Nirenberg said, “Ruby City is destined to be an important part of San Antonio’s art community. Already it’s a beacon, informing the rest of the world that our city … is a place for serious art lovers.”
For years, the focus has been on the building and its star architect. After being introduced to Adjaye in 2006 by artist and former Artpace resident Julien, Pace gave him the commission before succumbing to cancer the following year. At the time, Adjaye was a young architect just beginning his career, but he soon won the commission for, built, and received international attention — and knighthood — for designing the acclaimed Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture.
At a Saturday morning public talk with Adjaye and Julien, Kanjo acknowledged that the architect could have given up the smaller Ruby City commission to focus solely on that 10-year project. Adjaye said his commitment to Pace’s vision held firm throughout, in part because of her early belief in him and the independence she granted him in creating the building.
“I have never forgotten that generosity that she gave, that openness in her heart to see in me something beyond what others might have seen at that time. And so for me, it’s really a very powerful, powerful moment to standing here in Texas, in front of this building and in front of you. So I’m very honored for that privilege,” Adjaye said to the crowd of 150 gathered for the Sunday dedication ceremony.
After the ceremony, visitors began streaming into the building and grounds, noting the sparkling red glass encrusted in the specially formulated Mexican red concrete Adjaye chose for the exterior.
Residents of the nearby 1010 apartments, Stephen Bedoy and Amanda Thomson stood in the rear courtyard gazing at the large-scale Nancy Rubins sculpture 5,000 lbs. of Sonny’s Airplane Parts, Linda’s Place, and 550 lbs. of Tire-Wire (1997). Thomson said having such a rare piece of architecture is “huge for the city” and said, “I think that we do a really good job of repurposing buildings that have been here for quite a while, but as far as having new emerging architects in our city is not something you hear about” often.
Bedoy said he appreciates how the building will revitalize its neighborhood, with further planned construction extending down to San Pedro Creek.
Longtime neighborhood resident and business owner Marlys Dietrick considers Ruby City “one more wonderful place to walk to and enjoy. And now that I know that it’s free [admission], it means this interaction with it in a very special way. So it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing for this part of the city.”
Marisol and Mauro Leija, who live near the South Texas Medical Center, noticed the hubbub outside Ruby City while driving past on their way to breakfast. “What caught my eye is the architecture of the building,” Marisol said.
“We stopped and we came in and were mesmerized,” Mauro said. “We don’t see this in San Antonio. This is Dallas, New York, we’ve seen this in those places, but we’ve never seen something like this in San Antonio, not on this scale. So this is cool.”
Among guests at the various weekend events were Mike McGlone and Irby Hightower, principals of Alamo Architects, the architect of record essential to building Ruby City throughout its more than four-year design and construction process.
Of finally seeing its intended public walking through the space, Hightower said, “It’s the best part. It’s really fun to see people actually in it. And we were just talking about how wonderful the building is with the first installation in. That it’s a really nice building empty, but it’s a better building with the art in it. It’s wonderful to see how it all fits together.”
After walking through the Waking Dream exhibition, Hillcrest resident Katherine Ramirez emphasized what seeing certain works of Pace’s collection means for art-interested residents of the city. Referring to the delicate purple sheer fabric and steel sculpture Hub, 3rd Floor, Union Wharf, 23 Wenlock Road, London N1 7ST, UK (2016), she said, “I’ve been dying to see a Do Ho Suh piece for many years now, and finally getting to see one in person – I was just very excited.”
Local attorney Cameron Redding, a board member of the Artpace residency and exhibitions program Pace founded in 1995, said having her collection on view in Ruby City “shows you the power of dreaming big and that things can really happen here in San Antonio. I mean, that really is the underlying message to all of us. Because she brought a lot of people here that would never come here otherwise, she’s brought this building and a lot of these artworks that would maybe never come here otherwise, but all really because she just had this ability to dream really big where no one else went before.”
Artpace Director Riley Robinson, who worked as Pace’s studio manager from 1995 through his recent elevation to the head position, said, “Linda was generous enough to San Antonio to give not one but two major arts organizations. I think it … bookends downtown. Artpace on one end, Ruby City on the other end. This really makes San Antonio a destination” for travelers interested in contemporary art, he said.
Making San Antonio “global” was Pace’s goal, said artist Ethel Shipton, represented in the collection and Waking Dream by a series of prints, hung in the narrow hallway leading to the Isaac Julien video room.
Sculptor Bill FitzGibbons, visiting Ruby City for a Friday evening invitation-only private viewing, said “First off it’s an architectural treasure. Not just for San Antonio, but for the state of Texas. I think that this is going to bring collectors, artists, gallery owners from around the world to San Antonio, which means they will be going to other museums, and hopefully they’ll meet some of the great artists in San Antonio, and who knows what kind of long term effects it’ll have, but all positive.”
Debbie Racca-Sittre, director of the Department of Arts and Culture, said Ruby City does have its detractors, who focus mostly on the shift in Linda Pace Foundation funding from Artpace to Ruby City.
“I think it’s great to have an additional art museum,” she said. “When you want to have a destination for art, you want to have multiple places to go to. … We’re not really competing with each other. It builds excitement, it builds on itself … so the more there is, the more people feel like San Antonio is growing up.”
Racca-Sittre noted that the Ruby City opening is on the same weekend as Chalk It Up, the annual Artpace fundraising event, and the Second Saturday art walk in Southtown. “We need to get beyond competing with each other. We should realize that when we want to elevate the arts, we elevate it for everybody, and Ruby City elevates the arts.”
As evidenced by the weekend’s several public discussions involving the architect and artists in the collection, the focus is now on conversation about the art. On Saturday, several artists in the collection – including San Antonians Cruz Ortiz and Ana Fernandez and New York artist Alejandro Diaz, founder of Sala Diaz – spoke to a small gathering of invited patrons about their work and what Pace’s support meant to them. Echoing what Julien had said during his earlier panel talk, each said her support changed their lives and art careers.
Such artist talks will continue during exhibitions, said Kelly O’Connor, head of collections and communications, for any patrons who sign up for free “gem” memberships.
While Ruby City could be seen as a memorial to Pace, members of the foundation stress that its opening is a celebration. However, Kanjo opened her remarks at Friday evening’s private viewing on a solemn note, acknowledging the death of another key Ruby City figure. Rick Moore, president of the foundation since 2010, died Oct. 5 at age 59 after a long battle with renal cell carcinoma, Kanjo said. She said Moore lived long enough to see Pace’s dream come to fruition and noted his pride that he had helped shepherd the building through its long process from initial design through completion.
Sunday morning, as more than 350 members of the public took in the collection, Kanjo said, “We’ve talked about ‘this has been a long journey,’ like we’re at the end of it. But we’re so not at the end, right? This is the beginning, because the whole point was to open this to the public. So finally, they’re coming in, and they’ll pull out the story” of Pace’s vision and generosity to the city she loved.
Information on visiting Ruby City is available here. Following Pace’s vision of making her collection accessible to as wide a public as possible, admission is always free.