By: Ellen Berkovitch
Santa Fe, which celebrates its 400th anniversary next year, is one of the oldest cities in America. It also has one of the largest art markets in the country—either the third largest or the second largest, depending on whom you ask. Steeped in Native American, Spanish and Old West traditions, Santa Fe has long been known as the place for collectors to go for blue-chip art and objects in those fields. In recent years, though, the city’s art market has been transcending the regional, expanding to embrace the contemporary and the international. It’s now a world-class destination for collectors in a multitude of fields, and the best time to discover this richness is the summer season, with its cornucopia of cultural events, fairs and gallery shows.
The changes in Santa Fe’s art scene can be understood in terms of urban planning. There are now two discrete downtowns. Downtown number one is the historic Plaza, where the Spanish governors ruled starting in 1610. The Plaza hosts Indian and Spanish Markets, the new state History Museum and the downtown Community Convention Center, where SOFA, the international design show, launched a Santa Fe edition in June. But a half-mile walk away from the Plaza to the southeast takes you to the burgeoning Railyard district, where contemporary art concentrates. The former industrial zone is now a pedestrian-friendly district with an urban park, a farmer’s market, a Whole Foods and SITE, the contemporary art space that hosts a biennial (not this year). A dozen galleries, their new facades clad in metal or stuccoed red and opening onto hangar-sized spaces, truly establish Santa Fe as an international contemporary art center.
If geography is destiny, then what about Canyon Road, Santa Fe’s equivalent of Madison Avenue? For many, the narrow street, home to the city’s best dealers of traditional Southwestern and modern art, is the picturesque destination par excellence. If you’re planning to go to an opening and make it to Opera in time for the 9 o’clock curtain, observe, as you drive, that the unsurpassed mountain view reflects what is eternal in Santa Fe.
The eternal and the cutting-edge mix easily here. Maybe it was the Calvin Klein ads of the mid-1980s, or maybe it was the aesthetic of the then-90-something Georgia O’Keeffe, to whose home Klein made a pilgrimage, that branded Santa Fe as a modernist mecca where first-phase Navajo chief’s blankets looked great next to Knoll furniture next to works of contemporary art. But whoever gets the credit for putting that configuration in play, the spirit of contemporary-alongside-historic is thriving in Santa Fe. “The whole premise is that great art, whether new or old, informs the other,” observes dealer William Siegal. “The overwhelming comment we hear at the gallery is, ‘We love the juxtaposition.’”
As is true of New York and Los Angeles, the art market in Santa Fe has become inextricably tied to the real estate market. Fourteen years ago the Railyard was 50 acres of disused track when the city purchased it as a cultural investment. Galleries that have opened new spaces there include William Siegal Gallery, Zane-Bennett Contemporary Art, Gebert Contemporary and LewAllen Contemporary, which has its new three-story headquarters there. They join the Railyard’s first wave: the contemporary kunsthalle of SITE Santa Fe, EVO Gallery, James Kelly Contemporary and TAI Gallery. The true pioneers were Box Gallery and Santa Fe Clay, which shares its corrugated hangar with El Museo Cultural. El Museo, as locals call it, is the adjunct exhibit hall to the city’s new downtown convention center, and it remains home to Art Santa Fe, which takes place this year from July 23–26.
In July Siegal’s headline exhibition will showcase the work of Santa Fe sculptor Colette Hosmer, who recently won the state’s biggest public art purse for a sculpture made for the new Community Convention Center of Santa Fe. “You can take the most outlandish contemporary work by Colette and put it alongside a 2,000- or 5,000-year-old sculpture, and one will serve the other,” Siegal says. In August painter Karen Gunderson’s black paintings will share the gallery’s space with Andean textiles and other antiquities.
Sandy Zane of Zane-Bennett observes that the Railyard district has brought new customers who reflect the city’s international appeal. Zane-Bennett pursues strong secondary-market holdings in established artists such as sculptor Mark di Suvero. The gallery is also a strong presence in late 20th-century French art and is having an inaugural installation in July for François Morellet, an 83-year-old kinetic-school painter and sculptor. Zane notes that the gallery will take a project booth at Art Santa Fe to exhibit a large neon sculpture by Morellet, which she calls “very gestural and colorful.”
Gebert Contemporary, which runs two adjacent gallery spaces in the Railyard, follows a strategy that is becoming increasingly prevalent in Santa Fe: one brand, multiple locations. While the gallery’s headquarters is a historic Canyon Road adobe house, director Jane Egan notes that the Railyard’s mammoth galleries accommodate monumental work, like the giant iron and bronze Buddhas by the Spaniard Xavier Mascaró that will be shown in July. The gallery took his work to the Hong Kong International Art Fair in May. Gebert Contemporary’s owners also operate two other galleries in town: Chiaroscuro Gallery on Canyon Road, directed by John Addison, and C Gallery, a space dedicated to the area, fast-growing in Santa Fe, of contemporary design.
LewAllen Contemporary’s spanking-new three-story headquarters at the Railyard echoes the headquarters-and-satellite phenomenon, as well. With its 23-foot ceilings, the space permits the gallery to be “focusing attention on what we call ‘unsung heroes’ who are contemporary and modern masters,” says co-owner Ken Marvel. He adds that the gallery believes “enduring artistic merit is under-recognized in the current art world.” A more intimate gallery in the space will hang works from LewAllen’s modernist department. The gallery retains a downtown location on Palace Avenue and a third branch at Encantado, a luxury resort a few miles north of downtown in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Marvel emphasizes the “enormous flexibility” that multiple spaces confer. At LewAllen’s Railyard gallery the opening painting show spans 40 years in the career of major New York color abstractionist Ronnie Landfield.
Exhibiting at key national art fairs continues to be a way in which many of the city’s contemporary leaders—including those not located in the Railyard, such as Charlotte Jackson Fine Art—keep Santa Fe’s changing profile spotlighted year-round. Jackson exhibits at Art Chicago and Art Miami, and is herself a fair manager. Art Santa Fe, created and run by Jackson and now in its ninth year, moved to El Museo last year and will return there this year—largely, says Jackson, because she considers the district so “jazzy.” Dealers from places as distant as Hong Kong and the Dominican Republic are expected.
Clearly, the Railyard district has put pressure on galleries in other parts of town to distinguish themselves, too, says Santa Fe Gallery Association president Latricia McKosky. A 10-member West Palace arts district and, a block away, a brand-new Lincoln Avenue arts district hold art walks on the first Friday of each month that open doors at participating dealers and at the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. “Discover Delgado Street Galleries” and “Top of Canyon” similarly colonize fourth Fridays. “It makes sense,” McKosky says, “that with such a broad spectrum of art people would want to concentrate in one area.” Among those with contemporary niches still on or near Canyon are Eight Modern, Karla Winterrowd and Klaudia Marr.
Even so, things can rarely be categorized totally neatly, and some important galleries are neither on Canyon nor in the Railyard. Eileen Braziel Fine Arts exhibits new-media art, which is mixing up genres almost faster than can be explained. Working in partnership, artists Max Almy (a Kitchen cofounder) and Teri Yarbrow project multichannel video onto painting to create hybridized installations that, for example, project flickering white bird’s wings onto alleys of dark oil paintings set up as scrims. At Nedra Matteucci Galleries, this year’s blockbuster show waits until September, when the gallery exhibits parts of sculptor Glenna Goodacre’s personal sculpture collection. Photography dealer Andrew Smith has recently finished renovating a Victorian mansion downtown that houses work by masters of 20th-century photography. And Linda Durham retains her strong contemporary niche after 30 years in business, showing paintings this August by New Mexico abstractionist Eugene Newmann.
And speaking of genres that don’t easily fit categories, Russian painting has found a niche in Santa Fe. Specialists in town include Pushkin Gallery, where owner Kenneth Pushkin has been bringing post-World War II realists to the attention of the American market; Downey Gallery, which champions the work of contemporary Russian portraitist Nikolai Blokhin; and Art of Russia. All three are on Canyon Road.
Even the historical aspect of Santa Fe now has a contemporary feel, as the new 96,000-square-foot New Mexico History Museum grafts contemporary lines onto the adjacent Palace of the Governors and wows with exhibit spaces that live up to their holdings. Director Frances Levine (who is also director of the Palace of the Governors) says the new museum “is the culmination. This was a history museum 400 years in the making. It is a building with exhibition space worthy of the history and the time depth we have in New Mexico.”
No matter how cutting-edge it might become, Santa Fe remains the place to go for classic blue-chip American Indian art. “More Indian art business is done in Santa Fe than anywhere else in the world,” says Mac Grimmer, principal of the Native American antiquities gallery Grimmer-Roche. Morning Star Gallery, owned by Matteucci and directed by Henry Monahan, will celebrate its 25th year in business this summer by showing a range of baskets, pottery and beadwork. Some of the pieces will be “early historic,” a relatively new term in the pottery market that is applied to work created between 1780 and 1860, according to Monahan. Among these will be a circa 1800 Acomita polychrome jar for $85,000 and an 1840 storage jar for $165,000. Galleries like these pursue the very best old things. Grimmer cites a $3 million collection from a retired Midwestern University professor, which he was acquiring in May. It includes an otter-skin quiver that Grimmer said is unlike anything he has seen come onto the market for two decades.
For Morning Star, winning terrific collections is key, but so is adding younger and contemporary artists to the mix. Monahan mentions Dwayne Wilcox, a Lakota artist from Rapid City, S.D., whose often whimsical or satirical versions of traditional Sioux ledger-book drawings start at $2,500. Wilcox works in colored pencil on antique ledger paper to make drawings that riff on history but with fresh flavor. “We want to exhibit art for the new collector,” says Monahan, explaining that such works are generally priced below $5,000. Wilcox belongs in the category, as do local contemporary artists who are reinterpreting Pueblo and Navajo traditions.
For dealer Gerald Peters, who runs galleries in Santa Fe and New York, Western painting—monumental landscapes, portraiture and genre scenes—remains a stronghold, accounting for around $50 million in annual business. Peter Riess, the gallery’s director of Western art, is enthusiastic about the current offerings, which include bronzes by Charles M. Russell (Bronc Twister, modeled in 1911 and cast in 1929) and Frederic Remington (Broncho Buster, cast by the Roman Bronze Works, and a Rattlesnake). Among the paintings are Cowboys on the Plains, a 1920s watercolor by Russell, Maynard Dixon’s Oncoming Storm and Frank Tenney Johnson’s Old Trading Post. Peters is also showing contemporary photography. More than 150 years after the Hudson River School artists, “environmental landscape” works by Tony Foster—who processed his negatives of Mt. Everest, shot at 18,000 feet, with gin (impervious to freezing)—come, says Peters, with a back story that is sure to win collectors.
Owings-Dewey Fine Art specializes in mid-century New Mexico modernism. This summer gallerygoers can see Dorothy Brett’s incredible canvas, Foot Races, San Geronimo Feast Day, Taos, along with small reverse paintings on glass, such asTom Boy’s Lamb, by the masterful Rebecca Salsbury Strand James. A contemporary exhibition of works by painter Ed Mell that opens in August glorifies the pageantry of kachina dancers with architectonic lines.
The arrival in June of the inaugural SOFA (Sculpture Objects and Functional Art) fair marked the extent to which Santa Fe is becoming linked to contemporary design internationally. The new event, called SOFA West, extends the brand established by its elder-sister fairs in New York and Chicago. Fair founder and CEO Mark Lyman, who repurchased the SOFA name a year ago from the Daily Mail Group, says SOFA West represents “expanding the shoulders of the (summer) season.” That season typically begins with Opera opening night, which fell on June 26 this year. SOFA ran from June 11–14; by early May, the exhibitor floor had sold out, including to new Santa Fe residents such as Garth Clark, an important dealer and scholar of contemporary ceramics.
Patina Gallery, which in June celebrated a decade in business as a tastemaker in studio jewelry, ceramics, functional art and textiles, shows important new studio jewelry by Pat Flynn in July and August. Other market leaders in design include C Gallery, Robert Nichols and Jane Sauer’s Thirteen Moons Gallery, all on Canyon Road.
Summer in Santa Fe is synonymous with Indian Market. This massive event, held each August by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, has been promoting contemporary Native American arts since its founding in 1922. On Aug. 22–23 some 1,200 exhibitors will magnetize the Plaza for a look at the integral traditions of Native America, including ceramics, weaving, jewelry, baskets, bead and quillwork, and even a new category called Native American clothing. Meanwhile, Dorothy Grant takes a hotel booth space for her Northwest Coast wearable designs, and Pueblo fashion sensation Virgil Ortiz (who has collaborated with Donna Karan) shows at C Gallery.
The design–art connection applies here, too. One of the most influential participants at Indian Market is Blue Rain Gallery, whose owner, Leroy Garcia, has been expanding horizons by including work by artisans outside of the Pueblo and Plains traditions, and by inviting contemporary Native American artisans to work in the nontraditional medium of glass. According to Garcia, glass is now the biggest collecting category in the contemporary Native American field. “We were one of the first galleries to infuse glass into the Santa Fe art scene—glass with a Native American influence, not a Seattle influence or an Italian influence. That seemed to be the conduit for an explosion in the market,” he says. Blue Rain’s biggest Pueblo star, Garcia’s wife, Tammy Garcia (Santa Clara), first collaborated on an exhibition of blown glass vessels with Preston Singletary (Tlinkit) in 2005. The 20 vessels in that show found 500 collectors queuing into a lottery for the opportunity to buy a piece. Prices now run about $20,000–80,000, double what they were four years ago.
Spanish Market, running July 25–26, has responded to contemporary fever by inviting 100 of what are being called “youth-market” artists this year, to complement the crafts made by more than 200 traditional Hispanic artists.
And even for the contemporary gallerists whose businesses have been grounded in strong secondary markets and a few really committed collectors, the design-art connection is growing stronger all the time. In May New Mexico native and MacArthur-award-winning blacksmith Tom Joyce introduced, for dealer James Kelly, a new line of forged solar lights called Qnuru. “I’ve always had an interest in the combination of art and design,” says Kelly. “And when Tom came to the gallery as part of the stable, that was my first step into that arena. Qnuru is, in effect, a debut of an art-design type of program in the gallery.” Kelly notes that melding art and design appears to be a solid choice at a time when the art market has to represent ethical values, not just fiscal values.
Values and authenticity are keynotes in Santa Fe. And if the city’s real niche is as a place that celebrates both what endures and what is authentic, then this summer is going to be very busy.
Art of Russia Gallery
Blue Rain Gallery
Charlotte Jackson Fine Art
Eileen Braziel Fine Arts
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Gerald Peters Gallery
James Kelly Contemporary
Jane Sauer Gallery
Klaudia Marr Gallery
Linda Durham Contemporary Art
Morning Star Gallery
Nedra Matteucci Galleries
New Mexico History Museum
Owings-Dewey Fine Art
Robert Nichols Gallery
William Siegal Gallery
Zane-Bennett Contemporary Art
Like What You're Reading?
Subscribe to our eNewsletter!
Enter your email below to sign up for the Art & Antiques Magazine eNewsletter. You'll get 2 emails per month.