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In with the New – New Mexico, that is!

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How old is Santa Fe? It depends on how you count. Indigenous Tewa people built homes on the Plaza around 900 AD, making the downtown about 1,100 years old. Santa Fe got its name (officially La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de AsТs) from the Spanish in 1607. That means it’s the second-oldest European settlement in America and North America’s most ancient capital city. The surrounding region is dotted with Pueblo ruins and Wild West ghost towns, but Santa Fe and its neighboring villages are living vessels for the many layered story that has unfolded since. Don’t mistake these places for museum displays, though.

Venture past Northern New Mexico’s adobe facades and wooden boardwalks, and you’ll inevitably collide with startlingly contemporary culture. All of this avant-garde energy is hardly a disruptor for the region’s more traditional creative activity. In fact, New Mexico’s history books are saturated with artistic revolution. The past inspires the present, providing an electrifying current rather than a restrictive structure. A new generation of creative luminaries charges forward but also celebrates the past. In with the new—and also the very, very old.

CONTEMPORARY CANYON ROAD

Before it was the backbone of Santa Fe’s art scene, Canyon Road was a humble residential street ofhistoric adobe homes. The two-mile-long road southeast of the Santa Fe Plaza got a lot more colorful in the 1920s, when a circle of artists known as Los Cinco Pintores landed there. The five transplants— Will Shuster, Fremont Ellis, Walter Mruk, Jozef Bakos and Willard Nash — tried their hand at adobe construction, building a ramshackle row of studios just off Canyon Road that earned them another nickname: “The Five Nuts in the Adobe Huts.”

In the following decades, Canyon Road became a hotspot for artist studios and then a highly concentrated gallery district. These days there are more than 50 galleries in the area, and they’re best known for showing top-tier artists working in a time honored Western genre. Boundary-pushing art activity is just as much of a Canyon Road tradition, however. Los Cinco Pintores and their Santa Fe contemporaries took cues from European modernists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, to paint New Mexico’s sweeping vistas in downright radical ways.

Turner Carroll Gallery, at 725 Canyon Road, across from Geronimo restaurant, has helped carry this revolutionary spirit into the 21st century. Founded by Michael Carroll and Tonya Turner Carroll in 1991, when the couple was in their 20s, the space exclusively exhibits innovative contemporary artists. “We were young art historians, idealistic about following our dreams and changing the world by exhibiting artwork that addresses current aesthetic, social, gender and political issues,” says Tonya Turner Carroll.

Their mission continues this year, with a curatorial program that focuses on how women artists transform struggle into power, Turner Carroll explains. Works by feminist pioneers, including Judy Chicago and Jenny Holzer, will appear in the gallery, and new paintings and sculptures by Chinese-born American artist Hung Liu will explore the immigrant experience.

“In recent years I’ve seen increasing numbers of serious contemporary artists and collectors visiting Canyon Road, enthralled by its historic authenticity,” says Turner Carroll. Other contemporary trailblazers on Canyon Road include Nuart Gallery (670 Canyon Road), which has a strong contemporary painting program, and Edition ONE (728 Canyon Road), an experimental photography gallery. Chiaroscuro Gallery and Gebert Contemporary, which have separate spaces at 558 Canyon Road, always have invigorating sculptural work on view.

ART/EXPERIENCE

Growing up in Santa Fe, Aaron Harrington found there was one hard-and-fast rule of the art world: beingtold not to touch the art. Harrington says, “Now I'm rebelling against all those ‘don't touch’ experience sby creating hands-on, interactive art.” He’s the creator of the Museum of Interactive Art (1508 Bishops Lodge Road), in the old Shidoni Foundry building, a short drive north of Santa Fe, in Tesuque. In this museum, making physical contact with the work is required. It’s the only way to fully experience the tesseract lightboxes, phrase-generating rolodexes, magnetic collages and other creations.

Harrington’s experimental institution, which launched in fall of 2018, recalls another interactive art project that sprang up far from Santa Fe’s main art districts: Meow Wolf (1352 Rufina Circle, in midtown Santa Fe), the local art world’s biggest success story of recent years. The project began as a small collective of artists that hosted pop-up exhibitions and wild parties. Now it’s a creative corporation with a blockbuster, highly interactive art installation called The House of Eternal Return. Through exploration, interactivity and discovery, each visitor unspools a unique, non-linear story. Committed to keeping the experience fresh, Meow Wolf introduced exciting new elements in February 2019 as part of an extensive revamping.

The phenomenon of “art as experience” has reached Santa Fe’s creative epicenters as well. Elaine Ritchel, of Santa Fe Art Tours (santafearttours.com), is ushering the concept into Canyon Road galleries one tour group at a time. Her highly experiential romps around the historic district encourage small groups of visitors to immerse themselves in Santa Fe’s history — and also interact with contemporary corners of the art scene. “Santa Fe is neither historic nor contemporary; it's both, and Santa Fe Art Tours aims to share a nuanced view of Santa Fe's art scene,” Ritchel says.

Lili Pierrepont of Urban Art Tripping (urbanarttripping.com) shares Ritchel’s philosophy, designing immersive art excursions for visitors that last between a few hours and a full week. Her shorter tours focus on Santa Fe’s contemporary arts scene, while longer expeditions wind through art studios and spaces across the region, the nation and the world. Pierrepont may be a bona fide globe-trotter, but her home base and source of inspiration is Santa Fe — a community that she calls “an incandescent center for contemporary artists and contemporary art.”

Perhaps the purest expression of the in person/ hands-on phenomenon is art-making itself. Opportunities to kickstart your own creative process abound in Santa Fe. Heidi Loewen Porcelain Gallery & School (315 Johnson Street), which is a few doors down from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (217 Johnson Street), offers lively courses in the art of shaping and firing clay. Liquid Light Glass (926 Baca Street), a gallery and studio, teaches participants glass-blowing techniques. Students transform molten glass into paperweights, cups and sculptures.

THE CITY ELECTRIC

“Nearly every art movement seminal to Santa Fe — landscape painting, modernism and so on — has pushed boundaries, and CURRENTS is no exception,” says L.E. Brown, Digital Media Manager of CURRENTS New Media. For two weeks each June, the ten-year old project elevates new media, or technology-based artwork, through an international festival that occupies El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe (555 Camino de la Familia). In late 2018, the festival’s organizers opened CURRENTS 826, a new media art space at 826 Canyon Road, across from The Teahouse.

CURRENTS 826 is jam-packed with glowing screens, virtual-reality headsets and 3D-printed sculptures, a rare but not entirely unprecedented sight on Canyon Road. Thoma Foundation’s Art House, at 231 Delgado Street just off Canyon, is a nonprofit art space that’s a major funder of CURRENTS and houses its own wide-ranging collection of new media artwork. Together, the two spaces are literally electrifying Canyon Road — and also illuminating a surprising legacy of new media artists in the region.

New Mexico is home to foundational new media artists Steina and Woody Vasulka, who began creating tech-infused artworks in the 1960’s, along with contemporary stars of the genre, such as Peter Sarkisian, Bruce Hamilton and Susannah Carlisle. Brown says, “The awareness of these new art modalities seems to be growing now due to the same factors that pushed these movements forward in the past: the element of community.”

RISE OF THE RAILYARD

Before it was a slick contemporary art museum, the building that houses SITE Santa Fe (1606 Paseo de Peralta) was a Coors beer distribution warehouse. When SITE opened in 1995, the surrounding neighborhood was a dilapidated industrial district in the midst of a redevelopment planning project. Over two decades later, the space has fully obscured its gritty roots beneath an undulating steel facade and crisp, white interiors. The museum completed a renovation and expansion project in late 2017, the gleaming capstone on a slow but steady evolution that mirrors the Santa Fe Railyard’s decades-long transformation.

“SITE was founded not only to be a trailblazer in the international contemporary art world, but also to be an artistic catalyst locally,” says Anne Wrinkle, SITE’s Director of External Affairs. The museum has certainly had that effect on its neighborhood. SITE’s world-class exhibition program, which includes the longest-running biennial series in the United States, has turned the Railyard into a magnet for forward-thinking galleries.

Across the street from SITE is a row of expansive “white cube” galleries, including Evoke Contemporary (550 S Guadalupe Street), which has some dazzling figurative painters and sculptors in its stable, and Blue Rain Gallery (544 S. Guadalupe Street), a showcase for top contemporary Native artists from across the nation. Owner Leroy Garcia maintains a mixed-media philosophy when it comes to his collection, exhibiting ceramics, glass and bronze sculptures, oil and acrylic paintings, and fine jewelry. Santa Fe is a capital city for the contemporary Native arts movement, but part of Blue Rain’s mission is to forge connections with the larger art world. The gallery has traveled to art fairs and mounted exhibitions in art meccas such as New York and Los Angeles, and its collector base stretches around the globe.

DISTRICT HOPPING

As the Railyard evolves into a borough fit for a gleaming metropolis, arts leaders from other districts are taking notice — and making moves. Deborah Fritz, owner of Canyon Road galleries Giaccobe-Fritz Fine Art (702 Canyon Road) and GF Contemporary (707 Canyon Road), opened a third space in the Railyard in June 2018. Gallery FRITZ (540 S. Guadalupe Street) sees its mission as focusing “less on the object and more on the happening.”

In addition to boundary-pushing artwork in many mediums, Fritz curates avant-garde performances and ephemeral, new media shows for the space. She has partnered with Mayeur Projects of Las Vegas, New Mexico, to exhibit work by experimental artists from around the world in her second-floor project space. Fritz won’t stop until she and her team successfully “stir up the conventional gallery continuum in the country’s third largest art market.”

The New Mexico Museum of Art (107 W. Palace Avenue), which has historic headquarters on the Santa Fe Plaza, will soon open a satellite wing for its contemporary art collection. Situated on the northern edge of the Railyard, Vladem Contemporary (404 Montezuma Street) will dramatically expand the long-unused Halpin State Archives Building. The remodeled structure will feature 15,000 additional square feet, a sleek glass form that references railroad boxcars, and a ground floor with grand entrances on either end. “The architectural design has integrated this idea of welcome and arts nexus into the very fabric of the design,” says Mary Kershaw, Director of the New Mexico Museum of Art. “Located at the terminus for the Rail Runner, the Vladem Contemporary is a welcome to Santa Fe that makes a strong statement about Santa Fe, and the Railyard, as an important arts destination.”

HIDDEN GEMS

Santa Fe is a city of cultural treasures, but, of course, not all of them are visible on its adobe surface. Secret-keeping is a longstanding tradition here: just read up on Santa Fe’s cloak-and-dagger connection to the Manhattan Project, or Forrest Fenn’s as yet unsolved treasure hunt. Luckily, some of Santa Fe’s hidden gems can be uncovered simply by crossing the right threshold.

LewAllen Galleries (1613 Paseo de Peralta), in the Santa Fe Railyard, looks like a slick contemporary art space, but tucked in a back corner of its sprawling headquarters are two rooms dedicated to titans of art history. Past shows have featured fine-art prints by mainstays of the Louvre, such as Pablo Picasso and Edvard Munch. “We are among the few contemporary galleries in Santa Fe that also mounts historic exhibitions,” says Louis Newman, Director of Modernism at LewAllen. “We believe that the two are connected, not separate, and that knowing the past leads to a better understanding of our present.” Smack in the middle of Canyon Road’s gallery row, Matthews Gallery (669 Canyon Road) links early European modernists with their New Mexico contemporaries. In the halls of its labyrinthine space, works by Georges Braque, Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin appear beside art from local legends such as Emil Bisttram, Alfred Morang and Fremont Ellis.

Along with the city’s traditional art spaces are opportunities to sample from different chapters of art history. Hotel La Fonda on the Plaza (100 E. San Francisco St.) has a knockout collection of historic and contemporary artwork adorning its lobby, restaurant and hallways. As the oldest hotel in Santa Fe, La Fonda has been amassing its formidable collection since it opened in 1922. Highlights include a Spanish Colonial bulto (carved image) of the Virgin Mary from 1820, an oil -on-canvas map of the Four Corners region by Gerald Cassidy and a large Agnes Sims painting inspired by New Mexico’s petroglyphs.

The New Mexico State Capitol Building (490 Old Santa Fe Trail) is both the seat of government and an enormous art space, with hundreds of works on its walls and grounds. Founded in 1993 with funding from the state’s “One Percent for the Arts” program, the collection focuses largely on living artists, but hallways radiating from the capitol’s central rotunda are dedicated to distinct eras of New Mexico’s creative legacy. The groupings dedicated to Native art are particularly strong, with displays of early Pueblo pottery and weavings alongside works by Jaune Quick-To-See-Smith, Iris Nampeyo and other contemporary indigenous artists.

UPMARKET

We Are the Seeds (August 15-16, 2019, www.wearetheseeds.org) features some of the hallmarks of Santa Fe’s famous summer art markets — tented booths filled with handmade creations by indigenous artists, music performances, food trucks galore — but co-director Tailinh Agoyo says it’s much more than a place to buy or sell art. “Defining Seeds as a market is a bit of an oversimplification,” she says. “It is most important [for us] to create opportunities for indigenous artists to be able to share their own stories in their own voices.” She founded We Are the Seeds with Paula Mirabal in 2017, and the proceedings occupy the Santa Fe Railyard Park, directly south of SITE Santa Fe, for two days each August.

The storied Traditional Spanish Market (July 27-28, 2019, spanishcolonial.org) and Santa Fe Indian Market (August 17-18, 2019, swaia.org) have made similar shifts in recent years, spotlighting contemporary and emerging artists alongside more traditional artisans. The International Folk Art Market (July 12-14, 2019, folkartmarket.org), held in Santa Fe’s Museum Hill District, exhibits works by 1,000 folk artists from 100 nations. This year’s market features a modernist twist: the proceedings take place next door to Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe at the Museum of International Folk Art (706 Camino Lejo). As the first major retrospective of Girard’s works, the exhibition explicates the connections between the legendary designer and the far-flung folk artists who influenced his aesthetic.

Art Santa Fe (July 18-21, 2019, artsantafe.com), a 20-year-old art fair that takes place at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, has undergone a steady evolution since it changed hands in 2015. Eric Smith, owner of multiple fairs across the nation, purchased Art Santa Fe from siblings Bruce and Charlotte Jackson, with the goal of expanding it from a local, grassroots effort to a magnet for international art connoisseurs. “The art market is shifting. More work is being purchased online than ever before,” Smith told the Santa Fe New Mexican in 2018. “The art fair plays a really important role in that shift.”

ANCIENT CONTEMPORARY

Steve Elmore has been a respected dealer of antique indigenous art for more than 15 years, but he’s also a contemporary painter who composes his own densely symbolic oil compositions. A few years ago, he jumped at the opportunity to rent a few extra rooms next door to his downtown business, Steve Elmore Indian Art (839 Paseo de Peralta). The new space became Elmore Contemporary, providing a present-day complement to Elmore’s historic collection. “It creates this incredible bridge that I think is so valuable,” says Drew McMahon, gallery director of both spaces. “The contemporary work shines a light on the antiques, and vice versa. I love being able to look backwards and forwards through so much time. It’s all just right there in front of you.” He sums it up this way: “Santa Fe is a telescope into the past, [and] the past looks back.”

In the Railyard, there’s comparable interplay in the collection of William Siegal Gallery (318 S. Guadalupe Street), where pre-Columbian art and antiquities appear beside contemporary, abstract sculptures with equally elegant lines. Peyton Wright Gallery (237 E. Palace Avenue), which is situated in a handsome yellow house a few blocks east of the Plaza, shows contemporary artworks, with modernist masterpieces and Spanish Colonial Viceregal devotional art. One street north, Addison Rowe Gallery (229 E. Marcy Street) presents works by New Mexico’s mid-century modernists in exhibitions that emphasize vivid storytelling about these legends of the Santa Fe and Taos art colonies.

Canyon Road is dotted with portals to New Mexico’s past. Zaplin Lampert Gallery (651 Canyon Road) is the district’s most elegant time machine, presenting rare and pristine artworks by the founders of the Santa Fe and Taos art colonies. The collection contextualizes these artists within the history of the American West by exhibiting prints, paintings and photographs from virtuosos such as Edward S. Curtis and Albert Bierstadt.

Not far from the foot of Canyon Road is Nedra Matteucci Galleries (1075 Paseo de Peralta), a museum-size space with artwork to match. It’s one of the rare publicly accessible places where you can view a Georgia O’Keeffe painting outside of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (217 Johnson Street). A slate of living artists draw inspiration from their predecessors, yet make their own unique contributions to the world of art.

SMALL TOWNS, BIG CULTURE.

At first glance, the village of Las Vegas (lasvegasnm.gov) appears frozen in the late 1800’s, when the arrival of the railroad brought about a Wild West golden age. Las Vegas became New Mexico’s de facto capital, and its riches attracted hopeful settlers and famous outlaws. A remarkable historic preservation effort has maintained the aesthetic of this era in the city’s dual downtown districts, but Las Vegas also has some new tricks up its sleeve. Just an hour’s drive north of Santa Fe, Las Vegas is determined to build a reputation as a contemporary arts destination.

California developer Allan Affeldt has one foot on both sides of that story. “New Mexico is generally known for conservative, traditional arts — think, for example, of the Taos School of painters,” Affeldt says. “But there is so much other innovation and artistic excellence here.” In the past few years, he’s been busy sprucing up two historic Las Vegas hotels that were once part Fred Harvey’s famous chain of railroad boarding houses that stretched across the West.

The Plaza Hotel (230 Plaza Park), originally completed in 1882 and refurbished by Affeldt to the tune of $1 million, is the crown jewel of the city’s Old Town. Its counterpart across the Gallinas River in New Town is La Casta.eda Hotel (524 Railroad Avenue), which is undergoing a $5-million renovation spearheaded by Affeldt.

Affeldt says that because the two hotels are owned by the nonprofit Winslow Arts Trust, the primary objective is an artful, historic experience rather than maximizing a bottom line. This allows him the freedom to engage local, contemporary artists as part of his projects. “By bringing art and artists into the Plaza and Casta.eda, we turn these hotels into community spaces and cultural catalysts,” he explains.

A number of new businesses in Las Vegas have taken up this creative and deeply civic spirit. A few doors down from the Plaza Hotel, Mayeur Projects (200 Plaza Park) is a highly polished contemporary art space and residency that shows local and international artists. Just across the river, The Skillet (619 12th Street) has turned an old wool warehouse into a contemporary eatery filled with colorful sculptures and murals.

Other small towns across New Mexico are laying similar groundwork for sophisticated creative economies. In Hobbs (hobbsnm.org) the Lea County Center for the Arts (122 W. Broadway Street) works with arts organizations and music groups nationwide to bring big city culture its 34,000 residents. Roswell (seeroswell.com) is best known for its alien sightings, but world-class artwork can be viewed at the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art (409 E. College Boulevard). Silver City (visitsilvercity.org) is home to Power and Light Press (601 N. Bullard Street), a print studio owned and operated by women, and to the spectacular Southwest Print Fiesta (October 11-13, 2019, southwestprintfiesta.org).

“The New Mexico art world trend now ... is to share the work of contemporary masters with the broader art world,” says Affeldt. “We have globally significant artists living and working in New Mexico, largely unknown to New Mexicans.” If these innovators have anything to do with it, that won’t be true for long.

By Jordan Eddy

Jordan Eddy is the director of Form & Concept Gallery and cofounder of the emerging art space NO LAND. As an arts writer, he has contributed to THE Magazine, Santa Fe Reporter, New Mexico Magazine and other publications.

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Leah Pinkus