Santa Fe art will drive you crazy. You’ll go mad if you try to see it all. You will go bonkers if you try to avoid the art, which is everywhere. Also, you’ll be insanely desperate to own dozens, no hundreds, of things you see. And where yet other artworks are concerned, you’ll be certain that the artist must have been a lunatic!
Santa Fe as a Destination
Santa Fe, New Mexico is a small town with a big footprint. There are less than 68,000 people in the city plus an equal number in the surrounding metro area. Nevertheless, it has an incredible range of things to do. Here are just a few:
– You can walk through tidy botanical gardens or along natural mountain trails.
– Bike, river raft and snow ski.
– Visit historic sites and national parks.
– Meet Native Americans at their festivals and dances.
– Veg out in a spa.
– Ride horses through hills and river valleys.
– Enjoy popular music of all kinds in the Plaza and throughout the city.
– Attend world-class opera, chamber music, choral music and jazz concerts.
– And, finally, shop your feet off!
If you plan a visit to Santa Fe, TripAdvisor lists 127 hotels, inns, B&B and specialty lodging. Want a less commercial lodging? VRBO lists 669 vacation rentals in Santa Fe. When you get hungry you’ll find over 400 restaurants as well as countless catering trucks. Moreover, after dinner there are great lounges for listening to music and dancing.
Art and Nola in Santa Fe
Since the early 1970s, I have visited Santa Fe every summer and sometimes in other seasons. Currently, Nola and I schedule two weeks each summer to see opera and attend at least one major market. Here are some of those market events:
– Early July: International Folk Art Market1.
– Late July: Spanish Market2 (traditional and modern arts and crafts).
– Early August: Museum of New Mexico Navajo Rug Auction.
– Mid August: Ethnographic Art Show3.
– Late August: Indian Market, the largest native arts show in the world, about 100 years old.
– Late September: Wine and Chile Fiesta.
Each market event is juried, to limit the participants and the artwork to the best available. BTW, Santa Fe is the second largest art market in the United States, behind New York but ahead of Los Angeles.
Through the years, we have shopped at all these venues and found some treasures. In so doing, we have acquired equal measures of fine art, folk art and junk. All of it reminds us of great times in Santa Fe. Alas, I sold my Malibu house several years ago and then had too little room for the art, therefore much of it was given to friends or donated.
A Photo Sampler of Santa Fe Art
I hope I have conveyed that there is simply too much going on in Santa Fe to capture in one, or many, blogs. However, our circuit of a half-dozen art venues during the past week greatly impressed me. As a result, I wanted to share a few photos with you that hint at the breadth and depth of Santa Fe art. The selection might also reveal my taste in the local art.
Therefore, here’s an outline of this selective essay about Santa Fe art:
– Spanish Market: modern works executed in traditional Hispanic style.
– International Folk Art Museum: an immense collection of folk art from all over the world.
– Museum of Art: a downtown museum showcasing the last hundred years of Santa Fe painting and sculpture.
– Georgia O’Keeffe Museum: another downtown venue, presenting paintings by beloved artist Georgia O’Keeffe and related artists.
– SITE Santa Fe: Santa Fe’s contemporary art museum.
– Meow Wolf: a Santa Fe art complex, new this year: it’s both a theme park and an art exhibit.
Santa Fe Art: Bultos at Spanish Market
The Diverse Heritage of Santa Fe
Santa Fe is home to three cultures:
– Native American (primarily Pueblo tribes).
– Hispanic, resulting from the Spanish and Mexican occupation of this area from 1598 to 1848.
– Anglo, due to U.S. control following 1848, magnified by in-migration and tourism.
One of the charities Nola and I support is the Spanish Colonial Arts Society4, which maintains a major museum. In addition, the Society sponsors three major annual art markets. These markets host artisans who work with traditional Hispanic subject matter, using traditional tools and materials. The summer market, late July in Santa Fe, is augmented by a Contemporary Market5 that permits radical departures from tradition.
Spanish Market Setup
As with all the major art markets in Santa Fe, setting up Spanish Market involves a lot of work. First of all, Santa Fe blocks traffic from the downtown plaza and surrounding streets beginning several days in advance. Hundreds of ten-by-ten foot tent booths are erected in the streets for artists and food vendors. In addition, the plaza gets a large stage for musical performances and additional booths for youth artists.
Artists stock their booths with anywhere from a dozen to a hundred works of art. As a result, avid collectors line up as early as 6:00 a.m. The artist arrives at 8:00 a.m. and begins to sell the work. Booths remain open from 8:00 to 5:00 Saturday and Sunday.
Why do people come to these markets? Because they offer a unique experience for anyone interested in the arts and crafts. First of all, it’s easy to see an immense variety of high quality work that is vetted as handmade, not factory knockoffs. In addition, you can meet artists and learn about their creative process. You can even buy some art, knowing that you are providing direct support to an artist and the artist’s family. As a result, once a person experiences this type of market, shopping in a store can’t compare.
Santa Fe Art at Spanish Market
This year’s Spanish Market program listed 160 artists’ booths, with work in 19 different categories. To give you an idea, some of the categories were: furniture; precious metals (principally jewelry); tinwork; straw applique; retablos (religious images painted on wood); bultos (carved wood statues, usually of saints); pottery; ironwork; weaving. The booths were distributed through the Santa Fe plaza area, augmented by 46 booths featuring Youth Artists and 134 booths of the Contemporary Hispanic Market6.
Nola and I attended the Members’ Preview, because it gives a chance to get close to some of the best artwork. The market itself is fun to walk through, but extremely crowded with visitors. In contrast, the preview is busy but more relaxed. (If we had been big-time donors, we could have gone to a more sparsely attended pre-preview.)
I am personally a fan of skillfully carved statues. As a result, through the years I have bought a dozen beautiful sculptures, enjoyed them immensely, and then donated them. Although my fine pieces are now in museums for others to view, I still love seeing this creative and skilled art. Therefore, of all the fabulous Santa Fe art represented at this market, the photos in this section are of work in just this one category.
Santa Fe Art: Bultos
Here are some of the painted bultos that caught my eye. Several of them won ribbons in the Spanish Market competition.
Santa Fe Art: the Folk Art Museum
Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art7 is the largest folk art museum in the world. As a result, it owns well over 100,000 folk art creations from over 100 different countries.
The largest part of the museum’s collection was donated by collectors Alexander and Susan Girard. This couple traveled the world for 40 years, buying it seems everything that they saw. Alexander, a designer for Herman Miller Inc., then designed the museum’s display of their collection, and it occupies an entire wing.
I did not individually caption these photos because there are so many different traditions represented. Instead, they give an idea of what you would see when walking through the museum. BTW, the museum has guidebooks available that explain each exhibit.
Santa Fe Art: New Mexico Museum of Art
The Museum of New Mexico manages a family of cultural institutions:
– The Museum of International Folk Art highlighted above.
– A pair of history displays: the History Museum, and the Palace of the Governors on the Santa Fe Plaza.
– The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.
– The New Mexico Museum of Art.
– It addition, it maintains six historic sites scattered across the state of New Mexico.
The Museum of Art, the subject of the following group of photographs, was known prior to 2007 as the Museum of Fine Arts. The institution’s current name embraces a wider scope of art created in New Mexico. (The new name avoids pre-judging whether the art would be considered to “fine” by some remote authority.)
The oil painting below, by native artist Fritz Scholder, welcomes visitors to the contemporary exhibit in the west wing of the museum.
The current contemporary exhibition is a tribute to lowriders, the sleek customized cruisers of young and young-at-heart Hispanics. Its opening wall features a poem by artist Marie Romero Cash honoring lowrider culture.
The exhibit area is dominated by a piñata that resembles a full-size car.
On the far wall are two installations of carved and painted wood, borrowing from the bulto tradition. By artist Luis Tapia, each depicts the instrument panel of a car, plus the view through its windshield.
In addition, the History Museum is concurrently showing a historical exhibition on lowriders.
The second floor of the museum displays the permanent collection of twentieth-century Santa Fe artists. Returning to the ground floor, the east wing is devoted to changing exhibitions. When this blog was first published (August 17, 2016) the changing exhibition was titled “Alcoves.” Every seven weeks, a new set of five artists was featured. The startling staged portraits shown here are photographic C-prints by artist Christina Dallas.
Santa Fe Art: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Another downtown venue for Santa Fe art is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. It is one of a handful of major world museums that are devoted to a single artist.
O’Keeffe’s work was varied, prolific and well-loved during her long career. As a result, her museum has no trouble maintaining constantly changing exhibitions of her visual art. These two examples will serve to remind you of O’Keeffe’s beautiful use of color and abstraction.
Santa Fe Art: SITE Santa Fe
SITE Santa Fe began in 1995 as the host of biennial international exhibitions of contemporary art. Their current exhibition, SITElines.2016, is one of a series focusing on art of the Americas. The photos below show the museum entrance and views of the various installations now showing.
Santa Fe Art: Meow Wolf
Meow Wolf is an art complex 4.6 miles (7.4 km) southwest of the Plaza in Santa Fe. In 2015 it acquired a disused bowling alley with the assistance of author George R. R. Martin. After intense preparation, it opened to the public in March 2016.
Meow Wolf describes its work as “a combination of jungle gym, haunted house, children’s museum, and immersive art exhibit.”
Today, Meow Wolf houses three venues:
– The principal visitor attraction is the House of Eternal Return. The house is a Victorian mansion containing secret doorways that lead to a large fantasy world. The installation can be explored by walking, but you can also crawl through tunnels and scale sketchy ladders. Think of a haunted house built for children, without the scariness.
– There’s also “MAKE santa fe,” a maker space. It provides tools and venue for “collaborative creativity in art, craft, industry, and science.”
– In addition, there is a learning center called “Chimera.” There, Meow Wolf artists offer classes, workshops, summer camps and internships for young people.
Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return
The House of Eternal Return is basically a walk-through theme park. There’s no map to the place, it’s designed for self-discovery. It’s noteworthy that this part of Meow Wolf is a profit-making business. In contrast, the other two ventures (maker space and learning center) are tax-exempt nonprofits.
How effective is Meow Wolf’s sort-of haunted house as a Santa Fe art destination? Fairly good. Nola and I spent about an hour exploring the house. We did not obsessively try every interactive display but we were able to see just about everything. It was interesting and in many parts quite creative, and worth its admission fee ($18 adults, $16 seniors, $10 kids).
After a while we felt that we “got it” and the continual visual stimulation began to be repetitive. Around every corner was something that was different; however, eventually the “differentness” began to look much the same. Therefore I rate the House of Eternal Return an A+ for an initial visit and likely a B+ for a visit repeated several years later. Nevertheless, children who spend time with the interactive exhibits and the room of video games will find it worthy of more repeats.
A Walk Through the House
In any case, here’s a gallery of photos that show Meow Wolf’s version of Santa Fe art:
An Apology for Stopping Here
I’m enthusiastic about Santa Fe and about Santa Fe art as you can see. These photos show only a thin slice of the visual art, and art is only one of the city’s attractions. When you add music, food, ethnic culture and people-watching, Santa Fe is a great vacation destination.
Because of these factors, I never tire of visiting Santa Fe. If you haven’t been there, I encourage you to give it a try. Your personal mix of favorite activities will be different from mine, and that’s part of the fun.
And now I’ve said so much that this blog post needs to end. However, I’d be happy to answer questions.
Here’s to Santa Fe art, with a hope that you may enjoy a vacation here too!
Image Credits: All photos by Art Chester, taken during July and August 2016. Taken with iPhone 6, sized with Adobe Photoshop, optimized at https://tinypng.com.
Bonus: Santa Fe art in the heavens