Contemporary Art in Northern New Mexico
Things weren't always this way. Not that long ago, the art galleries lining places like Canyon Road in Santa
Fe and Kit Carson Road in Taos were filled with paintings of neon cowboys, rainbow-hued Indians, and (gasp!) even sculptures of howling
coyotes . . . in yellow, pink and turquoise. But what a difference a decade or two makes. Maybe it has something to do with the internet,
or perhaps Southwest Airlines' growth has made it possible for us to check out more of what's happening in places like the Menil Collection
in Houston or Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. Perhaps enough eyebrows and consciences were raised to permanently change our creative
standards. Regardless of any cause, the impact is as startling as a moonrise over the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
Today, after years of stealth-like growth beneath the radar screens of art critics, travel writers and trend forecasters, contemporary art's presence in New Mexico has leapfrogged to a prominent position in the regional arts scene.
The Agnes Martin Gallery
Harwood Museum in Taos, New Mexico
Photo by Paul O'Connor
Abstraction, minimalism, photo-realism . . . local, national, international . . . painted, sculpted, electronic, multi-media
. . . figurative, non-objective and conceptual. If it's contemporary art you want, it's contemporary art we've got. From the floodlit walls
of places like the Harwood Museum of Art's purpose-built
Agnes Martin Gallery in Taos to the edge-city attitude of downtown Albuquerque's Harwood Art Center to the international experimentations
celebrated at SITE Santa Fe ,
contemporary art is no longer a footnote to New Mexico's arts scene. Trying to find a single explanation for this fundamental shift in
the creative "face" we present to the nation is as elusive as Coronado's quest for gold. It's not a matter of this type of creative
expression being the "new thing."
Contemporary art and modernism have been part of New Mexico's arts scene since the days when Mabel Dodge Lujan entertained
luminaries like Georgia O'Keeffe and D.H. Lawrence in her adobe hacienda. Raymond Jonson, a modernist master, taught a generation of New
Mexico artists during his decades-long tenure at UNM, while art galleries specializing in contemporary works have been here since the late
1960s. What's new is this: responding to shifts in the aesthetic decisions of art buyers, significant numbers of commercial gallery owners
detected contemporary art's handwriting on the art market's walls in the mid-90s and gradually moved from Southwestern to contemporary
imagery. For those art gallery owners who had years earlier staked their reputations to contemporary art, this was a vindication. Others
saw the change strictly in terms of sensible business practice.
For visitors to the Land of Enchantment's art museums and commercial art galleries, this popular acceptance of contemporary
art has resulted in a broader representation of the art which institutions and galleries are willing to exhibit. For many artists, this
trend has relieved them from the commercial need to stay within hard and fast boundaries and has encouraged creative experimentation. And
for people involved in presenting contemporary works of art, this shift has opened up a wealth of opportunities in terms of the curating
and marketing of art. "I think what we're seeing is the result of a building process in the contemporary art market over the past twenty
years," said Santa Fe art consultant Geoffrey Gorman. "Our early art gallery pioneers, those who have been at it for sometime, are now
coming into their own, especially art dealers like Linda Durham , LewAllen
Contemporary and Gerald
Peters . They've physically built great exhibition spaces,
and they've nationally built reputations with major art collectors. Not only have they had a substantial impact in paving the way for Santa
Fe's non-profit contemporary art organizations, but their success has allowed newer contemporary galleries to survive on that momentum."
Image: © Larry Bell
"The View" 1988
Mixed Media on Canvas
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts
Museum of New Mexico
During the first half of the 90s, art galleries specializing in contemporary works tended to be smaller and less visible
than those exhibiting Southwestern art and Western realism. By 1999, that situation has nearly reversed itself, with many of the largest
and most prominent Taos and Santa Fe galleries now being those whose reputations center around their representation of contemporary artists
from North America, Latin America and Europe. Judging from these galleries' successful track records, art collectors have found this diversification
of creative statements to be a tremendously convenient way to acquire a work of art. Collectors appreciate being able to survey the art
exhibited in hundreds of Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque galleries, take time to make their buying decisions and still have lots of vacation
remaining for skiing, golf, opera or whitewater rafting.
In the same way commercial art galleries exhibiting contemporary works have flourished, so has there been astounding growth
in the presence of non-profit institutions specializing in contemporary artistic expression.
While the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum which opened in 1997, is the most prominent of these venues, there's no underestimating the impact of SITE Santa Fe's ongoing and biennial exhibitions (the first was in 1995) in developing the region's contemporary art awareness and reputation. Last year's renovations to The Harwood Museum in Taos have resulted in a gallery dedicated to the work of Agnes Martin, the state's most renowned contemporary artist. On the campus of College of Santa Fe, mid-1999's opening of the Anne and John Marion Center for Photographic Arts is anticipated to have a major impact, while 1998's addition of the Neutrogena Collection Wing to the Museum of International Folk Art heralded a major stage in this institution's development.
"What's taking place across the state is that not only is New Mexico living up to the reputation of its past as a center
for creativity, but it's also living up to the standards set by its present generation of contemporary artists," said Stuart Ashman, director
of the Museum of Fine Arts. "Major players on the international arts scene, people like Steina and Woody Vasulka, Meridel Rubenstein, Bruce
Nauman, Susan Rothenberg, Larry Bell, Richard Tuttle, Agnes Martin and Bob Haozous, all live here and set high standards for the work being
created here by tomorrow's generation of contemporary artists."
The benefits of contemporary arts growth have been as significant for local residents as they've been for cultural tourists.
For organizations such as SITE Santa Fe, which every two years stages an international art exhibition attracting thousands of contemporary
art enthusiasts to northern New Mexico, those benefits are the result of a constant mission-balancing that takes place, according to director
Louis Grachos. "Working with international artists who deal with issues relevant to New Mexico not only keeps us current in the art world
but also is a healthy way to connect New Mexicans to the world of art that exists outside of our borders," he said. "This helps our cultural
tourism by allowing people to look toward New Mexico and its art directions for all the right reasons . . . reasons having as much to do
with the 20th Century as they do with maintaining the vital cultural connections of our Hispanic heritage." These days, it seems that even
our restaurants are becoming more worldly and contemporary, with everything from European hearth breads to New Zealand mussels to Asian
fusion culinary developments becoming the standards by which new Santa Fe and Taos restaurants are measured. I'm just keeping my fingers
crossed that New Mexico classics such as Christmas-style chicken enchiladas with flat blue tortillas don't wind up taking the same route
out of town as did our once-famous neon cowboys.
Contemporary Art Groups
One of the rewarding ways that collectors and lovers of contemporary art in New Mexico can become directly and actively
involved in the creative and curatorial processes is through not-for-profit, volunteer groups dedicated to promoting and understanding
contemporary art. Friends of Contemporary Art (foca) is a support group for the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe. The group's primary mission
is to support the contemporary art program of the Museum by raising funds, offering advice and providing volunteer services. A secondary,
but also important goal, is to further the appreciation and understanding of contemporary art in our community and throughout the state.
The tax-deductible dues that members pay to belong to foca support the exhibition schedule of the Museum and provide
for acquisitions of art that would otherwise not be possible.
In addition, foca arranges visits to artists' studios in the Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos area and sponsors
a highly-regarded lecture series. One of those public lectures, on May 14, 1999, features Barbara Haskell speaking about the art of Milton
Avery. The lecture and reception for Ms. Haskell are in conjunction with a Milton Avery exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts.
To take part in these programs, individuals must join the Museum of New Mexico Foundation and then become a member of foca.
The Foundation has several levels of membership beginning at $40. foca offers two memberships: Individual at $100 and Family at
For information about foca, contact the Museum of New Mexico Foundation: PO Box 2065, Santa Fe, NM 87504-2065.
505-982-6366, 505-982-0606 FAX
The Contemporary Art Society of New Mexico (CAS) is devoted to the encouragement and enjoyment of and exposure
to artists, galleries, museums, and art critics. Founded in 1988 in Albuquerque, NM as a non-profit organization, CAS is dedicated
to supporting New Mexico's contemporary visual arts community. The goals of CAS are to increase interest, understanding and involvement
in contemporary art by encouraging collecting, sponsoring educational activities and supporting New Mexico's artists and art institutions.
To that end, CAS sponsors monthly events including visits to artists' studios, collectors' homes, galleries, museums and also social
CAS members have unique access to talented contemporary artists and art professionals in the state. Among those
artists who have allowed CAS into their studios are Clinton Adams, Larry Bell, Paul Caponigro, Constance DeJong, Martin Facey, Miguel
Gandert, Luis Jimenez, Bruce Nauman, Anne Noggle, Fritz Scholder and dozens more.
CAS is a membership-driven organization with all operating expenses covered by membership dues which are $50 per
For additional information about membership in CAS and about the organization's activities, contact CAS in
Albuquerque at 505-342-8037.
Thanks to John Villani, who is the author of The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America.
Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque - Volume 13
RESOURCE LISTS UPDATED WHEN VIEWED | ARTICLE CONTENT REVISED
October 14, 2009