How Art Infuses Everything in Santa Fe

October 16, 2018

Drive north on Highway U.S. 285 and the shell of the Santa Fe Opera House soars like a ship over a desert sea. Drive south just off Cerrillos Road and a 30-foot-tall robot proffering a daisy rises above Meow Wolf Art Complex. Walk east up Canyon Road toward the Sangre de Cristo foothills and wander through more than 100 art galleries in a half- mile. Look west, toward the Jemez Mountains and take in the vast space and crisp light that has drawn artists here for centuries. Art infuses everything in Santa Fe, even the trout caviar at Eloisa, the restaurant founded by John Rivera Sedlar, the nephew of Georgia O’Keeffe’s longtime personal chef who created a tasting menu comprising the great artist’s most beloved foods.

By July, this high-desert adobe city of 82,000 residents and more than 200 art galleries swings into non-stop celebration mode. The heady lineup that has been drawing international patrons here for decades includes the 10-day Art Trifecta; the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival; the Santa Fe Opera Season, which this year offers classics like Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette; the legendary Indian Market; and even opportunities for mere mortals to participate at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.

Beyond the classic summer draws, there’s a new force in Santa Fe: A talented collective of local artists who are working to make art more accessible to everyone. In the past few years critically acclaimed new art forms have sprung up in surprising venues, like Meow Wolf, the arts and entertainment production company founded by Santa Fe local Vince Kadlubek. The center is housed in a 33,000-square-foot former bowling alley owned by George R.R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones. Adobe Rose Theatre is an intimate performance space in an industrial part of town. Strangers Collective, a consortium of young writers and visual artists, pop up everywhere from David Richard Gallery in the heart of the Railyard District to Art.i.factory, a gallery housed in the consignment shop Art.i.fact on Baca Street.

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“I see a new energy here,” says Debra Garcia y Griego, the Director of the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission. “Partnership and collaboration have taken on a new vitality. There is so much going on this summer and the most exciting part is that it’s happening all across town. There’s essentially an art fair every day.”

Meow Wolf ’s much-anticipated “House of Eternal Return,” the 9-year-old collective’s first fully immersive permanent art exhibition, officially opened in March. Kadlubek calls the exhibition “radically inclusive;” it required the work of 135 artists who created a 20,000-square-foot Victorian house with “worm holes” that transport visitors into surreal multiverses that include four tree houses, an interactive cave system, an arcade with 14 games and a 300-person music venue. Peek into the chimney and find a massive psychedelic cave system. Crawl through the dryer in the laundry room and end up in a treehouse with massive mushrooms you can play like marimbas. “Meow Wolf wants to create the most spectacular art experience in Santa Fe,” Kadlubek says. “We want to bring a whole new flavor of art to Santa Fe that is explosive, colorful, cartoony, comic book and experiential.”

One of Kadlubek’s primary goals with Meow Wolf is to reach out to a more general population. “We’ve had a trend happen over many generations where the upper 10 percent of society has taken the concept of art and excluded the other 90 percent from feeling any sort of connection to it,” he says. “Meow Wolf wants to reconnect everyday people with their creative selves.”

New is always exciting, but art existed in these northern New Mexican mountains long before Anglo-Americans did. Over Memorial Day, one of Santa Fe’s most prolific artists, Dan Namingha, was recognized as the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture’s “Living Treasure.” His work is on display all summer at Niman Fine Art, the gallery he shares with his artist sons Michael and Arlo, who have extended the Namingha legacy into its sixth generation.

The great-grandson of Nampeyo, the first nationally famous Indian artist who made stunning pieces of Hopi-Tewa pottery, Namingha started painting in 1958. His paintings and sculptures are housed in the British Royal Collection, the Heard Museum and in U.S. Embassies around the world.

On a bluebird Saturday last spring, I visited the Naminghas at their gallery a block off the Plaza. Dressed in black and fresh from the L.A. Art Show, Dan, Michael and Arlo looked like brothers rather than father and sons. I asked the elder Namingha if Santa Fe is as good to artists as it is to art buyers and appreciators. “Many artists come and go,” said the soft- spoken patriarch, “but paying attention to your work and keeping your options open as far as creativity goes, gives you the opportunity to continue your work here. For me, Santa Fe has always been about the ability to experiment and open doors to new ideas.”

All of the Naminghas seem genetically engineered toward experimentation in the arts. Arlo, the oldest brother is a renowned sculptor who works in multiple mediums— from tropical jelutong wood to Texas shell stone to bronze. While showing me around the gallery, we arrived at Contour and Form, a three-part modernist sculpture he carved from Indiana limestone. Arlo started playing with the three pieces like a kid playing with blocks in a toy store. “This is a controlled break technique that the texture will lock back together,” Arlo explained. “To make this, I have to engineer my own set of chisels,” he laughed. “Mother Nature always keeps me humble.”

Arlo then walked me through the Hopi symbolism behind his father’s Solstice #20, a vibrant yellow, 72”x72” acrylic-on-canvas painting that reminded me a little of an ancient Australian Aboriginal dreamtime painting. Between Arlo’s sculptures, Dan’s paintings and Michael’s digital c-prints, one of which I imagined to be a futuristic freeway system on Mars, I felt like I had spent the afternoon time traveling across multiple millennia. But the Naminghas are firmly rooted in the here and now of Santa Fe. “Niman in Hopi means ‘returning home,’” Arlo told me. “Wherever we travel, this will always be our home.”

The summer’s biggest collaboration is the Santa Fe Art Trifecta, a 10-day event starting July 7 that includes Art Santa Fe, an international contemporary art fair involving 50 galleries; the International Folk Art Market, where almost 200 master artists from around the world celebrate and sell their work at a festive three-day bazaar; and SITE Santa Fe’s exhibition SITElines.2016: New Perspectives on Art of the Americas, that brings together 30 contemporary artists exploring the theme of interconnectedness and the shared experience of the Americas.

“I don’t even know where to start about the Folk Art Market,” says Gasali Adeyemo, a Nigerian master fiber artist who has lived in Santa Fe since 1996. This summer marks Adeyemo’s 10th market. His rich, indigo fabrics hang alongside fine-needle embroidery by Afghanistan’s Rangina Hamidi. There are also Veomanee Douangdala’s silk-and-cotton weavings, all the way from Laos. Panamanian Edilsa Hitucama shows woven baskets.

“The market is like a dream come true,” says Adeyemo. “It’s not about what you do that one weekend, it’s about how we artists can help each other for the future.”

It’s not just artists that come from around the world—in total, nearly 60 countries are represented—for the market. Collectors travel from as far as Australia and England. Last year, they spent $23 million at the market, 90 percent of which went home with the artists. On average, each booth earns $15,000 to $20,000, an exponential increase over the $3 per day the average worker earns in the villages from which the artists come.

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“The market is not only for me as an artist,” Adeyemo says. “I have a lot of brothers back in Nigeria who want to go to school. They don’t have money. I will sponsor them because I believe that’s a way I can give back to my community.”

Whether it manifests in Nigeria or in New Mexico, collaboration and community are at the heart of art in Santa Fe. The exhibit Narrows, which refers to the cramped apartments and studios in which the burgeoning artists of Strangers Collective do their work, is on exhibit at the City of Santa Fe Community Gallery through early June. If you miss the June exhibit, look for their next show at Art.i.factory in July.

“Our goal with Strangers Collective is to inspire that younger set and empower them to really get out there in the community and connect with the more established scene,” says co-founder Jordan Eddy. “To show them that we do have ability and there’s a lot of possibility there.”

Opera lovers who want to take home a piece of this season’s glamour can stop at Patina Gallery on historic West Palace Avenue August 12 for the opening reception for the 60 Shades of Black jewelry collection. Inspired by Don Giovanni, jewelry artist Peter Schmid of Germany’s Atelier Zobel collaborated with David Zimmerman, the Opera’s director of wigs and makeup, to design sexy and seductive black diamond pieces. Don’t feel guilty about the purchase: Twenty percent of the collection’s sales go straight back to the Opera.

For those who want to set their own course of artistic improvement, pick a class at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. The campus, set in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos, faculty and facilities are a photo geek’s dream, with state-of-the-art equipment and instructors ranging from editorial and commercial professionals
to fine-art photographers. Whatever their field, the workshop instructors are known for sharing their hard-earned wisdom and experience with students.

“Having taught at many of the top photography workshop facilities across the United States, I can say that the Santa Fe Workshops are one of the top workshop facilities anywhere in the world,” says Michael Clark, a Santa Fe local and adventure photographer renowned for his photos of Red Bull BASE jumpers, pro surfers and other adventure travelers and athletes. “Participants are not only inspired and motivated, but are also free to take risks, fail and learn not only from the instructors but also from the other participants.”

Clark’s “Adventure Photography” class is in May. Summer options include “Photographing Celebrities,” taught by Allen Clark. Over his 22-year career Clark has photographed two U.S. presidents, two knights, a few rappers and Miss America. Karen Divine, who won France’s prestigious Prix de la Photographie Gold Award, teaches “Creative iPhone Photography.” After mastering your smart phone’s camera, turn it off and take in yet another form of Santa Fe high art. Almost every bar and restaurant in town has perfected the silver coin margarita.