by Lee Foster
Santa Fe’s role as a major art center further expanded when a museum opened devoted exclusively to the works of Georgia O’Keeffe.
The legendary 20th-century New Mexico painter was long associated with Santa Fe and created her canvases in nearby Abiquiu and the Rio Chama Valley, an hour north of Santa Fe.
The museum, known as The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, was the first museum in the United States devoted exclusively to the works of a single woman artist.
The Burnett Foundation, a main force behind the museum, built the museum property, on Johnson Street near the Plaza in central Santa Fe. The museum is a collaborative effort between the Burnett Foundation and the O’Keeffe Foundation, with patronage by the Marion family. A resume catalog of her oeuvre, in full color, was published by the National Gallery of Art, in Washington D.C. O’Keeffe created about 2000 art objects.
DRAWN BY THE LIGHT
Variously praised as a visionary and a model for women in the arts, O’Keeffe first fell in love with New Mexico in 1917, drawn to the clarity of the light and the colors of the landscapes. Born in Wisconsin, she was a critical person in the art and photo scene involving such icons as Alfred Steiglitz and Paul Strand.
She could decorate a two-dimensional space in an inviting way. She also had an inner vision, which shows in her paintings. Her works exude a personal mystification. She was also so eminently American, operating fairly independently of European trends. And everyone appreciated her great craftsmanship in the art of painting.
O’Keeffe could be daring. She could explore pure form in creative new ways. She could be whimsical also. Her sense of design, her honesty and purity of expression, are legendary. For New Mexico she was a major celebrator of the state’s landscape and flowers, though she did not paint people. She responded above all to the western landscape. She could express her personal emotions so effectively in her paintings.
The museum is one further reason for an art lover either to visit Santa Fe or return there if the territory is already familiar.
ART FOR SALE
Santa Fe claims to be the third largest art market in the world, after Paris and New York, with annual art sales of about $250 million. A visitor can tour over 150 galleries here. Many cluster around the Plaza or are strung out on Canyon Road. An estimated 5,000-6,000 artists flourish within a total city population of only 62,000.
Components of the Santa Fe art scene include a complex weave of Indians, Spanish New Mexicans, Anglos from O’Keeffe to the present, and Contemporary artists from all over the world.
The Indians sell their arts in the portal of the Palace of Governors on the Plaza in Santa Fe. They are a kind of living history exhibit, creating and selling art in an effort to perpetuate their culture. Indians are also heavily represented in many galleries. New Indian artists are nurtured by the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, which displays much contemporary work. There is a major August show known as the Indian Market, featuring about 1,250 of the Indian artists who are on the master level. During this show, major collectors spend some $40 million dollars here for Indian art. The show pumps an estimated $140 million into the local economy when all the hoteliers and restauranteurs add up their receipts.
The Southwest Association for Indian Arts, which puts on the show, also has an active Internet site. The website can greatly increase the reach of the 1,400 Indian artists in the organization, who make direct contact with many new buyers of their works.
The Spanish New Mexicans have, for 400 years, practiced and preserved their arts of weaving, furniture wood carving, tin work, straw applique, carving of religious figures, and painting of religious subjects on wood, to mention just some of the arts involved. These arts can be seen in galleries or experienced in depth at the Spanish Market organized each July and December by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, founded in 1925 to preserve and perpetuate these arts. A definitive book by the Arts Society describes all these arts in depth. The stunning and detailed photos in the book are cherished by the aficionado. The Society was also the driving force behind the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art that opened in 2002 on Museum Hill.
The Anglo element has been a part of the scene here since people such as O’Keeffe entered the New Mexico picture. Anglo art can be seen in many of the galleries. Cline Fine Art Gallery on Canyon Road shows the abstract works of William Lumpkins, one of the founding Anglo artists of the Canyon Road milieu.
The Contemporary artist, who may be from anywhere and have any subject in their works, represents a growing segment of the total art picture here. Cline LewAllen Gallery, for example, at times features huge ceramic pieces by the Japanese artist, Jun Kaleto. Riva Yares Gallery is another proponent of cutting-edge contemporary art.
Some artists sell directly from their homes to their private client list rather than work with a local gallery. Ford Ruthling is one such artist, known for his inventive mono-prints.
SITE Santa Fe is a further aspect of the evolving art world here. Formerly a large beer warehouse, the space has been transformed to host eight contemporary art shows a year and a biennial curated show of international interest. SITE Santa Fe champions international contemporary art on the cutting edge.
The gallery breadth here is nearly inexhaustible in its range. Morning Star Gallery focuses mainly on American Indian clothing and jewelry from the 19th century. Running Ridge Gallery shows the painted cats of artist Beatrice Wood. Karan Ruhlen Gallery mounts an annual show devoted to drinking cups, called 101 Cups. Leslie Muth Gallery hosts only “outsider” artists, those who are self-taught or on the social fringe, including some who have gone over the edge. This short list only begins to express the diversity of art on display here.
Still another art presence here is the massive foundry known as Shidoni, located a few miles outside the city. On any day a visitor can browse through acres of outdoor sculptures with many styles and subjects. On Saturdays a visitor can watch the bronze-pouring process at which this co-operative foundry excels.
If the scene seems too complex, hire a local guide who can organize a personal tour.
If you’ve never been to Santa Fe to savor its art scene, the O’Keeffe museum might be the added attraction to motivate you.
SANTA FE ARTS: IF YOU GO
For Santa Fe tourism information, the contact is Santa Fe Convention and Visitor Bureau, P.O. Box 909, Santa Fe, NM 87504-0909; 800/777-CITY, 505/984-6760; www.santafe.org.