A Santa Fe Art Tour
April 24 2016
Santa Fe was founded in 1610, well before Boston and New York, and even centuries before Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Over the course of the twentieth century, its crisp climate, glorious natural setting, and iconic adobe architecture made it a minor Mecca for artists, hippies, celebrities and others beguiled by one of the most exotic cities in the US. Later, with the coming of Project Manhattan and the Los Alamos National Laboratories, as well the revolutionizing Santa Fe Institute, the city also became an intellectual hub and its growing economy even gave rise to a world-class opera. For generations now, the city has been a major crucible of art and culture.
It remains among the most important centers of the country’s art market, with an extremely high concentration of art galleries – most famously along Canyon Road – but which in recent years have grown well beyond those traditional confines. Notable institutions elsewhere in the city include Meow Wolf, SITE and its Santa Fe Biennial, The Georgia O’Keefe Museum, the Museum of International Folk Art, and many others.
Thanks to the region’s interrelationship with science, its singularly beautiful landscape, and its longstanding tradition of multilingual multiculturalism, art produced in Santa Fe is also quite unlike anywhere else in the country. The often marginalized work of Native American and latino artists are shown vibrantly, and art that begs metaphysical, scientific and technological questions sometimes not posed in more market-driven contexts flourishes.
On a recent trip to the city, we hung out with our friend, art historian Elaine Ritchel, who recently returned to New Mexico from Croatia. As an expert in the art world, she is making it her business to demistify Santa Fe as an art destination with her inspiring one-woman company, Santa Fe Art Tours.
How do you take your coffee?
With a swirl of cream.
What’s your sunday ritual?
I enjoy going out to breakfast on Sundays – The Pantry, Tune-Up Cafe, and Love Yourself Cafe are on regular rotation. After running a few errands, I like to spend some time outside, whether it’s strolling around the plaza or heading down to the creek by my house to read.
Describe your style in just a few words.
Classic, simple; Santa Fe minimal.
You’ve worked in art institutions in places as diverse as Texas and Croatia. What brought you to Santa Fe?
I went to high school and college in Albuquerque, did grad school in Austin, and then headed to Croatia, which is an amazingly beautiful place with a fascinating art scene. I love New Mexico, though, and I never wanted to leave permanently. One day, while home on a long visit, I was at lunch at the Tesuque Village Market just north of Santa Fe, and I sort of jokingly thought, Hm, Tesuque’s cute. Maybe I should move here. That night I found a listing for an apartment in the area with incredible mountain views; I went back up for an open house the next day, and a few days later, I had signed the lease. It was a total gut decision, but I thought, Well, if I want to work in the arts, Santa Fe isn’t a bad place to be!
Give us a quick 101 on the art scene here – what is special or unique about it?
The art scene here is diverse, rich, and layered. New Mexico has a long history of visual culture, and I love how that continues to inform or coexist with contemporary work here. In Santa Fe, you can see Pueblo pottery, Spanish Colonial relics, and cutting-edge contemporary work all within a couple of blocks – and sometimes in the same gallery. Peyton Wright, for instance, shows both Spanish Colonial devotional art and modernism. William Siegal pairs contemporary abstraction with pre-Columbian artifacts and textiles. Art House, the exhibition space of the Thoma Art Foundation, shows digital and computer art in a historic adobe farmhouse.
The work here is often very material, very formal. I wonder if that has something to do with the rawness of this place. The land and the sky are stark and expansive. They have a constant presence that permeates everything, even – and maybe especially – art and architecture.
That all said, with over 200 galleries in just a couple square miles, there can be a lot of visual noise. One reason I launched Santa Fe Art Tours was to help visitors and locals alike navigate what’s available.
Tell us a little about the tours.
I love encouraging personal connections between people and art, and that’s what drives my approach. My tour groups are small, and conversation is key. It’s seminar style rather than lecture based, and therefore very interactive. The tours are relaxed, engaging, and accessible – but it’s not just a cursory overview. We delve into the work on view, challenge it, and allow it to challenge us.
As for content, there’s a good balance of context, conversation, and close-looking activities. I choose a diverse selection of galleries that demonstrate consistent quality and show work that encourages conversation. I also sometimes pair tours with culinary stops, wine tastings, and creative workshops.
The city is well-known for its galleries, but are there many artists who practice and make work here? What sorts of work do they make?
There are many, many artists who practice and make work here – and I am still discovering them! New Mexico has a strange history of being a creative magnet and artistic hotspot that can also swallow artists up. Elaine De Kooning once wrote that the modernist painter Raymond Jonson would now be a nationally recognized artist if he had continued to work in Chicago or New York instead of moving to New Mexico. While it’s true that practicing artists here haven’t always been as visible as they could or should be, many of them are successfully carving niches for themselves in Santa Fe.
Rose B. Simpson and Diego Romero, for example, are both reimagining the traditional medium of clay. The Strangers Collective, co-founded by writer Jordan Eddy and artist Kyle Farrell, provides a platform for emerging artists and writers to create, refine, and share their work through seasonal exhibitions. The work of David O’Brien, who is associated with Strangers, is always striking. His conceptually-driven disc paintings and graphite transfer drawings are both minimal and rich, raw and refined. Santa Fe is also a hub for encaustic, collage, and assemblage. I enjoy the fine-meets-folk-art constructions of William Skrips, the collage work of Cecil Touchon and Melinda Tidwell, and the mixed-media abstractions of Lauren Mantecon.
Again, while the work of these artists is certainly conceptual, it’s also heavily formal and material. It’s weighty and tactile, and I find that refreshing and rather seductive. This is just scratching the surface, of course – there are many more fantastic artists living and working here.
Without giving away too much of what you show on the tours, what are a few of the highlights of the city?
Santa Fe is a delightful place to wander. I enjoy grabbing a coffee and aimlessly strolling around the plaza area or Canyon Road. There are some great bookshops to browse: Garcia Street Books, Photo-Eye Bookstore, Collected Works, the bookshop at Peters Projects. The Palace Print Shop, inside the Palace of the Governors, is a charming historic press that is still in business. Of course, the museums and galleries here are definitely worth exploring – and you should have at least one margarita while in town!
A few other favorites:
Breakfast: The Pantry is best for cheap and hearty diner eats
Lunch: The Teahouse is a perfect spot for lunch or a scone after a Canyon Road Quickie tour
Dinner: The Cowgirl. People may argue with this one, but the happy hour margaritas and nachos can’t be beat!
Coffee/Hangout: Downtown Subscription for coffee, people watching, and local chit-chat; Garcia Street Books and Photo-Eye Bookstore are right next door
Other not-to-miss spots: Palace Print Shop, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, La Posada de Santa Fe for the gorgeous interior – you can grab a drink at the bar and wander around – and, of course, Canyon Road and the Railyard Arts District.