Santa Fe Sheds Southwestern Kitsch Now That Boom Times for Adobe-and-Cactus-Themed Art Are Past, Serious Exhibitions Feature Contemporary Works

Article excerpt

THE thousands of cultural tourists and art lovers who visit this Southwestern city regularly are witnessing what could be a sea change in the Santa Fe art scene this summer.

This year is shaping up as the year of record high rents but dramatically lower business receipts in this northern New Mexico city of 55,000 residents. The whispered talk at art-exhibition openings and Santa Fe's armada of cafes is that art-gallery sales are down by 30 to 50 percent.

A number of galleries sell what's come to be known as Santa Fe-style art: the dreamy, Southwestern landscapes and romantic images of a Pocahontas-like native American woman cradling a wide-eyed child. But the buyers of such works today have limited art budgets and even more limited exposure to notions of how creative compromises turn fine art into commercial schlock.

With the trend in Western clothing and home furnishings exhausted, many downtown merchants are talking about moving to some place with the potential to become "the next Santa Fe."

Curiously, the two segments of the local visual-arts scene that are not only weathering these shifts but profiting from them, are galleries selling contemporary art and Latin American art.

A number of downtown and Canyon Road (the city's popular arts district) galleries selling art with little connection to Santa Fe have been attracting attention from well-heeled art collectors. These people, many of whom come from metropolitan areas on the East and West Coasts, are proving to be the anchors holding the remainder of Santa Fe's visual-arts scene in place.

International show

Contemporary art has arrived here, in an even bigger way, with the inaugural staging of Site Santa Fe, an international exhibition that takes its cues from the contemporary-art festivals held in Basel, Switzerland; Venice; and Sydney.

That 31 prominent artists such as Bruce Nauman, Rebecca Horn, Marta Maria Perez Bravo, Andres Serrano, Jenny Holzer, Rebecca Belmore, and Carlos Capelan participated in the first year of this show is a tribute to the connections and organizational skills of Bruce Ferguson, the director, and Vincent Varga, administrative director.

Between these two Canadians are dozens of years of experience in the organization and staging of multinational art exhibitions at museums, art fairs, and festivals. All their skills, and a few new twists, have come into play in assembling a complex show in this, the state that has made Georgia O'Keeffe and R.C. Gorman household names in the United States.

"We thought this area hadn't been very well served in the contemporary art realm," Mr. Ferguson said during a tour of Site Santa Fe's 19,000-square-foot main exhibition facility. "And we had to prove ourselves against the perception that this area is apart from other aspects of what's urban and cosmopolitan. …