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.
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
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. …