March 29, 2006

 Visiting Artist, Santa Fe


      Some say you’re not a real artist unless you make the pilgrimage to Santa Fe and New York City.  Well, OK, for sure the Big Apple.  But not known by the  majority of wannabe artists out there, Santa Fe claims to sell the most art after New York.  OK, some experts claim the Southwestern small town (population of only 60,000 folks) is also behind Los Angeles.  Two of the completing locations fighting for bragging rights as best art markets of America have residents in the millions. Versus Santa Fe, again, a tiny 60,000.   When I found out just how major a presence the town has on the art world (I I.D.-ed our Windows desktop design of blue window, turquoise window, stucco wall, and red chili peppers hung out to dry/season as photographed in Santa Fe!).  Sure that Waikiki Beach wouldn’t miss me, I just had to split and go check out the art scene (and opportunity) of that desert town in New Mexico.  I told my foreign-born wife not to be concerned about a visa.

      I took off by myself with much excitement.  I had never set foot in the state of New Mexico, I grew up with the Lone Ranger and Tonto and Billy the Kid spent time in the local jail.  I anticipated immersing myself in its famous and highly marketed greatest (spiritual, for photographic results, for visual arts inspiration, and in foot candles) “light.”   I wanted to see the action of a full year active marketplace for art.  I sought to understand a governing body that could keep tourist come back and  buying by maintaining urban design anchored in the past, tied by multiple cultures.   And by that, turn it into dollars –  the economy’s major source of profits, through a strong art market.  Along with the temperate weather (compared to Maine),  and creating the ambience of an Old West Southwest town where Hispanic, Indian, Anglo (anybody not Indian) cultures coexist and blend, comes the supply for the demand.

      I was amazed at the assortment of art things to buy as a visiting tourist turn collector.  Large ceramic pots with colorful glazes in Indian designs, metal and wooden sculptures, Western art, fine jewelry, Modernist, New Mexican landscape, or digital abstract, - so much for sale!  I read about 250 art galleries and 10 museums – all in a small town of 60,000.  Something made this place special where people come from around the world to experience and bring back masterpieces for their homes.

     My brief was very brief and minimal, so that’s all this blog can deliver.  I was there for 2 days.  Here is what I sensed as artist-thinking-about-relocating-for-the-sake-of-the-career-

     I dropped out of the sky in mid-March and its not the warm, sunny weather the Chamber of Commerce promotes.   For this Hawaiian, stepping out of 85F and into 45F (with the wind chill factor) on a walk and 15F at night was an abrupt change of weather.  But it was worth it.

    It was great putting my hands on the exterior wall of a real adobe house, in the city.  I had read in preparation for my trip about the history and present “Santa Fe Style” of such Pueblo Indian and Spanish  architectural styles.  Viewing first hand the Pueblo adobe design made consistent throughout the town was not disappointing.  There was a harmony of shape, form and color of an urban city that I had never seen anyplace else in the world.  The town’s look and therefore character starts with descendents of the original adobe bricks’ makeup – dirt, water (= mud), straw, a formula based upon what they had in the arid desert.   All the buildings and houses, new or old, big or small, had (to have by building code) exterior walls with rounded corners and stucco painted raw sienna, light magenta, tan or pink.  Projecting ends of floor risers lend to the primitive design of Pueblo adobes made by hand using mud and straw.  Walking about, starting from the center which the Plaza has always been for over 400 years, it almost feels like I am in a Disney-like Frontiers Land.  But Southwestern Mexican, not Far West Texan, Arizonan, or Californian.  The natural colors of their building on a famous summer/autumn sunset, all change into shades of golden red-oranges.  Captured in print and circulated on the Internet, more around the globe are treking to Santa Fe to see and feel the natural light themselves.


    Things seemed slow this time of year (March 22-23).  Galleries are all over the place, some right next to the edge of the Plaza.  I cannot imagine what the monthly rent smack-dab right in the middle of location-location-location, how much art they have to move to turn pay operating costs and make a living. 



 Most places didn’t open up till past 9 a.m. The museums, \including the Indian, the Museum of Fine Arts. and the Georgia O’ Keefe, opened at 10 a.m.   So at 7:30amI had a hearty breakfast in the café on the Plaza and read the New Mexican. 


     Home prices have zoomed up in the last few years. The smallest and modest old house in town is priced at $450,000 and up!   If one wanted to invest in property there to have a bed when in town and a place to store some art, I am focusing now on condo conversions.  This is the only way a new artist can live close to the downtown galleries at an affordable price.  1 bedrooms run around $170,000 and 2 bedrooms $210,000.  The rent for a 1 bedroom is about $800 and a 2-bedroom hovers around $1000.  About 5-9 miles out brand new 3 bedroom/2bath/2full garage suburban adobe style family homes can be had for $250,000.  But from the condos you can walk to the gallery district.


      Besides the expected regional representational art and Indian folk art is a growing presence of contemporary art for sale.  I read ten years ago the market was 90% New Mexican and 10% contemporary.  Today contemporary is 40% according to one researcher.  This is good news for contemporary artists abroad to know.  Galleries there do take international contemporary art to the collectors.  Even digital art hangs for sale in a gallery I visited.   Even as a walked as if in a place of the past, this is the new Santa Fe.


Pygoya 2006

    But success may only appear skin deep.  One artist there said “Santa Fe has been in a down art market since the 90s.  Many artist I know have given up trying to live on their art and moved to a more affordable place to live.  Sometimes nobody’s selling.   Galleries come and go on Canon Road (the main art district of Santa Fe).”

    So moving here as an artist may not reap overnight success.  It takes time to ready the portfolios, network at parties, go to the receptions, meet people, promote your art.  But here there are hundreds of galleries all in each other’s face (it’s a small town and the tourist all concentrate and walk in one area) so you know there’s a viable market of buyers out here.  I read there are many second or vacation home owners from New York City and Los Angeles.  If the talent is there, I think the new artist’s work won’t get lost among the native and local art more acclimatized to the desert. 


Pygoya 2006

     If you’re looking to buy property, go before the summer’s buyer rush. “Buy before May.”  Also be prepared to face the harsh realty that if you come at this time of year, there’s not much traffic flow in the commercial retail areas, including the galleries.  “Things pick up around here when the summer weather returns.”

    “Pygoya Gallery, Santa Fe, NM.”   Ah, I can only dream.  Check it out; I wasn’t disappointed.