Santa Fe

Magic Mountain meets Magic High Desert in Santa Fe

Art on the Road: Friderike Heuer travels the high routes of northern New Mexico with her camera and discovers parallels with Thomas Mann

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the first of two stories from her recent visit to northern New Mexico, Portland photographer and artist Friderike Heuer discovers layers of history, art in abundance, and a cornucopia of vivid images from the streets, museums, and galleries of Santa Fe. The accidental sculpture of walking sticks in the top photo was on display near the Rio Grande Steel Bridge, where a street vendor was selling wares. In addition to the region’s deep history, Heuer found evidence of a futuristic streak: The rest of the photos, except for the book cover, are from “the ultimate Dionysian experience of art meets entertainment at the indescribable Magic Castle known as Meow Wolf.” Coming Monday: Georgia O’Keeffe in the Southwest.

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HANS CASTORP, THE YOUNG, ARTISTICALLY INCLINED protagonist of Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain, visits his dying cousin in a sanatorium for people with tuberculosis in the Swiss mountains. Infected himself, he ends up staying there for seven years before joining the military for World War I in 1914, expected to meet his doom. As a patient, he might as well have come to Santa Fe, New Mexico. This place also attracted health-seekers at the beginning of the last century, many of whom never left, given that the dry high-desert air was beneficial to people with lung diseases.

Mann’s novel was begun in 1912, published more than a decade later, and by that time completely revised to incorporate the lessons from the Great War. The trek of “lungers,” as they were called, to Santa Fe also saw significant changes. A few TB patients arrived in the early 1900s. Others followed as word of mouth spread. People suffering from the disease from all over the United States were soon actively pursued by local politicians and administrators, who persuaded them to come to the area by the thousands. The first wave consisted of artists and educated, mostly wealthy people – the kind you would have also met at Mann’s Berghof sanatorium. Next came soldiers and veterans, then all sorts of poor people unable to pay for their stay and yet welcomed with open arms and plenty of sanatorium beds. What was going on? Why the pursuit of a population carrying a dreaded disease?

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Santa Fe ups the Wattage

Portland artist Marie Watt blankets the territory in Santa Fe's Northwest-tinted summer of art

SANTA FE, New Mexico – Marie Watt’s blankets march down the expanse of a large gallery at SITE Santa Fe, hanging like somebody’s spectacular wash from a row of receding clotheslines. The Portland artist, who comes from Wyoming ranchers on her father’s side and the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation on her mother’s, holds down much of the main territory at Santa Fe’s leading home for contemporary art, and her work reaches well beyond the blankets themselves. Cut apart and reimagined, added to by dozens of hands, pictorialized and abstracted, traditional and thoroughly contemporary at the same time, Watt’s blankets reclaim history and invent the future, subtly ravishing the eye along the way.

Marie Watt's blankets at SITE Santa Fe. Eric Swanson Photograsphy

Marie Watt’s blankets at SITE Santa Fe. Eric Swanson Photograsphy

Watt is just one of several Oregon and Pacific Northwest artists whose work is popping up prominently in this city of Southwestern art. Painter and sculptor Rick Bartow is a key part of a show of work by contemporary Native American artists at Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art through Sept. 5. Many fine Northwest pieces, from Alaska to Oregon and Northern California, are in the large exhibition Connoisseurship & Good Pie: Ted Coe and Collecting Native Art, through April 17 at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. And as the annual Santa Fe Indian Market and its new rival, IFAM, the Indigenous Fine Art Market, crowded the town with visitors over the past week, a solid sprinkling of Northwest artists were part of the mix.

Santa Fe, with its deep history and mingling of three cultures, has an art scene that is divided along Indian, Hispanic and Anglo cultural lines, but that also crosses borders in interesting and sometimes innovative ways. The museums and popular markets such as Indian, Folk Art, and Spanish work closely together: indeed, the organization that runs the Spanish Colonial Museum also runs Spanish Market, and is trying to expand the market to other cities in the Southwest.

Unlike Portland – which has one large art museum and a single smaller one, the Museum of Contemporary Craft – Santa Fe is littered with small museums, both private and public, in addition to the larger, general New Mexico Museum of Art downtown. What you don’t find in one place, you likely will in another, from the Georgia O’Keeffe to SITE to the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts to the four institutions within easy walking distance on Museum Hill: the Spanish Colonial, Wheelwright, International Folk Art, and Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

The commercial gallery scene, meanwhile, is vibrant, with many old-liners and a new crop growing in the emerging Railyard District, where the farmers’ market also keeps things bustling, especially in summer and fall. Smallness can have its problems, in funding, collecting, and administration, but the varying sites and approaches create a sense of excitement and churn that single institutions often can’t match. What’s more, unlike other multiple-museum centers such as Los Angeles and New York, everything in Santa Fe is pretty much close to everything else. That makes museum-hopping fun.

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