It started with a cease-and-desist letter. Max Baseman had been running an art gallery out of his kitchen in a casita on Galisteo Street. It was Unit 5, and the black number by the door was the gallery’s de facto sign. News of the little space swirled around Santa Fe’s art scene, aided by high-profile supporters such as New Mexico Museum of Art’s Merry Scully and TAI Modern’s Jaquelin Loyd. Then, about six months ago, Baseman’s landlord intervened.
"The motto at the casita was, 'We can do anything we want,'" Baseman says. "Then I got an email that said we couldn't do anything we wanted. So the new motto is, 'We're all in it together!'" He rented a warehouse space on Fox Road, a short walk from Meow Wolf. With the help of his friends, and the support of his new landlord, he spent four months converting it into a white box art space. The new 5. Gallery opened in August, and Baseman has mounted an exhibition there every month since. On a stormy Monday morning, the gallerist took some time to reflect on his curatorial journey so far—and the shifting fate of his new neighborhood.
"I grew up halfway in the art world," says Baseman. His father is Taos artist Marc Baseman, who contributed works from his print collection to 5.'s November show. Mandorlo e Mandorla featured works on paper from legendary names like Louise Bourgeois, Marcel Duchamp and Gerhard Richter. Baseman wandered the show with his fluffy white cat, Nephele, pointing out artworks that usually reside in his childhood home in Taos. "I'm named after Max Beckmann, who did the piece over there," he says, gesturing to a 1922 drypoint by the German expressionist. "All of my dad's fancy art books have crayon scratches on them from when I was a toddler."
Baseman always admired the work of Taos modernists such as Agnes Martin, but never received a formal art education. After high school, he hastily left his hometown for Albuquerque to study philosophy and religious studies at the University of New Mexico. He graduated in 2014, and crashed on a friend’s couch in Santa Fe. “Santa Fe was just a place between Albuquerque and Taos. I didn’t know it that well,” he says. In his first few months here, he started hanging out downtown at The Matador and connected with a burgeoning scene of young artists.
Founding an art salon in his home seemed like a natural next step. "I went to school for philosophy, and I consider [curating] the same work," says Baseman. He recruited his new friends to contribute artwork, but didn't tap the collections of his father and other art collectors. "I mean, it was my kitchen," says Baseman. "I had to hang things based on how thick the wall was in places."
Then came that fateful email from the landlord. Armed with the little blue tile that read "5," Baseman sailed into the deeper waters of the art world. He worked 14-hour shifts at Coyote Cantina this summer to raise an operating budget, and now he's running his business full-time. For the new space's inaugural show, Arbeit: Frank and his Dream, he loaded paper napkins into his Royal typewriter and tapped out invitations. "Labor-intensive but cost-effective," he says.
The group exhibition featured nods to Baseman's Taos roots, with work by Wes Mills and Chris Aloia filling the gallery's front room. Mills, who is a family friend, once ran an art space in an abandoned Taos barbershop, and exhibited work by Aloia. "To show someone that he was showing in a similar attitude was really cool," says Baseman. "I didn't go into it with that in mind, but the show told a narrative, I think."
Since then, Baseman has been working his way through his new network, seeking artwork for upcoming shows. He's planning about two months in advance, which requires constant hustling. "I looked at over 2,500 images in one day last week," he says. "Even doing one studio visit is amazing and beautiful, but emotionally and physically exhausting." Loyd and other Santa Fe art insiders have been a great help. "People say galleries are all cutthroat, but everyone's been super helpful," Baseman tells SFR.
For 5.'s December show, small, Baseman engaged art critic Ann Landi to curate a group of diminutive artworks. It's Landi's reversal of an art world tendency toward flashy, large-scale statements, and brings together emerging and established artists. Nearly all of them live in New Mexico, and many are participants of Landi's online platform for professional artists, Vasari21.
Baseman has been so busy with the gallery since opening that he's only had time to visit Meow Wolf once, but he's very aware of the cultural shift in the neighborhood. "It seems like there's a lot going on here," he says, mentioning Adobe Rose Theatre, Duel Brewing and the rumored opening of a new bar. "I don't know if it's going to be as fast or intense as everyone is saying. They're like, 'It's going to be the new Plaza!'" Baseman's presence is already drawing attention to his block: Some of his friends have been eyeing nearby warehouse spaces for their studios.
Small Opening Reception:
5-7 pm Friday Dec. 2. Free.
2351 Fox Road