It’s two weeks before the grand opening of Keep Contemporary, and artworks lean against every wall of the small, subterranean space on West San Francisco Street. Co-owner Jared Antonio-Justo Trujillo is pacing around the gallery, examining works and chatting with a few artists who are lending a hand.
"I've been here for two weeks working by myself," says Trujillo. "I created the logo, I painted the walls, I literally went to every artist's studio." The artists have been dropping off work over the past few days, inspiring the local artist/curator to install some panels over the windows and expand the room's wall space. Now for the moment of truth: Will everything fit?
"Just wait for it!" Trujillo says. The work that's already installed hangs in tight clusters, a salon-style display that's both a practical solution and a philosophical statement. These artists hang together.
Trujillo and his business partner, Tommy Borunda, recently teamed up to re-launch a flagging business venture. Borunda founded Designation Gallery in the same space last May, engaging an impressive line-up of contemporary Native artists. The project reached its peak in August, when the gallery presented a street art-inspired answer to the Santa Fe Indian Market. Then Borunda, who works as an artist and hair stylist in Albuquerque, got caught up in other projects down south. Designation's doors were locked for the better part of the fall and winter.
Enter Trujillo, a Santa Fe native who is the visual art curator at Jean Cocteau Cinema. When Borunda approached him, he jumped at the chance to inject some fresh energy into the downtown art scene. "We're trying to do something great," Trujillo says. "I think Santa Fe needs it. It's a little tired in the art world."
Trujillo has a long history as a contemporary disruptor in otherwise staid corners of the scene. In 2008, he launched a gallery on Water Street called Private Collections. Four years later, he curated the critically acclaimed, pop art-inspired group exhibition Ferus at the now-closed Eggman & Walrus Art Emporium. He's thrown multiple pop-up shows in between, building a vast network of local artists who have become frequent collaborators.
The featured artists in Keep Contemporary's grand opening show, Diamonds in the Street, set forth an eclectic, graffiti-inflected aesthetic that echoes the exuberant energy of Designation Gallery. Nico Salazar, who collaborates with Meow Wolf and heads the design label Future Fantasy Delight, painted a mural near the front door in his densely patterned, black-and-white style. Octogenarian abstract expressionist Sergio Moyano contributed several large, energetic canvases to the show, despite the fact that he's also prepping for a retrospective at Santa Fe Community College. Andrea Vargas-Mendoza offered up a gestural figurative drawing, and Meow Wolfer Dylan Pommer unleashed an army of his futuristic figurines in the space.
In all, more than 20 artists—including Trujillo himself—will christen Keep Contemporary. "I'm working with Native guys, I'm working with white guys, I'm working with Chicanos, I'm working with old ladies, old men," says Trujillo. "That's what makes this town amazing." The creations he plans to show are as diverse as the people. In addition to fine art, Trujillo will exhibit "high design" objects such as jewelry, t-shirts and skateboarding gear. "What I've learned curating throughout the years is that just having art is not going to cut it," he says. "Let's be realistic, a lot of people aren't going to spend a couple thousand dollars on art, but they'll buy a couple t-shirts to support the artists."
David Medrano, who goes by ArtistRX, is hanging around the gallery after dropping off a painting that will appear in the grand opening. Trujillo also wants to show Medrano's design and new media work in future Keep Contemporary shows. "I've shopped around in galleries in Santa Fe," Medrano says. "I went and took my portfolio to different people, and they said, 'This is great work, but this isn't really what we show.' I would have to change my persona as an artist, change what I'm creating, in order to display here."
Medrano usually introduces himself as a designer, but says he's looking to shift back toward making things for himself rather than his clients. "You kind of forget about that whole way of showing your work or having a voice," Trujillo says. Medrano nods and adds, "I'm trying to make it tip over the other way."
Thomas Christopher Haag, who exhibited in Trujillo's Ferus show, has had better luck with the Santa Fe art establishment. "I've shown a few places on Canyon Road, but it didn't seem like any of the artists had a really close relationship with the owners," says the Albuquerque artist. He sees Keep Contemporary as a very different enterprise. "It's a really talented group of people. What Jared's really mindful of is keeping it almost family-like. He wants artists who can hang out together, and he's open for suggestions. We all talked about the name and design for the gallery."
"I think that this whole idea that, 'I'm the elitist gallery director and you're below me as an artist,' that's dumb," says Trujillo. "You wouldn't exist without me, and I wouldn't exist without you. For me to know both sides of the track, I think it's important."
Trujillo is 41, and has intermittently lived in Santa Fe throughout his life. He's seen the ebb and flow of self-starting creativity in the City Different. "I've seen downtown go from a really, cool, funky, eccentric, place to being just like Beverly Hills," he says. "I'm trying to create a spot where people are creating really original, raw, honest work. We're bringing back the idea that being creative is what makes Santa Fe so culturally rich."
Diamonds in the Street Opening Reception
5 pm Friday Dec. 23. Free.
112 West San Francisco St., Ste. 102