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A Creative Life

Santa Fe loses Linda Durham Contemporary Art–but not Linda Durham

March 2, 2011, 12:00 am

In between art fairs and exhibitions, Durham relaxed by, for example, climbing the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

Now that you’re closing the gallery, is there heartbreak?
Well, I have done this for 33 years and I have loved it. My father worked for one company for 35 years and retired, and they gave him a watch. So 33 years is almost as long, although no one is giving me a watch. Do I want to do it forever? If I had a whole lot of money and could have a giant staff and I could travel and be gone a lot of the time, I’d do it forever but, absent the fortune and the staff and the ability to also do other things that are interesting to me, I know it’s time.

Are you worried about your artists?
I’m worried about the world. Not just the artists or myself or our community, I’m worried about what’s going on in the world. I don’t represent that many artists on a full-time basis, and the ones I do have a few things in common: They’re brilliant, they’re resourceful and, of course, they’re really good artists, I think. So good things will happen for them. But I think the art world has changed a lot in the last few years, so it’s not what it used to be. The gallery used to be a vehicle for communication, and I love what I’ve learned from artists, what I’ve learned about art, what I’ve learned from people who love art and artists, and the conversation about the importance of art in culture and in life has been central to the gallery. But that’s changed a little bit.

Describe the change you see in the art world.
I feel that art is a really, really important component of a good life and important to society. I think real artists are at the vanguard of society and that we learn about ourselves as a culture through art. How do we know cultures of the past? From the architecture and the sculpture and the music and poetry and paintings that remain. What is art teaching us now, and what will the future know about us and our culture and our time from the art that we’re producing? What I’ve noticed is that it’s gotten to be really chic to be involved in the arts. It’s attracting a wider and wider array of people, some whose passion for what they do is deep and profound, and some for whom it’s a whim and a game. And that goes for the art that’s being made, the people who are displaying or showing the art, and the people who are collecting it. It’s different than it was even 20 years ago. It used to be that one became an artist because one had passion for it. And people opened galleries out of love and respect for the work. And people collected for the same reasons. 

When Durham tired of the scene on Canyon Road, she relocated to Galisteo.

We’ve lost, as a general group, lost the interest, willingness, ability to slow down and look at something and let it talk. There’s celebrity art, there’s expensive art that makes people salivate—some people—because of its price, because of its fame. Now, anyone can become an artist and anyone can open a gallery and anyone can be a collector. When I started, I didn’t know much, but I spent a lot of time asking, learning, looking, making mistakes and honing a point of view. I don’t think you can have a point of view about art without looking at a lot of art. And I don’t think you can look at a lot of art with a few visits to The Met or the Guggenheim or by taking one class in college.

How do you see those changes playing out in Santa Fe?
I think this is a remarkable part of the world, and I believe that northern New Mexico is a magnet for the creative person or creative personality. We have more than our fair share of everything. I think the problem is that it’s hard to differentiate between a great collection and a collection built on money, between a great gallery and a vanity gallery. In Santa Fe, right now, let’s say there are 300 galleries. In my opinion, there might be 20 great galleries among them. In terms of all the galleries in Santa Fe, which gallery do I like the most? Mine. My idea was never, ‘How can I put work that will sell in the gallery?’ but, ‘How can I create a market for what I want to put in the gallery?’ I picked people and showed work that I felt answered my criteria. I limited the gallery to New Mexico-based artists and they had to be really smart in my opinion because I just like really smart, interesting people. Unlike some galleries, I know all my artists really well. 

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