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A Creative Life

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

March 2, 2011, 12:00 am

Durham’s criticism of the art world was evident early on. This interview ran in THE magazine around the time of her mayoral campaign.

From an outside perspective, it seems like your concern with larger issues and the world outside the gallery may have begun when you ran for mayor of Santa Fe in 1994.
At the particular time when that mayoral race was coming together, there were two candidates and, from my perspective and I think many other people, one person was pretty much in the pocket of the developers and another person was pretty much a west side ‘tourists go home’ kind of person. And people were talking all over town about how somebody should do something. I remember waking up one morning and thinking, ‘Who are the somebodies that everybody says should do something?’ Because it’s a common expression. So I thought, ‘I’m somebody.’ So I went down and put my name in the hat, right at the deadline. There ended up being 13 candidates in the end, and one of them was channeling a dead person. I came in third out of 13, so not bad. People would stop me in grocery stores for years and tell me they had voted for me.

And did that launch your engagement in politics and your own writing projects, which have ranged quite far afield of the gallery?
That’s on my mind a lot these days. I’ve been writing my entire life, and I have the journals I wrote in 1960 and I have the whole manuscript I wrote about my three years as a Playboy bunny and I have several other rough projects. Travel and culture have always been important to me. Santa Fe is a special place—if we only stay here, we have an unusual idea of how it is for people and what’s going on.

You also have gone to some harrowing parts of the world to engage artists and to engage women. What’s compelled you to go to Gaza and Baghdad and the other places you’ve been?
That it was possible. What I have found is that people everywhere are basically kind, and they need and want more or less the same things. They want to be heard; they want safety and respect and to have access to information and to have the right to celebrate.

Linda Durham and renowned New Mexico minimalist Agnes Martin pose in one of the Galisteo galleries.

People will tell you not to go to a place when there’s a war going on…but when you’re there, the people are living and having birthdays or struggling or making art. When I went to Baghdad, it was right after the Saddam statue had been felled, and there was danger and I saw things that were tough but, in the middle of that, the people were living their lives. One of the things that became of great interest to me was that maybe I have an ability to go somewhere, to be received warmly, to have experiences and to come back and be able to talk about it—not in terms of facts and figures…but from the heart because that’s what is most interesting to me: the heart of a situation. To go to Gaza and celebrate with the women on International Women’s Day, to make bread with them, still makes me cry. When I was in sixth grade, we learned about propaganda, and what we learned was that the enemies have propaganda and we have the truth. And you kind of believe that for a while. 

What are you going to do now?
I already have some opportunities to consider curating some exhibitions at other galleries. I can do some private consulting. I’m creating a workshop for women with a good friend of mine and I’m writing my second monologue. I teach at [Santa Fe] Community College. And I’m going to have an opportunity to work with artists in a different way. What I won’t have and what I don’t want to have any more is the obligation to be in the gallery every day and mount shows and do press releases and create invitations. But exactly how this is all going to work out…until I actually close the gallery, it’s hard to see the other side because I’m still coming in every day and I’m still dealing with closing down 33 years. I want to do it honorably and elegantly and artistically.  SFR

Gallery Grit

The great recession had no Black Tuesday. Its start date is as inexact as the fractured economic architectures that caused it, as well as the multifarious repercussions that defined it. For Santa Fe, which claims approximately 225 art galleries and 39 percent of its annual economic inflow from arts industries, those repercussions clearly resounded in the art world.

But while most gallery owners admit to experiencing a difficult time since the recession struck, its impact on the art scene may be neither obvious nor permanent.

For example, while some galleries, such as Gallery Chartreuse and Finale Fine Art, succumbed to the economic brown tide, others, such as Nedra Matteucci Fine Art on Canyon Road and The Brookover Gallery, have had their vacancies bloom with new galleries, SR Brennen and Vivo Contemporary, respectively.

“When there’s a space available, a gallery usually fills it in, certainly on Canyon Road,” Santa Fe Gallery Association Board President Karla Winterowd says.

And stalwart galleries, such as Eggman & Walrus and David Richard Contemporary, have even thrust new ventures into downtown and Palace Avenue grottoes (or, in the case of Axle Contemporary, into a mobile gallery that tours Santa Fe).

Santa Fe Conventions and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Keith Toler doesn’t believe there has been a net loss of galleries. 

“If there has, it’s incidental because so many new galleries have opened,” he says.

Perhaps the gallery scene has avoided decrepitude by never overtly acknowledging its open wounds.

“They’re not putting sale signs that you’d find at rug merchants. You rarely see a big sign that says, ‘Closing, 50 percent off,’” Winterowd says. “They have respect for their neighbors, for those still in business.”

That’s not to say gallerists haven’t felt the recession deeply nor reacted accordingly.

“We’re doing what we can to make our businesses thrive rather than waiting for someone to walk in,” Winterowd says. “We’re reaching out to other communities across the country, across the world.” 

Ken Marvel, co-owner of LewAllen Galleries, whose Railyard location opened in 2009, holds a similar sentiment. LewAllen has extended its sights beyond adobe doorways and into international arenas. To do so, LewAllen has updated its media platforms.

“The process by which we communicated with the market needed to change,” Marvel says.

If there’s an upside to the economic malaise, it’s a galvanization of the art scene as a community, rather than a series of competing businesses. Indeed, these days, galleries hold coordinated gallery walks—wherein galleries in a certain “district,” such as Palace Avenue, Canyon Road or the Railyard, hold simultaneous openings—which they jointly advertise. Such ventures require communication and a candid dialogue about Santa Fe’s art scene.

“Gallery owners are starting to work together a little more than in the past,” Winterowd says. 

As for the future, she says, “We think it will pass; it may not be the same after as it was before.”

Maybe that’s best.—Rani Molla

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