The perpetual liveliness of Santa Fe’s art scene is self-evident—take SFR’s overstuffed visual arts listings as proof—but even so, the city gains a certain vigor during the weekend of Traditional Spanish Market, which celebrated its 60th anniversary last weekend. Hotel rates increase; parking advertisements pop up out of nowhere; vendors peddle turkey legs and snow cones; 200-plus artists take over the Plaza; and nearby traffic somehow crawls even slower. It is, by all means, an event.
But chalking all the excitement solely up to Spanish Market would be soundly incorrect. For 25 years now, the Contemporary Hispanic Market has exhibited in the same vicinity on the same weekend, with its 134 booths consuming a long stretch on Lincoln Avenue. Hispanic Market has grown swiftly, even if telling the two events apart hasn’t always been easy. In a recent letter to SFR [opinion, July 20: “Mark It Down”], Robb Rael, an exhibiting artist and the Hispanic Market’s public relations coordinator, took us to task over a feature in which we mentioned both events, but did little to draw distinctions. In our defense, it’s easy to confuse them when all you have to designate the events’ borders is Hispanic Market’s flimsy, easy-to-miss sign (as it had last weekend). Still, the germ of Rael’s argument is important: Stylistically, both espouse separate values, and this difference shouldn’t be undersold just because the markets occur simultaneously.
The primary fare of this year’s Traditional Spanish Market was Catholic devotional paraphernalia (specifically, bultos and retablos), plus a few other media such as rugs and jewelry. The sheer abundance of religious art meant that, if you made a list of the festival’s finest pieces, odds are it would be heavy with retablos and bultos.
On the retablo front, Guadalupita Ortiz and Belarmino Esquibel presented nuanced, elegantly crafted portraits of their preferred saints—welcome alternatives to the many labors of love that looked like they’d come from enthusiastic but unskilled amateurs. Facial features were the primary points of distinction, with the better pieces displaying realistic images and the subpar ones bearing distorted, Picasso-esque eyes and noses.
Many bultos suffered from similar proportional problems, but there was also a greater variety of creative interpretation. James A Cordova’s depiction of baby Jesus as some kind of lavishly dressed medieval prince, sitting on a throne with a basket on one hand and a scepter in the other, was weirdly entrancing. Arthur López’ “Lagrimas de Dolores, Milagros de Fe,” a bulto of a teary Virgin Mary dressed in a regal red gown with scattered limbs nailed to the cloth, sported solid craftsmanship and an imaginative but on-point sense of vision.
Contemporary Hispanic Market offers the same ingenuity seen in López’ work, but does more with it. The events’ differing aesthetic attitudes were apparent in Rael’s pieces, which were stationed at the market’s entrance and filled with radiant colors, pop-culture-bred imagery and skateboards doubling as canvases.
Raymond Sandoval exhibited clay and papier-māché busts of tortured, angel-like men, and Joseph Gálvan presented acrylic sculpture backed by striking LED lighting.
The graffiti-influenced work by Moises Salcedo was far better in payoff than theory. The painter is fond of relying on cliché images such as hearts and flames, but his strokes’ brilliant vitality and punchy, neon-heavy
palette made him a standout. He depicted incredibly charming, quizzical images: a luchador in a gold and pink mask cruising a yellow sports car; St. Pasquale praying alongside a flaming enchilada; and a befuddled chihuahua wearing a blue business suit and human hair, a flaming taco floating over one shoulder and a worm soaked in burning booze (or urine) over his other.
Vicente Telles’ “superhero saints” struck the middle ground between the two markets. He delved into the contemporary by co-opting the concepts of familiar characters such as the Human Torch and Superman, but in a traditional twist, earnestly likened them to saints, comparing the former to St. Lorenzo and the latter to Jesus. (Big surprise, right?) Telles’ convergence of contrasting themes made for a nice diversion, but it’s definitely for the best that we remember both markets as worlds apart.