Over avocado toast and pu-erh tea at Opunita Café, the artist Crockett Bodelson—in his characteristically wry but hyper-focused manner—explains the impetus behind Respiration, his inaugural exhibit at Aqua Regia, a new gallery space inside Goldleaf Framemakers in Santa Fe. "Aqua Regia is an eighth-century term," Bodelson says. "It's the only compound that will dissolve gold, so I thought that was an interesting play on words for Goldleaf."

"I always loved the idea of having a gallery here," shop owner Marty Horowitz tells SFR by phone. "When I first got to town, you could walk down Canyon Road with a cocktail in your hand; things have changed, and people stopped going out as much." Horowitz further explains that Goldleaf attempted an exhibition space before, but it closed in 2009. When Bodelson, who is Goldleaf's showroom manager, approached Horowitz about reprising the gallery portion of the shop last month, however, the owner didn't hesitate. "I said, 'If you have the energy, let's do it,'" Horowitz says with a chuckle.

In addition to projects which have intermittently flung him to Barcelona, Brooklyn and San Francisco, Bodelson was half of the local art collective SCUBA, along with artist Sandra Wang, for years. For Aqua Regia's premiere show, "I started thinking about plants, and our relationship with them," Bodelson explains. This thought bloomed into thinking about how we "greet" spring. "The tradition of greeting cards made me think about ushering in the season. I wanted to kind of take the greeting card back to a more personal place," he says.

New space Aqua Regia explores the ideas of spring and renewal through the power ofgreeting cards.
New space Aqua Regia explores the ideas of spring and renewal through the power ofgreeting cards. | Courtesy Aqua Regia

The next step was asking people not only to design artwork, but to also include a textual component and write personal, secret messages to plant life. The gallery provided two 4-by-5-inch cards to artists, with one for artwork and the other for a message of the artist's choosing. Bodelson then sealed the two cards with wax, which means that if you buy a card (as of publication date, there are around 80 participating artists), you either open it up to see what's inside, or you leave it alone. "I like the idea of people altering their surroundings, of altering objects," Bodelson muses. "Something as simple as a piece of paper; you fold it over, now it's a card, and then you seal the edges and it's a puzzle, a mystery. People are confronted with a decision: whether to break the seal or not."

As coincidence has it, I spoke to Bodelson on Earth Day. At Opuntia, we continued our conversation, the light filtering in through large panes of glass, the buzz-inducing black tea contrasting nicely with the calm, plant-laden vibe of the café.

"The wax I used to seal the cards is local," says Bodelson. "It's from New Mexico bees, which I thought was important." We giggle, we can't help it. This is silly and fun, but also wonderfully though-provoking. Aqua Regia already has a handful of other shows slated through August, featuring local artists like Edie Tsong, RJ Ward and Marta Lea Andersson. "Ideas are easy; it's manifesting them that's hard," Bodelson points out. "We'll just take it as it goes."

Respiration: 
4 pm Friday May 4. Free.
Aqua Regia,
627 W Alameda St. (inside Goldleaf Framemakers),
988-5005

In its excellent new show GenNext: Future So Bright, which opens Friday night, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art examines and dismantles what we associate with traditional Hispanic art practices. Alongside innovative Hispanic artists like Luis Tapia, Nicholas Herrera and Marian Martinez, museum-goers can see works by 20 younger talents. In its focus on newer or otherwise emerging artists, the exhibition is a first for the museum. "I tried to find artists who are really working off of tradition," curator Jana Gottschalk tells SFR. "The art in Santa Fe is so special—not like anywhere else—and it also needs a chance to grow."

The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, one of four on Santa Fe's Museum Hill, contains hammered tin artwork, fancy portraits of Spanish mucky-mucks, lots of Catholic saints and, obviously, plenty of European influences. So how does this jive with contemporary Hispanic artists like Thomas Vigil, for example, who uses materials like road signs and license plates as backdrops for his portraits?

"I wasn't sure if my work would fit in at a Spanish Colonial museum," he acknowledges. Born and bred in Española, Vigil, who is now in his early 30s, says, "Growing up, I wasn't really exposed to contemporary art. Santeros, retablos—that's all I knew. But when I discovered graffiti, well, I guess I just never was able to put down the spray can."

Still, Vigil cites a broad range of important influences in his creative practice. "Nicholas Herrera, for sure; I grew up knowing who he was," Vigil remarks. "And even though he's a traditional santero, he does it in this raw, more edgy way that's really attractive to me."

One of the more established exhibitors is Patrick McGrath Muñiz, who was born in Puerto Rico but now lives in Houston. Politically charged and often very funny, his work builds on centuries of traditionally modeled retablos, which historically were devotional, reverential depictions of important saints or members of the Holy Family. But a big part of what makes this show so enchanting is in how newer artists look to the past with respect, but also with a strong impulse to shake up the old guard.

The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art welcomes the new guard of Hispanic artists, like Brandon Maldonado (this is “El Mojado”).
The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art welcomes the new guard of Hispanic artists, like Brandon Maldonado (this is “El Mojado”). | Courtesy The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art

Brandon Maldonado, who lives and works in Albuquerque, is self-taught. "My grandparents were artists, so I was around art, but I wasn't really encouraged by my family to paint," he says. Intriguingly, though Maldonado has deep regional roots, his meticulously configured, often darkly witty paintings rely heavily on Mexican folk art traditions. "I get a lot of inspiration looking at colonial Mexican stuff," he tells SFR. "If you imitate the past, you can only go so far. You have to find ways to bring it forward and make it your own."

Provocative and often sharply intelligent, this is a show you don't want to miss. Luckily, it will be up through Nov. 25—but you should probably try to make it to Friday's opening party, which features beverages from New Mexico Hard Cider (who also partially sponsored the exhibit), a selection of classic lowriders, and live music from Stephanie Hatfield and Bill Palmer.

GenNext: Future So Bright: 
5:30 pm Friday May 4. Free.
The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art,
750 Camino Lejo,
982-2226