Canyon Road's OTA Contemporary has been open since May 2017, but to call it a year old is somewhat deceptive. "It took us nine months to just get past the historic board, and another three months to do demo and construction," gallery owner Kiyomi Baird tells SFR. "Altogether it was a year to even get the door open."
Unlike galleries that preceded it, OTA (pronounced oh-tah) has no rugged cowboys in the window, no wintry, adobe-dotted landscapes. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything with an overtly Southwestern slant, or even anything representational for that matter. The gallery is sleek and minimal, wired for high-tech audio and lighting, evincing a wholly non-artsy-craftsy modernity which is refreshingly unusual for Santa Fe's historic arts district. To mark its anniversary, Beginnings II, which opens this Friday, showcases metal sculptures by Robert Koch and 2-D works by Baird, who is both gallery owner and gallery artist. "Robert is really into texture and patterns," says Baird. "That's what I'm into also, so it's kind of like we're speaking the same language."
OTA Contemporary is just a saunter down from Gerald Peters Gallery on Paseo de Peralta, right at the entrance of Canyon Road. "The most common question we get," Baird says with a laugh, "is probably 'What color are the walls?' and 'How do you get the floors to look like that?'" (Super White by Benjamin Moore; cement polished multiple times to achieve a high gloss, in case you were wondering.) Anyone who's worked in galleries expects these kinds of sometimes annoyingly not-remotely-related-to-art-sales questions, but Baird sounds undaunted. "If a person comes in and the environment speaks to them, then that's the first step. That's what I want, for people to get in touch with their curiosity."
The gallery's roster is diverse and draws from regional and out-of-state artists alike. The main requirement, says Baird, is that "artists have a voice that's developed, and their philosophy is in line with ours." Baird's exhibition history belays a strong penchant for abstraction, exemplified in shows like last fall's Enigma, in which the texturally and colorfully playful paintings of Nola Zirin acted as surprisingly sublime counterparts to August Muth's holographic works.
Baird, a third-generation Japanese American, grew up in California. Her father was a photographer and ink-brush artist, a deeply artistic man who encouraged his daughter's creative side. "He was enthusiastic about art, it was just always around," Baird says. "It's what I did as a child to play." Like many little girls, Baird wanted to be a professional ballerina, and she studied dance from toddlerhood into her adult years. Though she went to Europe to study contemporary dance in her early 20s, Baird continued to make artwork on the side. One day, she says, "I had an experience, a shift in consciousness, and I became much more interested in painting." A preoccupation with the circle—now the most recognizable form in Baird's work—began then and there. "It's the enzo sign—no beginning, no end," explains Baird, referencing a symbol with roots in ancient Asian art.
"Birth of a Star" employs a peach-rimmed, multi-hued enzo front and center, in this case softly surrounded by glowing golds and cream. Pale sky blue beyond invokes an unmistakable sense of the heavens, and the work is calming and quiet, like a view from a cloud. In others, little hints of cherry blossoms, lotuses, and distinctively curvilinear lines point to Far East influences.
Show partner Robert Koch's curvy, abstracted metal sculptures offer a pleasing physicality. His steel work "Slender Open Pod" is just what it sounds like: a lean, elongated metal form with a top-to-bottom slit, opened widest at its middle. "Spheres," globe-like forms of crisscrossed, cord-like metal, are wonderfully correct, if obvious, complements to Baird's enzos.
Baird readily acknowledges the challenge of both showing her work and running a gallery that houses it, remarking that the past year has been an eye-opener. "I had a lot of learning to do," she says. "I came [to Santa Fe] fresh, like a child." She isn't a complete babe in the woods, though; decades ago, Baird opened a gallery (also named OTA) in San Francisco, then eventually made her way to the East Coast, and now has gallery representation in New York City. Moving to Santa Fe was a decision she and husband Ed made several years ago, and it doesn't sound like there's any going back. "I hope it can be a destination point for people," Baird says. "There's a very supportive audience here." OTA's kickoff opening included live dance, fancy food and sparkling wine. This year's event will be much more low-key, but Baird is still excited. "We'll have Sigmund Jenssen, who is a musician, but also a neurologist, playing the keyboard," she says. Musically, he will improvise, depending on the mood of the room.
5:30 pm Friday May 11. Free.
203 Canyon Road,