3 Questions

3 Questions with Gaia Contemporary Gallery Director Coleman O’Keeffe

A splash of youthful passion on Canyon Road

(Courtesy Coleman O’Keeffe)

Before taking on a managerial role at three-year-old Canyon Road gallery Gaia Contemporary (225 Canyon Road, (505) 467-8363), University of Tennessee fine arts graduate Coleman O’Keeffe, 27, had his own painting practice to help lead the way, but also his Coal Enterprises branding business, which, he says, is how he connected with Gaia owners Ben and Kana Hauptman. In his new role, O’Keeffe says putting artists first is the name of the game. Oil painter Tania Dibbs’ String Theory exhibit (through June 30), opened last week and is O’Keeffe’s first curatorial effort at Gaia. This interview has been edited for clarity and concision. (Adam Ferguson)

Younger people don’t often take on managerial roles at high-profile galleries. What do you think this says for the long-term at Gaia and/or Canyon Road itself?

I’m very humbled by the opportunity. I know I’m joining the ranks of some of the best in the industry here in Santa Fe. I mean, Santa Fe is the highest standard in my opinion, in terms of holistic art processing and craftsmanship. Artists here are tapping into dimensionality that’s so far-out and beyond any sort of attempt made by other artists and other blockbuster art markets, and it’s just a more refined, preserved sensibility.

I look forward to bringing my own tastes to these ranks. I also think that Santa Fe—and Canyon Road in particular—has kind of been in a pretty stagnant state. I think most of the art world has. So, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to inject more ideas and new ways of platforming artists. Regarding Gaia as a gallery, I think these practices are reflected in our brand and our values. It’s a brand that just wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the integrity of our artists. So we’re still very much artists first. My job is just to create a platform with as much integrity as possible.

What’s your own background like and what do you hope to bring to the table?

My background truly started working as an assistant for artists in Los Angeles. And I really enjoy the process of creating a space for artists to bring their all to their process. It just proved to be this incredibly beautiful thing that I instantly recognized was greater than myself, and it was an honor to work with artists that kind of had that same reference for the process. So all I could really hope to do is, again, create a platform with as much integrity as possible so these artists feel as comfortable as possible to speak truths and to have these conversations and to share their visions with the world. I want them to feel comfortable, feel that they truly have autonomy within their creative process.

For what sorts of art or artists would you like Gaia to be known?

Gaia specifically is more centered around organic sensibilities within contemporary artwork. So it’s appreciation of materials and an appreciation of natural elements as well. But what I’m searching for is just voices; voices that are truly contemporary, and contemporary meaning most present and relevant. So, when I say voice, it’s like, what voice is going to be heard at this time? Who’s truly speaking to what they see right now? Who’s really passionate? We’re platforming artists who are creating incredible atmospheres and using positive use of color. Our artists are really finding their peace within all of the insanity and within the relationship between the planet and the relationship with society. Those points of solace within their work is what they’re choosing to share here.

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