The art in Arthur Lopez' living room alone could rival that of any museum. A sea of crucifixes hangs throughout, and wood carvings depicting every imaginable saint's passion are propped atop all available surfaces.
"I'm attracted to the crucifixion theme," Lopez says of his collection. "When I was a kid, I was afraid of the blood and all that. And once I was able to look past that and view it as art and sculpture—you know, it's the human body—and now that I create artwork myself, I can appreciate what goes into making something. I just have this fondness for them."
Noticeably missing is Lopez' coffee table, which days earlier was transported to the city's Community Gallery. It's one of the centerpieces for the upcoming Fine Folk of New Mexico exhibit, which the contemporary santero helms.
"It's a coffee table with Christ inside of it," Lopez says of the absent piece of furniture. "Some people think it's a little morbid, but I think it's just living with art."
In its place, a life-sized wooden winged pig by Ron Archuleta Rodriguez rests in front of the sofa, where it will stay for the show's three month duration.
"The 'Fine Folk' is kind of a play on words," the artist, whose work graces the Museum of International Folk Art and Denver Art Museum, says. "You know, there's always that [question]: 'Is it fine art [or] is it folk art?' and I'm like, 'Man, its just art, and it all works together.' So, when you look at my home, you have a combination of folk art with fine art, ceramics and contemporary," he says.
"Good art just works together, and it flows."
Applying that same philosophy, Lopez assembled a dream team of 28 artists to represent the best of the best in contemporary folk art—not an easy undertaking for his first foray into the curatorial realm.
"I figured—you know—it's that 'go big or go home' kind of thing," the former graphic designer says as he leads the way to a backyard casita where he does most of his work.
Picking the best in their respective fields, Lopez aims to present the state's rich multi-cultural heritage.
"We did this tri-cultural thing, with Anglo, Native American and Hispanic artists, because that's what New Mexico is made of," he says.
The resulting list includes names like Paul Pletka, Teri Greeves [Arts Valve, Aug. 15: "Proud Teri"], Elias Rivera, Erin Currier [Arts Valve, Aug. 29: "In Your Face, Kermit!"] and Christine McHorse.
"They're the most humble people," Lopez says of his Fine roster. "They're [the kind of ] people that sell their paintings for upwards of $150,000; it's just an honor to be working with them and that they were willing to jump on board."
Lopez says that, due to alliances and representation agreements the artists have with local galleries, the show couldn't happen in any location other than the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission-sanctioned space.
"You're going to see some of the best artists outside of a museum all together in one place," he says excitedly.
The conversation moves to the gallery, where Lopez is bringing to life his vision of good art meshing, regardless of style.
Against one wall, a 1963 Cadillac Coupe de Ville titled "A Slice of American Pie" by Luis Tapia is slashed down the middle and decorated with Chicano iconography. Another features landscape photographs by David Michael Kennedy—who, before settling in El Rito, snapped the likes of Bob Dylan, Blondie and Ozzy Osbourne for Spin magazine.
A couple of pieces from fourth-generation Navajo weaver Melissa Cody prominently feature swastikas. The idea, Lopez explains, is to reclaim the now-controversial image, which is deeply rooted in Native American tradition.
“It’s kind of a groundbreaking moment,” Lopez says, paying a visit to his coffee table. Next to it, his “Vatos Locos” features a tableau of a cholo, a koshari and Zozobra cruising together in a lowrider.
“[These artists] are pushing the contemporary envelope,” Community Gallery manager Rod Lambert says. “They’re really able to present what’s going on here—and it’s not just some state folk art; it’s cutting-edge.”
Lauding Lopez’ efforts as “genius,” Lambert points out that Fine Folk is made possible in part by a National Endowment for the Arts grant—which, because of misconceptions about New Mexican art, almost didn’t materialize.
“I think that the NEA really enjoyed the fact that we had artists curating it,” he says, “and they really caught on to the idea that Modernism has thrived and worked really well in New Mexico, and we’ve impacted modernism as much as modernism has impacted us.”
For Lopez, the exhibit reflects how far folk art has come.
“Folk art has been elevated to a whole different level now. It’s not that garage art anymore,” he says. “I think it’s going to be either an ‘aha’ moment or, you know, a ‘wow’ moment.”