Santa Fe comes alive in mid-August with a flurry of art shows and gallery openings, attracting dealers and collectors from all over the United States. Whitehawk Associates held three antiques fairs back to back in the Sweeney Convention Center downtown. The fairs -- The Old West and Country Show (Aug. 11-12), the Ethnographic Art Show (Aug. 14-16) and the Antique Indian Art Show (Aug 17-19) -- are not vetted and have broad guidelines as to the type of material that can be shown, which are all but ignored. Amidst the guns, saddles, spurs and branding irons at the Old West Show, for example, I saw several pieces of Victorian jet mourning jewelry and the type of Swiss-made furniture known as "Black Forest," which is covered with carved bears.
But the real fun is to witness the "fair before the fair," as dealers set out their wares in their houses or motel rooms and invite their best clients in for a preview. I was lucky enough to visit the home of a dealer in Hawaiian art, and to a motel room transformed by the presence of Spanish Colonial textiles and paintings. Interestingly, some of these items travel from booth to booth at the fairs, inching up in price along the way.
Also amusing was to see the exhibitors from the fairs scouring Santa Fe's peerless flea market on the weekend, in search of goods to replenish their depleted stock. Turnabout is fair play, however, and I noticed that some traders from the market were going through the fairs and buying things back!
But everything else that took place in Santa Fe this month was overshadowed by the opening of Gerald Peters' spectacular new gallery at 1011 Paseo de Peralta in the downtown historic district. The space has been the object of much speculation, since work began on it a year and a half ago, and many smaller dealers seem to be suffering from a bad case of "Peters envy." A major power in Santa Fe, Peters also has galleries in New York and Dallas, and vast amounts of real estate, restaurants and even banks. "New York has 'The Donald' and Santa Fe has 'The Gerald'," explained one local resident.
But the new gallery is magnificent, and even Peters' detractors find little to criticize in the building itself. The huge, Spanish adobe-style structure has several nicknames, but the one that seems to have stuck is "The Ninth Northern Pueblo," a comparison to the eight existing Indian villages in Northern New Mexico. Or alternately, the gallery is just "Peters' Pueblo."
At 32,000 square feet, the structure is touted as the largest private gallery in America. Designed by architect Steven Robinson, the building is not hulking, but rather is purposely scaled down to fit in with the neighborhood and looks as if it has been there for some time. The exhibition spaces have a hand-done look, with each gallery designed to complement the art it contains. The room showing early Santa Fe artists, for example, has a cherry wood floor and a knotty pine ceiling.
The exhibition space is 8,500 square feet, divided into several rooms ranging in size from a jewel-box-like gallery holding Cornell boxes, small O'Keeffe paintings and Giacometti sculptures to an 80-foot-long contemporary art gallery with 14-foot-high ceilings. The entire enterprise is organized into departments, each with its own private viewing room and storage in addition to exhibition space. (Proper storage was one of the major problems of the former gallery, says Peters.)
The gallery's inventory includes early Santa Fe and Taos artists, western art, American and European Impressionists, American and European modernists, sculpture, and contemporary realist art. A new specialty for the gallery is wildlife art -- contemporary sculptures and paintings of animals. This section was the most widely criticized on esthetic grounds -- I met no one who admired the bronze deer with its hind legs raised, or the sculpture of four bobcats placed in front of the building -- but unquestionably it is a growing and lucrative area. Peters says that he will show the best wildlife artists from around the world. The field, he says, is "a niche that was open," adding that "mimicry is not my forte." Peters also promises to show a small amount of high quality American Indian art. The gallery includes a bookstore that will sell books by artists in the gallery stable. Finally, a sculpture courtyard with a waterfall and other outdoor spaces show large-scale sculpture.
The gallery opened with a bang on Thursday, Aug. 13, when more than 1,500 guests accepted and about a hundred others crashed an invitation to dinner -- a superb spread that included sushi, charcoal-grilled steaks and tequila. The next evening's party was more sedate, with only 600 or so guests. The original idea was for the Thursday night opening to be for Santa Feans and the Friday night one for "foreigners," but the lines between the two were not finely drawn.
The opening exhibition is of Picasso drawings, most from the collection of Marina Picasso. Many of the works have never been seen before in the United States. It is accompanied by a catalogue with an introduction by Picasso biographer John Richardson. The next exhibition will be of Maillol sculptures. There is also an inaugural group exhibition of specially commissioned work by some 70 contemporary artists.
Peters told me that he bought the property in 1987 and was not happy with the first design for the gallery. Then the market dropped, he said, giving him time to replan and wait for the next cycle. "I got to plan it twice," he says, "which is an astonishing advantage."
AMY PAGE is an art writer based in New York.
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