Best Contemporary Art Galleries in Santa Fe

Contemporary Art Thrives in Santa Fe Galleries

Artists first came to Santa Fe at the dawn of the 20th century, many attracted by the high desert landscape and the quality of the light. Before there were galleries, some artists welcomed prospective buyers to their studios, many on Canyon Road. Formal galleries came later. Frances Namingha of Niman Fine Arts said that there were only three in 1972. The proliferation of galleries began in the mid-1980s. Today there somewhere around 200, found mostly in the three principal art areas: Canyon Road (perhaps the best known), Downtown and the trendy Railyard District. While many galleries show some contemporary art, around two dozen galleries are specifically dedicated to the genre.

Ask ten art experts “What is contemporary art?” and you’ll probably get ten different answers. The one thing they seem to agree on is? That it’s art being created by living artists, whether it be cutting edge, figural or abstract.

Many contemporary galleries call the Railyard Art District home. Over the last few years, several contemporary art houses have relocated there. There’s also a selection both on Canyon Road and downtown. Friday night gallery openings are popular in Santa Fe. Canyon Road has an Artwalk on most Fridays in season especially in season (between May and October), Downtown has claimed the first Friday of the month and the Railyard the last. Great resources for local art information: the Santa Fe Gallery Association’s website and in The Collectors Guide, a free publication found all around Santa Fe.


Canyon Road

NÜART GALLERY, opened in 2002 with the mission of gathering "the very best artists together under one roof." Their criteria was artistic excellence rather than "what sells," believing that collectors would come. Their belief is that buying art should be about more than décor choices or investment. According to gallery owner, Kim Kelly, "Money comes and goes and tastes in décor change over time, but great art remains great art and defies the fashion of the moment." Gaugy adds that "the purpose of art is to speak to the human experience and it should be used to help us transcend the world of things and to remind us of the deeper questions." Their roster includes a mixture of local, national and international artists. Art on view includes paintings in a variety of media, sculpture and drawings. NÜART hopes their artists' work will "speak to people centuries from now."

Recommended for Contemporary Art Galleries because: NÜART GALLERY is a respected force among Santa Fe's contemporary galleries, always striving to be the best.

Billie's expert tip: Canyon Road is one of Santa Fe's most historic streets and every building has a unique history to share. NÜART GALLERY is housed in the old Gormley Grocery Store. Owner Frank Gormley used to supply locally gathered piñon nuts to Gross Kelly Mercantile in the Railyard.

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EVOKE Contemporary
Photo courtesy of Evoke Contemporary

EVOKE Contemporary Gallery opened in 2009. Owner Katherine Erickson, an art historian who started with the goal of being a museum curator was ready. "My partner Elan Varshay, and I had a clear vision of what the gallery could be and took that leap," she shared. Their gallery, first opened on Lincoln Avenue, moved to the Railyard, home to many of Santa Fe's contemporary galleries, in March, 2014. EVOKE focuses on "provocative and compelling contemporary art of international acclaim." Over the years, they've refined their vision, now working primarily with figural art. Their artists, from as close as El Rito, New Mexico and as far away as Lisbon, include Mexican artist Javier Marín; Daniel Sprick, who has a solo exhibition at the Denver Art Museum; Nicholas Herrera and Louisa McElwain. All have a significant presence in museums and are also represented in private collections.

Recommended for Contemporary Art Galleries because: EVOKE's commitment to contemporary art and their success within a short period of time mark them as important members of the Santa Fe art scene.

Billie's expert tip: While the gallery's name hints at art evoking a response, the name was chosen as a combination of the owners' initials: Elan Varshay "EV" and "KE" Kathrine Erickson. Their original Lincoln Avenue location was the former Sears store and their new Railyard location is the old Sears warehouse.

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David Richard Gallery
Photo courtesy of David Richard Gallery

David Richard Gallery opened in Santa Fe's Railyard Art District in 2010. The name is an amalgam of the owners' names: David Eichholtz and Richard Barger. Both are collectors with art backgrounds who wanted their own gallery. The gallery shows post-war abstract and figural art from a variety of art movements including Abstract Expressionism, Color Field, geometric and hard-edge painting, Op Art, Pop Art, Minimalism, Feminism and Conceptualism working in a variety of mediums. Their mission, according to Eichholtz, "is to tell the rich stories of abstract art as it has evolved on both the east and west coasts of the US since the 1950s, featuring both well known artists and their lesser known peers and colleagues." Modern Painters magazine named them one of the 500 Best Galleries Worldwide in be 2013 and again in 2014.

Recommended for Contemporary Art Galleries because: David Richard Gallery, in the Railyard Art District, is one of the Santa Fe's major contemporary galleries.

Billie's expert tip: While many galleries in Santa Fe only show artists they represent, David Richard Gallery is committed to "scholarship and connoisseurship." In keeping with this, some of their shows such as "1960s Revisited" in 2010 and "Bay Area Abstraction: 1945--1965" in 2011 relied on artists not on their roster.

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Canyon Road
gf contemporary
Photo courtesy of gf contemporary

In 2009, Deborah Fritz, owner of Giacobbe-Fritz Fine Art since 2001, decided she wanted to do something different from her traditional gallery and opened gf Contemporary. Fritz says the gallery is "dedicated to finding art that is fresh, compelling and meaningful for the environments in which our clients live and work." Their aim is to create "a remarkable, ongoing collaboration" between the collector, the artist and the gallery. Most of gf contemporary's artists are local and all are represented by national and/or international galleries as well. Clients run from casual art buyers to serious collectors. Their best-known artists are Pascal, Paul Shapiro and Gigi Mills. They average about five new shows a year; two are group shows and once a year they include artists not on represented by the gallery.

Recommended for Contemporary Art Galleries because: gf contemporary is one of historic Canyon Road's most important galleries.

Billie's expert tip: Going on the annual Edible Art Tour? Stop by both gf Contemporary and Giacobbe-Fritz. They really embrace the event's theme each year. Décor, music and food all reflect their chosen theme which have included the Wizard of Oz, Broadway, Peter Pan, 50's diner and Alice in Wonderland.

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TAI Modern
Photo courtesy of RAI Modern

In 2014, TAI Gallery, known for showing both antique and modern Japanese bamboo basketry and historic textiles merged with Eight Modern, specializing in contemporary art,to become TAI Modern. Their chic location, in the former Sears Warehouse in the Railyard Art District, combines contemporary Japanese baskets and photography with cutting-edge modern art. Eight Modern's focus on emerging established artists working in paint, sculpture, paper and new media will continue. In season (between May and September), they mount four to five shows. In fall they offer clients organized tours to Japan which include visits to the homes and studios of some of TAI's artists. During the winter they participate in art fairs, museum shows while bringing selected art to private clients around the USA. They also hold art demonstrations in various cities.

Recommended for Contemporary Art Galleries because: TAI Modern offers a unique combination of mediums in a contemporary setting that entices browsers and collectors from around the world.

Billie's expert tip: While in the Railyard Art District, check out SITE Santa Fe for cutting-edge art exhibitions, the Santa Fe Farmer's Market, Railyard Park, as well as some of the interesting boutiques the area has to offer.

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Selby Fleetwood Gallery
Photo courtesy of Selby Fleetwood Gallery

Selby Fleetwood opened in a historic 18th century adobe on Santa Fe's Canyon Road in 2004. Fleetwood, who'd worked as a gallery director, wanted a gallery that reflected her own vision. The gallery roster is made up of artists who "have a unique vision or style or love of materials or process." Mediums here are oil paintings and bronze, stainless steel, aluminum and wood sculptures. Clientele is a mix that runs from neophytes to sophisticated collectors. All the artists on their roster (about 25% from New Mexico and the rest from around the USA) are represented in both national and international collections. Rather than being show-oriented (they only mount a few a year), their model is to fearure work from all their artists on the walls and in their lush garden every day.

Recommended for Contemporary Art Galleries because: Selby Fleetwood is considered to be one of the leading contemporary galleries in Santa Fe.

Billie's expert tip: When visiting the gallery, ask about the old cistern from when this 18th century property was a private residence. Located under a trapdoor in the oldest part of the building, it supplied the house's water prior to modern plumbing.

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LewAllen Contemporary
Photo courtesy of LewAllen Contemporary

LewAllen Galleries, one of the oldest galleries in Santa Fe, started life as the Elaine Horwich Gallery in 1976. Arlene Lewallen later purchased it and changed the name. Kenneth Marvel and Robert Gardner acquired it in 2003. For years, the gallery was on West Palace Avenue. In 2009 they opened their current 14,000 square-foot, state of the art location in the trendy Railyard, the hub for contemporary art houses. The Palace Avenue location was subsequently closed. The new space, designed with several distinct exhibition spaces, can accommodate both large-format paintings and larger sculptures in both indoor and outdoor areas. LewAllen mounts about 15 to 20 new exhibitions each year. Well-known contemporary artists they represent include Bill Barrett, Hiroshi Yamano and Lucy Lyon. Their modernist department, offering work from private collections and the secondary market, includes such luminaries as Milton Avery and Fritz Scholder.

Recommended for Contemporary Art Galleries because: LewAllan Galleries' 14,000 square feet of gallery space and their commitment to the genre make them a serious force in Santa Fe's contemporary art market.

Billie's expert tip: Want to see some really special art? The gallery has a collection of museum quality paintings and sculpture that they keep in a vault below ground. Visitors can view it with an advance appointment.

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Niman Fine Art
Photo courtesy of Niman Fine Art

Dan Namingha is one of the best known Native American artists in the world. The Tewa-Hopi artist and his wife Frances opened Niman Fine Art in 1990 to showcase his work. Today, the gallery also represents the work of their two sons: Arlo, a sculptor and jeweler and Michael, a conceptual photographer. Dan's contemporary paintings, which helped define Southwest art in the 1970s and 1980s, have been shown at galleries and museums throughout the USA and abroad, including one-man shows at the Fogg Art Museum, Carnegie Mellon University and the Palm Springs Art Museum. He also creates contemporary sculptures, collages and lithographs. Both Arlo and Michael have also exhibited around the world in such diverse places as Monaco and China. The Naminghas also mentor and show the work of young up-and-coming artists they've discovered.

Recommended for Contemporary Art Galleries because: Niman Fine Art is one of the most important contemporary galleries in Santa Fe and one of only a few that are family-owned and run.

Billie's expert tip: Niman Fine Art attracts serious collectors from around the world. Actor Robert Redford has been spotted inside the gallery. You never know who you might spot browsing in this important contemporary gallery.

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Zane Bennett Contemporary Art
Photo courtesy of Zane Bennett Contemporary Art

Zane Bennett Contemporary Art, opened on Canyon Road in 2005, moved to its current 10,000 square foot Guadalupe Street location in 2008. The contemporary interior boasts a two story atrium with a glass staircase, cat walks and skylights. Owner and former artist turned collector, Sandy Zane, who wanted to support artist friends and colleagues while continuing to collect, calls the work they show "abstract and non-representational." Zane feels that "the viewer must be involved in finding the 'story' through his or her experiences and aesthetics." The gallery shows a variety of mediums and styles including film, video and new media. Besides cutting-edge contemporary art, they also offer hand-pulled prints and works on paper from noted "blue chip" artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell and Robert Rauschenberg. The gallery holds periodic educational events such as panel discussions, demonstrations and artist talks that are open to the public.

Recommended for Contemporary Art Galleries because: Zane Bennett is one of the most cutting-edge contemporary galleries in Santa Fe. They mix "blue chip" with mid-century modernists.

Billie's expert tip: The gallery shows work from the USA and around the world including Japan, Singapore, London, France, Switzerland and Cuba. Zane and her husband Ned Bennett attend art fairs around the world to discover new artists to show and represent.

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Yares Art Projects
Photo courtesy of Yares Art Project

Yares Art Projects, formerly the Riva Yares Gallery, opened in Santa Fe in 1991. Yares, who came to the USA from Israel, first opened a Scottsdale location in 1963 and expanded to LA (now closed) in 1971. These days, Riva Yares oversees the Scottsdale location while her son Dennis and Gallery Director Manuel Garcia run the Santa Fe location. While they cooperate at shows and fairs, they are two distinct entities. The name change reflects the addition of a publishing arm and a film production division. Garcia says they strive to "sustain the genre of work that was represented 50 years ago by creating exhibitions that reflect the period and the transitions that have occurred over the decades." Contemporary artists represented include Emily Kimball, Martin Cary Horowitz and Penelope Krebs. They also have work from renowned modernists such as Milton Avery and Helen Frankenthaler.

Recommended for Contemporary Art Galleries because: Yares Art Projects is a major force on the Santa Fe art scene and has been so for years.

Billie's expert tip: Yares Art Projects works primarily with serious collectors, many of whose collections they've been curating for years. They also act as consultants to museums that want to discreetly access art.

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Meet Billie Frank

Billie Frank is a freelance travel, food and feature writer based in Santa Fe New Mexico. Her blog, Santa Fe Travelers, is a treasure trove of information on the oldest capital city in the...  More About Billie