Conventional Art

Local artists are creating site-specific works for the new convention center

Date February 5, 2009 at 11:00 PM

Categories Local News & Sports


This week€™s column is the first in a four-part series that highlights art collections in unexpected settings in and around Santa Fe. When the Santa Fe Arts Commission determined that they would use the revenues from the 1 percent Art in Public Places Program for the Santa Fe Community Convention Center€™s public art collection, it made sense to highlight Santa Fe artists. But coming up with a firm definition of a €œSanta Fe artist€ was an overwhelming task.

So the arts commission asked the artists themselves to describe their personal and professional connections to Santa Fe. Some of the applicant artists hailed from families that have lived in or near Santa Fe for many generations. Others grew up here, or went to college here, or moved here in adulthood and now call northern New Mexico home. In the end, 10 artists were selected to create site-specific works for the building and grounds; existing works were purchased from nine additional artists. The arts commission plans to expand the collection on a continual basis, as funds become available.

Some of the inaugural works are still in production, but many are currently on display in the convention center€™s lobby, hallways and meeting rooms. Many of the works can be viewed whenever the building is open, and visitors are welcome to wander around.

Just by stepping off the sidewalk and into the main lobby you€™ll find a few works worth a lunchtime detour, particularly Joan Zalenski€™s photographic €œquilt,€ located over the fireplace. Zalenski€™s contribution to the convention center pays homage to the site€™s history. During the digging, before the building was constructed, Zalenski was granted access to the archaeological site. She photographed (nonculturally sensitive) artifacts, and using those images, created a quilted image-grid titled €œWhat Lies Beneath.€ Six distinct, historical periods are represented, and all of the images are tied together using yucca rope from Jemez Pueblo.

Turn around, and you cannot miss a large banner where Roxanne Swentzell€™s 14-footwide ceramic relief sculpture will hang when completed in September of this year. Swentzell is from a talented family of artists from Santa Clara Pueblo, and she has received national attention for her ceramic works. Her convention center design, which depicts a circular grouping of mothers and children from multiple generations, is Swentzell through and through €” an expression of community based in family bonds. Swentzell€™s work is sentimental and accessible enough for a general audience, a conflict-free centerpiece for a public building. But perhaps Zalenski€™s quilt would

have been the intellectually and conceptually more profound choice for the most coveted space in the building (imagine the work 10 times its size, covering the entire length of the long, lobby wall). Zalenski€™s work presents a complex notion of community. It is a nonhierarchal statement about the multiplicity of cultures and races that make a robust and fertile community history.

In front of the lobby€™s fireplace is a furniture grouping by Dennis Esquivel, who came to Santa Fe in 1993 to study at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and David Burling, who has been a custom furniture designer in Santa Fe for over 15 years. (On the other side of the building, near the Sweeney Ballroom, is another fireplace surrounded by furniture crafted by Richard Gonzales, Jason Mossman and Robin Speas.) Hats off to the art commission for deciding to furnish the convention center with hand-made furniture by local craftsmen.

Step inside the visitor center to see what is the most ironic and humorous work in the building, a painting that proves the arts commission members just might have a sense of humor about themselves, Santa Fe, and the purpose of the building. Gail Gash Taylor€™s €œThe Tourist€ is a competent portrait painting of a horse€™s head with a bit of the Santa Fe Plaza in the background. It€™s so bad it is good €” really funny and good.

Take the elevators outside the Community Gallery to the second floor, where an unfortunate painting by Nancy Reyner, €œEnergy Field and Water,€ hangs strangely alone. This is an example of the arts commission€™s occasional habit of choosing artworks that are pleasingly decorative or technically tricky, but that lack conceptual or historical substance.

Walk outside onto the roof terrace (one of the city€™s most serene spaces), and you will find a curved niche in the wall to the left in which Sam Lebya will construct a Byzantine glass mosaic of the Santa Fe Plaza as it looked in the 1950s when he was growing up.

Back inside, look for the Tesuque Boardroom. This space is not open to the public (although it can be rented), and unfortunately it houses the most compelling and contemporary works in the convention center€™s collection: a Sopero set by Camilla Trujillo, a threeinch silver airstream trailer by Kristin Lora, and a glass work by Flo Perkins.

So far, the arts commission has paid due respect to Santa Fe€™s creative traditions and saluted some of the area€™s most popular artists and craftsmen. What€™s sorely missing is the daring innovation of some of Santa Fe€™s contemporary and future-focused talent: Clayton Porter, Rose Simpson, Luke Dorman, Gerry Snyder, Joe Ramiro-Garcia, Ligia Bouton, Jennifer Joseph, Victoria Carlson, Susan York, David Leigh €” and there are so many more. A collection that honors the past, recognizes the present, and welcomes the future is the kind of collection that will fully represent Santa Fe.

And that€™s exactly the sort of vision that Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. George Rivera had for the Native American art collection he assembled at Buffalo Thunder Resort. More next week.

If You Go

WHAT: €œPublic Art in the Santa Fe Community Convention Center€
WHERE: 201 West Marcy St.
CONTACT: (505) 955-6200 or For more information contact Debra Garcia at