Taos art business seems to be bucking the trends

By Virginia L. Clark
Posted 3/14/19

Once January's art auction brouhaha subsides, February predictions about the new year's art market pepper online landscapes, and so Tempo took Taos' art pulse to see how we …

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Taos art business seems to be bucking the trends


Once January's art auction brouhaha subsides, February predictions about the new year's art market pepper online landscapes, and so Tempo took Taos' art pulse to see how we compare to the rest of the art world.

"There is no comparison!" said David Mapes, Taos Gallery Association director, in a phone interview last week, about the state of the Taos art scene versus the rest of the so-called official art world.

"People have this perspective of the art world, these million dollar art things," Mapes continued, adding that the official art world has basically recovered from the 2008 recession, when art sales hit a historic low and art auctions almost came to a standstill as collectors stopped consigning work or took huge price hits. Gallery closures in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have been big concerns of many art prognosticators and are still making news as the result of the popularity of big-city art fairs and, more recently, ever-increasing online art sales that simply skip art galleries altogether.

Besides almost 50 U.S. gallery closures over the past two years, a couple Taos dealers feel art-buyer foot traffic is down. Mapes said that is basically not what the majority of Taos galleries report they are experiencing.

"Taos has a niche all its own," Mapes said, adding that in fact, Taos "has had more galleries opened than closed last year." Mapes looked up the number of gallery openings and closings in 2018 and found there was actually one more opening than closing, for a total of seven new galleries opened compared to six closures last year. Plus there are two more galleries relocating to Kit Carson Road by May of 2019, so prospects look very good indeed, he said.


In regard to Tempo's Dec. 31, 2018 story on the closing of two historic Taos galleries, Total Arts Gallery and Ouray Meyer's Spirit Runner Gallery, Mapes said it wasn't lack of foot traffic and sales per se — it was more due to those galleries' business models.

Former Total Arts Gallery director Emily Wilde agrees.

"Our business model was no longer working and only a complete redesign may have kept us going, but then we would not be Total Arts Gallery," Wilde said in a March 7 email about their decision to shutter. "Our clientele diminished and our competition shifted to being from other galleries to auctions - [and] a standard gallery cannot compete with an auction … "

In that same story, Ouray Meyers's widow and owner of Spirit Runner Gallery, Martie Gates Meyers, felt there was a decline in visitors overall, which is why she closed.

"I think it's totally opposite," Rob Nightingale, of Wilder Nightingale Fine Art, said about low numbers and types of visitors and buyers he sees in Taos over the past three or four years. "But you have to change; you have to be creative."

Despite difficult art markets in the U.S. and abroad, Nightingale and Mapes both stress the Taos niche. "People are coming to Taos for 'our' art. We have a whole different market," Mapes said.

A resurgence

Georgia Gersh, owner-artist who opened Magpie Gallery in 2014, said she has definitely felt a resurgence of interest in Taos art, which is why she opened Magpie in the first place.

"Santa Fe's Canyon Road is maybe not what it used to be," she said about some galleries there closing their doors. "I don't know, I just don't think [the art is] as accessible as in Taos. As far as people not going out for cultural activities anymore, I think we're in kind of a cultural bubble here - people all the time are coming to visit the Pueblo and Millicent Rogers Museum. If not art, then it's nature and recreation."

Margot Beutler-Gins, director of Taos Historic Museums, who hails from both Taos Society of Artists and national art circles, said she is hearing better things about Taos' art scene every day.

"The Western art world is cyclical," she explained. "[Artist] Jon Peters said all the millionaire and billionaire art collectors are selling their homes and moving to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I compare Taos to Scottsdale, Arizona's, turnaround. The town got together, they built a new museum and had a renaissance. Similar to what's going on on Kit Carson Road now, with DAFA and Rob Nightingale and Greg Moon's galleries."

Longtime contemporary artist Eric Andrews and and artist Shaun Richel of 203 Fine Art, which relocated a few miles south of town proper in the Gusdorf district a few years back, said in an email the Taos art scene is alive and well.

"I would say the state of the artists for what we offer in Taos is strong! There are more collectors searching for quality, midcentury modern art now than there has been over the past 10 years. The current contemporary Taos artists we represent, like Tom Dixon, whose work we included in a very successful exhibition last August, and our nationally known artists like America Martin, who we are having an exhibition for this coming August, seem to be doing very well. All in all, the state of the arts in Taos, in our opinion, is thriving!"

Fluidity of expression

Dragonfly Blue gallery owner and painter Lysa Montwill mentioned the Taos way in her emailed appraisal of the Taos gallery scene she joined over a year ago.

"Taos is a town of artists in all forms, aptly reflecting the fluidity of artistic expression. Any number of occurrences can alter it. Each day, each moment is unpredictable, much like the artists inhabiting this very dynamic place. One moment melancholy, the next vibrant. One thing that remains consistent … Taos is never dull."

Greg Moon of Greg Moon Art Gallery and Studio, also a Taos Gallery Association member and presence on Kit Carson Road, said Taos is so much more than typical Southwestern thematics.

"At the present we are at a crossroads. After the vestiges of the not-so-great Southwest art craze we were banished to the hinterlands of regional art that was part of a 'phase.' That has never been Taos. We've been on the forefront of numerous movements … modernism, abstract expressionism, minimalism. That all of these things have come to be, in our little valley, is a testament to the rarified environment that has fomented all of this."

Ranchos de Taos' Two Graces owner and artist and former Tempo contributor Robert Cafazzo is moving with co-gallerist and artist Holly Sievers to former Gallery A at the Kit Carson Road-Taos Plaza intersection, a clear estimation of their belief in Taos' thriving art scene.

"Fifteen years ago Jules and Gene Sanchez were the first people to purchase a work of [Cafazzo's] art at Two Graces as a loving sign of support," Cafazzo said in an email. "As former Taos gallery owner Thea Swengel recently stated, 'I wish I'd moved to a new location and not closed my gallery, I miss it' … We are not closing," Cafazzo clarified, "merely moving to a space where we can serve our customers, locals and visitors better." (More on Two Graces in an upcoming Gallery Glider column).

Significantly, most Taos galleries are owned by Taos artists, so buyers get up close and familiar with the very people creating work carried in Taos galleries - a huge accessibility factor mentioned by every gallery owner interviewed last week.

It seems pretty clear as you glide from gallery to gallery in Taos, the times they may be a-changing, but definitely for the better in Taos.


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