A Guide to Art Museums in Santa Fe

Santa Fe, NM is world renowned for its art galleries – more than 50 on Canyon Road alone. Underrated are the art museums in Santa Fe. From (arguably) the world’s most famous female painter to the finest collection of Southwestern Indian jewelry, the art not for sale in Santa Fe is among the best in the world as well.

Art museums in Santa Fe are concentrated in three areas: around the Plaza downtown, on Museum Hill and in the Railyard District. That’s how they’ll be grouped here beginning with those on the Plaza.

Art Museums on the Plaza in Santa Fe

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Georgia O’Keeffe, Cedar Tree with Lavender Hills (1937), promised gift of Barbara B. Millhouse. © 2021 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Georgia O’Keeffe, Cedar Tree with Lavender Hills (1937), promised gift of Barbara B. Millhouse. © 2021 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) first visited New Mexico in 1917, returning for the summer of 1929 to paint. She was transfixed by the desert. The light. The visuals. Anyone who’s ever been to New Mexico understands the hold it can take on you; why it’s called the “Land of Enchantment.”

She was a regular summer visitor throughout the 30s and 40s, moving to New Mexico full time in 1949. She took residence at property she’d bought years earlier, Ghost Ranch, later adding another home and studio in Abiquiu. Both homesites are open to visitors 50 miles north of Santa Fe.

Exceptional examples of her northern New Mexico landscapes, skull paintings and flower paintings are on view along with rotating special exhibitions.

Website: https://www.okeeffemuseum.org/

Address: 217 Johnson St., Santa Fe

Hours: 10 AM to 5 PM; Closed Tuesdays. Call for holiday hours.

General admission adult tickets cost $18.00

IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art

The Institute of American Indian Art Museum of Contemporary Native Art displays IAIA’s permanent collection – a majority of which comes from its students – along with temporary exhibitions.

IAIA was founded in 1962, dramatically breaking from what had traditionally been considered Indian art, launching a thrilling era of contemporary Native American art which continues to this day. IAIA was founded “to empower creativity and leadership in Native Arts and cultures through higher education” and become “the premier educational institution for Native arts and cultures.”

IAIA instructors and students include legends such as Fritz Scholder, Allan Houser, Charles Loloma, T.C. Cannon, Earl Biss, Kevin Red Star, Dan Namingha and Roxanne Sewentzell, as well as today’s most important Native artists including Tony Abeyta, Diego and Cara Romero, Kathleen Wall, Rose Simpson and Del Curfman.

Website: https://iaia.edu/mocna/

Address: 108 Cathedral Place, Santa Fe

Hours: Monday, Wednesday – Saturday 10:00 – 5:00, Sunday, 11:00 – 4:00, closed Tuesdays. Call for holiday hours.

General admission adult tickets are $10.00

New Mexico Museum of Art

Opened in 1917, the New Mexico Museum of Art was the first building in state dedicated to art. The collection tells the fascinating and often difficult history of New Mexico through art from pre-conquest to present day.

The museum’s permanent displays are broken up into four themes: Pueblo People, Opening the West, Growing New Mexico, and People Places and Politics. A highlight of the permanent collection are the prints of Gustave Bauman.

The New Mexico Museum of Art presents an outstanding schedule of temporary exhibitions.

Website: https://www.nmartmuseum.org/

Address: 107 West Palace Avenue

Hours: MAY THROUGH OCTOBER, Saturday – Thursday 10:00 – 5:00, Friday: 10 AM – 7 PM

NOVEMBER THROUGH APRIL, Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 5:00, closed Monday.

Open from 5:00 – 7:00 PM on the first Friday of each month

General admission adult tickets for non-New Mexico residents are $12.00

Art Museums on Museum Hill

Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian

Left, Charles Loloma (Hopi), Bracelet, ca. 1985. Gold, coral, lapis, turquoise. Right, Charles Loloma (Hopi), Bracelet with badger paw, ca. 1985. Tufa-cast gold, lapis lazuli, coral, turquoise Bottom, Charles Loloma (Hopi), Bracelet, ca. 1980. Gold, PHOTO BY ADDISON DOTY
Left, Charles Loloma (Hopi), Bracelet, ca. 1985. Gold, coral, lapis, turquoise. Right, Charles Loloma (Hopi), Bracelet with badger paw, ca. 1985. Tufa-cast gold, lapis lazuli, coral, turquoise Bottom, Charles Loloma (Hopi), Bracelet, ca. 1980. Gold, PHOTO BY ADDISON DOTY

All of the art museums in Santa Fe on Museum Hill – the Wheelwright, MIAC, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the Folk Art Museum (along with the Santa Fe Botanical Gardens) – can be found side-by-side at 710 Camino Lejo off Old Santa Fe Trail. The Museum Hill Café is outstanding.

The finest collection of Native American jewelry from the Southwest calls the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian home.

“The intent of the museum was to become the center for the story of Native American jewelry and (we) started collecting 30 years ago with very direct intent,” Jean Higgins, interim director of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, told me in April of 2022. “Then we had some incredible donors who had been collectors and wanted to give their pieces, but they wanted it to be somewhere where it would be seen, so they also gave seed money to start building the gallery.”

A 1,600-square-foot space purpose-built for the display of pieces from the museum’s permanent collection of jewelry opened in 2015. Collectors aren’t the only ones gifting their treasures here, an increasing number of contemporary jewelers are donating their best items as well–eschewing requests from East Coast museums–in order for the material to remain close to home and family.

Among the display’s highlights are Charles Loloma’s (Hopi; 1921-1991) revolutionary bracelets, necklaces and rings. Loloma’s artistic expressions in silver, turquoise, lapis and corals are no less singular and recognizable to a trained eye than the brushwork of any painter. He is the rare jewelry maker known by name, a figure essential to the story of Native American art, regardless of medium.

In addition to its dazzling display of Native American jewelry, the Wheelwright organizes and hosts exceptional temporary exhibitions.

Website: https://wheelwright.org/

Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 – 4:00, closed Sundays and Mondays, (Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day)

General admission adult tickets cost $10.00

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

Museum Hill with Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. Courtesy NM Department of Tourism
Museum Hill with Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. Courtesy NM Department of Tourism

You’ll know you’ve found the right place when you see the gigantic Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer sculpture against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Smaller sculptures are placed around the entrance to the museum, including a Lightning Boy figure honoring world champion hoop dancer Nakota LaRance.

MIAC features multiple rotating exhibits, including the annual “Native Treasures Living Treasures” honoring Native American artists who have made outstanding artistic contributions to the field of Indigenous arts and culture. Past winners are a who’s who of contemporary Native American art.

The centerpiece at MIAC is “Here, Now and Always,” the museum’s permanent exhibition which was completely updated, debuting in July of 2022.

Opened in 1987, MIAC’s vision is “a world that recognizes and understands Native peoples as diverse tribes, each with a distinctive history, culture, and language, and each of which is an integral part of the vibrant, historical, and cultural landscape of the American Southwest.”

Website: http://www.indianartsandculture.org/

Hours: daily from 10:00 – 5:00

General admission adult tickets for non-New Mexico residents is $12.00

Museum of International Folk Art

The museum’s holdings represent diverse cultures and constitute the largest collection of international folk art in the world. The core collection, donated by museum founder Florence Dibell Bartlett, from 34 countries has grown to over 130,000 objects from more than 100 countries.

Website: http://www.moifa.org/

Hours: Daily from 10:00 – 5:00. Call for holiday hours

General admission adult tickets for non-New Mexico residents are $12.00

Museum of Spanish Colonial Art

Website: https://www.spanishcolonial.org/

The art museum in Santa Fe displays Spanish Colonial and Peruvian Colonial art.

Hours: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 1:00 – 4:00, closed on the other days and the entire month of January. Call for holiday hours.

General admission adult tickets are $12.00

School for Advanced Research

School for Advanced Research pottery vault inside racks
School for Advanced Research pottery vault inside racks

The School for Advanced Research was established in 1907 to advance innovative social science and Native American art. Not exactly a museum, the public is welcome to tour its permanent collection Fridays at 2:00. Reservations are required and the tour costs $15.00. It’s the only time available for public visitation.

The location is nearby the art museums in Santa Fe on Museum Hill.

It’s worth bending over backwards to make your way there to see the greatest collection of Southwestern pottery anywhere, what I consider to possibly be the most sacred art space in the world.

Website: https://sarweb.org/

Address: 660 Garcia Street, Santa Fe

The Ralph T Coe Center for the Arts

Also not exactly a museum, but also displaying a world-class collection is the Coe Center. Ralph “Ted” Coe’s personal collection of Indigenous arts from around the world, but focused on North America, specializes in baskets. His may be the best collection of Native American baskets in the world.

What makes Coe Center especially remarkable is that visitors are allowed to TOUCH all of the objects. You read that correctly. Engaging the sense of touch brings the baskets and pots and regalia at Coe Center to life allowing guests to develop a deeper level of appreciation for them. These are best-in-class Indian art objects, museum quality, and you can put your hands all over them. Don’t miss this unique experience.

Website: https://www.coeartscenter.org/

Address: This museum is NOT on Museum Hill. The street address is 1590 B Pacheco St., Santa Fe, 87505

Admission to Coe Center is FREE – that’s great – the staff there also prefers visitors call to set up a specific time convenient for guests to come in – that’s even better. Every visit to Coe Center is essentially a private tour. Call them at 505-983-6372 to set up a visit!

Art Museums in the Railyard District

SITE Santa Fe

A cutting-edge exhibition space for contemporary art opened in 1995, SITE Santa Fe continuously rotates through its galleries outstanding exhibitions highlighting a mix of international and New Mexican artists.

Website: https://sitesantafe.org/

Address: 1606 Paseo de Peralta

Hours: Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday 10:00 – 5:00, Fridays 10:00 – 7:00, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Call for holiday hours

Admission is free.

Vladem Contemporary

Santa Fe’s newest art museum opened on September 23, 2023. The New Mexico Museum of Art Vladem Contemporary breaks away from the New Mexico Museum of Art’s 1917 building in the Santa Fe Plaza while remaining under its management, focusing on work made post-1980.

“The Plaza building, when it was built for contemporary art in 1917, that meant something very different than what it means today,” Executive Director of New Mexico Museum of Art Mark White told me. “What we have needed to do for some time is to expand and really make space for contemporary art of our age, which is obviously very different than it was early in the 20th century.”

The New Mexico Museum of Art not only needed more space for its ever-expanding collection, it needed larger spaces–higher ceilings, longer walls–and basic technical upgrades like more electrical outlets and data cables for digital art.

“We’ve been collecting for over a century and as contemporary art has grown in size, as it has gotten more complicated in terms of its media, it’s been increasingly difficult to continue to collect some of the more experimental work, and with an expansion of our storage space, that really makes this possible,” White said.

Not as sexy as new exhibition space, but every bit as essential, Vladem Contemporary allows the New Mexico Museum of Art to nearly double its storage space for art.

The $20.2 million museum wasn’t built new, it’s a retrofit of an existing brick building which presented architectural challenges, primary among them creating an envelope to properly seal the structure, acclimatizing the building to protect artwork by increasing the interior humidity beyond Santa Fe’s dry, desert climate.

Website: https://www.nmartmuseum.org/vladem-contemporary/

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