Ron Watts/Corbis
Stephanie Pearson
October 20, 2014

The quality of Santa Fe’s museums is more in line with what you’d find in a city of millions than in a small mountain town of 69,000 people. The sky, the peaks, and the surprising variation of color found in this high-desert oasis have always been a source of creativity and inspiration for artists, whether they were Ancestral Puebloans etching petroglyphs on soft volcanic rock or Georgia O’Keeffe painting her famous flowers and bleached bones. Santa Feans have been very good at preserving and memorializing New Mexico works, but they have also expanded far beyond local traditions to include art conceived in every part of the world. On almost any given day here you might find yourself browsing among prehistoric ceramic pottery, an expansive collection of Brazilian folk art, and cutting-edge modern photography exhibits. Remember: pace yourself. If you try to see it all too quickly, you’re likely to get museum fatigue. 

Museum of International Folk Art

The color and intricacy of the more than 150,000 pieces of traditional folk art here, which have been collected from around the world, can be almost overwhelming. But I mean that in the best possible way. Current exhibitions include folk art that reflects the immigrant experience, a collection of traditional Japanese kites, and early 20th-century New Mexico wood carvers. 

New Mexico Museum of Art

Founded in 1917, just five years after New Mexico became a state, the oldest art museum in New Mexico houses 20,000 works ranging from the largest collection of Gustave Baumann prints in the world to important pieces by artists like Ernest L. Blumenschein—a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists. A recent and breathtaking acquisition: Ansel Adams’ photograph “Moonrise, Hernandez New Mexico.”  

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

This “Laboratory of Anthropology” gives visitors a comprehensive education in the art, history, and culture of the American Southwest. The current exhibition “Turquoise, Water, Sky,” tells the story through hundreds of pieces of turquoise jewelry. The museum’s permanent pottery collection has almost 300 pieces, some of which date back to A.D. 300.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

If you think you know O’Keeffe, visit this beautiful, light-filled space where her lesser-known works like “White Birds of Paradise,” painted in Hawaii while on assignment there for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, are on current display. And as the title, “Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: The Hawaii Pictures,” implies, it’s not all O’Keeffe all the time. This exhibition also includes photographs by Ansel Adams, who did a series on National Parks in Hawaii in 1948. 

Site Santa Fe

Renowned internationally for its biennial exhibitions, SITE has recently unveiled a new six-year program called “Sitelines.” The first installment, which just opened in July, is called “Unsettled Landscapes” which looks at the “urgencies, political conditions, and historical narratives” informing the works of modern-day artists. It includes works by more than 40 artists from 15 regions as far-flung as Nunavut, Canada and Tierra del Fuego, Chile. 

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