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Turnaround for Santa Fe’s ‘ugly duckling’

SANTA FE, N.M. — It goes back to how Alfred Stieglitz used to show art.

During the early 20th century, the famous photographer and art promoter was known for showing tribal art alongside modern photography in his galleries, among them The American Place and 291. Stieglitz was known to collect and display African tribal pieces.

Local art dealer Brant Mackley isn’t sure exactly why Stieglitz chose to mix the different forms of art, but said it’s likely because he was interested in the “interplay” between the mediums.

And with the opening of Mackley’s new gallery space that he’s sharing with girlfriend and photography gallery owner Jennifer Schlesinger, he says “it’s interesting to have that dichotomy and the ability to do that again.”

“That really hasn’t been done in a long time,” he said.

Mackley, a world tribal art dealer who splits time between Santa Fe and Hershey, Pa., bought the 3,000-square-foot, long vacant building on the corner of Galisteo and Paseo de Peralta two years ago to show off his collection of North American, Oceanic, Asian and African pieces.

He and Schlesinger then decided to share the space – they also live there – when the gallery Schlesinger had worked at for more than a decade, Santa Fe’s Verve Gallery, closed in 2017. She quickly got to work on Obscura to show contemporary photography.

Mackley said he hopes showing their work together creates a “cross-pollination” of their different audiences.

Schlesinger added: “You see this lineage of world art in general, dating back to some of the really early stuff that Brant has, all the way going up to contemporary. It feels like it almost works really naturally because of … how does art connect people and cultures? In a way, when you start seeing everything placed together, you see these interesting threads that run along all sorts of artists and eras.”

Jennifer Schlesinger’s Obscura Gallery and the Brant Mackley Gallery are housed in an old grocery store building. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The building, which dates from 1932, was the Ortiz Grocery store for about 25 years. Frank Ortiz, owner and mayor of Santa Fe from 1948-52, lived and worked in the second-floor bedroom.

The space was later converted into photo studios and labs – Mackley and Schlesinger found a bunch of old snapshots in the gallery basement that they suspect are locals’ photos developed, but never picked up, back in the ’70s – and was most recently used by Gold Leaf Framemakers in the 1990s.

Before Verve, Schlesinger held positions at the Center for Contemporary Arts and the Santa Fe Art Institute. She moved here from Connecticut in 1996 to finish a photography degree at the College of Santa Fe.

More than half of the 16 photographers she is representing are former Verve artists. There is no specific genre of photography she is drawn to, she said – she wants to show artists using the medium in different ways or utilizing 19th- and 20th-century processes for 21st-century art.

Her gallery’s opening show includes L.A. photographer Susan Burnstine, who makes her own cameras and lenses, and Tulsa-based Angie Brockey, who uses centuries-old wet plate techniques to create images, then incorporates them into jewelry.

“I’m always drawn to artists who are taking photography to the next level,” said Schlesinger.

Mackley has had his own business since 1996. He regularly sells at shows nationwide, including Santa Fe’s annual Antique American Indian Art Show.

He says his passion for art dealing goes way back. The Pennsylvania native’s mother was an antiques dealer, and he has been buying and selling antiques of his own since age seven. Family summer trips along the Susquehanna River, during which he came across native stone artifacts that he ended up collecting, spurred his interested in native cultures.

His new show will include a sampling of the varying cultures represented in his collection, with pieces dating from the 18th century to the early 1900s. Items on display include a Papua New Guinea mask, a rare Zuni pot depicting mother deer nursing their young and a late-19th-century Northern Plain’s native woman’s dress. The navy dress made of Stroud cloth is decorated with elk teeth, some of which are real and others are fake. He mentioned that at the time, traders began noticing the popularity of elk ivories and began making replicas out of celluloid.

Mackley often finds his pieces from other dealers or private collections, auctions or estate sales. “It’s a treasure hunt,” said Mackley. “That’s the fun part of my job.”

The two owners both have plans for future independent and joint exhibitions, including an already scheduled July 14 Obscura show designed to highlight female artists. Other possibilities include an exhibition of Mackley’s collection of dozens of pre-World War II bicycles, one of which is currently in the display window.

But for now, the two are still basking in the fact that their 18-month remodeling project is complete.

Well, almost. The two have plans for a mural covering the building’s Paseo de Peralta wall by Apache street artist Douglas Mile, picturing three Apache warriors with mountainous landscape in the background. The gallery owners will be going before the city next week to seek approval.

“It was really an accomplishment to take the town eyesore or the ugly duckling of the town and bring it around,” said Mackley. “I think it’s been a source of pride for both of us.”

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