Caldera Gallery Brings Some New (Cool) Heat to Santa Fe

We in Santa Fe, have been suffering from an epidemic of awful, unimaginative, hotel-ready art.   Neon coyotes, sad Indians, and post-modern splatterings have nearly eviscerated our cultural soul.  This isn’t hyperbole; our economic lifeblood, after all, is art (and tourism).  To be pigeonholed as a kitsch capital could mean the death sentence.

And yet, and yet. For those many who might have thought that Santa Fe had become a depressing strip mall for the 1%, they were wrong.  Spring has sprung for our ice-bound art scene in the form of Caldera Gallery, 926 Baca Street #6, the most innovative and dangerous gallery cauldron to open in the past year, possibly the decade.

Caldera is part performance art hub, part talent incubator, and part people-powered culture machine. It’s one of the only galleries around that embraces the avant memes of our time: unhorse expectations, embrace ‘authenticity’, and divorce money from art.  Caldera is our local anti-Damien Hirst (“Spots and Sharks and Maggots and Money”) outpost.


Sandra Wang and native son Crockett Bodelson, collectively known as SCUBA, along with compatriot Chris Brodsky, are to blame.  Exhausted by the limitations of San Francisco, they came to Saint Assisi’s other namesake, Santa Fe.  Post Due Return, it became clear that artistic opportunities and fresh blood were flowing not just into town, but in town, via some local energies.  “We felt like we could do projects [in Santa Fe] that were on another scale, and do what we really want with people’s art, including our own,” says Bodelson.


A self-described “artist-run play space”, Caldera’s focus is outreach and experimentation on a “multi-dimensional level”.   The mission is to show art with a strong emphasis on community, to actively engage that community, and to challenge the mainstream.   Bodelson elaborates on this:  “We want people who don’t necessarily paint, who doodle, who think what they’re making is not even art… and put them next to professional artists.  If you get people to be a part of it, all of sudden they’ll want to come back.  Engage people, then people will engage with you.”  An art gallery without an established demographic?  Practice the thought.


Caldera has test-driven these ideas with two very popular shows: Hide and Seek and PS, I Love You.  Hide and Seek entailed a display of maps and tools in the gallery which audiences used, on a location-driven treasure hunt, to seek and find the artwork.  It came out of the idea: ‘how can we have an art show without the art?’  The first thing that came to mind was treasure hunt-hiding the art, though much (of it) was in plain sight.  It lets the audience take a step back from: ‘This is the art, look at it’.  The adventure, not knowing where it was going, drew them in.”

The most recent show, PS, I Love You, (roughly centered on Valentine’s Day), continued the theme.  For this show, Caldera invited a wide range of artist to create hundreds of envelopes. “Buyers” put a personal message into each envelope.  Then the artists, dressed in hot pink jumpsuits, hand-delivered the work.  Delivery destinations included SITE Santa Fe, local restaurants, a hospital, a house party, and living rooms.  It was a wild success. The presentation “fooled everyone into thinking it was just a singing telegram, but that’s also part of the art piece.”


So far the response has been “very, very positive.”  Drawing on this momentum, Caldera is planning a wide range of shows. On February 29th, Caldera will present Skip’s Day, a dinner-theater event at Counter Culture Café (bonus: part of the proceeds go to support Fine Art for Children and Teens).  Each audience member will get a hand-painted ceramic from Caldera.

Beyond this, ideas for future shows include an annual Hide & Seek, a ‘food as art’ show, and a ‘Survivor’ show, in which artists make what their version of a survival kit.  All will be open to a broad range of creators. “You don’t have to be an artist to make a survival kit.”

Most of all, Caldera wants to bring in new audiences and spread the word.  “We’re trying to run [Caldera] in a way that opens up the demographic that goes to an art gallery.”

Any visit to Caldera will be an adventure, but what’s life without a bit of risk?  And what is art without fresh ideas?


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