ALBUQUERQUE — Since the millennium, DIY galleries have contributed significantly to Albuquerque’s vibrant contemporary art scene, supporting the practices and careers of artists and curators. A number of these spaces passed from one group to another, fostering connection, creativity, and community in the process.
At first glance, the unassuming Territorial Revival storefront comprising 1413-1415 Fourth Street SW in the Barelas neighborhood might not seem the likeliest nexus for Albuquerque’s experimental art scenes. Largely occupied since 2004, this block of Fourth Street has housed several DIY spaces, including Donkey Gallery, The Normal, The Tan, The Tannex, Small Engine Gallery, GRAFT Gallery, fourteenfifteen gallery, and La Chancla.
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Alongside other notable artist-run spaces in Albuquerque during the 21st century — like Off Lomas, an outdoor gallery run by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Raven Chacon (Diné) and curator Candice Hopkins (Carcross/Tagish First Nation), micro-gallery Vitrine, and Postcommodity’s performance art hub Spirit Abuse — Fourth Street has a storied history of empowering individual artistic expression and collaborative curation.
Built in 1954 to house ABC Real Estate and Coronado Chili Products — and later Nick’s Small Engine Repair, whose sign by Frank Holmes remains to this day — this concrete block and stucco building found new purpose in 2004, when David Leigh and Sherlock Terry approached fellow University of New Mexico (UNM) graduate student Larry Bob Phillips with their vision, inviting him to serve as a live-in anchor for Donkey Gallery at 1415, a space centered on student and general art exhibitions through 2006.
Phillips now serves as the Roswell Artist in Residency program’s executive director, where he was once also a resident artist. Phillips told Hyperallergic, “I think the lessons I learned at Donkey Gallery were integrative: putting on a show, dealing with artists, bringing the space together, and creating a theme. All those parts — from participating in a show to drawing a postcard — required skills we had as a group or individually, but bringing it all together was an important lesson.”
UNM undergraduate Eli Wentzel-Fisher founded The Normal in 2009 in the former Donkey Gallery space. Wentzel-Fisher ran The Normal for almost two years before passing the curatorial torch to Andy Lyman, who built The Tan. According to Lyman, “The Tan was a completely noncommercial space. If artists wanted to sell work, they could but it was not an art retail space. We never had prices listed … and the primary interest and focus was doing things that existed temporally within that space, even if it was a collective body of work.”
Around the same time Chacon, Mateo Galindo, and Malinda Thursz-Galindo took over the space next door as Small Engine Gallery, a collectively operated gallery dedicated to exhibiting art in all media. They passed the space on to Luke Hussack and Scott Williams in 2012, and while that iteration ended the following year, artists Bradford Erickson and Jackie Riccio reopened the space under the same moniker and with similar intentions in 2015.
I spoke with Mateo Galindo in Marfa, Texas, where Malinda now serves as Chinati Foundation’s Associate Director of Development and where the two plan to open another gallery, Tierra y Que. Galindo said, “Albuquerque has a lineage of people making something for themselves and the community. Groups of people can still get together and try to keep people safe and display things you can’t see [at a commercial gallery] or in Santa Fe. It’s important for the city, especially the university.”
In the spring of 2013, Marya Errin Jones created The Tannex at 1417 as a performance annex to The Tan in concert with Andy Lyman and Joe Cardillo. Home to Albuquerque’s only zine library and run solo by Jones for four of its seven years, The Tannex proved the longest-lived of these spaces, serving as an inclusive performance and visual art space through the summer of 2021.
“Especially in the last four years of The Tannex, my intention was to have people of color and women on every bill,” said Jones. “It was a space for everyone but it was also a space for me. If a black woman feels comfortable in the space, probably everyone is going to feel comfortable. At the time, there weren’t any spaces in town where the needle didn’t scratch on the record [when I walked in].”
From 2015 to 2018, 1415 Fourth Street SW was helmed by another collective, GRAFT — Jessica Chao, Danny Crouch, Jazmyn Crosby, Beth Hansen, and Cecilia McKinnon — and focused on collaboration, hybrid practices, and eclectic approaches, exploring themes relating to intimacy in public and personal spaces, distortion of time and memory, collective relationships, shared identity, and capitalist spectacle in cultural production.
McKinnon said, “Given the success and tenure of this block of buildings, the historical affordability of those spaces can’t be overlooked. We were able to do what we did because we were renting that space for peanuts. There’s really a huge need for artists and organizers to think about the economics of buildings and that tenants’ rights and rent control are things we all need to be concerned about. The work you’re able to make is dependent on the kind of spaces you’re able to move into and experiment in.”
Another curatorial crew — Ren Adams, John Morgan, Cristine Posner, Amanda Dannáe Romero, and GRAFT’s Beth Hansen — took over in 2018, creating fourteenfifteen gallery to creatively engage the community and give experimental and underrepresented artists the space to take chances. Its curators said that while the pandemic and necessary renovations by the site’s new owner, Homewise, necessitated a lengthy lull in hosting public gallery shows, they have fourteenfifteen and adjunct space Alpaca booked with solo exhibitions, group shows, community fundraisers, and film screenings through 2023.
The former Small Engine space was rebuilt in early 2022 by Bethany Baca and Adri De La Cruz as La Chancla, a woman-, nonbinary-, and queer-led space. In addition to community collaboration and an intention to pass the space on, La Chancla’s focus has been showcasing diverse visual art and music with an emphasis on promoting queer and nonbinary artists and artists of color.
“We’ve seen a lot of males do really great things and maybe not-so-great things, but there hasn’t been as much intention placed on people like us in this space,” said De La Cruz. “La Chancla is just a four-walled box. There’s nothing special about it other than what’s inside the box. The point is having a very clear lens of wanting everything except what we’ve already seen in this space.”