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Museum of New Mexico, in Santa Fe

Touring Santa Fe's top cultural attracitons, plus info on the NM Culture Pass

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Museum of New Mexico, in Santa Fe

A block from the historic Plaza in Santa Fe, the New Mexico Museum of Art is one of the city's quintessential examples of Pueblo Revival architecture.

photo by Andrew Collins

Arts-minded Santa Fe has no shortage of venues displaying exceptional art, from ancient works produced by the region's indigenous Pueblo peoples to the bohemian painters drawn to northern New Mexico during the late-19th- and early-20th-century artist-colony days to the contemporary era. There are, of course, the dozens of fantastic art galleries along historic Canyon Road, as well as plenty of others in the hip Railroad District, which is also home to the provocative contemporary art museum, SITE Santa Fe.

Many of the City Different's top arts attractions are contained within a dynamic cultural institution that's been going strong since 1909, the Museum of New Mexico, which includes the Palace of the Governors and adjoining New Mexico History Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology, and the Museum of International Folk Art. Also part of this organization are the six state monuments, which are set throughout the New Mexico, and include Coronado S.M., Fort Selden S.M., Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner S.M., Jemez S.M., Lincoln S.M., and El Camino Real S.M. This article focuses on the museums in Santa Fe, but you learn can learn more about the six aforementioned state monuments here.

New Mexico Museum Passes and Visitor Information

Admission to each of the individual museums is $9 ($6 for NM residents), but there are a couple of ways to save quite a lot of money by visiting more than one museum. At any of the four museums, you can buy a pass good for any two of the New Mexico State Museums for $15 ($12 for NM residents), or a pass good for all four at a cost of just $20 ($18 for NM residents). Or online you can purchase the New Mexico Culture Pass for just $25 - it's good for a 12-month period and entitles the bearer admission to 14 different state museums and monument, including the four covered in this article; the six state monuments mentioned above; the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo; the National Hispanic Cultural Center and New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque; and the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces. If you're planning any explorations beyond Santa Fe to other cities with state museums or monuments, this pass is well worth the investment. Note that the state museums are open Tuesday through Sunday, generally 10 to 5.

Palace of the Governors/New Mexico History Museum

The lone museum in the group that's not dedicated primarily to art, the Palace of the Governors/New Mexico History Museum (On the Plaza, 113 Lincoln Ave., 505-476-5200) this joint venture combines one of the oldest buildings in the United States with one of the newest museums in the Southwest. The New Mexico State Museum was established at the Palace of the Governors in 1909 - this single-story Pueblo building constructed around 1610, said to be the oldest government building in the country, was the territorial seat of government for centuries, during which time Santa Fe was part of Spain, then Mexico, the the U.S. confederacy, and finally the United States. It's a fascinating building to walk through, filled with both permanent and rotating exhibits documenting the state's rich heritage.

The building connects through a courtyard to the state-of-the-art New Mexico History Museum, which was built in 2009 as part of an effort to expand the exhibit space for showcasing the state's incredible trove of photos, artifacts, and documents. Indeed, this handsome and beautifully laid out museum is filled with clever, interactive exhibits that tell the full story of this region's complex history.

New Mexico Museum of Art

The other part of the NM Museum collection that's located by the historic Santa Fe Plaza, the New Mexico Museum of Art (107 W. Palace Ave., 505-476-5072) is across the street from the Palace of the Governors and occupies a stunning Pueblo Revival structure with a lovely central courtyard - it was designed and built in 1917 by Isaac Rapp and bears a resemblance, with its vigas-and-latilla ceilings and classic adobe detailing, to the structures you'll find at some of the state's most prominent Indian pueblos. Curators here show the museum's extensive and varied collection, which contains more than 8,200 pieces, in rotating exhibits. The shows range from contemporary to classic, and many of the GLBT artists associated with New Mexico are regularly represented, among them Marsden Hartley and Agnes Martin (who never identified explicitly as lesbian but is thought to have been). Just around the corner, you'll find the private Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

Museum Hill

It's a 2-mile drive south up Old Santa Fe Trail to reach Museum Hill, home to both the Museum of International Folk Art and the Museum of Indian Arts, as well as a couple of attractions that are privately run, the exceptional Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. An elevated bluff affording panoramic views of the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains, Museum Hill has enough to see and do to keep you fully occupied for a full day. The drive is simple, and buses also run from the Plaza up here (take the "M" line), but it's also a perfectly pleasant if ambitious walk on a sunny day - give yourself about 45 minutes to walk here from the Plaza. Adjoining the courtyard that separates the folk art and Indian arts museums, the Museum Hill Cafe is open Tuesday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch.

Museum of International Folk Art

The Museum of International Folk Art (706 Camino Lejo, 505-476-1200) is unusual in both its content - folk art from all around the world, including a fascinating collection of pieces specific to New Mexico - and scope, in that it's one of the largest such museums in the world. The modern adobe building contains two of the best gift shops in the New Mexico State Museum system, too. As you enter, you'll come first to the museum's Hispanic Heritage rooms, which showcase a rich assortment of Spanish Colonial works, many with religious overtones, dating as far back as the 16th century. Other areas show changing exhibits, and perhaps most enchanting is the Girard Collection, where you can peruse an astounding selection of miniature pieces arranged in dioramic villages representing more than 100 countries worldwide.

Museum of Indian Arts & Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology

Across the large, sunny courtyard from the folk art museum, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (710 Camino Lejo, 505-476-1250) presents a steady rotation of thoughtful, engaging exhibits that touch on art from Pueblo communities throughout New Mexico as well as from indigenous groups all around the country, but with an emphasis on the Southwest. Here you can view baskets, jewelry, pottery, textiles, ancient archaeological artifacts, and thoroughly contemporary pieces - there are more than 75,000 pieces in the permanent collection of this impressive museum.

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