By Myles Ludwig
Oh, dear: it appears tough times have hit the Palm Beach art market.
No more the free-flowing champagne (now $23 a flute) and nary a canape in sight when I arrived at the VIP-y vernissage at the Palm Beach Modern + Contemporary show at the city’s oft-traded “tent site” on Thursday night. It was the first pitch of the art show season, traffic was tangled and the aisles through the warren of cubicles thronged with the grim-faced and cosmetically challenged, looking much like they just stepped out of the 1980s.
For the most part, the works on display were assaulting, derivative and terminally trendy, but there were some remarkable pieces that would not laugh at you if hung behind your living room couch. Some were shown by stalwarts like Emmanuel Fremin and Holden Luntz, but there were some new galleries there as well.
Drew Tal’s luminous realer-than-real portraits glow from the inside. The Israeli artist has an affinity for depictions of feminine Asian faces and embeds both photo and environmental elements in a dye-sublimated synergy sandwich that fulfills its haunting promise. The pictures stop viewers in their tracks at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery.
At Holden Luntz, three particular large photos were outstanding. One, by local favorite Harry Benson, is an anonymous candid of a couple in a fervent embrace, shot in Berlin at 2 a.m. celebrating the crunching of the Berlin Wall. I’m told the couple was from either side of the separation, a meeting then of east and west.
There is also a statuesque painterly Polaroid by Cathleen Naundorf, mystifying in its emulsion-manipulated dimensionality. And a starkly deco picture of the Hollywood Theatre in old Havana that looks like a Japanese modern woodblock with its flat color and sharply defined surfaces. It’s by Michael Eastman, who will open the gallery’s new venue, JL Modern, on Worth Avenue later this month.
Amidst all the industrial-size squiggles and Koonsies, Dines and Indiana spellchecks, it was refreshing to discover a very small, but enchanting Malcolm Liepke portrait. I talked with ebullient Nikola Rukaj of the eponymous Toronto gallery who described the American artist’s work as “bursting at four pistons”(a Canadian art idiom?). He compared Liepke favorably to John Singer Sargent. It was an illustrative piece, edging on realism but because it was worked while the paint was still wet the picture felt intimate and even voluptuous, though it was only a face.
The Vines, or Enredaderas, is a stunning work of romantic realism by self-taught Cuban artist Miguel Florido who paints, scrapes and shapes each vibrant leaf so it shines with its own perfect identity. Deep within this energetic landscape is hidden a secret surprise, adding a touch of tenderness to the entanglement. It’s at the Cernuda Arte gallery.
Speaking of Latin magic, see the magical realism of Rafa Macarron, drawing inspiration from that classic of Latin American literature, 100 Years of Solitude. Abstracted spectral figures populate the mythical village of his paintings, protected from encroaching civilization by plexiglass. It is a parallel universe narrative of mixed media. Childlike and yet sophisticated at the same time. Engaging at Galeria Casa Cuadrada.
And as for identity politics, there is the wonderful trio of canvases filled by the floating imagery of Ewa Bathelier’s empty dresses eloquently addressing issues of femininity at Gloria Porcella’s Galleria Ca’ D’Oro by the absolute absence of the body within; Jason Myers’s emerging figures at the Long-Sharp Gallery and George Charriez’s persona series represented by a faceless gentleman in Tom Wolfe-white suit in a picture titled Subsequently, shown by Connect Contemporary.
It is an odd jumble of a show. Any curatorial sense is missing, but there is lyric beauty to be found here.
Palm Beach Modern + Contemporary 2019 runs through Sunday at the Palm Beach Modern + Contemporary Pavilion at 825 S. Dixie Highway and Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach. One-day tickets are $30. Call 800-376-5850 or visit www.artpbfair.com for more information.
Editor’s note: This review was updated to change artworks and correct errors.