“I chose the hammerhead because they’re on the red list and in danger of extinction,” said the artist Marc Hubert D’Ge— who looked like remarkably like a young Gregg Allman — in a charming Aix-en-Provence accent of his installation piece, Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves.
He stood beneath a 10-foot, taxidermied shark mounted on an exhibition wall with a video running over it and against the wall. The shark was trailed by a trio of foot-long babies. At one time, there had been five, apparently.
“We lost some of them somewhere along the way,” he explained with a puzzled expression.
A little further into the exhibition hall, a tall young woman, in full Marie Antoinette garb, floated regally amidst a crowd of inquisitive admirers. Upon closer inspection, it became apparent that her costume was made entirely of plastic bags and bric-a-brac.
“Everything was pulled out of the garbage and is recyclable,” said Miami-based artist Lucinda Linderman of her performance work, Excess Extravagance.
Of her choice of the doomed, let-them-eat-cake, monarch for subject matter, she explained, “each of us are consuming like she did.”
And so these eco-friendly artists, along with an odd assortment of characters and a healthy dose of uber- beautiful people, heralded a wonderland-like journey into the environs of Art Palm Beach, a global contemporary art fair, which will reside at the Palm Beach Convention Center until Sunday. For these next few days, the convention hall has been transformed into a museum-like liminal zone – a hyperreal world – offering artists and galleries from around the world, alongside seasoned collectors, art aficionados and the merely curious.
The entire scene is a people-watching bonanza and an art lover’s aphrodisiac.
In true art-world fashion, there was quite a bit of hugging and kissing happening as dealers, standing within art-lined exhibition booths, enthusiastically greeted collectors and friends. One who was really shown the love was petite Sandra Neustadter. Based in Delray Beach, she and her husband Edward deal in master and emerging artists, and their booth was bustling with activity and interest.
In fact, many of the stellar exhibitors were from South Florida’s own backyard; Palm Beach and Miami galleries comprise a fair portion of the global art trade.
/“We feel so appreciated here,” remarked Geoffrey Orley of Palm Beach’s Orley and Shabahang as he explained that Palm Beach is the perfect market for the custom, contemporary carpets that he and his partner, Barham Shabahang, design for their discerning clients.
“People who gravitate towards the finer things in life,” he continued.
Jewelry designer Sherry Fehr, of Boca Raton’s Sherry’s Gifts of Gilt, felt the same. She participates in Art Palm Beach in order to reach new clients.
“We enjoy meeting people from all over the world who appreciate our custom designs,” Fehr said.
The international flavor of the fair adds to its appeal. Walking alongside visitors one overhears languages and accents from all the continents and many of the exhibiting galleries hail from diverse locations, such as Dublin, Tel Aviv and Caracas.
The fair also provides local art institutions with opportunities for visibility to these global visitors. Complimentary booths were provided for local museums, such as the Norton Museum of Art, where they were able to distribute membership information.
Cynthia Palmieri, executive director of the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in Palm Beach, another local cultural landmark, was grateful.
“It’s very nice that they invite us and provide an opportunity for cultural organizations to have a presence amongst collectors, galleries, and people interested in art,” Palmieri said.
Yet, even in Wonderland, there are disappointments. Such was the case for Vancouver-based artist Gordon Halloran, who had planned to exhibit an enormous outdoor ice-and-painting installation.
Halloran, who is committed to public art, explained, “We couldn’t find a sponsor. It looked like the sponsorship manager was going to get someone, but then it just didn’t work out.”
Thus, Halloran was reduced to exhibiting fragments of another of his works, Lotus in Motion, that, when shown properly, is truly a lyrically beautiful outdoor installation with polyurethane lotus leaves floating gracefully atop water. Seeing the singular lotus leaves, mounted on the walls of the exhibition booth, was sort of sad and illustrative of the fickleness that coincides with the extravagance of the art world.
It’s all part of the journey, though. And the foray into Art Palm Beach is a microcosm of the larger rabbit hole that is the global art machine, which can be perceived as its own living, breathing entity and which, for many, generates an adrenaline-like rush.
Art Palm Beach provides creative energy and excitement. Amid the thousands of visitors and hundreds of exhibitors, there is art for every taste and of every medium. There is conservative. There is outlandish. There is art that appeals to sight and sound and art that you wear, as well as art that you walk on. There is so much eye candy that it can be somewhat daunting. Expect ADHD moments.
This is proof that art goes beyond what tradition dictates — and that’s the best part of this wonderland — the fact that it showcases emerging artist alongside traditional ones. It brings contemporary art to Palm Beach, which is traditionally known to have more conservative tastes. Visitors are not just enticed by the aesthetically pleasing, but also challenged to think, to ponder – as evidenced by the works by Linderman and D’Ge.
For, whatever the amount of time you choose to spend at Art Palm Beach, one thing is certain: for that period of time, you will be transported into a magical, whimsical, and sometimes poignant and thought-provoking realm.
Escape from reality, after all, is part of the appeal of the journey into art Wonderland.
Jenifer Mangione Vogt is a marketing communications professional and resident of Boca Raton. She’s been enamored with painting for most of her life. She studied art history and received her B.A. from Purchase College.
Art Palm Beach takes place from Jan. 21-23 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center. Hours are Friday through Saturday, noon to 7 p.m.; Sunday, noon till 6 p.m. Admission is $10 in advance, or $15 at the door, for a one-day pass; $15 in advance, or $20 at the door, for a multi-day pass. Children under 12 accompanied by an adult are free. For more information, visit http://www.artpalmbeach.com.