By Myles Ludwig
If you see only one art fair in West Palm Beach, this is the one.
Art Palm Beach at the Convention Center is sassy, sexy and spicy, with dishes of Latin flavor, Korean “kidult,” spiritual significance, intellectual challenge, irony, inscrutability, installation, process, counterfeit, the best of contemporary art (the art of yesterday) and refined Danish design.
This is the one West Palm has been waiting for.
The vernissage itself was a multi-ring circus, complete with body-painted stilt walkers and shimmering performance artists who danced to drumbeats like escapees from a Rio carnival in front of the Kattegat Gallery’s showcase of ceramic interpretations of Viking ships, a sensuous guitarist/ singer and electronic drummer duo (Thais and Flavio), an award for a visionary developer and educator (Jeff Greene), and — it was hard to know where to look first.
I did a two-hour walk-through, then came back Thursday for another two hours to dive into the seen and noted. And, frankly, I covered only a bit of the good stuff.
This show set a new standard, putting the fun of a fair in art. Unpretentious and unfettered. It’s the areas first Instagrammable show and Lee Anne Lester and Next Level Fairs deserve praise for the courage of putting it together. Any show that draws art world luminaries like Mr. Big Dealer Ari G is the one that should draw you.
Entering, you are confronted by a Gulliver-size statue of Mr. Moneybags by Zevi G, a colossus of meta-art to cause Daddy Warbucks to cringe. It informs immediately, this is art-as-experience. Not your grandfather’s art.
Then there’s the masterpiece by Cranio (aka Fabio de Oliveira Parnaiba), an artist from Brazil. The 6-meter-long panel sprayed-on canvas titled Huitzilopochtli is a freestyle interpretation of a Polynesian ritual substituting the Blue Indian – his archetypal symbol – and Inca and Mayan figures for the traditional Gauginesque characters.
It’s at the Luis Maluf Gallery of Sao Paulo, which represents Brazilian, Serbian and French artists exploring the territory of pop contemporary style. The works, selected for value rather than nationality, explained Manuela Errera, have a relationship to late-stage graffiti.
The Cranio needs a magnanimous space to display properly, something akin to a border wall. Perhaps it could be the wall itself.
Rather than riotous, Marlene Rose’s glass works are refreshingly sublime. Buddha figures of sand-cast glass float; they’re modern cultural relics, sculpturally defined and gorgeously infused with the Clearwater artist’s fine and delicate craftspersonship and dexterous spirituality. They exude a sense of ancient authenticity, both calming and inspiring, like the artist herself.
The contemporary art-as-experience movement is truly represented by The Art Plug installation which consists of a multiplicity of work by numerous artists. Mr. Moneybags is here in somewhat reduced circumstances. There’s a fully laid dining table by Ketnipz (aka Harry Hambley) to which you are cordially invited to sit and lift an empty glass to pose for a keepsake photograph, lyrical architectural postcards by French photog Mattheu Venot and much else to savor.
Wait; there’s more, as the infomercial demands.
I talked with partners Amy Vardijian and curator Marcel Katz who led me through the pièce de resistance, The Real Gallery, an ironic “activation” by CB Hoyo of crudely forged famous historical works with a backroom forgery factory for instant take-home canvases defended by a menacing security guard with a fake machine gun. When I asked the costumed curator Katz what linked everything together, he paused momentously and responded, “Can you give me an example of what someone else used.”
We both laughed.
The group’s only online and totally Instragrammable. They count their successes in followers. This is art your children and grandchildren will admire and collect.
Dominika Berger of Barcelona’s Sala Parés showed me her black-and-white painted portraits, created in the spirit of tonal reductionism. They matched my own theoretical research on the authenticity of combat photojournalism in which those in black and white were deemed more “real” than color or infrared views of the same battle scene. She also talked with me about a pair of especially lovely paintings by Magí Puig that play with color field, beachscape, incidental action, shadow and light. Exciting work represented by this Barcelona-based gallery.
I admit I was initially stumped by the process installation of Ilian Arevello and Diego Damas. I talked at length with Damas in English, Italian and Spanish and Google Translate, who explained this show’s process as burying reproductions of important paintings in art history underground, then seeding them with spawn of the environment and allowing them to grow through the imagery, then digging them up and photographing them in limited editions.
The work, he said, questions the relationship between naturalism and human civilization and art with a sense of Italian and Venezuelan humor. He also showed me a photo of Simon Bolivar’s monumental statuary horse minus a rider, noting it as representing a Third World quandary – waiting for a hero. I suggested we might send him our current president. More culture he said, less entertainment.
Both culture and entertainment were found in a mural-size piece by Korean artist Tae Kyu Yim titled Erehwon (“nowhere” in reverse) is a 27-foot-wide work of 12 wooden panels covered with mulberry tree paper and traditional inks that depict a highly detailed world of “kidults.” It made me think of the American Henry Darger’s pornscapes, though not nearly so naked nor torturous.
Samuel Yoon, gallery owner, and the gallery director, Soojung Hyun, were dedicatedly eloquent in explaining that Yim, who lives and works in Beijing and to whom I bowed in greeting and gratitude, is the enfant terrible of the Korean art world, which has the younger generation turning to comic imagery for subject matter. He is “at the intersection of Takashi Murikami and Keith Haring,” as resistance to the tradition, leaving space for the viewer to enter. Gallery JSA is located in New York.
JSA is, by the way, an acronym for Joint Security Area, which “is the only portion of the Korean Demilitarized Zone where South and North Korean” forces face off.
At the Design Werk, I talked with Carsten Thor at his hefty dining table, fashioned from reclaimed ironwood from West Africa traditionally used in Danish harbors, about his rough-hewn but majestic pieces; with the delightful Gritt Sanders about her soulful, narrative photo-portraits, Portrait Tales, that combine photography painting and selected artifacts; and with Ib Sochou and his wife, Brigitta Bjerregaard, who created and run the magazine Design from Scandinavia.
The “curated showroom for interior design from Scandinavia” was started 52 years ago in Copenhagen (“The queen is our neighbor”) by Bjerregaard’s mother to showcase the best of Danish elegance and I was kindly invited to visit the next time I was in Copenhagen, which may be this summer.
Their gallery includes a wine bar and barista, because, “we believe,” said Ib, “a good experience in your heart can’t be deleted.”
Even Russ Darrow’s Aspen Gallery of Fort Lauderdale, which could be said to be the bass line of this symphony because it held down the current contemporary figures of painting and photography, had fun with the work of a former master money counterfeiter.
Wait, there’s more: more than meets the eye.
Don’t miss Vivian Wang’s mysterious work. Or Gaia Velli’s collection of hidden stories.
Art Palm Beach continues at the Palm Beach County Convention Center from noon to 7 p.m. today and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Visit nextlevelfairs.com/artpalmbeach for more information.