What makes an art fair click? Quite simply, it's the dealers and what they bring.
Last fall FIAC in Paris made a hit by asking gallerists to mount only solo shows by modern and contemporary artists in their booths. The Art Show sponsored by the Art Dealers Association of America every year at the Park Avenue Armory is a paragon of refined taste. The new Armory Show at Javits Center in New York has established itself as an exciting avant-garde showcase.
As for Art Palm Beach, on view at the International Pavilion in sunny West Palm Beach, Jan. 10-15, 2001, its profile is more eclectic. The 67 dealers from the U.S. and Europe have brought a varied selection of wares aimed at the art collectors in storied Palm Beach, one of our wealthier communities (Donald Trump has a building here, need we say more?).
Needless to say, the care taken by fair organizers David and Lee Ann Lester also shows. More than one dealer praised the clean canvas walls and the simple baseboard accents of their booths. The relatively small size of the fair, arranged into three long aisles, also makes a visit a felicitous experience.
In the face of such esthetic eclecticism, the watchword for the selection of contemporary and modern art at Art Palm Beach is quality. Though it may be a tad conservative, the fair amply awards the viewer who actually takes the time to look at the impressive selection of fine works on display.
But how to begin? Thinking that West Palm Beach is in Florida and that Florida means Latin American art, this viewer sought out works by Botero. The Columbian artist's charming balloon people are enlivening the booths of at least eight fair participants. Timothy Taylor Gallery, London, brought a large 1972 painting of a sly cat on the dinner table, a completely captivating work that is priced at $425,000.
As it happens, the clientele of Art Palm Beach is not at all weighted towards Latin America. No matter, Botero fits well in collections of any nationality.
One popular way to install an art fair booth is by placing a large-scale, crowd-pleasing work at the entrance to catch the eye of passersby. Dealer Nancy Hoffman went with a work by Viola Frey, whose wildly painted ceramic women give new meaning to the notion of "Giantess Zone." In the middle of the gallery's art-fair booth is a huge sculpture of a nude woman, sitting on the floor and holding the globe of the world in her hand. "Women rock," said Hoffman's Chris Watson. What an understatement. The sculpture is $60,000.
Over at Berkeley Square Gallery from London are the cheerful patinaed bronzes of Sophie Ryder, a British sculptor of dancing and romancing hares and dogs who has a big following in Palm Beach (a major sculpture was bought out of last year's fair for the new Robert & Mary Montgomery Armory Art Center, established by the famed litigator who most recently made news for bringing the tobacco companies to their knees). On view at Berkeley Square is a life-size sculpture of a Standing Lady-Hare with Dog (2000) and a smaller wall piece showing a Pink Lady-Hare Dancing with a Big Brown Dog. Her price range is $30,000 to $100,000.
Art Palm Beach's mix of populist, classic moderns and contemporary is well illustrated over at Waddington & Tribby Fine Art, a new gallery established last year in the gallery center in Boca Raton by veteran London dealer Theo Waddington with Donna Tribby. Their booth features several of the humorous, 3-D paintings of P.J. Crook showing comical genre scenes of dinner parties, racing jockeys and throngs of newspaper readers, along with the painted bronze sculptures of oversized fruits by Popliteo.
Tucked away inside the booth is a knockout of a painting of a Great Dane from 1976 by Andy Warhol facing a small, 1944 drawing of a Man with Hand in Mouth by Lucian Freud. Other works on view are by Larry Rivers, Robert DeNiro, Sr., Miró, Milton Avery, Matisse, Pascin, Derain and Dufy. Now that's eclectic.
One of the most impressive selections of classic European modernism can be found at Galerie Thomas from Munich. A 1937 Paul Signac watercolor shows a two-masted ship in the mountainous harbor of Menton on the border between France and Italy ($42,000). A Nolde landscape from 1922 uses graphic accents of black to elevate a simple composition onto a mysteriously effecting plane. Star of the booth is an 1883 painting by Claude Monet, Dahlias, one of several commissioned by the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel to fill French doors in his sitting room. It can be yours for $1.9 million.
Sometimes an installation of works can produce an effect altogether greater than the sum of the parts. At gallery Fabien Boulakia from Paris are three works that sing in chorus: a large, simple painting on a metal sign from 1985 by Jean-Michel Basquiat, a small swashbuckling abstraction on newsprint from 1974 by Willem de Kooning and a 1989 work on aluminum by Robert Rauschenberg. All three have those expressive swaths of free brushstrokes that are transcendent emblems of the Dionysian spirit. "It's the sign of the artist," said dealer Daniel Boulakia. "The sign of freedom."
A few dealers at the fair represent the cutting edge. In this refined company, Peter Halley's dramatic hard-edge abstractions really stand out. Waddington Galleries of London has hung an impressive example from 2000 at the entry of his booth (price: $55,000). Alan Koppel Gallery has also brought a Halley painting to the fair.
Another presentation with a raucous avant-garde spirit is over at Robert Sandelson. The London dealer has brought two color photographs by Amsterdam artist Micha Klein, who fills his pictures with members of an erotic tribe of futuristic, pastel-haired rainbow people, like so many adult-channel trolls. Also on view is a special videotape of Klein's dancing "pill man" that the controversial Grammy nominee Eminem commissioned for an onstage projection to the song The Real Slim Shady for his current tour. Collectors can have their own copy of the unlimited-edition tape for $250. One of the smaller photos, about 39 inches square and titled Arrival of the Rainbow Children, is $9,500 -- up from $6,000 not too long ago.
One especially interesting technique is to present African art and contemporary art side by side. Gallery Camino Real from Boca Raton is showing a female figure from the Kolango people from the Ivory Coast ($3,200) along with Richard Pousette-Dart's Presence Circle with Circle ($90,000). Is there much demand for African art in Boca? "Actually," said gallery director William Biety, "that's what we sell most consistently." Leonard Hutton Galleries juxtaposed a striking Emil Nolde picture of a wild-eyed woman with a weathered, dark Bateba female figure and a Wilso anthropomorphic vessel designed to contain ancestral spirits.
A few of the dealers at Art Palm Beach have installed solo shows. One such is Holsten Galleries of Stockbridge, Mass., which has filled its booth with the colorful blown-glass works of Lino Tagliapietra. The 67-year-old maestro, who lives in Murano, Italy, but does most of his work in Seattle, has really caught on with U.S. collectors in the last five years. His prices are in the $25,000-$35,000 range for pedestal-sized pieces.
Speaking of glass, one of the hot artists at the fair is Nicholas Africano, whose cast glass sculptures of winsome women are proving very popular with collectors. Africano, who lives in Normal, Ill., has mastered the delicate technique of these works, which are colored with dry pigments. His works, on view at both Irving Galleries and Nancy
Hoffman, are priced between $30,000 and $55,000.
In the end, a viewer can while away the afternoon looking for those singular pieces that say, "buy me." Moise Kisling's Nude with Crossed Arms (1928) at Whitford Fine Art is a must-have. "The thing about this one is that she's a blonde," said Adrian Mibus. " Most of Kisling's models have dark hair." It's $180,000.
Robert Henry Adams Fine Art has a great selection of lesser-known American artists from mid-century that look especially fresh and interesting -- works by artists like the Cubist Suzy Frelinghuysen, George L.K. Morris and Morgan Russell. Also on offer is A Natural Bouquet (1939) by Edwin Dickinson, the painter's painter who is celebrated for ethereal works that are more about looking than the thing observed. "He was one of the first American artists to use his brushmarks as direct elements in his paintings," said the gallery's Valerie Carberry. "Nothing is lost in translation." The painting is $68,000.
If someone asked if a standing room lamp could be art, you would probably answer no -- unless you'd seen the Lamp with a Woman's Head crafted by Diego Giacometti. It's quite simply perfect. and on view at Greenberg Van Doren Gallery (along with a table and chair by the artist). It's in bronze, a little over 52 inches tall and priced at $125,000.
New York visitors to Spencer Brownstone Gallery are familiar with the
large, simple portraits of young children done by the British artist
James Reilly -- portraits that often have something slightly odd and perverse about them. But his watercolors have an especially delicate aura, and here in Palm Beach are several at the booth of Timothy Taylor. A small one of the girl with a black eye is especially nice, as is its
At Pace Prints is a new work by Kiki Smith called Bat. For this edgy work, the famously feminist artist has combined a picture of herself in a contorted nude posture with appliqued paper wings and scribbled black crayon accents. The work is part of a set of three; besides transforming herself into a bat, Smith mimics a turtle and a butterfly. Done in an edition of 22, the works are $3,500 each and $9,000 the set.
Now, can someone lend me, um, $378,000?