Friday, December 5, 2008

Art Basel, Day 2: A touch of Palm Beach

Representing West Palm Beach's Gavlak gallery is Nelson Hallonquist, who stands between two paintings by José Alvarez. (Photos by Katie Deits)

By Katie Deits

MIAMI BEACH -- Amid the immensity of this city's convention hall, where works by more than 2,000 artists are being displayed by more than 250 of the top art galleries in the world during this week's Art Basel gathering, I found a piece of Palm Beach County in Booth Q4.

Gavlak, a West Palm Beach gallery, is at Art Basel displaying works by the artist Jose Alvarez. Mixed media is nothing new for artists, but I thought that Alvarez's use of porcupine quills and feathers -- in other words, material used by shamans -- combined with mineral crystals plus acrylic and watercolor paint created unusually beautiful effects.

The hallucinatory feel of the paintings marks Alvarez's attempt to “explore how the intersection of mysticism, science, spirituality and the construction of belief systems all connect to the strong human desire for knowledge and transformation,” according to the gallery.

Art Basel isn't only about checking out individual pieces of art. There's plenty of context and commentary to be found in the Art Salon, which features noted figures in the art world giving lectures and hosting discussions.

Jerry Saltz (seen at left), a columnist for New York magazine and former senior art critic at The Village Voice, gave a humorous talk about what the global economic downturn has done to the art world.

The current financial crisis means tough times for the fine art scene, with galleries closing and incomes shrinking for individual artists, Saltz said. But that's not such a bad thing, he said.

“Money is not the art world. What will happen is that people won’t be talking about art in terms of money,” Saltz said.

Artists will be free to create whatever they want to create without considering their “brand," he said, but while creators are self-focused, “galleries have visions that make the world.”

The bottom line is that just like they did in 1991 when the art market bottomed out, artists will continue making art and collectors will continue seeking it out, he said. It's just a cycle like anything else.

Visitors to Art Basel looking for a more formal structured approach can take in the fair's Art Kabinett program, in certain galleries show, in a separate space in their booths, curated exhibits “representing everything from thematic group exhibitions and single-work presentations to film programs and full-room installations.”

One of the 18 Art Kabinett exhibitions is Text and Image in 20th-Century Art, presented by the Galerie Gmurzynska in Zürich, Switzerland, which occupies Booth H9.

Displaying artists who used text and art, this is an exhibit well worth seeing. It starts with the Cubists and makes its way through pop and conceptual art.

Art Basel runs through Sunday at the Miami Beach Convention Center, but there are plenty of parallel art fairs and exhibits running at the same time. Among them are Art Asia, Art Miami, Art Now Fair, Aqua Art Miami, Bridge Art Fair, Design Miami, Fountain Art, Geisai, Green Art Fair, In Fashion Photo, INK Miami Fair, NADA Art Fair, Photo Miami, Pool Art Fair, Pulse, Red Dot Fair, SCOPE, and Sculpt Miami.
Palm Beach County art notables at Art Basel, from left: faux painter Scott Robertson, fine-art restorer Jim Swope, and art publicist and marketing expert Elaine Meier.

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