Have you been to a museum lately? Doesn't it feel like a scene out of one of those sci-fi flicks from the 1950s? Like you're the only surviving person after an alien invasion, so you wander into an art museum looking for survivors, and soon blood-thirsty zombies kick down the door, and you have to hide behind some shitty Picasso exhibit that's been on display for over a year? Just me? OK, but you have to admit that going to a museum or art gallery in South Florida is something akin to a conscious nightmare. Many museums 'round here on any given day are ghost towns, filled with paintings from dead French dudes and patrons who look like extras from Dawn of the Dead. The South Florida art scene has been a bit listless of late, churning out exhibit after exhibit with titles like "Watercolor Expressions," "Nature Feelings," or "Sandcastles and Rainbows." What can we expect in 2004? A photo essay of multicultural garden gnomes, Pam Anderson's breast implants covered in Sno-Caps, and "Tom's Beer Can Collection, 1997-2002"?
That's where the Palm Beach Contemporary Art and Design Fair steps in. This year, the fair has more dealers than a Catholic high school -- art dealers, that is -- and their goal is to turn visitors on to fresh talent and new directions in art and design. International Fine Arts Expositions, a West Palm Beach company, organized this year's fair. "We invited dealers from all over the world," explains IFAE Director of Marketing Sarah Flynn. "We wanted different artists with different elements who are creating important works of art. And this year we have 69 dealers in the areas of 20th- and 21st-century painting, photography, design, video, and sculpture."
That's 69 chances to find something refreshing, innovative, mind-blowing, and not reeking of 20th-century minimalist fuddy-duddery. In addition to the orgy of art, the fair features lectures and roundtable discussions by visiting professionals, such as a slide lecture by keynote speaker Jan Schall titled "Going Global: Art in the 21st Century"; a lecture by Bruce Helander on the joys of building an art collection; book signings with painters Marcia Myers and Ann Wolff; an illustrated lecture with glass artist Toshio Iezumi called "Reflected Images"; and a discussion with ARTnews Editor and Publisher Milton Esterow brilliantly titled "How to Look at Art Without Feeling Inferior." The Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art in Lake Worth is also kicking out a video installation, and several local museums are running concurrent exhibitions featuring international and contemporary American, Italian, and Latin art, as well as local artists.
Whew! That's a lot of art, kids. Hopefully this much dilettantism in one place will elicit intellectual discourse, revive the scene, and you won't leave with that uncomfortable lack of fulfillment -- like some sort of cultural cottonmouth. But if you see garden gnomes or a Miller Lite booth, run.