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Ever since Switzerland-based Art Basel launched a Miami edition in 2002 — and it subsequently became the most important art fair in America — South Florida's art scene has been blowing up, from the graffiti rainbow wonderland of Miami's Wynwood district all the way to Boynton Beach's stretch of warehouses turned artist residences. It's no wonder art-loving entrepreneurs have followed.
Surprisingly cool galleries and alternative art venues have popped up in some unsuspecting locations in our sunny, permanent Vacationland, giving locals new opportunities to get out and see some art on a Saturday night — and maybe even buy some.
In Broward County, two new galleries are blazing trails north of the 305. Both Gallery 2014 in downtown Hollywood and NAC Gallery in Fort Lauderdale's North Beach are focused on bringing up emerging talent.
Gallery 2014, 2014 Harrison St., Hollywood. Call 954-505-3291, or visit gallery2014.com.
NAC Gallery,3325 NE 32nd St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 239-321-9240, or visit nacgallery.com.
Elizabeth San Juan bought her first piece of art when she was 18. The R.C. Gorman painting depicted a beautiful Navajo woman sitting with a jug against a serene Western sunset.
"I had to put it on a layaway plan," San Juan remembers, "but I really loved it — and I still have that piece."
San Juan went on to work for American Airlines in the company's "premium service department," taking care of heads of states and dignitaries for 23 years before retiring. Her husband, Ken Brown, worked in engineering and finance. Last May, the couple purchased a building in downtown Hollywood, and this March, they opened Gallery 2014, even though neither spouse has a formal background in the arts.
"It's kind of like wine," San Juan says, sitting in the cool and airy backroom of the gallery. The subtle, earthy aroma of Nag Champa incense fills the space; the floors have been stripped to the original surface, a beautiful white terrazzo flecked with blues and grays. "You know what wine you like and what wine you don't like, and I think I have a good palate for art."
Three thousand square feet of gallery space is filled with paintings, drawings, photography, and sculpture with an emphasis on the human form. (Two thousand feet more is used as studio space for artists in residence and classes.) Philly-born, South Florida-based Lori Pratico's INK series of portraits are huge splashes of color — electric greens, icy blues, and deep, saturated fuchsias — on the white gallery walls. The alluring expressions of the bold tatted and pierced alt-ladies in the portraits convey strength and confidence — with just a hint of vulnerability.
Downtown Hollywood has become a bustling arts district, with the Arts Park at Young Circle, the Art and Culture Center, the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project, the soon-to-open art-house movie theater Cinema Paradiso, and a handful of working artists' studios. San Juan was born and raised in this city and now sees herself on a mission to give back to it. The couple has donated to arts programs.
"There's no arts anymore in school," she says. "During my high school senior year, I had a four-hour art class — it was fabulous. And that's really what kept me sane."
Looking at trends during Art Basel shows and in Miami's Wynwood Art District, the couple also lamented, "You can't buy a piece of art for less than $20,000 anymore." They set out to help people find affordable, quality art to have in their homes.
During Downtown Hollywood Art Walks that take place on every third Saturday of the month, the gallery keeps its doors open, but no alcohol is served. "What we're afraid of is that it might become like Wynwood did — more of a party scene," says San Juan. "We think that the serious buyer and the serious person that's interested in art is going to come anyway."
Don't take that to mean the gallery caters to rich people — or at least not that rich. "We try to keep most of the art less than $5,000," says San Juan. And she encourages browsing. "We have young professionals to the young at heart... We're the kinder, friendlier kind of folk that don't really care if you buy or don't buy; we just want you to come in and spread the word."
For the first two months, San Juan showcased the work of some 25 artists, among them the late Overtown folk artist Purvis Young and large-scale portrait painter Christina Major. Now the gallery has moved into a regular rotation, featuring two or three artists every six weeks.
Opening July 18 with an open-to-the-public reception is the Fragmented and Animal Nature series from West Palm Beach-based Eduardo Mendieta and Venezuelan-born, Boynton Beach-based Mago'z. Mago'z's surrealist acrylic paintings of marine animals and wildlife serve as a nice complement to Mendieta's scaled-down, disjointed portrayals of street life, from cars to portraits and urban landscapes.
Farther up the coast, Fort Lauderdale's North Beach Arts District, affectionately called "NoBe," is home to its own budding scene. Composed of three small streets just north of Oakland Park Boulevard and A1A, NoBe is home to about ten galleries and a few artists' studios and hosts an art walk on the first Saturday of each month.
"If you look around at the art galleries around Fort Lauderdale, particularly the ones you have on Las Olas [Boulevard], they're very what you call 'commercial,' " says Vincent Harrison, co-owner and broker at NAC Gallery. Opened just over a year ago, NAC (which stands for New Art Concepts) brands itself as an edgier, New York Chelsea-style gallery offering alternative works from younger emerging artists.