LaLush is just the latest modern art venue to end up in Broward County's gallery graveyard.
Two other places, Gallery Yes! in Wilton Manors and Skot Foreman Fine Art Ltd. on Dania Beach's antique row, have been shuttered in the past three months. Like LaLush, both tried to bring nontraditional work to mainstream audiences.
What went wrong? Each space had an owner with a reputation for caring, following through, tenaciously pursuing potential buyers, and providing a clean and intriguing space for exhibitions. One strong element in their demise: the post-September 11 economy and the recession that preceded it, which made buying art seem an overindulgence to many potential buyers.
Boca Raton native and former banker Foreman had hoped locating his place on Federal Highway in Dania Beach's antique row would help the area fulfill its hipster promise. Today, the former location at Dania Beach Boulevard is fit for tumbleweeds. A sign for a rug merchant hangs in the window. Foreman has already packed up for downtown Atlanta to open another gallery. "It's a metropolitan market with a great corporate base," he says. "There's an energy, youth, and vitality there. And it's an underserved market. What differentiates that from South Florida is that no matter how people like to package it, the money here is very seasonal."
Foreman says that for many months, 100 percent of his sales were shipped to Manhattan and other cities. "There's no base of support here," he complains. "South Florida is a place for the young. And the arts too are in an infantile stage. It's going to take some time before there are enough collectors and year-round residents who take part of any kind of scene."
Foreman calls LaLush's closing a "sad commentary" on the Broward County art community. And he doesn't see that art is selling any better in Miami. "I've found that a lot of galleries say they're repping a new movement of Miami artists that's not producing any substantial lasting growth of art," he says. "It's a house of cards because of the numbers. There are simply not enough collectors [or] local artists worth repping to sell to people outside Florida."
Foreman decided not to play "neo-pioneer" in Dania Beach. "The City Commission had no vision, and most government people... have no worldly exposure," he charges. "Galleries... bring in collectors and developers, and that gets the whole cycle moving."
Gallery Yes! fell in much the same way as Foreman's space. The venue on NE 26th Street in Wilton Manors was opened 15 months ago by art novice Ginger Bamberg, a single mother and successful former stockbroker, who showed contemporary sculptures, painting, and pottery. Bamberg's space met with widespread critical praise for its lowbrow shows, which once featured a memorable eight-foot-high statuette of a buxom woman in a space outfit. Gallery Yes!'s exhibits included antireligious themes that recalled the controversial 1999 show "Sensation" at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Most remarkably, it offered both decorative commercial art and daring, thought-provoking pieces.
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Bamberg doesn't pretend to be an art critic but has always been a patron of artistic statement, collecting work and developing relationships with local artists. "I really didn't know anything about running a gallery, but I was done with being a broker and decided that art was what I wanted to surround myself with," she says. "I invested quite a bit of money advertising the first show, which a lot of people told me not to do."
Bamberg got a return on her money. Gallery Yes!'s opening January 26, 2001, was unusually successful. Seven paintings as well as other works were sold. Bamberg did more than break even; she was able to cover rent, mailings, advertising, and other overhead that totaled about $6000 a month. And she had enough left to renovate the gallery that July. "I had certain things donated, and I sold artwork on consignment," she says. "I wasn't making a lot of money, but I felt I was getting somewhere. Everything seemed wonderful. Then September happened."
The gallery's success was short-lived. "People are not willing to pay for art in a time like this," Bamberg says. "Not everyone thinks like I do, that art is essential. I just didn't have the backup money to keep it going. I really hated to give it up, but it became ridiculous keeping up."
Bamberg's last show was September 8. "I don't think I sold $1000 that month," she says. With 2000 people on her mailing list and many local artists hoping to show at Gallery Yes!, Bamberg asked her landlord to dissolve her lease this spring. "I would hate to think that art can't survive here," she says. "I don't think we've gotten to that stage, but I doubt I would ever open up another art gallery. The chance of loss is too great."