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Art, Meet Commerce

My first visit to Art on the Edge Gallery & Design Center started inauspiciously. I got lost (my fault) and wandered around Oakland Park until I swallowed my male pride and called for directions. Sure enough, the gallery was right where one of the owners, Geri Konstantin, had indicated, a mere stone's throw from the legendary Peter Pan Diner.

When I parked and walked in, however, it looked like Art on the Edge might be not on the cutting edge but on the edge of going out of business, even though it just opened in early July. The front room was practically empty, and elsewhere, pieces of art were stacked as if for packing.

Konstantin and her co-owner, Adrianna Ramirez, quickly allayed my fears. With Hurricane Charley headed toward Florida the previous day, they had erred on the side of caution and emptied the front gallery, which has big, plate-glass windows on three sides. And they had moved as much of the art as possible off the floors in the remaining rooms, in case of flooding.

The storm had passed, and Art on the Edge was safe. Even so, I offered to return the following day, when things might be a little more settled, and then I stopped in again a few days later. I wasn't disappointed either time. Konstantin and Ramirez have put together an impressively ambitious operation with their 5,000-square-foot complex, which is broken into a handful of spaces of various sizes that can accommodate the classes, workshops, lectures, special events, and other activities the partners have in mind. On that third visit, for instance, I saw Ramirez customizing a space for an installation.

More important, the center is set up to accommodate individual artists and their needs. Artists can book their own work into the gallery and have a say in determining where it will be displayed -- at a price. One of a handful of pedestals in what's called the Lecture Gallery Room can be had for just $15 a month, whereas an eight-by-eight-foot chunk of wall space in the larger Studio Gallery Room goes for $100 a month.

For monthly fees ranging from $170 to $395, an artist can even stake a claim to an area that can double as display space and a miniature studio. Sculptors and potters can share a group space for $125 per month, although the latter will also have to chip in a monthly kiln fee of $25.

Perhaps to discourage starving-artist types, Konstantin and Ramirez require a three-month minimum, along with a refundable one-month deposit and a nonrefundable $20 application fee. Payment is due on the first of the month, and should an artist be lucky enough to score a sale while his or her work is on display, a 10 percent commission goes to the gallery.

If all this sounds a little, well, mercenary, consider that Konstantin's background includes advertising and marketing, while Ramirez has extensive experience in merchandising and interior design. No surprise, then, that they hope to attract more than working artists to Art on the Edge. The partners have their sights set on corporate clients and design professionals, as a list of services on the home page of their website indicates: "Fine Art. Sculpture. Art Jewelry. Ceramics. Pottery. Murals. Faux Finishing. Functional Art. Cultural Artifacts. Antiquities. Accents. Art Classes. Workshops. Art & Design Consulting."

It would be easy to dismiss such claims as so much posturing if it weren't for one thing: Konstantin and Ramirez have some damn fine art on display to lend credence to their aspirations. Konstantin is an artist herself, and some of the best work I saw on my visits is hers.

A pair of 24-inch-square mixed-media pieces in the front gallery -- Nemesis Underwater and Conversations -- show off her feel for abstraction. Each consists of a thin panel, rendered in muted tones, that seems to float an inch or so above another thin panel painted matte black. Other pieces by Konstantin, including the mixed-media collages Currency and Island Life, introduce hints of figurative imagery such as Bahamian money and tropical fish and foliage.

The gallery as a whole fares especially well with abstract act. Like Konstantin's two abstractions, Elizabeth Chapman's mixed-media pieces Transition Greys and Textere are displayed together and, despite a slight difference in scale, work beautifully as a pair. Both are elemental and earthy, as if the artist had ripped raw minerals from the ground as the medium for her expressive scratches and manipulations; Textere even includes weathered-looking pieces of molten metal.

Another twosome of big abstracts, Stella White's Persistence of Memory (acrylic) and Heart's Desire (mixed media), are airier studies in texture. The warm, yellow and orange accents of the first piece contrast nicely with the cool blues, whites, and creamy coplors of the latter. Similar abstract groupings dot the entire gallery, many not yet labeled on my visits.

Three large abstracts are particularly impressive for their austerity. One is mounted on the right wall just inside the gallery's front door. The other two sat waiting to be hung when I saw them, propped on the floor at the opposite end of the complex. All were unidentified but striking enough that I asked about them -- they're the work of Mark Forman, who uses pale washes of white and yellow to great effect, with long, thin dribbles of pigment marking the main body of the image and small areas of darker colors pushed to the edges of the canvas. One of the three is bisected by a horizontal line between lighter and darker portions of the piece.

With the exception of photography, which I'll return to, the gallery's more representational art is less interesting. It's hard to believe that the thick, blocky busts on pedestals are the work of the same Mark Forman who painted those ethereal canvases. And the sculptures of Sally Cooper, who paints gourds in bright colors and decorates them to create exotic birds, are initially amusing -- until the novelty wears off.

Steve Legg's photos are another matter. Two black-and-white shots -- Bridge with Sign and Bridge with Light Line -- approach highway overpasses in Palm Beach County from their underbellies, so that they became explorations of lines and shapes. Another black-and-white, Brooke, looks like a swan or other large, white bird so wrapped into itself that it suggests one of Edward Weston's elegant studies in form. A color piece called Tree captures the trunk of the title object as it seems to spill down an autumn-hued backdrop.

There are also standout color photos by Alice Greko, who has an uncanny way of capturing waterfalls so that they look as if they've been transformed into big, frozen cascades. Elyn Zerfas moves in extremely close for an untagged shot of a coral-colored flower blossom and for the sunny-side-up fried egg, coffee beans, and oranges that make up Florida Breakfast. She's equally at ease with a pair of distance shots called Crescent Moon and Downtown, the latter providing a fresh-eyed take on the Fort Lauderdale skyline at sunset. For both, she reinvigorates the imagery by pressing the horizon to the far bottom edge of the picture.

This quick survey only scratches the surface of Art on the Edge's inventory, which can run up to 350 or so pieces, according to the owners. And I haven't really touched on how some of the gallery's other services are folded into the mix.

Sometimes, I worry, the art itself may end up suffering in such an environment: Artists share wall space not because of their aesthetic affinities but because of what they can afford out of what's available. Then again, when has one commercial gallery given us such a cornucopia of art? It's completely understandable that Konstantin and Ramirez want financial success for Art on the Edge. I want that too. I also hope that they never lose sight of artistic excellence -- that their unusual blend of marketing savvy and artistic know-how will enable them to pull off this high-wire balancing act.

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Michael Mills

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