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.
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.
"[On Las Olas,] they're much more about something that matches the curtains and matches the sofa than anything with kind of real artistic content," says Harrison, 37, who's originally from London.
Harrison moved to South Florida to work for International Fine Art Expositions, which organizes art fairs in Miami and Palm Beach as well as Hong Kong and New York. Together with partner Karla Livingston, he opened NAC Gallery last June. They chose NoBe for financial reasons — the rent was cheap.
Harrison saw opportunity. "There's a lot of money in all the houses and condos on the beach, but the area itself has been a little left behind," he says. Though he admires budding communities like FAT Village and Miami's Wynwood district, "there's not much commerce going on," he says. "Miami only works during Art Basel — the guys that do well are doing the art fairs around the country, and that's keeping them afloat. Our business is a weird one because most people that get into it, it's on a whim. It's a romantic idea to open a gallery or to open a restaurant. There're too many people getting into the business without any idea of it, so it can make it a weird dynamic."
His knowledge of the art market, coupled with Livingston's art direction and curatorial eye, draws in affluent snowbirds — aged mostly 45 to 65 — looking to fill their second or third homes with quality art. "Most of them don't even realize that there's a gallery in Fort Lauderdale that could cater to them," Harrison says.
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NAC's focus is on an eclectic set of emerging artists — mostly vibrant photographers, sculptors, and street artists, like the young Ivan Roque. Last month, NAC featured Roque's "Lost in Cinema" show — 16 bold collage paintings that paid homage to 20th-century cinema greats like Al Pacino's Scarface and the cult classic King Kong. Equal parts playful and menacing, the works were provocative and in-your-face without losing their commercial accessibility. The show even included a site-specific installation made up of a cascade of old VHS tape that unraveled to the floor in a pile of old, pangs-of-nostalgia-inducing tape sleeves.
This month, opening in late July, Argentine artist Flavio Galvan will show his latest works in a new style, oil on wood with a resin glaze. The works depict reimaginings of pieces by well-known artists like Norman Rockwell, saturated in bright colors and outlined in bold black lines, giving them an animated, scruffy pop aesthetic.
Harrison also works behind the scenes brokering deals on big-name works by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Indiana. (Originals don't sell from the gallery itself, but prints are available.) He and Livingston plan to open a new gallery under a different name in New York's Lower East Side soon, with pop-up art auctions in warehouse locations in Brooklyn. They'll commute between New York and Florida.
Ultimately, he sees himself shepherding new, worthy artists to success. "Those who do well in North Beach will show at Las Olas, and then the guys that are really doing well will move up to New York," says Harrison. "So, we'll have kind of a tiered career path in place to help build these guys up to nationally known artists."