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Even more than the art itself, expositions like Art Basel Miami Beach or even last week’s relatively diminutive ArtPalmBeach reveal the sociology of art. They show us what’s trending in the art world, which is a telling glimpse of the junction between art and commerce. Not only that, these shows are highly sensitive to geographic region and to timing – almost to the season – a lot like couture. In fact, it is couture – for the home.
Running from January 23rd through 27th, 2014 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, ArtPalmBeach celebrated its 17th year with over 80 international galleries exhibiting modern, contemporary and emerging art in all media from painting and photography to sculpture and jewelry. Last year marked my initiation to this fair and, in comparison, there was a lot less photography exhibited, to my astonishment and chagrin.
The photography at ArtPalmBeach demonstrated several notable trends, some of which are international, like the movement toward gigantic print sizes, which seems to be tracking with every other art form. These extra large sizes explain the prevalence of C-Prints, traditional chemistry-based photographs that can be printed much larger than the archivally superior pigment or inkjet prints. It also seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that fine art photographers are seeking to distinguish their work from the vast ocean of commercial digital photography by combining media and techniques, as in Raphael Mazzucco’s and Harry Enchin’s very different styles of photomontage. This year’s “prints” were mounted on metal, plexiglas and lightboxes, embedded in resin, and segmented into sculptures. It was a rare artist who eschewed any of photography’s latest fashions; nonetheless, Hendrik Kerstens’ unmanipulated digital pigment prints were stunningly executed and Michael Dweck’s silver gelatin B&W prints of Havana were positively electric.
In most cases, digital photography has not only been embraced but fully exploited, featuring sweeping high-definition panoramas, captured like frozen frames on enormous flat-screen TVs, as in Sangbin Im’s expansive yet detailed “Hawaii”. Lee Yong Baek’s oversized frame of robustly colored flowers reveals armed troops on closer inspection in his multimedia series, “Angel Soldier”. David Drebin’s photographs are like vividly imagined movie sets featuring glamorous women and high intrigue, while Carlos Betancourt’s “Rincon Flamboyant Series” offers fanciful, colorful and wry commentary on the family portrait.
Whatever the format or subject matter, an alteration to reality inevitably defines the work, as in Maxim Wakultschik’s dreamy “Michelle” series and Bill Beckley’s whirling flowers in his “Dervish” series. In a skillful and humorous juxtaposition, Hendrik Kerstens photographs his daughter Paula in the style of the Old Dutch Masters, integrating props from modern life. Alec Von Bargen conjures the opposite effect, creating ethereal personal interpretations of historically marginalized women in his series “Veritas Feminae”.
Several of the photographers at ArtPalmBeach have also been featured at Art Basel Miami Beach (e.g. Carlos Betancourt, Raphael Mazzucco) and at the Venice Biennale (e.g. Lee Yong Baek, Alec Von Bargen), imparting an international flair to the exposition. But the flavor also seemed geographically indigenous to warmer climates. You might see this congregation of colorful exuberance in Miami or Venice, but much of the trendy high gloss and shine would not find as ready a home in New York or Boston. Whether purely photographic or a mixture of media, this year’s selection of images at ArtPalmBeach were all big, bold and sensational.