Wayne Thiebaud, Cherry Cake, 2013, oil on canvas, 11 x 14 in. (Image courtesy of Paul Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco, www.paulthiebaudgallery.com. Photo credit John White/Phocasso. © Wayne Thiebaud/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)
Cherry Cake, Wayne Thiebaud's sweet little painterly depiction of a pastry chef's delicious art-to-eat masterpiece, is sumptuously layered with inventive ingredients, appealing formulas, appetizing shapes, brilliant colors and a tempting gastronomical persona that could be served as the perfect metaphorical pick-me-up connection to the newly established Art Silicon Valley/San Francisco (Art SV/SF) fair -- a kind of icing on the cake for this affluent region from one of the most thriving inaugural art fairs in recent memory. Where other art fairs have tried and failed to establish a beachhead in this unique community that is occupied by dozens of mega-billionaires and the tech workforce associated with the mighty dotcom industry, the experienced organizers behind Art Miami -- the distinguished powerhouse of American art fairs -- demonstrated their strength and influence by parlaying twenty-five years in the business and their blue chip relationships in the art world into attracting an impressive global line-up of first class galleries. The tradition of financial triumphs in the Bay Area is legendary, but there also is a respectable history of influential artists who lived and worked in the vicinity (including Thiebaud, Ansel Adams and Richard Serra, among others), which added to the distinctive cultural vitality and supportive infrastructure and stimulus for this new fair.
So, if you do the math ($60 billion in annual art sales worldwide) and investigate the buying potential of a dynamic community known for its creativity, pioneering inventiveness and historic return on investments, there is a natural built-in audience for collecting high-end works of art not that far from home, and perhaps this group even has the clear potential and the means to be the new caretakers of the art market and a new generation of museum gift giving. In addition, with an energetic and already established fraternity of mature collectors in the area, there seems to be just the right mix of chemistry and cash to spell success. Even Hollywood, according to a recent feature in The New York Times just as Art SV/SF ended, courted this same audience with a "New Establishment Summit" sponsored by Vanity Fair, where media titans could schmooze with new techies from Silicon Valley who have the obvious resources to not only produce movies, but buy an entire production company without blinking an educated eye. Certainly enjoying one of life's just desserts by collecting contemporary art requires some determined development of an "eye" and some serious professional advice, but the attractive crowd packed into the San Mateo County Event Center on opening night looked like the organizers had made the right call, as sales reports were encouraging throughout the four day fair.
Wayne Thiebaud, Iced Macaroons, 2009, pastel, mixed media on paper, 11 ¼ x 14 7/8 in., 28.6 x 37.8 cm; framed: 19 5/8 x 22 5/8 in., 49.8 x 57.5 cm. (Image courtesy of Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, http://novakart.com)
Rumor has it that George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars who also attended the Vanity Fair summit in nearby San Francisco, snapped up two major Banksy works within the first hour of the Art SV/SF gala opening. By the way, Banksy, with his most recent auction sale, just broke the million dollar benchmark. This was a seemingly impossible feat for a street artist whose aging and often deteriorating work on a precious few public walls is now often excavated, reinforced, wrapped and shipped off to international art markets to supply an unquenchable thirst for his art. It was a rare opportunity to see an exclusive show of Banksy, but also many of the galleries in the fair presented a collection of recognizable works that would constitute a remarkable exhibit at a first-rate museum.
With 75 highly respected international galleries represented from as far away as France, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, South Korea, Switzerland, China and Austria, among others, as well as the United States, there was a virtual smorgasbord of premium artworks from which to choose. To help secure a motivated and informed audience, the fair added an ambitious roster of educational events during a fascinating Art Symposium program organized by One Art Nation. With panel titles like "Collecting and Protecting," "Building an Art Collection like a Pro," and "Sales and Use Taxes: How They Apply to Collectors," these presentations provided attendees with a valuable perspective on the skills required to sharpen their vision and get a accurate viewpoint on why contemporary art produced during the last several decades still is bringing in some of the most lucrative returns of any other commodity. As an added bonus, you can enjoy seeing your investment every day in your own home, which has a distinct advantage over a nicely framed albeit bland stock certificate.
Apparently, based on exhibitors' enthusiasm, a decision already has been made for Art SV/SF to have a return engagement, which certainly will evolve into a much anticipated annual event. While it is hard to guess what is in store for the 2015 edition of the fair, the following works of art were among my favorites for this year's, and will give you, second only to being there, a pretty good indication to the overall quality on view at Art SV/SF 2014.
Mel Bochner, Money/Nothing, 2006 (oil on velvet, 72 x 48 in.): A seminal artist of the 1960s, Bochner's dazzling, marquee-like playful text painting that combines philosophical ideas with humor and pop culture references reminds me a little of the famous lyrics from Cabaret, where Joel Grey belts out, "Money, Money, Money...a buck or a pound...," only Mel quadruples the synonymous connections to slang for hard cash, ending his list with three dollar signs, and then on the other side of the coin presents the opposite of moolah: namely nothing, with hysterical replacements for zilch, from nada to a rat's ass. (Vincent Vallarino Fine Art, New York, www.vallarinofineart.com)
Lin Jingjing, Public Memory 3-3, 2013 (mixed media on canvas, 74 ¾ x 72 ½ in.): Jingjing's masterful mixed media on canvas is a stunningly beautiful composition consisting of 20 canvases in a grid format that takes a tiny cue from early Warhol silkscreen works of movie stars, ordinary people and political portraits (including Chairman Mao, for both artists), but in this case, imagery that questions time and history. Any way you look at the pictures, the artist seems to be asking the viewer about understanding life, history and values. (de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong, www.desarthe.com)
Gottfried Helnwein, Gray Mouse 8, 2014 (mixed media (oil & acrylic) on canvas
78 ¾ x 118 1/8 in.): As a child growing up in post-War Vienna, this budding young artist lived in a world of bleakness. Therefore, when he encountered Mickey Mouse comic books, he began to experience "a world of wonders" that put a positive creative spin on his psyche and creativity. To this day, Mickey remains for the artist a transitional figure, full of irony between the innocent imagination of children and an often cruel world. Even without these implications, Helnwein's gargantuan mousey portraits are gorgeous. (Modernism Inc., San Francisco, www.modernisminc.com)
Hubert de Lartigue, Cassandra, 2014 (acrylic on canvas, 79 x 79 in.),: Louis K. Meisel was one of the first, along with Ivan Karp of O.K. Harris, to establish a gallery in the cast iron district known as SoHo. From the very beginning, Meisel devoted his energies exclusively to a relatively new form of picture-making called photorealism. Since then, most of his early artists have become respected institutions in their own right. While hard to believe, the portrait illustrated here is not a photograph, but a fabulous painting on canvas. (Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, New York, www.bernarduccimeisel.com)
John Chamberlain, Untitled, 1983 (painted and chrome steel, 24 x 10 x 10 in.): For my money, John Chamberlain was the greatest abstract expressionist sculptor of all time, with his colleague de Kooning as the best painter of our generation. Chamberlain, a former student at the famous Black Mountain College, was mesmerized by the potential of transferring the concept of abstract painting to sculpture, and took his genius one step farther by manipulating extremely challenging steel materials from used car sections into elegant, exuberant sculptural forms. This one is perfect, and not surprisingly, is from the estate of legendary art dealer, Joan Sonnabend. (KM Fine Arts, Los Angeles, www.kmfinearts.com)
Banksy, VIP Rat, Glastonbury, 2005 (spray paint on foam board, 40 x 32 in., original street work): Banksy's early anonymous career got a boost from Kissing Bobbies, his now famous work that depicted two London police caught embracing, and he has followed this modestly controversial visual street art message ever since; now he is the most talked-about artist of the day. The Keszler Gallery booth was sizzling with excited visitors who could ponder in-person a half-dozen of Banksy's works, many excavated with great effort and expense from cement walls. (Keszler Gallery, New York, http://keszlergallery.com)
Chul-Hyun Ahn, Railroad Nostalgia, 2012, plywood, LED lights, railroad tracks & ties, hardware, mirrors, Editions 2-3 of 3 + 1AP, 93 x 120 x 40 in., 236.2 x 304.8 x 101.6 cm. (Image courtesy of C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore)
Chul-Hyun Ahn, Railroad Nostalgia, 2012 (plywood, LED lights, railroad tracks & ties, hardware, mirrors, Editions 2-3 of 3 + 1AP, 93 x 120 x 40 in (236.2 x 304.8 x 101.6 cm): Korean-born artist Ahn takes a whole new twist on an artist's perpetual interpretations of a vanishing point. In what surely was one of the most magical and mysterious compositions at the fair, Ahn created a window into an unbelievable disappearing railroad track that could have been a silent scene from David Lynch's Twin Peaks. There is a stark inherent beauty in this super amazing mixed media work that utilizes LED lights and smoking mirrors, which you'll never forget. (C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, www.cgrimaldisgallery.com)
Matteo Massagrande, Interno, 2014, oil on board, 27.5 x 27.5 in., 70 x 70 cm. (Image courtesy of Shine Artists London)
Matteo Massagrande, Interno, 2014 (oil on board, 27.5 x 27.5 in., 70 x 70 cm): In a salute to the forgotten discipline of traditional and courageous English still-life painting, in this case vacant rooms that have a curious texture and handsome, built-up surfaces, the artist masterfully presents a commanding viewpoint with a perfect touch, as if the observer is an unexpected voyeur opening the wrong door at just the right moment. (Shine Artists London, www.shineartists.com)
Tony Oursler, Kin, 2005 (video projection, foam, resin, acrylic, sound, 108 x 60 x 18 in., 274.3 x 152.4 x 45.7 cm): Works by this renowned video artist were placed in various locations around the fair, but the one that got the most attention was in the Maserati VIP lounge. If you collect video art, Oursler is the leading contender, whether presented in a private home or museum. This show-stopping, meandering, bean-shaped object comes to life with a projection of peculiar "next of kin" faces, which discreetly glance at each other as if they were confined in a magic bottle as prescription pills, cheek to cheek, while whispering in a clandestine language. (Galerie Forsblom, Helsinki, www.galerieforsblom.com)
Ed Moses, WIPD, 2014 (acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 in.): Moses is one of those truly rare artists who seem able to effortlessly create astonishing imagery with just a few seemingly random brushstrokes. He is considered one of the most innovative and central figures of post-war West Coast art. While his equally famous colleagues like Diebenkorn and Sam Francis developed an iconic, recognizable technique, he managed to resist any stylized approach and remains experimental, playing off of his curiosity in an unexpected array of painted applications. Moses parts the waters with his remarkably beautiful painting, WIPD, which although elegantly simple, also is jaw-droppingly magnificent; a masterwork. (Peter Blake Gallery, Laguna Beach, www.peterblakegallery.com)