At Modern + Contemporary, Looking For Subtlety Amid the Anger

Myles Ludwig, Palm Beach Arts Paper, January 11, 2020

If you're looking for art that fits the temper of the times, you'd find it under the tent at the Palm Beach Modern + Contemporary Art Fair in West Palm Beach.


The collection of some 70 galleries there are, for the most part, are presenting work that is angry, confrontational, prickly, howling, assaulting, bristling with non-directional outrage to the point of violence. Perhaps the Banksy self-destructive painting sold in 2018 at Sotheby's in London for $1.4 million was prescient.


Searching for subtlety, I roamed the aisles on the VIP opening night throng, dodging the selfie-obsessed - indeed people seemed more interested in collecting images of themselves and friends than looking at the work on display. People were even taking pictures of me. So, it is not out of the realm of possibility that my image might be hanging behind the couch in somebody's condo before the year is out.


This seems to be a new trend in gallery going. If you can't collect the piece, at least you can carry a simulacrum of it on your phone … even better if you're standing in front of it or pointing to it as if it were your own creation, saying ta-dah.


I did find some quieter, reflective work and came back Friday morning to spend some time with a few gallerists exhibiting work that was engrossing and considerably more calming.


Elegant vessels of metalwork executed in silver were an oasis of mastery at the Onishi Gallery space which specializes in the contemporary realization of the traditional Japanese arts of metalwork and ceramics, which are, at once powerful and delicate. Artists included Sako, Osumi, and Iedde.


I talked with Nana Onishi, whose gallery is in the Chelsea neighborhood in New York. She said she was working with the city's Metropolitan Museum of Art in an unprecedented collaboration between a public and private space featuring 20 pieces, including nine by Japanese artists considered living treasures.


The work at Waterhouse & Dodd of London and New York was rich in substance. Jonathan Dodd discussed his French, American and British post-1945 collection, which included such major artists as Marc Rothko, a particularly brooding piece, and Milton Avery among others. Although I have great regard for those painters, I was particularly taken with a vivacious painting by Allen Jones, slashes of color echoing both his Pop period and naughty sculpture of the 1960s.


At the Bonnier Gallery, which specializes in minimalist work, I found Richard Hoglund's thought-paintings executed in silverpoint and a variety of media, including marble dust, shimmering yet quiet, almost Rothko-esque. Gallery owners Grant and Christina Bonnier are also showing a range of work from Twombly to Christos' pink-wrapped islands in Miami.


I like Nathan Coe's witty photography and was pleased to learn that he and his partners had opened a Palm Beach branch of his Nantucket photo gallery. A mysterious narrative mise-en-scène by Dean West and Coe's own underwater nudes had a special charm.


Gallery Tableau based in South Korea is a house of illusion. Photographs were illuminated by windows backed by LED monitors, so the work seemed continually alive. I was particularly taken with the impressions of vessels engraved in glass that lent a ghostly, just abandoned feel to the objects.

Palm Beach Modern + Contemporary is a grand show, but you must take your time to find the gems.