In an industry where a banana taped to a wall can sell for $120,000, insiders are used to the ever-changing nuances of the art world. Add the COVID epidemic to an already unpredictable industry and it’s no surprise that the art scene has undergone some significant changes of late, inciting new trends and approaches to creating and collecting art.
The pandemic has sparked a return to timelessness and comfort, characteristics that art dealer Mary Ann Cohen, owner of MAC Art Galleries, has always sought in her collections. “I look for pieces that are characteristically different and timeless,” says Cohen. After weathering unpredictable times, she says, people want art that they can connect with and that endures. “In South Florida, there is an attention to nesting. People want to escape to a place that reflects who they really are. We encourage people to find the things they really love and reimagine the world again.”
Teresa Klein, owner of Rare Earth Gallery in Stuart, notes several other major trends. “Public art, or street art, has been around for a long time, but it has taken on new meaning and messages,” she says. “The environment has increasingly become a subject in the art world, with artists exploring every- thing from recycling to large-scale installations. There is also a renewed interest in the natural world with land art.”
Buying trends are also reflecting a renewed desire for past heritage. “The biggest trend is, if it is an important, excellent work of art with a great provenance, there is a buyer immediately,” says Nick Korniloff, director of Art Miami. He points out recent auction results in London, Paris, and New York for works by well-known artists including Van Gogh, Warhol, and Lalanne. “If the artist’s work exudes sophistication and uniqueness along with rarity and prestige, it will be collected at the highest prices.”
As South Florida continues to attract more and more full-time residents from the United States and abroad, the area is fast becoming a hub for collecting. Korniloff rattles off a list of collectors who have called Miami home for decades and who regularly attend the city’s International Art Week to share their private collections.
Not only are collectors gravitating to South Florida, so are artists. Nancy Turrell, executive director of Martin-Arts, has seen the local art market grow and become a destination for prominent art. “The trends here used to be different, but today I think South Florida artists are internationally recognized as trendsetters and leaders,” she says. Turrell is seeing increasing amounts of grant money going to South Florida artists. “MartinArts is part of the South Florida Cultural Consortium and offers some of the largest grants in the country to individual working artists.”
In addition to these long-standing collectors and well-known artists, a number of emerging artists are also making news. Korniloff notes three such artists who piqued his interest during Art Week last month. “Tim Bengel, Punk Me Tender, and Santiago Montoya are all so unique and diverse with their artwork,” he says.
Tim Bengel is a German artist widely known for his hyper-detailed gold leaf–embellished sand paintings. The 29-year-old has more than a half million followers on Facebook and Instagram, making him one of the most famous artists of his generation.
Colombian artist Santiago Montoya’s website is emblazoned with the words “It’s not about the money,” a reference to the medium in which he works.
Montoya uses money to create his art.
The work of Punk Me Tender can be seen at Onessimo Fine Art in Palm Beach Gardens. The mysterious artist is from Los Angeles, but that’s about the only biography you’ll find on him—he likes to keep his identity unknown. But his artwork, which explores freedom through photography layered with vibrant color and mixed media, is highly recognizable.
For the opening of MAC Art Galleries’ newest space in Delray Beach, Cohen chose Californian-born artist Frank Arnold for the first installation. “There are very few abstract figurative artists,” says Cohen. Arnold’s pieces are labyrinths of symbology, and each piece incorporates the number eight—a number that holds personal significance in the artist’s life. (In a nutshell, he learned at age 8 that he was adopted, which sparked in him a desire to be self-sufficient. “The story of 8 is still partly a mystery to me,” he says. “Eight is me.”)
As with just about every other industry, digital technology has impacted art, attracting new collectors. “There is a theory that millennials are much more interested in experiences than possessions, and these types of art certainly satisfy that notion,” says Klein. Still, even insiders are trying to figure out where some forms of digital art fit into the industry. NFTs, or “non-fungible tokens,” are one new art trend that is leaving a lot of people scratching their heads. Similar to original works of art in the physical form, NFTs are one-of-a-kind pieces of art in digital form—and collectors are already paying top dollar for them. Last March, Christie’s sold a collage from Beeple (also known as Mike Winkelman), a graphic designer from South Carolina who creates a variety of digital artwork, for $69 million.
At MartinArts, Turrell welcomes the shift to digital art. “It’s been fascinating to watch the rise of digital,” she says. “That one word hardly describes the many aspects of the art form.” Like most art, digital art can best be understood by visiting installations. Says Turrell: “Seeing a Jennifer Steinkamp installation at the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts really opened my eyes to how beautiful digital art can be.” Steinkamp is known for using video and new media to explore ideas about space, motion, and perception.
In the vast world of art, maybe a banana stuck to a wall isn’t such an oddity after all. “It’s the antics of the art world—there’s a certain tongue in cheek sometimes,” says Cohen. “But it all brings attention to the art world, which is a good thing.”
Korniloff chalks it up to the somewhat confusing industry he’s so fond of: “I have been in the art world for over 25 years, and there is plenty I don’t understand. But that is really what it is all about. I don’t judge, but I do know what is for me and what is not. I prefer my bananas in my cereal!”