A few weeks ago my wife and I went to this wonderful central California coastal town as we often do. We’d been there as recently as a year ago. Usually little changes between visits. Carmel is slow and sleepy and that’s the idea.
But this last visit was an eye-opener. I already wrote about a memorable piece of art that I felt reflected the zeitgeist in a previous post. It was part of a juried show of modern Impressionist art. I didn’t agree with the grand prize winners and runners up, and I question a show where memebers of the judging committee can enter their own works, but some of the paintings were quite beautiful and displayed great technique, if not always originality. But this was only my first night. The next day and the next, I would see far more.
I rarely spent more than two days a year in Carmel. There was rarely any reason to. This time after three days I left still feeling I hadn’t seen everything. The galleries are changing. And change is good.
The recession has caused a lot of the older art galleries, which used to cater primarily to older, more conservative clients, to close or scale down or rethink their audience. The result—and this will come as a shock to anyone who’s familiar with the place—is modern, edgy, challenging art.
They’re buying more from Russian artists St. Petersburg is exploding with artistic talent and these guys (and gals) like expressionism, caricature cubism, abstraction and mixed media. The subject matter is often sardonic or wry, or at least moody. And many other things that would give nightmares to gallery owners used to stocking their stores with sea scapes, land scapes, flowers and kittens. And Thomas Kinkade. In fact I’ve been watching one once-prominent gallery shrink to insignificance in the last few years because of their utter refusal to leave their geriatric comfort zone, their “kitsch-kabob” of paintings. Recently it had to merge with a business partner (also an artist) to stay alive. The new partner’s art, however, is just as unimaginative, so I think the maneuver will just slow down the sinking.
But there’s lots of fresh ideas happening lately. One new gallery—just in the process of setting up—features glass works that were painted in interesting abstract ways and then shattered to create an outward shockwave pattern. These were then reassembled and framed. The result was really quite stunning, and unlike anything I’d seen in Carmel before.
Other artists like to paint modern slices of life. This is nothing new, but it’s interesting to see how the subject matter is maturing. People now check their cell phones and sit in cafes on laptops in them. iPods and computers and TVs are suitable subjects for the Impressionist and Expressionist treatment, as are tight jeans, cropped tops and men in baseball shirts and tennis shoes.
Throughout my stay there was a feeling of out with the old, in with the new (or at least untried, at least for Carmel). One man, putting the finishing touches on a new gallery that would be filled with the avant-garde works of him wife, said it was a much-needed breath of fresh air in Carmel.
Of course you can still get plenty of glass or bronze swans, flower gardens, cutsie kids, and pretty girls in white dresses cuddling puppies or feeding ducks. But it’s interesting that a really bad recession has caused some more unorthodox artists and ideas to come out of the woodwork and take center stage, when most of the time soft economies send us back to the familiar, the tried and true, the comforting (just check out your local movie house). Fresh names are being represented in the art world—you can’t imagine how many times I heard the phrase, “S/he’s a new artist,” while I was walking in galleries. I feel like much of the art world—in any medium—is an monopolized by a handful of people, some of them excellent, more of them mediocre. I hope this push to newness—not novelty but newness—is a trend that continues for a long time. We need new faces. We need different things to try in art. Honestly, so much of what’s out there in every medium is just not worth anyone’s time.