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Two of the Coachella Valley’s top galleries—one from Palm Desert, and one from Palm Springs—will be showcasing their hottest artists at this year’s Art Palm Springs.

Formerly known as the Palm Springs Art Fair, Art Palm Springs takes place at the Palm Springs Convention Center Feb. 16-19.

Downtown Palm Springs’ Jorge Mendez Gallery will bring the paintings of Ariel Vargassal, and figurative abstractions by David Baca.

“The gallery is showing contemporary art in general, but our artists are more modern and a little edgy … (creating) artworks that are designed to influence the current tastes and opinions of a newer generation of art collectors,” Mendez said.

Vargassal is a popular artist with humorous themes, Mendez said. “Vargassal masters the hyperrealism technique with a modern, sharp and sometimes provocative approach of the subject of his paintings. His interpretation of the human body is precise and real in every aspect, from skin tone to hair, facial expressions and even eye expressions. Humans and animals become together in his latest series, Totems.”

David Baca is an artist New Mexico. “His work has a mid-century feel to it,” Mendez said. “Tension, relief and man’s presence in the landscape are of interest in his work.

Jorge Mendez Gallery will also show the works of Christian Gill, Brian Huber, Vladimir Cora, Lori LeBoy, Rafael Lopez-Ramos and Barbara Gothard. (For more on Gothard, see the accompanying story.)

Mendez said he’s delighted to take part in the growing fair. “It’s exciting to be part of such an important and sophisticated event, and it’s equally exciting to be among so many renowned galleries coming from so many different countries.”

Meanwhile, Palm Desert’s Hohmann Fine Art will present flourishing painter Kimber Berry, awarded ceramicist Laurent Craste and renowned painter Robert Dunahay. Hohmann Fine Art will also host a book-signing by talented chiaroscuro photographer Greg Gorman.

Hohmann rarely represents new artists, but the gallery made an exception for Kimber Berry, whose work was a hit at Hohmann’s booth at Art Miami.

“It was a big success, so we will feature a couple of Kimber Berry works in Palm Springs as well,” said Christian Hohmann. “She did a big installation with paint flowing off the canvas onto the floor and creeping up the ceiling. It was very impressive.”

Hohmann said ceramicist Craste recently received a big honor. “He is a Canadian artist of French descent, and his work was just selected to be on the cover of a new compendium of all the relevant international contemporary ceramic artists, The New Age of Ceramics, and he will do a book-signing at the fair during the VIP opening night.

“We will show at least one of Robert Dunahay’s new works from a brand-new series of black-and-white minimalistic abstract compositions, painted with crystalline sand. Although Robert became famous for his Palm Tree paintings and is mostly known for that, he has ventured out and had many successful, albeit lesser-known series. We will try to break that perception and show some of his more experimental work instead of the tried-and-true.

“Last but not least, Greg Gorman, the iconic Los Angeles based photographer, will be at our booth on Saturday to sign his latest book, Private Works. Gorman was one of the first openly gay photographers of his generation, and the book allows a peek behind closed doors.”

Hohmann Fine Art’s booth should be hard to miss: It will be one of the largest at Art Palm Springs.

“We feel strongly that the fair has become a highlight of our season, because it gives us an opportunity to show our local clients that we can compete and even outshine some of the important galleries from metropolitan areas around the world,” Hohmann said.

Hohmann said his goal is to get the attention of fair-goers. Given the high price points of art, clients often want to think about a piece rather than buying it on the spot.

“The fair in Palm Springs is not about selling; that, we do out of the gallery,” Hohmann said. “At the fair, we want to make a dynamic impression and evoke responses. There’s a lot of competition. We show what we feel will resonate—something to remember.”

Hohmann Fine Art is currently celebrating its 40-year anniversary; Christian Hohmann’s parents opened the gallery in Germany in 1976.

“My father’s philosophy, which we adopted for the gallery, is, simply and humbly: originality, quality, consistency and longevity. When you select art like that, there are much fewer artists to choose from, but they usually stand the test of time—and trends don’t affect them much.”

Art Palm Springs takes place at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, from Thursday, Feb. 16, through Sunday, Feb. 19. One-day passes start at $20; weekend passes start at $75. For tickets or more information, visit www.art-palmsprings.com. Above right: "David Michelak, Los Angeles, 1987" by Greg Gorman. Below: "Not All Who Wander Are Lost" by Kimber Berry.

Published in Visual Arts

Highbrows beware: Another nail is being hammered into the coffin that contains what was once deemed “fine art.”

The hammer in question: a pneumatic hammer wielded by Pascal Pierme, a mixed-media artist whose show at Hohmann Gallery on El Paseo in Palm Desert has been extended until June 20.

The exhibit includes some well-executed freestanding wood sculptures. However, these works remain secondary to the visual and creative vision offered by the artist’s wall sculptures.

While each piece is unique, each sculpture shares at least one or two stylistic elements (like texture or finish), an emotional draw or a color palette with at least one other piece on display.

Like collage, Pierme’s wall sculptures are best viewed in two different ways: From a distance, the viewer can take in the entire composition; close up, the viewer can better understand the artist’s creative process, including his choice of materials, his technical expertise and the attributes used, like texture or shading.

The artist’s use of color ranges from high-gloss paint and veneers to semi-gloss, and he uses subtle shading with muted—not muddied—colors. In fact, his works tend to be more about painting than wall sculpture.

“Pierme’s works are neither paintings nor sculpture,” Hohmann points out. “They are something in between—sort of a manifestation of architecture and space.”

“Les Origines 98” is rather boring when looked at head-on: The viewer sees 11 long, thin, rectangular strips of wood hung vertically. The wall becomes the canvas, since each strip hangs at the same height above the floor, and the spacing between strips is identical. The only thing that differentiates each strip from the others is the number and varying diameters of half-circles cut out from the sides of each strip.

Five steps to the left or right of center changes the conversation from “Blah” to “Wow!” The cutout areas appear in distinctly different colors: a yellow tinged with green on the left, and light blue with gray on the right. In the Les Origines series, Pierme remains true to his Minimalist style; he embraces simplicity yet manages complexity.

“Antipodes 2” (below) dominates space and commands attention. This 6-foot-by-6-foot work is more painting than sculpture, featuring 12 unique square panels. The top and bottom rows have two square panels, while the middle two rows each have four, creating a plus sign, of sorts. The 12 squares share the same size and the same palette of subdued earth tones: light sand, reddish ochre, solid black, deep teal, dark polished granite, light tan with the grain visible, dark red blood agate, and aubergine. Pierme remains true to the Minimalist aesthetic here, while also including elements of Conceptual Art by using a grid to define the size of each square, the layout and the spacing between panels.

Over the past several years, Pierme’s aesthetic and innovative techniques have received increasing recognition and respect among both artists and collectors. “Most recently,” a Hohmann said, “a Pierme piece has been acquired by the MOCA in Atlanta.”

The work of Pascal Pierme is on display at Hohmann Fine Art, 73660 El Paseo, in Palm Desert, through Monday, June 20. For more information, call 760-346-4243, or visit www.hohmannfineart.com.

Published in Visual Arts

I’ve spent more than 45 years learning about art and artists—and I remain in awe of Marc Chagall.

The unlikely artist was one of nine children born into an extremely poor, highly religious Jewish family. Chagall grew up in a shtetl (a small, ghetto-like village) in Vitebsk, Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire. He married his muse Bella Rosenfeld in 1909; he moved to Paris in 1910.

Chagall’s personal style and creativity flourished after moving to a Parisian art colony, where he received exposure to the early 20th century avant garde creative-art movements. This highly prolific artist’s successes extend well beyond traditional media, like painting, drawing and printmaking: He also championed frequently overlooked art forms, including stained glass, fiber arts and mosaics.

Throughout his life, Chagall created art that frequently contained a narrative reflecting his youth in Vitebsk. While some might think—incorrectly—that much of his art was too narrowly focused, Chagall created works that contain a universality transcending geographic borders, art movements and historical events. His work remains coveted by museums and collectors worldwide.

The fantastic exhibit Chagall for Children, a traveling show that is at the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert in Rancho Mirage through April 27, does far more than present opportunities to view original and reproductions of works by this master. Unlike traditional museum exhibits, Chagall for Children includes 14 “play” stations. Each station is paired with a specific Chagall creation and engages visitors to use their senses in various ways. Additionally, guests can explore their own creative style: At each station, visitors are tasked to imitate, interpret, rethink, deconstruct and/or reconstruct this icon’s creative process. In a sense, visitors are encouraged to be Marc Chagall.

Billed as an exhibit for children between ages 2 and 12, this show will actually delight visitors of all ages. While I was there, I spied a 70-plus-year-old woman, walking with a cane and having trouble while trying to sit on a small child’s chair.

Once seated, she looked intently at “Paris Though the Window.” After listening to the station’s commentary with the earphones, she gleefully announced, “I have always tried to figure out Chagall’s approach to perspective and sense of space.” She expressed glee about bringing her grandchildren to see the show.

Near the stained-glass work “America Windows,” visitors can reconfigure pieces and change the amount of light coming through their own interpretation.

“Children frequently ask, ‘Did I do this right?’’’ said Lianne Gayler, the museum’s director of development and marketing. Her response? “There is no right or wrong. It is up to you.”

On the walls surrounding the learning stations, a series of panels provide a timeline of Chagall’s life; each offers context that shaped the master’s art, including biographical events, art movements (like cubism, suprematism and fauvism) and historical events (such as the two world wars).

Irrespective of the world around him, Chagall remained true to his own personal style that was marked by complexity (witness “The Juggler”); unexpected colors (“Green Violinist”); optimism, caring and love (“Birthday”); incongruity including soaring figures (“The Flying Sleigh”); and whims (“The Rooster”).

Chagall’s forays into various different movements were each short-lived; he wound up reinterpreting elements of various movements into his own style. In “I and the Village” (below), he incorporated the basics of cubism into his own personal aesthetic, color palette and visual vocabulary. Essentially, his visits to other art movements were vacations, not relocations.

Chagall’s imagination demands attention, and his narratives frequently transform people, animals and objects in unexpected ways, demonstrating his unabashed optimism and playfulness.

Christian Hohmann, of Hohmann Fine Art on El Paseo in Palm Desert, is an underwriter of the exhibit. “It was, for me, a no-brainer,” he said. “Our gallery has long championed Chagall’s unique contributions to modern art.”

More importantly, Hohmann is father of two young girls, “(The Children’s Discovery Museum) is a place where my children can go have fun and learn. With public schools cutting back on the arts, the importance of the Children’s Discovery Museum is heightened.”

Sharon and Robert Freed also sponsored the Chagall for Children exhibit.

Chagall for Children will be on display at the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, 71701 Gerald Ford Drive, in Rancho Mirage, through Wednesday, April 27. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday; and 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday. The museum is also open every third Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. Admission is $8, with discounts; all adults must be accompanied by a child, and vice-versa. For more information, call 760-321-0602, or visit cdmod.org.

Published in Visual Arts

Coachella Valley residents have a unique opportunity to get a glimpse into the development and creative world of a 20th-century master: Joan Mirό.

Along with Picasso and Chagall, Mirό set standards by which the works of other 20th-century artists are judged, and you can see why at Christian Hohmann Fine Art, where I was given a preview of the Hohmann Presents Mirό exhibit. The display of Mirό prints and works on paper allows visitors to see first-hand the evolution of Mirό (1893-1983) from a surrealist with a personal twist into an innovative artist who created a personal style and visual vocabulary that is clearly recognizable and unique.

The pieces reflect different periods in the artist’s oeuvre and vary in size, but the curator demonstrates a clear understanding of Mirό’s creative process. Without exception, each work has a monumental impact.

Created in the 1930s, “Daphnis and Chloé” and “Portrait de Mirό” clearly reflect the artist’s understanding and ability to speak in language of the surrealists. However, these two pieces offer something greater: They provide insights into what would become Mirό’s signature style. With “Daphnis and Chloe,” romanticism—with a touch of edginess—abounds. Mirό captures the essence of the story and introduces us to a measured complexity that permeates all of his later work.

“Portrait de Mirό” (right), his only recognizable self-portrait in his early surrealist era, shows the artist living in, shaped by and ultimately a behind-the-scenes chronicler of his time. This powerful self-portrait is as disconcerting as it is engaging: One eye is concurrently inviting and hollow, while the second eye seems deformed or occluded. The head and face—created by a composition of seemingly discordant lines and forms—capture our attention.

Both pieces, especially the “Portrait de Mirό,” contain what will become the artist’s signature iconography.

“Nous Avons,” a 1950s series, is decidedly Mirό, but with a minimalist twist. After seeing a comet, Mirό completed this series. The pieces seem like an homage to his experience; its elegance is engaging.

“Nous Avons” consists of four forms: one baseball bat-like shape, one straight line, one curved line and a blue orb. The bat-like shape and the lines intersect; however the unattached blue sphere seems to float in space. In its entirety, there is a clear sense of motion that is neither tiresome nor dizzying.

Joyousness is one’s major reaction to “The Singing Fish.” This is pure Mirό! Against an irregular backdrop of pale teal is one of Mirό’s animal-like figures. Rectangular and triangular areas are steely-blue, light emerald-green, pale olive-green or black. By outlining the entire figure in black, it stands out. Mirό’s figure and pale teal back backdrop appear grounded in space. However, his broad brush-like and circular shapes in yellow, orange, grey-blue and red give a sense of depth.

Although the image is uniquely Mirό, “Vers la Gauche” (below) is different. Here, the artist reinvents himself with a piece of art that does not contain his characteristic playful forms. Instead, Mirό gives us a freeform rectangular backdrop in shades of light gray. In front of the gray are two major forms: an aqua-colored “U,” and an arrow. Both sit on their sides. The artist masterfully creates tension and depth by having the curved part of the “U” and part of the arrow’s shaft extend beyond the right edge of the rectangle. However, this piece is stereotypically Mirό thanks to the inclusion of his characteristic black-lined symbols, along with soft pastel-like colored orbs and brush-like strokes.

Hohmann Presents Mirό is on display from Saturday, Nov. 29, through Saturday, Jan. 31, at Christian Hohmann Fine Art, 73660 El Paseo, in Palm Desert. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 760-346-4243, or visit www.christianhohmann.com

Published in Visual Arts

The busy season is here—and to celebrate, the city of Palm Desert has moved its El Paseo Art Walks from Thursday to Friday, as part of an expanded “First Weekend” arts and culture celebration.

I went down to the season’s first El Paseo Art Walk on Friday, Nov. 1, to check out the scene. The event will happen every first Friday through May.

“This was a very positive change to the Art Walk schedule—and with a great turnout,” said Rick Royale, of Royale Projects: Contemporary Art, where the gallery celebrated the opening of Gustavo Godoy: Fast-Formal Metal Constructions. “It’s bringing a good many people interested in art—and also in the social aspect that this event brings to everyone.”

Royale relocated the gallery from Indian Wells earlier this year, so he’s kicking off his first full season at 73190 El Paseo, Suite 3 (760-742-5182; www.royaleprojects.com).

“This location offers greater convenience for new clients to explore the art programs and broaden their interest and awareness,” he said.

Dawson Cole Fine Art manager Marty Raichle declared the move to Fridays to be an instant hit.

“This far surpassed the former Thursday Art Walk. … This is truly special for the city and the galleries,” Raichle said.

The gallery, at 73199 El Paseo, Suite H (760-303-4300; www.dawsoncolefineart.com), is currently showing James Galindo; Soft Edges. The December exhibit, Jim Lamb, will be celebrated with a reception on the next First Friday, Dec. 6.

Nearby Christian Hohmann Fine Art, at 73660 El Paseo, Suite 2 (760-346-4243; www.christianhohmann.com) also opened its doors for the November party.

“I was a part of the committee that worked on the change,” he said. “… Personally, I have participated in the art walks for over 10 years now, and I hope that it will be a constant work in progress … so it can grow into a much larger event over time with broader participation.”

He said the galleries all benefit from the monthly Art Walk.

“Every opportunity to share our passion for art ... (and) meet prospective clients … (and) mingle with collectors benefits us,” he said. “At our price level, we have very few instant sales ... but we have planted countless seeds during art walks.”

The Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert (aka The Galen) is opening its doors for free every first Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. Live music, performance art and film screenings are happening both inside and outside at the Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden. (By the way: The museum’s big “Meet the Galen” takes place on Friday, Nov. 22; tickets are $40 to $50 for individuals, or $80 to $85 for couples. Get info at the website.)

Overall, the response at the November event to the change to Friday was overwhelmingly positive; it was nice to see the streets alive with people and traffic—including free pedestrian tours led by a docent.

Of course, the Art Walk is just part of the goings-on that are part of the expanded First Weekend Palm Desert offerings. For example, Cruise Night is part of the First Weekend fun. Classic cars will be parked on the upper level of the Gardens on El Paseo beginning at 3:15 p.m. The cruise on El Paseo starts at 4:30 and continues for an hour. The public is invited to participate or just enjoy. Cruise Night takes place on the first and third Fridays; get more details at www.elpaseocruisenight.com.

Check out all of the First Weekend events at www.pdfirstweekend.com.

And now, it’s time for some self-promotion: Those interested in an art excursion who don’t want to wait until December’s First Friday can delight in VIP treatment while viewing world-class art during one of my Desert Art Tours. Our tours go to an array of local artists’ studios and galleries throughout the valley. Special looks at blue-chip private collections also included. This is a great way to enjoy the vibrant art scene in Greater Palm Springs. The next tour is set for Saturday, Nov. 16. All transportation is included, and space is limited, so reservations are advised; the cost is $65 per person. For reservations or information, call 760-219-5647, or go to www.Desert-ArtTours.com.

Published in Visual Arts