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03 Feb 2020

Art on an International Stage: Art Palm Springs Offers Local Galleries a Chance to Reach a Worldwide Audience—Without Leaving Home

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Anthony James’ sculptures and installations received a lot of attention at Melissa Morgan Fine Art’s space at Art Palm Springs last year. Anthony James’ sculptures and installations received a lot of attention at Melissa Morgan Fine Art’s space at Art Palm Springs last year.

The Coachella Valley is home to picturesque mountains, gorgeous blue skies—and an ample number of residents who can afford fine art.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Palm Springs has become a beacon for art-lovers in Southern California and beyond. The art scene is vibrant and bubbling with growth, with dozens of art galleries here, as well as numerous art shows—none more prestigious than Art Palm Springs, the annual five-day art exhibition and show at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Scheduled to coincide with Presidents Day weekend and Modernism Week, Art Palm Springs attracts a growing number of art-lovers each year.

While exhibitors from all around the globe take part, Art Palm Springs is special and personal to the participating galleries that call the Coachella Valley home.

“For us, it’s (important) because it’s the regional fair. We are pretty much at home, and it’s nice to get to play in our own sandbox,” said Alec Longmuir, director of art at Melissa Morgan Fine Art, a contemporary art gallery located in Palm Desert.

Melissa Morgan Fine Art focuses on contemporary artwork with an international roster of well-known artists, featuring works that patrons would normally see in Los Angeles, New York, London or Paris galleries. Longmuir said that although the gallery travels all over the world for different types of art fairs, Art Palm Springs feels different.

“It’s near and dear to our hearts; we like the organizers very much,” Longmuir said.

The relationship between the festival and the gallery has always been interactive, even throughout the various management changes within Art Palm Springs.

“The first year we did it, we did a big retrospective for Andy Moses, and they honored him at the fair,” Longmuir said. (Andy Moses and his father, Ed Moses, were Art Palm Springs’ Artists of the Year in 2018; in fact, Andy Moses graced the cover of the February 2018 edition of this very newspaper.) “Then last year, we did an exhibition for Anthony James, who has been all over the news as of late.”

James’ sculptures and installations are known for experimentation with light and color—and received major attention during the 2019 Art Palm Springs.

“We’ve had a good turnout,” Longmuir said. “We are always happy to support (Art Palm Springs), and they’ve supported us.”

Galleries participating in an event like Art Palm Springs need to not only show off art that meshes with the aesthetic of the gallery; they need to show off art that’ll appeal to the attendees.

“We know what sells!” Longmuir said. “We know that we are in Palm Springs, and in the desert, some people have a higher net worth acquired, so they can afford some great artwork.”

While Melissa Morgan participates in a variety of shows and fairs, Art Palm Springs is the only major art show in which Barba Contemporary Art participates, owner Michael Barba said.

“We’ve been involved for a year,” said Barba, whose gallery is located on Indian Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs. “The quality of art that they show is really great. When I opened my gallery, I believe I was approached by them—and it was a natural fit.”

Barba said his gallery focuses on contemporary abstract art.

“About half of our artists are local, relatively speaking,” Barba said. “They are local to the Coachella Valley, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Palm Springs. There are a lot of paintings, but we also have sculptures and other arts.”

It’s important to replicate the gallery experience in the exhibition booth at the fair, Barba said.

“We bring to the fair art that is representative of the art that you would find in the gallery,” he said. “I try to make the booth at the fair feel like another room in the gallery, so that if someone walks into the booth, or they see it from the convention center, they can have an idea of what the gallery feels like, and what they can expect if they come into the gallery.”

Barba said Art Palm Springs offers his gallery exposure to a wider range of art-lovers.

"It’s a local event, and I think it’s good exposure for the gallery,” Barba said. “A lot of people, whether they come downtown or they just come for lunch, they might not necessarily wander around looking for art galleries. But people who go to the fair are going there specifically for art.”

In other words, the fair is a form of advertising.

“It’s a way people can be introduced to (the gallery),” Barba said. “Obviously, sales are ideal, but the main reason why we are in the fair is exposure. It’s a form of advertising, and it is a way of reaching people who are interested in what we are selling.”

Five-time Art Palm Springs exhibitor Jorge Mendez, of Jorge Mendez Gallery in Palm Springs, carries contemporary art and deals directly with established artists who have exhibited before at other museums or galleries. He agreed that the fair helps his gallery receive attention from art-lovers it wouldn’t otherwise receive.

“It’s a great experience and great for exposure for the rest of the valley.”

Art Palm Springs is the only large fair at which Jorge Mendez exhibits. Mendez said he does so because it allows him to share the limelight with renowned artists—from places as far away as Asia and Europe—without ever having to leave home.

“(I exhibit) only because it is a very reputable fair,” he said. “It’s basically in my backyard, so it’s very easy for me to transport the artwork.”

Art Palm Springs takes place Thursday, Feb. 13, through Monday, Feb. 17, at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, in Palm Springs. Single-day admission is $25; VIP tickets, which include the Thursday night VIP reception and are good for admission throughout the festival, are $100. For tickets or more information, visit www.art-palmsprings.com. Below: "How Far Can I Go" by Ariel Vargassal at Jorge Mendez Gallery.

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