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Vallarta’s Evolving Art Scene

Published Feb 12, 2007 - (Updated Dec 11, 2012)

Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2007 issue.

From a one-gallery town to an important art destination

Globally, the art world has exploded, with each season bringing new record prices for paintings, such as Gustav Klimt’s “Adele BlochBauer I,” which sold for $135 million USD this past June. A multi-billion dollar industry, art has precipitated a frenzy of interest that goes beyond investment potential. With more people having significantly greater discretionary income, being part of the exciting, sexy and powerful world of art collecting has become a reality for many, some of whom view it as the perfect passion, combining aesthetic, social and financial rewards.

Locally, the Vallarta art scene has also evolved from a one-gallery town to one of Mexico’s premier art destinations, drawing novice and veteran collectors from all parts of the world. In addition to its inspirational array of public sculptures along the Malecon, a unique cultural attraction in this country, Vallarta is host to some 30 galleries that collectively offer visitors an eclectic palette of styles, subjects, media and artists, established, emerging and in-between. Art Walks, just bimonthly with six participating galleries 11 years ago, are now a popular weekly event showcasing works represented in 15 galleries. The single folded sheet of paper printed in black and white that once served as the Art Walk guide is now a slick 16-page color brochure. Prices for upper-end art represented reflect the increasing sophistication of the market, as evidenced by a $150,000 USD hand-painted photographic collage by Pierre and Gilles (Galeria Omar Alonso), a $60,000 USD bronze sculpture by Juan Soriano (Galeria Corsica) and a $100,000 USD park-size Guillermo Gomez bronze created in remembrance of 9/ll (Galleria Dante).

With this burgeoning interest in art and its attendant proliferation of artists and art venues, one’s curiosity is piqued. What distinguishes good art from bad? What does Vallarta offer art collectors? What is the significance of art in this community? Vallarta Lifestyles asked these questions and more of seven local gallery owners, some with a long history in this community and others newcomers to the Vallarta art scene — but all decidedly movers and shakers. Their recollections and unique perspectives are recapped here.

Jan Lavender

Founder of Galeria Uno in 1971, was a pioneer in shaping Vallarta’s current art scene and launching the careers of many Mexican artists.

Art is very important to Vallarta. It is a free form of great cultural entertainment, which gives this community a personality beyond just a pretty face. It is accessible to everyone, not just people with financial resources, and adds a wonderful element to one’s life experience. As an art community, we are in the process of learning about ourselves and defining who we are amid a smorgasbord of options. The next phase will be to refine that identity. Vallarta is unique in not having a cadre of collectors who live here permanently, as in Mexico City or Monterrey, but our community provides young emerging artists with the opportunity to showcase their work in a huge window to the world.

Collecting art is fine if you do it for yourself. Collecting for investment requires that you really know what you’re doing. Price and value are two separate things; one does not delineate the other. A lot of good art is less expensive than bad art, in instances where a new artist may not yet have the celebrity to command higher prices. Not unlike trading on the stock market, there are many variables to consider.

Art changes how you look at things. It provides a new perspective of an evolving world and enriches life. Well-produced fine art breaks new ground in the viewer’s sensibilities and precipitates an epiphany. As my friend and mentor John Huston used to say, “If it’s good art, the longer you look at it the more it grows, the more you see, and the more you get involved.” Otherwise, over time, it turns into wallpaper.

Though not everyone can create works of art, anyone can express himself by collecting or appreciating art that has personal appeal. Developing one’s artistic sensibilities comes from getting involved with art, discovering what pieces make you happy and not letting others decide for you what is good. Buy for yourself. When you outgrow a piece, sell it or give it away. Good art is alive and has a persona, but it need not be forever. All of life is an art form and all things organic grow and evolve.

Omar Alonso

Brought fine photographic art to the forefront in Vallarta with the inception of Galeria Omar Alonso six years ago.

Because almost everyone owns and uses a camera, making photos ubiquitous, photography for decades was not viewed as collectible art. However, experienced collectors today recognize the value of a creatively composed, artistically lighted, emotionally provocative professional photograph and related graphic arts such as video, lithographs and digital images.

My purpose in starting this gallery was to raise the aesthetic standard by focusing on photography and integrating optimal lighting, along with the most advantageous presentation in a magical, unpretentious ambiance, to help others experience art in a different and exciting way. Representing over a hundred artists with a rich range of expressions, exposure and accomplishments, the gallery can constantly rotate its works, offering visitors an ongoing learning opportunity.

Vallarta’s art scene is in the initial stages of maturation, having experienced and grown up a lot in the last decade, in tandem with an increased interest in art among the general public. To further evolve, we need to teach the difference between good and commercial work and involve youth in art at an early age. We invite instructors from elementary to university level to visit the gallery with their students monthly and engage them in projects focusing on what they saw, experienced and learned while here. After that all-important initial exposure, children often come back on their own, asking wonderful questions and sharing unique opinions, an experience that is fascinating as well as personally fulfilling. When adults visit and ask questions, it is also an opportunity to educate, which I relish.

For new collectors, the feeling a work evokes is the essential starting point for making any acquisition. An artist’s credentials, technique and reputation are secondary. Lack of knowledge about art should not be cause for embarrassment or intimidation. As a gallery owner, I love to teach. I value a person’s sensibility, interest and intention, apart from what the individual knows or doesn’t know about art.

Jean Pierre Renucci and Jose Villavicencio

Launched Corsica Galeria de Arte in 2001 to showcase established Mexican artists with works exhibited in museums. With three exhibition spaces in Vallarta and two in Los Cabos, they are the largest gallery in Mexico.

After its initial celebrity with artists such as Tamayo and Toledo, Vallarta’s focus on quality art became blurred for a time. Now, as a result of so much competition, it is back on track and one of the city’s important attractions. Developmentally, Vallarta might be compared to a teenager, who is on the brink of maturity but still experimenting. What’s most lacking to further its evolution is an authoritative art critic, who would validate good art and help position quality artists in the marketplace. Although art is subjective — precluding 100 percent objectivity — a knowledgeable art critic has a grasp of what is going on worldwide relative to art and can apply those standards to his reviews/evaluation.

Good collectible art should be beautiful in the eyes of those who see it and also have the ability to transcend time. A reliable indication of that inherent trait is installation of the artist’s work in a museum. Validation by an art curator implies a rigorous process that guarantees quality and is essential for serious collectors in search of a piece that will increase in value. Dealing directly with established living artists assures authenticity, which is also key. The value of art is intrinsic. A serious, accomplished artist establishes a fixed price for a painting, which is the same for subsequent works of similar format, size and technique because the quality is consistent. One piece is not better than another.

Art’s importance is in providing a fingerprint of our generation. On an individual level, it reflects one’s inner personality. That said, one should enjoy art for whatever it transmits. One need not be a connoisseur to derive enjoyment from beauty. The most important thing in purchasing art for pleasure is that you fall in love with it.

Ted Pentacost

Of T. Fuller Fine Art is a self-described minimalist, focusing on four primary artists exhibited in a sparse, sophisticated setting.

For years, Vallarta art seemed fixated on tropical subject matter — birds, leaves, beach — all bright and colorful and mostly confined to paintings with very little sculpture, while the rest of the world moved in a more diverse and cerebral direction. Such decorative, thematic work did not demand anything of the viewer and, hence, did not engage him in flights of interest, fantasy or curiosity. Art should help us push up against the chaos of the world we live in, involve us in the information that flowed from the artists, and invite us to reorganize it into our own personal experience or insights. That’s why people become collectors: to focus in on works that intrigue them and to have a personal relationship with its creator. Every piece has a story, of which the collector becomes a part.

With the influx and diversity of people moving to Vallarta, we are seeing a broader vision of art and greater specialization, such as a gallery devoted almost exclusively to photography, another showcasing art with a gay theme, and another focusing on Cuban art. The clientele and artists are becoming more sophisticated; and a more focused, art-oriented approach among gallery owners, some of whom historically functioned as shopkeepers with a product to sell, is another change from the past.

Progress aside, a greater emphasis on education and instilment of art appreciation/understanding would take Vallarta to another level. We also need to be concerned about the growth of derivative art, or knock-offs. Granted, not all of us can afford the Mona Lisa, but there is good original art that most people can afford. If one can purchase a $700,000 USD condo, one has the means to collect quality art.

Gary Thompson

Opened Galeria Pacifico in 1987, which is now in its third location and the site of Vallarta’s largest solo exhibitions.

There are many variables in acquiring good art, notwithstanding individual space and economic limitations. The unifier, however, should be the piece’s ability to evoke an emotional response. Like beauty, art is open to diverse interpretations and too personal to define but, in terms of its effect, art makes us more human. It stimulates our brains — some pleasing us and some infuriating us — triggering an indefinable visceral reaction beyond what one sees strictly with one’s eyes. If you find yourself returning to view a particular piece of art two or three times, whether you know it or not you are having an emotional response. Even when collecting art for investment, one’s gut reaction and personal ability to potentially live with the piece is central.

The clients for whom I have the utmost respect are those who begin their search for art while their homes are still in the blue print stage, allowing them to modify structures if need be to accommodate the pieces they acquire. Art must speak for itself. If it appeals to you, but seems not to fit an existing décor, variables such as framing and matting can help make things feel congruent.

Currently, the art community here is in a natural progression, nearing a saturation point that will give rise to the proliferation of more galleries in nearby communities. Ultimately, the strong will survive, raising the quality bar for everyone concerned, including the city. In the interim, my primary concern is that the cadre of repeat clients who return year after year for new pieces will run out of wall space and refuse to brick up their windows to allow for more artwork!

Joe and Claire Guarnierre

Opened Galleria Dante 11 years ago, now the largest Vallarta gallery with some 100 painters/sculptors represented and 650 square meters of exhibition space.

Despite the thriving art scene here, there is relatively little about Vallarta’s wealth of galleries in promotional materials directed at tourists. Places like San Miguel, Cabo San Lucas, Oaxaca, Guadalajara and Mexico City are more typically identified with the country’s art hubs. Little by little, however, Vallarta is becoming known as an art destination — in large part the result of clients who purchase art and return to their home country spreading the word among friends that Vallarta today is a far cry from the sleepy fishing village of the past — whose art scene consisted of promotional posters, mostly depicting the church and other recognizable landmarks.

Clients, too, have evolved, some selling off or giving away their original art collections and purchasing more sophisticated works to replace them. Along with the rise in real estate development, the influx of expatriates seeking upscale second homes here and the availability of more discretionary income, gallery owners have seen a marked increase in interest in collectible art. With the increase in new home prices here, owners no longer are content to decorate with souvenirs and mementos such as Mexican blankets and baskets, but rather are turning an eye to fine art. The purchase of a fine art piece for one’s home is also propelled by the status such an acquisition carries with it.

Much like music, art is meant to soothe the soul. No apologies are necessary if your budget will not allow a purchase. Visitors to the gallery are more than welcome to simply look and enjoy, ask questions and take pictures as a memento of Vallarta’s wealth of fine art.

Lucy Flores and Susan Burger

Of Galeria Arte Latinoamericano, opened their two-story exhibition space in 1998.

Early in the history of Vallarta’s art community, there were almost no abstract compositions and a greater number of artists represented were local compared to today. A few of those pioneers, such as Marta Gilbert, Rogelio Diaz and Evelyn Boren, each now represented by different galleries, have endured. Others have not. Galleries, too, have come and gone. Some with track records elsewhere couldn’t adapt to a different way of doing business in a resort town like Vallarta, where many clients are seasonal.

There is such great art in this community that one need not go anywhere else. With the exception of corporate art collectors, whose acquisitions are often in the millions, we can fulfill the needs of today’s more knowledgeable and world-class clients.

When considering art as an investment or for pleasure, become familiar with the curriculum of an artist whose work piques your sensibilities. Ask questions of the gallery owners/directors and choose a younger artist with whom you can grow as he develops. Visit art galleries just to look, read art magazines, and visit artists’ studios to see art in the making, which will give you a whole new perspective.

One of Vallarta’s distinctions relative to other Mexican art centers is that more artists live and create here than elsewhere. Our art galleries and public art benefit the entire community, providing tourists and residents with a stimulating educational alternative to other activities. More government recognition of that contribution via public promotion, as other community-builders such as the Gourmet and Film Festivals routinely receive, would be both beneficial and appreciated.


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