Miami New Times' Ciara LaVelle reports that there are two kinds of art lovers in Miami. "There are the casual fans of gallery exhibits, people more interested in the after-party and the nearby food trucks than they are in the work itself. And then there are the Art Snobs."
Anyone who's followed the progression of Art Walk since its inception in October of 2008 will tell you the same thing about the art scene in the downtown Fort Myers River District. We too have those come downtown on first Fridays to socialize and party in the River District's hip bars, pubs and restaurants. And then there are those who we'll call "artonistas" rather than art snobs.
Artonistas are art lovers of Art with a capital 'A.' They know all the River District galleries by heart, and even many of those located in the North Naples, Fifth Avenue and Third Street South art districts some 40 minutes to the south. They've been tracking the careers of their favorite local artists with the zeal and tenacity of a big game hunter. And they devour the art articles appearing in the latest copies of Art Districts, Gulf Coast Times and Florida Weekly with the ferocity of a shark in freshly chummed waters.
Not sure if you qualify as a legit River District artonista? Well, here's ten signs you are a member of the River District's arts elite.
10. You compulsively correct anyone who dares say in your presence that Arts for ACT exhibits a group show.
The woefully uninformed think that because Arts for ACT exhibits work by three different artists, it must be a group show. "No, each artist has a solo show in a separate viewing space within the gallery," you blurt out, the hair on your neck bristling like the fur on a black cat on Halloween. And God help the party-girl or bored boyfriend/husband who has the temerity to refer to the gallery as a boutique.
9. Regardless of the artist, you wouldn't be caught dead looking at paintings or photos of beaches and palm trees.
Cognizant that the River District is synonymous with edgy, cutting edge, avant-garde, groundbreaking contemporary art, there's no way any self-respecting artonista would ever be caught dead taking in a painting or photo with beaches or palm trees as its central motif. You're so over "the cheesy, banal, cliched Florida thing" that you can only shake your head with condescending pity for those uncultured (uncouth) flip-flopped tourists and winter residents that have to take home a memento of the beach including, gads, a painted coconut or buoy.
8. You were coming downtown long before anyone else could spell River District.
Newcomers wouldn't know from the thousands who jam First, Bay, Broadway, Dean, Hendry and Jackson Streets on first Fridays that there are still tens of thousands of Southwest Floridians who haven't been downtown since Fort Myers created its epic 4-year 52-block detour logjam known as the Downtown Utility and Streetscape Improvements extreme makeover. But you remember the days when Art Walkers numbered in the hundreds, and milled in and out of galleries with names like Coloring the World, daas, HOWL, In One Instant, Mad Hatter and Syzygy. You gleefully attended their openings, sadly came to their farewell shows and reminisce fondly about the shows you saw there "back in the day."
7. You are aghast by news that the RDA is considering closing the streets for Art Walk.
Okay, artonistas admittedly love to combine art and libations. Just look at the success enjoyed by Space 39. But closing the streets and letting people walk around with drink in hand during Art Walk? That's just going to attract the block-party element to the monthly event in even greater numbers. You know, those pretenders who come downtown on first Fridays to meet up, socialize and get down with their friends and co-workers. On the other hand, if the drinkers can congregate in the streets, there'll be more room inside the galleries for the art and artonistas to breathe.
6. You know the names and locations of all 45 of Fort Myers' public artworks.
This one comes in degrees. You're a first degree artonista if you know where all 45 of Fort Myers' public artworks are located. You've achieved second degree status if you also know the names of the artworks and each artist who created the installations. And you've attained third degree (the highest) status if your iPhone or Android has the cultureNOW or Public Art Archive app that lets you share information, photos and podcasts about each of Fort Myers public artworks within anyone and everyone within arm's reach. [Bonus points are awarded if you've also taken True Tours' public art walking tour with this author.]
5. You always include "the Unit" as an Art Walk art stop.
Marcus Jansen's contemporary art space on Evans creates an insurmountable dilemma for the casual Art Walk participant. It means going back to their car, leaving the River District, and then having to find another parking space in order to partake in the after-parties at places like Ford's Garage, The Firestone, Spirits of Bacchus and The World Famous Cigar Bar. But for true artonistas, Art Walk isn't Art Walk unless it includes a stop at The Unit to preview the latest offerings from the atelier of Fort Myers' second most famous living artist, international phenom Marcus Jansen. Not only is The Unit the in-place to be and be seen, it's the staging area for truly important artworks that are about to be crated and shipped to destinations like New York, San Francisco, Houston, Milan and even Estonia. Didn't know that? Ut oh. That means you might just be a River District artonista wannabe.
4. You have your own Robert Rauschenberg story, if not Rauschenberg original.
A quick-reference way to distinguish between the casual art lover and artonista is the Rauschenberg test. Artonistas either knew Captiva icon Robert Rauschenberg, associated with him and his inner circle (e.g. Lawrence Voytek, Jonas Stirner or Fort Myers' most famous living artist, Darryl Pottorf), or collected Rauschenberg while he was still alive. Ah, you think this one is unfair because Rauchenberg was a reclusive who rarely left his Captiva compound? Busted. The artonista knows that Rauschenberg supported numerous artists and arts and cultural organizations throughout Southwest Florida, often bringing his New York and Hollywood friends to town to support the Arts for ACT Fine Art Auction.
3. You spend so much time at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, you're on a first-name basis with ....
What with so much going on there each month, every artonista knows that the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center is not just a place where important artists and artworks make their debut, but a true arts and cultural destination. You're unquestionably an artonista if you not only frequent the Davis for Art Walk, Music Walk, the Fort Myers Film Festival, Ghostbird Theatre Company productions, Connect Networking mixers and Art and Poetry Networking events, but you're on a first name basis with Jim Griffith, Eric Radditz, Melissa DeHaven and Shell Redfern. And not only do you know Berne Davis on sight, but you refer to her reverently as the First Lady of Fort Myers.
2. You'd like to move downtown but the condos there don't have enough wall space for the local art you've bought.
It goes without saying that you not only love the River District art scene, you yearn to be an integral part of all the art happenings taking place throughout the month. What better way than to live in the Towers, Oasis, Riviera-St. Tropez or in one of the downtown's living quarters like the Franklin Arms? One problem. There's not enough room for your collection of the local artists you've been patronizing over the past five years. It's a dilemma, but there are, after all, solutions that won't require you de-accessioning any of your favs. You can always display artwork salon style with groupings by style, color or motif. You can temporarily loan art to Lee County or the City of Fort Myers so that everyone can enjoy pieces from your private collection. And storage of works on a rotating basis is a step many private collectors take at some point in time. But one thing no artonista will consider is curtailing the purchase of new art. That, after all, would be an anathema for any dye-in-the wool artonista.
1. You're reading this article.
And the #1 sign you art a River District artonista is that you read this author's column. Okay, maybe not every article. After all, you do have a life. But you read/skim enough Examiner/Art Southwest Florida missives to know at any instant in time what's going down in the River District's sizzling hot art scene.
So, how'd you do? Art you an artonista or a pretender?
- Third degree artonista: At least 9 of the above apply, or you have the public art app on your phone.
- Second degree artonista: At least 7 of these signs apply to you.
- First degree artonista: 5-6 apply.
- Neophyte artonista: 3-4 apply.
- Wannabe artonista: you are described by only one or two of the above. But don't give up. You just have to try that much harder. Go out and buy some art.