High Art Hits Silicon Valley

Art show
Galleries from California, New York, Tel Aviv, and South Korea were among the vendors at Silicon Valley Contemporary. Photo by Dave Weinstein

San Jose got what promoters say was its first real art fair earlier this month, dubbed Silicon Valley Contemporary, and it was a heady mix of fun and flimflam.

Silicon Valley Contemporary’ was allied to another event, the Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour, so organizers clearly hoped mid-century modern fans would stop by afterwards to scoop up a few paintings.

On a Sunday afternoon though, the hall in San Jose McEnery Convention Center was far from mobbed. Maybe earlier in the week was different, but to this observer the fair seemed more like a family fun thing to do on a Sunday than a serious buying opportunity for well-heeled collectors.

More such shows are promised in the future.

Moving Image
What curators call "moving image art" was a big part of the show, and it attracted many young people. Photo by Dave Weinstein

An art fair is the worst place possible to enjoy art. You’re surrounded by art of every description, much of it bad, and by art lovers of every description, many of them noisy.


At this exhibit, what’s called 'low-brow' art – the kind you might see in a tattoo parlor – mixed it up with ware of a more refined sort so thoroughly it was often hard to tell whether the 'art' in question was truly shlocky or merely dealing with the phenomenon of 'schlock' as its subject.

From South Korean gallery, for example, we had a 'lenticular' painting in which, as you walked by, images of goldfish floating in a room turned into images of butterflies. From painter Caleb Brown, from Washington state, we had immense sharks skydiving above burning cities.

Still, art fairs have become one of the most popular ways to sell and buy high end art these days – a phenomenon that has been driving traditional galleries out of business. The rise of art fairs can’t be good for art, as artists seem to strive to out-shock each other just to grab the attention of the wandering crowd.

Yes, there were beautiful things at Silicon Contemporary, like glass artist Dante Marioni’s delicate vases that suggest basketry. The Smith Anderson North gallery, from San Rafael, had wild studio photos of young Malians acting out their fantasies by Malick Sidibé of Mali.

And mid-century modern fans might enjoy the decorative paintings by Phil Frost, which suggest Tiki mixed with Mission District Style.

One of the more amusing, and surprisingly touching, works was an installation hauled in by New York’s Dillon Gallery. Spanish photographer Cristina De Middel tells the tale of how Zambia beat both the United States and Russia to the moon with a marvelous set of photographic documentation.

“We are using our own firing system devised from catapult,” the Zambia space agency purportedly bragged.

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