It's easy during the First Thursdays Art Walk in Laguna, especially after a few glasses of thin wine in plastic cups, to wonder what the fuss is about — until you actually look at some of the new art.
Quietly throughout town, the art scene is picking up.
North gallery row has seen some turnover, with everyone liking S Cube and JoAnne Artman. Farther south, there's the very creative saltfineart.
And now during winter, there is time to actually talk to the artist or hear the passion in the gallery owner's voice. There is no need to entertain summer crowds with Cirque du Soleil-type performances.
"For me as an art dealer, I really keep things focused on the art and the artist," said Sue Greenwood. "I have never done all these sideshows, like having ballet groups or this or that. For us, I feel people are excited about seeing new, younger artists, so almost each month we're launching someone new. You can't keep recycling and doing the same thing."
Greenwood says her gallery gets about 200 people during Art Walk and does respectable business.
"Every First Thursday, I'll sell one to two, sometimes three paintings, and good people come through," she said.
Keeping things fresh is important.
"If I feel bored with a show, then our collectors are bored with a show," she said. "I think it's really important to stay focused on doing one thing really well."
Jared Linge of nearby S Cube agrees that keeping the art current is key, especially at S Cube, which is trying to make bold statements.
"Art Walk needs to be fresh because that is our ultimate presentation of when the public sees us," Linge said. "We are in a very tourist-oriented town and not in a place that is necessarily known for having serious contemporary art. There's a lot of plein air galleries and commercial galleries.
"Our serious clients are very much into the marriage between the visual intrigue, the conceptual intrigue, the narrative — there's so much more."
For example, at the gallery's downtown location, Art Cube, the featured artist will be Jocelyn Marsh's "Curiosities." Marsh is an L.A.-based artist who started out as a fiction writer.
According to a press release, "From an early age she wrote fantastical fiction stories that eventually translated into mythical creatures and tales told through sculpture."
If you have ever been to the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, then you have an idea of Marsh's work.
"They are objects," Linge said. "They have a materiality about them that is very interesting, but it's also conceptually a marriage between art and science and philosophy."
Meanwhile, at saltfineart, they will be continuing their "Cuba" exhibit with one of the artists in attendance Thursday. For director Suzanne Walsh, there are differences between winter and summer Art Walks, but the effort remains the same.
"I don't know if complacency is even possible unless a gallery just doesn't have rotating artwork," she said. "But for a lot of the galleries, it's about switching out artists as well, so there's a lot of effort even in the winter months placed because you're opening up a show.
"The summer months you have a lot of people who are just out and the crowds are huge, and that's not necessarily to showing art appropriately. So the winter months are actually, in my opinion, the times when the galleries are the most excited to participate in Art Walk."
Most of the galleries do something special.
For Townley Gallery, in addition to a featured artist, they try a little harder on the wine by serving a nicer private label.
"We try to serve decent wine, not the Two-Buck Chuck stuff," said Bill Bradfield. "We actually have our artwork on a high-end wine label called Townley Wines."
So maybe start out your Art Walk at Townley, then take a shuttle to the rest.
And don't forget to look at the art.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.