Browsing around on a lazy afternoon in Florida's Delray Beach, it was happenstance that we found ourselves at Sundook Art Galleries where familiar works by an Israeli artist who had recently shown in India caught our eye. Only moments earlier, we'd bought a small canvas by a local painter, Norma Malerich, so this was a Eureka! moment for us. David Gerstein's "wall sculptures" exploded from the wall in a burst of colour, his crowded Fifth Ave resoundingly familiar. Last year, his work had been shown by Singapore-based Bruno Gallery at India Habitat Centre's Visual Art Gallery in New Delhi, and then again at the India Art Fair this year where they had been commercially well received.
Gerstein's global popularity has much to do with his abstinence from political art, resulting in a refreshing escapist body of works that celebrates humanity and nature. His wall sculptures literally burst at the seams with energy and colour as the unrestrained artist pours his heart and soul into diversions from everyday life, charming viewers with dancers, sunbathers, sportspeople, a still-life of tulips or a flight of frenzied butterflies. The aluminium cutouts appear to have a life of their own, captivating the heart and engaging the mind. Most works are in limited editions of 150, making them available to collectors spread as wide as France and USA, Germany, Australia, Japan and South Africa, among 21 countries where he is represented - India is not among them yet.
What is it about Gerstein's art that warms the heart? For starters, he avoids references to current situations that are distressing. Instead of causing us anxiety - as all "serious art" is supposed to induce - he helps us celebrate life, putting aside our concerns for a while, showing us an alternative way of looking that may be termed fantastical. That so much of his work is in editions makes the artist's work accessible, something the manager at the Delray Beach gallery was at pains to point out, especially given the strength of the US dollar in comparison with Israel's shekel.
This does draw parallels with what critics dismiss as "decorative art", something that has enjoyed mixed fortunes in secondary sales, especially at auctions. And, yet, any art that has the ability to survive beyond its immediate time cannot be as easily discarded, as happens every time works by popular artists turn up for sale anywhere in the world. That Gerstein's art has so much recognisability alone should ensure that longevity, and while the large number of editions of each work could dilute some of that value, their availability will likely keep them off auction catalogues for some time to come anyway.
Another reason for this is an "authorised store" that retails smaller works for as low as $150. While these are simple pieces, they carry the artist's imprint and - importantly - invest the buyer with the ability to correctly identify the artist. Indian artists have so far distanced themselves from editions, copies and even too many prints for fear of losing their relevance, while all that mainstreaming does is ensure that the artist becomes, in fact, almost iconographic. This is still more important for sculptors. Serious collectors shun edition works for originals, a mindset that needs to change if we want to encourage more collectors wary of putting in high value into single-edition art. David Gerstein's work should show us the way forward in collecting something that is endearing, has the ability to make us smile, and is available for a few lakhs in galleries - a price that is as comforting as his art is heartwarming.