A gem of a gallery that feels more like a museum, ART on 5th—now on South Lamar—continues to bring an exciting range of eclectic contemporary art, original film posters, the art of Dr. Seuss, and unsurpassed custom frame design to Austin. Relocated after 15 years from its original location on Fifth Street to South Lamar in early 2013, the gallery’s luxuriously spacious 7,500 square feet is home to lively, accessible fine art that Austinites are naturally attracted to. Owner Joe Sigel says, “Our tagline from the very beginning has been, ‘Fine art that’s fun.’ We’re not at all pretentious.” This attitude—as well as the impressive array of art—has earned ART on 5th the distinction of being a retail art space where lingering is encouraged.
A gallery owner and private dealer of contemporary art in Santa Fe, Sigel saw a niche in Austin that wasn’t being filled. He transformed the site of the original Austin Children’s Museum into a contemporary gallery in 1998; ART on 5th quickly became central to the city’s art scene. “We bring art to Austin that hasn’t been seen here before. We showcase the work of 40 permanent artists, including lots of local and Texas artists, and host receptions, openings and unframed art trunk shows to expose people to what’s new nationally in the world of fine art. We’re also one of only a handful of galleries in the country to carry a permanent exhibit of Dr. Seuss art, which includes the ‘Secret Art’ collection,” Sigel says. When asked how the movie posters fit into the mix, he says, “We had always done vintage poster shows, particularly European advertising posters, about four times a year. That made us aware of the demand for posters. When our original dealer went out of business, we went looking for a new one and realized that with Austin being such a film town, movie posters would be a great idea. Now we stock over 500 in the store and have access to any movie poster anyone could ever want.”
The Dr. Seuss art is a big draw for the gallery. The collection includes the previously mentioned Secret Art of Dr. Seuss, as well as lithographs of images we all know from Seuss’s books, collectible limited edition works reproduced from Ted Geisel’s private collection of paintings, and the exuberant three-dimensional Unorthodox Taxidermy series of wall sculptures. Sigel says, “The Secret Art and taxidermy have turned out to be very good investments. They’re fun and whimsical, and the titles are really cool.” ART on 5th was one of only 15 Dr. Seuss galleries in the country to have hosted the Hats Off to Dr. Seuss! National Touring Exhibition in April of this year–Dr. Seuss’ legendary hat collection–which was kicked off with a presentation by Bill Dreyer, the curator of the art of Dr. Seuss from Chicago. Sigel says, “During the opening reception, Dreyer told the crowd of 300 attendees that no one else in the country designs frames like we do.”
This point of pride is well worth mentioning. As a framing resource, ART on 5th is unique in its design sense and extensive selection of frame choices. Sigel says, “We are true custom frame designers, not just framers. We say, ‘Try us once and we’ll be your framer for life.’ We are really particular about our framing and do outstanding, high quality work.” The attention to detail is what sets ART on 5th framing apart from other shops. They apply original design concepts to the framing that no one else in town offers, which makes every art piece look incredible. This is apparent even to casual visitors to the gallery; each framed piece really pops. Hand-wrapped linen mats are used instead of colored paper mats; Kevlar cords replace braided wire; acrylic replaces the standard glass. Most important, the frame selection is unsurpassed, with a palette of 3,000 frames for the gallery frame designers to create unique looks with.
Sigel describes himself as an unlikely gallery owner, saying he never expected this to be his career. “But this job is so rewarding. I get to work in a wonderful setting surrounded by these beautiful creations. It’s a very interesting business. I never know what the artists are going to bring in. I have a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t want to be in a business where I wasn’t having fun.” Visit ART on 5th as a prospective collector when decorating your home or office, or just to sit in the welcoming space and take in the artful view. Either way, Sigel’s infectious love for his work and the eclectic warmth of the place will likely change your mind about what an art gallery can be.
—Story and photo by Ann Guidry