Over the past decade or so, Vertu Fine Art Gallery Owner Gary Santoro has become a well-known figure among South Florida art collectors and dealers alike. Prior to opening Vertu, Gary was a founding partner of Verve, a Ft. Lauderdale art gallery that placed focus on contemporary art, primarily the genres of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism.
A native New Yorker, Gary credits the city with fueling his desire to become knowledgeable about art, many years before he would make the leap from art enthusiast to art collector and gallery owner. Gary recalls being one of the NYC commuters (living in Brooklyn at the time) who took notice of Keith Haring’s subway drawings in the early 1980s, viewing them at station after station. Gary liked Haring’s simplistic expressive style, but was nonetheless astounded to witness the results of the artist’s marketing genius. Just a few years later, Keith Haring’s works were “everywhere.” Gary’s take-away message was that the Pop Art movement continues. Haring’s rise in the eighties must be akin to witnessing the mainstream infatuation with the art of Warhol, Lichtenstein and other Pop Artists in the sixties and seventies.
While Gary’s art interests actually span a wide variety of styles and periods, it’s the mid-20th century contemporary artists, such as Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Robert Motherwell and Robert Rauschenberg that resonate most deeply. Upon moving from New York to South Florida in 1997, Gary began familiarizing himself with South Florida art galleries and discovered that while many offered excellent works from talented artists, there was a shortcoming of New York-styled Contemporary Art galleries, featuring impressive Pop Art, Optical Art and Abstract Expressionist masterpiece works.
Often, our clients are people who own Pop, Op or Abstract Expressionist works that have been handed down throughout the family.”
Since opening Vertu Fine Art in 2011, Gary Santoro has been warmly received by the local Boca Raton business community, art community and collectors. VFA bears the culture that Gary set out to create in his South Florida art gallery. The Contemporary Art gallery that is inviting and unpretentious, featuring highly sought after works, is most certainly Vertu Fine Art. Gary Santoro and VFA Gallery Director Bill Pugsley take immense pride in their desire and ability to not only serve the needs of savvy collectors, but also to educate all who have a sincere interest in Pop Art, Op Art and Abstract Expressionism.
“Often, our clients are people who own Pop, Op or Abstract Expressionist works that have been handed down throughout the family,” explains Gary Santoro. “The works may have been acquired by a grandparent who bought mid-century and passed them down to a child who is now branching out with an acquired taste of his or her own. Our mission is to help every client own the works that are right for them – for their décor, for their needs (including investment opportunity) and for their personality.”
Gary holds a Masters degree in Education and was a teacher in New York prior to entering the art business. He credits his affinity for education with motivating him to continuously learn about art and his desire to educate others, whether it’s in reference to aesthetic features, market value or any combination of elements.
“As much as I enjoy owning and dealing in the works of established masters, like Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana and Henri Matisse, I’ve recently become equally interested in the works of emerging or less widely known artists,” explains Gary Santoro.
Gary is available to meet with collectors by appointment and also welcomes walk-in viewers, as he is frequently at VFA during business hours.
Walk in to VFA in Boca Center on any given day and you’ll likely see Gallery Director Bill Pugsley – repositioning works, engaging clients, investigating new acquisitions – basically having the time of his life. Like the masterful artists he collects, curates and sells, Bill’s role in the world of Pop, Op and Abstract Expressionism is more of “a calling” than a career choice. Working with owner Gary Santoro to make Vertu Fine Art the highly acclaimed South Florida Art Gallery that it is, Bill’s expert status is the result of his unquenchable thirst to know all that can be learned about the art that makes his heart pound.
As a young man growing up in North Miami Beach, Bill’s interest in art was ignited by an interest in symbols and signage where he was enlightened about his own natural ability to paint and draw his own logos and symbols. Almost immediately, Bill transcended into a “working artist” – with a steady gig as a sign painter and taking on an array of project work, much of it coming by referral from his high school art teacher. One project, painting his high school’s logo on their newly surfaced gymnasium floor, led to another, and another. Eventually, four Dade County schools showcased Bill Pugsley’s hardwood talent. Around the same time, in the mid 1980’s, a job with a local silkscreen printing business introduced Bill to the print making process, invaluable experience for a collector of Pop and Op Art.
Prior to building a career in the art world, Bill found success in another interest that made his heart race. From 1985 to 1990, he participated in the highest levels of competitive cycling, earning his way onto teams that competed with top athletes from around the world. Bill credits racing in Europe and South and Central America as an early opportunity to travel the world. As that chapter was cut short because of multiple injuries, the next chapter, titled “all things related to modern design” turned into an obsession to learn as much as possible about the masters. Modern architecture, furnishings, art, and glass – all became objects that Bill sought to possess, whether materially or via intellectual awareness of their presence and meaningfulness.
“I started collecting art in my early twenties,” explains Bill. “While friends were spending money on sports cars, boats and other such investments that rapidly devalue, I was putting money into art, works that provided unending amounts of joy and actually increase in value over time.”
Modern design and collecting are an essential part of who I am.”
As an avid collector of Pop, Op and Abstract Expressionists – including works by fellow artist (and sign painter) Robert Indiana, Frank Stella, Tom Wesselmann, Robert Motherwell, Gerald Laing and others – Gallery Director is a role that fits Bill Pugsley like a vintage Zoot Suit. Visitors to VFA are treated to Bill’s tireless rearrangement of works. It’s not uncommon for frequent visitors to ask, “Is this new?” about pieces that may have been simply been moved ten feet since their last visit. It’s the Bill Pugsley experiment. His rearrangements take into consideration that works are perceived in context. By moving a piece of art, there is change to viewing distance, lighting, height and juxtaposition to other works, so returning viewers receive a fresh experience.
“Modern design and collecting are an essential part of who I am,” says Bill. “With regard to my own collecting, I’m particularly astounded by the early modern glass designers, primarily the Italians, Fulvio Bianconi, Ercole Barovier, Dino Martens, Gio Ponti…and others.”
Outside of Vertu, Bill Pugsley approaches other interests with equal passion to his art collecting. Ask Bill what he loves most in this world and his eyes smile brilliantly. Spending time with son Graeme, a smart, well-mannered and handsome thirteen year-old tops the list. Aside from palling around with Graeme, Bill is also deeply interested in 1960’s garage/psyche and early prog rock (another mid-century fixation).
If you’d like to contact Bill about art, music, life, love or anything else, you can email him at Bill@vertufineart.com or visit at Vertu Fine Art Gallery in Boca Center.