Magazine article Art Monthly

Letter from Miami

Magazine article Art Monthly

Letter from Miami

Article excerpt

My flight from New York to Miami was dominated by Nicole's bachelorette party. I'm not acquainted with said bride-to-be, but she and her excitable entourage identified themselves very clearly via matching custom-printed T-shirts and raucous behaviour. Clearly, Miami--sunworshippers' Miami Beach is what most holidaymakers mean when they use the name retains its longstanding reputation as a party town, a reputation on which the peripatetic international art world has been only too happy to capitalise since the establishment of Art Miami in 1990, Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002 and Design Miami in 2005. But the 'Gateway to the Americas' has proved far from invulnerable to the effects of the global financial crisis, and its unwelcome status as a hotspot for urban crime stands firm.

In town to oversee the installation of 'How to Read a Book', an exhibition I curated for established not-for-profit gallery Locust Projects (one of precious few such institutions in the American South-East), I was able to observe Miami's creative community during a period when international art fair attention was focused elsewhere. Among the artists, curators and collectors I encountered (critics are a rarer breed), a common theme was the scene's familial air. One contributing factor to this perceived intimacy is doubtless the galleries' proximity; most (David Castillo Gallery, Gallery Diet, Dorsch Gallery and Fredric Snitzer Gallery are pre-eminent) are clustered in the city's Wynwood neighbourhood, with a few--including Dimensions Variable and Spinello Gallery adjoining Locust in the nearby Design District. But there is also a leisurely, island-like feel to the place that makes networking a cinch but can induce cabin fever.

'Miami is a crazy place,' confirmed artist Naomi Fisher during my visit to her studio. 'Growing up here in the 1980s it was part Scarface and part burgeoning fashion scene, part tourist trap and part retiree village. And it was an insane place to be female. Almost every interesting woman I know who grew up here got out as soon as they could.' Undeterred, Fisher stuck around and in 2004 teamed up with artist Hernan Bas to establish the artist-run alternative space Bas Fisher Invitational. ('We thought our names put together sounded like a fishing tournament--we added "Invitational" to reflect that.') When Bas moved on, artist Jim Drain took over as co-director and, with a timely boost in the form of a grant from the James S and John L Knight Foundation, the gallery is still a Design District fixture.

Bas Fisher also relies on the largesse of Miami real-estate developer Craig Robins, whose company Dacra controls much of the area's property. (Robins garnered art-market headlines in New York recently for his lawsuit against superdealer David Zwirner over allegations of a blacklist controlled by artist Marlene Dumas forbidding collectors who resold her paintings from buying new work--Artlaw AM337.) Robins is the one name that's bound to crop up in any conversation about contemporary art in Miami and it would be churlish to deny his influence as a facilitator, but he is not the only local enthusiast possessed of a philanthropic streak. To the new arrival, at least, collectors appear to exercise a far more visible influence on the Miami scene than do their counterparts elsewhere. Kathryn and Dan Mikesell, for example, own and administer the Fountainhead Residency (at which I stayed), rent out studios and support numerous other enterprises. …

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