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Written by Anne Tschida, BT Arts Editor; Photos by Silvia Ros   
December 2016

Miami artists and galleries are now all over the map -- literally

OCovern a recent day in late November, you might have taken in the Julio Le Parc retrospective at the Pérez Art Museum Miami or the contemporary Cuban art show at MDC Museum of Art and Design in the Freedom Tower.

Continuing along Biscayne Boulevard, you might have stopped at the Jewel Box theater of the National YoungArts Foundation, where the London-based Michael Clark dance company was performing for a week, the conclusion of a collaborative residency between YoungArts and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (ICA).

This is just a sampling of culture along the Biscayne Corridor, and it highlights the diversity of what Miami offers today. Compared with Art Basel’s early years, this city is brimming with activity. The arts world has blossomed significantly, in scope, depth, and across town.

In terms of visual arts, the focal point has moved around over decades, from Miami Beach, Coral Gables, North Miami, the Design District, and Wynwood.

Wynwood, with its street art and prominent collectors’ spaces, remains popular, but there is no real center to Miami’s art world. The boundaries extend to Little Haiti, Little River, Biscayne Boulevard, downtown Miami, and Miami Beach.

As background, Miami-Dade’s first public art institutions didn’t really take shape until the 1990s, when the ArtCenter/South Florida and the Bass Museum anchored Miami Beach; the Miami Art Museum (MAM) with the Historical Museum of Southern Florida (now HistoryMiami) formed the downtown Cultural Plaza; and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) settled in North Miami. The growing number of contemporary art galleries congregated and then moved according to the vagaries of the real estate market.

Cover_leadIn the 2000s, thanks in large part to art aficionado and developer Craig Robins, galleries flocked to the Design District; Goldman Properties spearheaded a similar move to Wynwood, all with subsidized rents for galleries and studios. Wynwood, however, was being promoted as an Arts District by both businesses and City of Miami officials. Its popularity took off as Art Basel and its satellite fairs turned an international spotlight on Miami in 2002.

With the density of galleries, and the warehouse walls covered in vibrant graffiti and murals, Wynwood became a brand, known far beyond South Florida’s borders. Once again, as property values rose, subsidized rents disappeared, and more lucrative restaurants, bars, and boutiques displaced the former tenants.

Today Miami’s art scene has matured, and there may not be as much need for engineering a specific district.

People remember those heady first years of Art Basel Miami Beach as an era of free spirits and impromptu pop-up shows getting in the face of these global elite interlopers. The galleries were young, the social and professional infrastructure just taking hold, the artists winging it almost on their own. Since then the art scene has grown more savvy, and a bit more jaded.

While many galleries have moved north to the Little Haiti/Little River neighborhoods, others have scattered. As the public has increasingly embraced art over the past 15 years, one central location, with a Second Saturday night party, may be obsolete. Today you can find cultural adventures all around the county.

How has this shift come about, and what impact is it having?

Let’s stroll back to Biscayne Boulevard.


ICoverStory_2n 2013, MAM (now named Pérez Art Museum Miami, or PAMM, after one if its chief financial backers, real estate developer Jorge Pérez) moved into its new building on Biscayne Bay in what is now called Museum Park. The renaming was controversial, as most of the money for the construction and operations was still coming from taxpayers; and critics were skeptical of the funding estimates, as well as the emphasis on a new structure rather than on building a respected collection.

But the spectacular Herzog & de Meuron-designed museum has won over many hearts and minds, becoming a popular meeting space with ample grounds along the bayfront. Maybe as important, though, is the decision to bring in the well-regarded Franklin Sirmans, formerly curator of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as director in late 2015.

Several major art donations to the collection since then have instilled confidence that PAMM’s interiors will looks as good as its exterior. In particular, says Sirmans, the gifts of the Sackner Archive -- 400 language-based works from the unique Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry -- and the large donation by Craig Robins and Jackie Soffer of 100-plus contemporary pieces, in the past year have helped the museum.

Last spring PAMM invited the experimental music troupe IlluminArts to create an opera inspired by the politically charged art of Colombian Doris Salcedo, whose works were on display. The result was a week of rehearsals and performance titled The little match girl passion, a devastatingly beautiful piece based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the little match seller who freezes to death in the night. It was a prime example of multidisciplinary projects that PAMM has fostered.

An outreach program just implemented this year is called Inside/Out, where the museum “aims to share works from PAMM’s collection via high-quality reproductions displayed around Miami-Dade County,” explains Sirmans. “We’re embarking on our second year of this program, which will include new cities joining our partnerships in Hialeah and Homestead, [inaugurated] this past year.”

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Connecting with various groups and branching out to new communities is crucial to the National YoungArts Foundation, which has some pretty impressive digs itself, after buying the iconic Bacardi buildings in 2012 and turning them into the national headquarters.

This past June, Carolina García Jayaram was appointed president and CEO, with the mission to expand YoungArts programming well beyond its youth residencies and YoungArts Week.

Jayaram, a native of Miami most recently working in the arts in Chicago, knows change is in the air, but that it will take work to make sure the arts are not confined to a building or a neighborhood. “The fabric is being sewn now for a future city of diverse anchor institutions that reflect our population,” she says, “and what is changing, to my mind, is the way younger audiences are expecting the arts to be a part of their everyday experience.”

When she started working in Miami, she adds, “the arts were still a fringe benefit for some of the people some of the time. I think we’re now seeing a lot more art across genres and in more neighborhoods, but we still have a long way to go in order to provide greater equity and access to people who most need and deserve the arts in their lives.”

The Michael Clark dance collaboration with ICA was what the future will be about, she believes. “Michael is a prime example of a 21st-century artist. He’s challenging the perceived expectations about dance performance through collaborations with other disciplines, the use of technology, presentation in alternative venues, and by engaging international audiences through innovative approaches. With increasingly scarcer resources for arts organizations and artists, it’s vital we partner to bring artists like Michael to Miami for the benefit of the community.”

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At the temporary ICA space in the Design District, the institute has been holding free public art talks in the glamorous nearby Palm Court since the fall of 2015. The recent residency/performance from the Clark Company is the second in its ICA Performs series, and chief curator Alex Gartenfeld is excited about the results. “The relationship between the performing and visual arts is important and vital to our mission and to culture in Miami,” Gartenfeld says. “Having innovated across classical dance and contemporary art for over three decades, the Michael Clark Company represents interdisciplinarity at its highest and most creative level.”

That created benefits, he says, at a grass-root level: “The company engaged with local students, hosted master classes, and explored the community as Michael choreographed newly commissioned work, so this was a true residency in every sense.”

ICA in its short life-span -- it was formed when many MOCA North Miami board members split in 2014, taking much of that museum’s collection with them -- has made a nationwide imprint. With consistently good exhibits, ICA has added to the quality and sophistication of the art scene here.

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And in the past couple of years, so has PAMM; its exhibits have been solid, and along with its innovative New Works and video programming, the museum seems to be hitting its stride.

That the level of artistic awareness in the greater community has grown since the arrival of Art Basel is clear to gallerist David Castillo. As a young pioneer in Wynwood, his space became one of the keystone galleries surrounding NW 2nd Avenue. Back then, he says, hundreds of people flooded his gallery, few of them educated in contemporary art, fewer still buying art. But as more international attention descended on the city, as the institutions started to mature, Miami’s art appreciation changed, Castillo says. Younger people were exposed to more quality art, while transplants to the area were recognizing the city as a burgeoning arts center -- and they sought out and acquired works.

For Castillo, Wynwood lost its appeal. He no longer needed immediate exposure; his stable of artists didn’t need to fight big crowds and partygoers. So he moved to an office building at 420 Lincoln Rd. in Miami Beach, where he says he may get only 60 to 70 people at an opening, “but they stay for hours and there might be four to five buyers.”

This year Castillo joins a very elite crowd in being one of two Miami galleries admitted to the Art Basel fair, in the Art Nova section. He will be showing two of his popular artists, New York-based Sanford Biggers and Xaviera Simmons.

Pan American Art Projects, which focuses on contemporary Caribbean and Latin art, also set up shop in Wynwood, in 2006. It too has departed, but curator Irina Leyva-Perez says that some proximity to other art outlets is still important, which is why the gallery moved to Little Haiti. The relocation “is part of the trajectory to new territory for the art scene in Miami,” she says.

While a larger art scene pushes geographic boundaries, Leyva-Perez believes “that galleries will tend to find a location where at least there is another one to incentivize traffic,” she says. The move also has allowed Pan American to expand, with an annex that concentrates on intergenerational group shows while the main gallery remains concentrated on solo exhibits.

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Pan American joins galleries such as Spinello, Nina Johnson, Mindy Solomon, and soon Emerson Dorsch as major galleries planted in the Little Haiti/Little River area in the past couple of years. But with unparalleled upward pressure on property values, for those who don’t own their space, their time in any one location could be short.

This is especially true for smaller, alternative spaces, often artist-run. While it’s important to develop and support quality commercial art galleries, the alt spaces are part of an essential ecosystem. They act as incubators for young artists and as platforms for established artists who have no gallery representation. They also are the ones that rely on the largess of patrons, usually developers, and the whims of that development.

For a brief time, several of Miami’s alternative spaces were housed in a subsidized complex on NE 11th Street near downtown, until the developer, Miami Worldcenter, told them last year that time was up. Dimensions Variable, now run by two artists, was one, and this was their third home. They weren’t sure if they would get on the treadmill again. But they got lucky and wound up with a new home tucked into Miami-Dade College’s downtown campus. Dimensions kicked off the new space with a group show in late November with a happy mix of local and international artists, young and older, male and female.


BCoverStory_7as Fisher Invitational (BFI), however, decided to go nomadic. Directed by artist and producer Naomi Fisher, BFI has been on the forefront of the collaborative, multidisciplinary spirit of programming for some time. Their shows and events incorporated dance, music, performance, and include cultural bus tours called Weird Miami.

Fisher decided to put her energy into more one-off events rather than try to find, fund, and run a permanent space. As an example: On December 3 and 4 at the Colony Theatre on Lincoln Road in South Beach, BFI will present two wild evenings with large-scale drawings, multimedia installations, and live soundtrack courtesy of the “choral thrash metal band” Coral Cross.

Although Fisher admits the logistics of a nomadic existence are tricky -- figuring out permitting for a private space, acoustics, and special dimensions -- it also takes art out of the “white cube” (galleries and museums), and allows everyone to experience unconventional presentations. In addition, she says, doing only four or five events/exhibits a year lets all involved really invest in a project.

She’s also uncomfortable, she says, with the idea that art spaces become developers’ agents for gentrification that, in fact, does not help the community originally there and, in the end, not really the artists, either.

Fisher thinks Miami has developed a solid base that encourages young artists, from its accessible institutions to the many grant opportunities available, including those from the Knight Foundation: “For younger artists, here is as good a place as anywhere.” However, in general she feels there needs to be more support for working artists, especially ones who have been in the field for years and didn’t benefit from the “emerging artist” tag that Miami so embraced.

There are also residencies, which aside from ArtCenter’s program on Lincoln Road, were virtually nonexistent 20 years ago. The ArtCenter is yet another organization that has gone semi-nomadic. Although it maintains a place in South Beach after selling off its flagship building, it has taken over the former resident spaces of Cannon Ball (folded into ArtCenter this year), which will open with studio visits during Art Basel at the building across from CIFO downtown. It just launched ARTSail in partnership with the Frost Museum of Science, a residency in which the artists work on the coastlines and in the waterways to conduct research and eventually generate new work.

CoverStory_8nd it’s not like all art has migrated to new areas. The Design District still is home to one of the most important nonprofit outfits we have, Locust Projects, a magnet for art lovers that sticks to its alternative roots. For Art Week, a trippy, elaborate exhibit from New Yorker Alexis Gideon involves glowing huts, video, a strange narrative, clay figures, and live performances. In the back is a group show from graffiti-inspired locals the Huffer Collective.

Which brings us to the topic of street art, a genre that Miami has made its own, with a worldwide reputation, and centered in Wynwood. Yes, Wynwood has not gone away; it has morphed into more of an entertainment district, but several good galleries remain -- as does the amazing amount of street art.

In the early days, when Wynwood contained just a few art outlets (including the then grungy Locust Projects), graffiti writers and crews took to the streets at night and covered windowless warehouse walls, street signs, and sidewalks. The late developer Tony Goldman made the form legit in 2009, commissioning murals by street artists from Brazil to England to Japan for the first iteration of Wynwood Walls. Since then, numerous additional murals have been commissioned, while individual artists and crews have continued to freelance on any available space (which is now in short supply).


BCoverStory_9randon Opalka started out spraying graffiti as a teenager in South Florida in the early 1990s. His trajectory is illustrative of Miami’s. “In high school, I believed that the graffiti I was doing was not considered art by many,” he recalls. He credits a teacher for guiding him to study graphic design. “He is the main reason I started painting murals. He gave me the confidence to attempt such large mural projects.”

Opalka’s huge, horizontal redwood tree mural covered one side of the old Dorsch gallery in Wynwood for years, one of the first photogenic street art images coming out of the district. But Opalka says that eventually, as an evolving artist, he couldn’t be constrained by murals and moved more into landscape painting and sculpture.

And then there is what he feels is the contamination of street art. “I found out for myself that there’s a different energy when the artist doesn’t have everything [he or she] needs when painting -- meaning paid flights, sponsored paint, legal walls, hotel rooms. All that’s great, but I began to question the intention on the artist’s part, and the money behind it.”

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In a tragic twist highlighting street art’s new place in the world, Raymond Brown, one of Opalka’s best friends, died in late October while working on a commissioned mural after falling off faulty scaffolding put up by a company working on a high-end condo. Says Opalka: “What started out for me in high school and college has changed -- it no longer feels underground.”

Opalka decided to get inspired by real redwoods and moved to northern California last year, but he is back with a landscape painting show in Little Haiti for December.

Miami likely won’t suffer from lack of a centralized arts center. But the city needs to fill the gaps in arts education. In fact, Miami needs to work on awareness and education in many ways to advance, says Carolina Garcia Jayaram of YoungArts. “You cannot expect to have a city that educates, cultivates, and sustains art and artists without a population of people who attend and engage with those artistic endeavors and artists. The only way to achieve this is to provide art to everyone so that the next generation will consider buying a ticket to the Miami City Ballet or the museum as important as a basketball game or any other recreational activity.”

At ICA, Alex Gartenfeld -- who says their huge new building will be open by December 2017 -- also stresses expansion and education. “ICA Miami is also an ‘institute,’ which means we exist first and foremost to foster the exchange of ideas and to bring patrons from all corners of the community together, with art serving as a common denominator. Importantly, we offer free admission to the museum, which ensures open access for all.”

That’s a sentiment David Castillo likes. “So many people don’t know that galleries are free!” he says. “It’s one of the cheapest activities a family can do, and they’ll likely find some stuff that inspires them.”

 

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