The Miami Beach art scene could hardly look better than in mid-December, when the weather is balmy and calm (as opposed to the rainy pre-Christmas panic of Manhattan). Though the much-anticipated Art Basel Miami Beach had been cancelled -- another try is slated for 2002 -- local art-lovers and out-of-towners still managed to join together in an informal art festival over the long weekend of Dec. 13-16, 2001.
New exhibitions opened at the three Miami Beach museums -- the Bass Museum, the Miami MOCA and the Wolfsonian -- as well as at the downtown Miami Art Museum. The weekend also saw the debut of the FFWD Miami art fair, cobbled together at the last minute at the Nash Hotel in Miami Beach. Local galleries also opened shows, and special exhibitions were mounted in various spaces under development in the city's vaunted Miami Design District.
Miami is "Humid"
The evening of Thursday, Dec. 13, offered a grand opening of "Vito Acconci: Acts of Architecture" downtown at the Miami Art Museum, as well as the opening in the Design District of "Humid," a group show of 25 young artists organized by the similarly young Dominic Molon, a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. "Humid" was underwritten by local collectors Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, and mounted in space provided by Ivelin and Craig Robins (about whom more later).
The Design District is filled with high-end furniture stores, some tricked out with high-gloss artworks of largely decorative interest, interspersed with vacant storefronts waiting for lessors. To a New Yorker, it's definitely a real estate opportunity. All the same, "Humid" didn't really cohere as an exhibition in the sprawling, concrete-floored second-story space that it so awkwardly filled.
Instead, the show collapsed into a series of individual works -- lots of them installation pieces using sound -- and that would just have to do. Among the eye-catching pieces was a big pile of blue ribbon by D'Nell Larson, romantically titled 100 Miles for You (In Caribbean Blue), and a comic 10-foot-tall stack of old LP vinyl by William Cordova.
One hot local artist is Naomi Fisher, whose big color photos of young people sprawled half-dressed in tropical undergrowth are featured in the current issue of Ocean Drive magazine, as well as in "Humid," and at the Bass. Among the local artists on hand at the opening were John Espinoza, Jason Hedges, Tao Rey and Martin Oppel.
Any art tour of the Miami Design District would have to include stops at the Margulies Warehouse (591 NW 27th Street), the impressive archive of contemporary photography opened a few years ago by real estate developer Marty Margulies; the Rubell Family Collection (95 NW 29 Street), the family museum of supercollectors Don and Mera Rubell, who with their adult children Jason and Jennifer were also profiled in Ocean Drive; Locust Project (100 NE 38 Street), the nonprofit that is currently showing a tricked-out VW bus by Gregory Green; and a bunch of commercial galleries, including Kevin Bruk (3900 NE 1st Avenue), Barbara Gillman (5582 NE 4th Court), Casas Riegner (21-23 NE 39th Street) and Bernice Steinbaum (3550 North Miami Avenue).
Aluminum by Design
The traveling exhibition, "Aluminum by Design: From Jewelry to Jets," opened at the Wolfsonian-FIU on Dec. 14, 2001, and what a party it was (free drinks in cans, pasta in tin dishes and foil-wrapped Hershey's Kisses). The large selection of items in the exhibition, many augmented by additions from Wolfsonian founder Mickey Wolfson's own holdings, looked especially good in the new museum, which was converted by architect Mark Hampton (not the designer) from a former storage space. "It's not an art museum," Wolfson proclaimed, "but a museum of functional ideas!"
As a material, aluminum has a fascinating history, from its early use in the mid-19th-century as a precious material in jewelry, to its early-20th-century heyday as a kind of Flash Gordon-esque "material of the future" and its contemporary function as an unremarked component of everything from contemporary design to soda cans.
Indeed, in regard to this last, the exhibition's amiable curator, Sarah Nichols of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, admitted that the "jet" in the exhibition title was represented by a bit of handicraft -- a toy fighter made from Coca-Cola cans by an anonymous Vietnamese craftsperson, giving the show a political twist at its endpoint.
The show is filled with interesting things, not least of all the vintage examples of throwaway furniture -- things like 1933 aluminum lawn chair by Marcel Breuer and a pair of prototype modular tables commissioned by Alcoa in 1957 from Isamu Noguchi. Other curiosities are an aluminum cast of the Venus de Milo made in 1899 and an 80-inch-tall Art Deco figure of a nude wrestler by Dudley Vail Talcott that is apparently something of a local landmark.
Among the contemporary contributions to the show -- in addition to the frame from a Audi, one of the show's sponsors, hanging in the museum entryway -- are super-Minimalist box-chair by Donald Judd and Mark Newsom's baroque but streamlined Lockheed Lounge chaise, made in 1985 of riveted and polished sheet aluminum.
Outside on the sidewalk, housed in its own little structure, is a custom-made interior of aluminum cans crafted by the artist Antoni Miralda, complete with aluminum-can chairs, tables and lamps. The artist politely declined requests to pose for pictures sitting in one of the chairs, though he did admit that he had been approached about the commercial production of his amusing furniture.
Miami is full of real estate developers who are also art collectors, which helps explain the renaissance in stylish design. The contingent from New York -- your correspondent, plus writers for several other art magazines and newspapers -- were put up at the Hotel National, a luxuriously restored 1940 structure right on the beach. The 152-room National, originally designed by Roy France, is known for its 205-foot-long lap pool. It's also right next to two other great hotels, the swinging-singles Delano and the newly restored Sagamore.
Our host was Craig Robins, a developer and art collector who, besides being a force behind the Design District, is also now working on the 8.5-acre, $180-million, 166-unit Aqua development on Allison Island in the Intercoastal Waterway in Miami Beach. Acqua boasts buildings designed by young, progressive architects -- Walter F. Chatham, Alison Spear and Alexander Gorlin among them -- and Robins has enlisted several artists, including Richard Tuttle and Guillermo Kuitca, to design public works for the site. Groundbreaking is slated for next spring.
While touring the office and looking at the impressive Acqua architectural model, we met Lyle Chariff, who is director of commercial leasing at Dacra, the company that is developing the island community. "What's the secret of sales," he was asked. "One, have a great product," he said. "And two, don't screw up the sale."
Robins is a corporate art collector, as well, and his offices are filled with contemporary works by Chris Ofili, David Hammons, Eberhard Havekost, Mike Kelley, Kuitca and many others. On hand for one of the quick tours were Chicago supercollector Lewis Manilow and former San Francisco MOMA director David Ross.
Ross noted that, after the delightful experience of spending $140 million in three years building the MOMA collection, he wasn't in a hurry to take a new museum post. Instead, he said, he is on the boards of three nonprofits -- an Italian museum, a new charity named Anaphiel (details to be announced) and the anti-slavery group iAbolish, which recently mounted a press campaign around pop star Britney Spears' new song, I'm a Slave 4 U. "We want to make her an spokesperson to her generation," said Ross.
Down Collins Avenue at the Nash Hotel, still another Art Deco gem restored to hip luxury, is the "Fast Forward" art fair, abbreviatedly called FFWD Miami, Dec. 13-16, 2001. Organized on a shoestring by Sheldon LaPierre and Janet Phelps with angel-like cooperation of Nash hotel chief Laura Sheridan, FFWD Miami was a high-spirited gathering of 25 galleries from the U.S. and Europe, distributed in rooms on three floors of the five-story hotel.
As is usual in such operations, dealers propped big things up wherever they would go, including in the bathtubs, and push-pinned smaller works to walls and laid them out on beds and counters. What was lost in class was made up in enthusiasm. With an overhead of around $1,000-$2,000 per room, who could complain?
Certainly not the art collectors, who had their choice of new works at notably low prices. The four kids who run the Chicago Law Office -- Rob Davis, Vincent Dermody, Mike Langlois and Rebecca Levine -- asked 10 white male painters to make the same painting (they were given a diagram of a square divided into four sections, labeled "trauma," "present moment," "hand" and "mouth"). Joe Baldwin seems to have ignored the assignment, appropriately enough, to make a painting of a brown smear on a linen ground called Halley's Comet, that is priced at $1,000.
Lots of work I liked was on view at two hometown galleries, Roebling Hall and Bellwether, both from Williamsburg. My taste seems to run to illustration, curiously enough. At Bellwether, big watercolors of swashbuckling piratesses by Don Doe were a bargain at $900, as was a big painting of celebrity heads by Bill Walker at $2,000. At Roebling, it was the paint-by-numbers style picture of a Leopard (2001) by Cadence Giersbach stashed in the bathroom that caught my eye. It's $4,000.
Playing on the TV at Monique Meloche from Chicago was a 32-second video loop by Alison Ruttan, a brightly colored, red and flesh-toned digitalized animation that has its source in a bit of BBW erotica. It's $1,000 for a DVD, edition of 10.
London dealer Laurent Delaye brought over some notably eclectic pottery vases by Grayson Perry, which are priced at $4,500 for smaller examples. Delaye also had some brooding, minimalist long-exposure pictures of the city at night by Rut Blees Luxemburg, a young German artist who lives in London.
Also dark and moody were smooth black and white abstractions by Michael Gibson at Kevin Bruk Gallery in Miami. They are $1,800. "It's crazy here," said Bruk. "Big collectors still go to New York to buy, even though Miami dealers get good stuff. Miami has no academia like L.A., that's a drawback to becoming a big art city."
The room of the San Francisco gallery Bucheon was dominated by a huge image of a psychedelic George Harrison by veteran San Francisco printmaker Kirk LeClaire, priced at $2,200. Up in the penthouse, New York dealer Laurie de Chiara -- who gets the credit with coming up with the idea for FFWD Miami -- had a pile of body-sized cushions by Donna Niello heaped up on the balcony. Price: $7,000.
At Kerry Inman Gallery from Houston, digital iris prints of flyers for imaginary events -- events having to do with engineering, weirdly -- by Dario Robleto were $800 each or $4,000 for the suite of six (in an edition of 10). "He's Mr. DJ Kid," said Alexander Gray, who used to work at Art Pace in Fort Worth. "Its about the redemptive quality of sampling and its ability to collapse form," said Inman, who opened her gallery in 1990.
Renee Riccardo of Arena gallery brought a wide assortment of small things, mostly drawings and paintings on paper, maybe 75-100 works by about 20 artists. She said she sold several works for "old school" prices -- $250 to $2,000.
Similarly, Jack Hanley from San Francisco had pinned a group of drawings by "street artist" Chris Johansen to his wall, priced at $300 or thereabouts. Hanley also had a Mondrianesque painting on a piece of scrap wood by the French artist Mathieu Mercier for $1,200. It looked beautiful. Hanley opened his gallery in 1990, but closed it in 1996 to open a guitar store instead. But then he reopened the gallery. "Too much brotherly love," he said.
Aldy Milliken is an American who lives in Stockholm, Sweden, where he has run Zinc gallery for four years. He shows simple, elegant word paintings by Mari Slaatelid that say things like "woman pretending to be a painting" and "white surrender." Milliken also has a pair of marble brass knuckles by Monika Larsen Dennis. It's called Knuckle Duster; $500 in an edition of 10.
Plenty of money could be found in the room of San Francisco dealer Catharine Clark -- moneybags by artist Ray Beldner, that is. These cloth multiples were $800 each. Let's let that be the theme -- as Luis Valverde Espejo of Espacio Minimo in Madrid pointed out, "This is a meeting more than a fair. You don't worry about sales. Here, if someone comes to your room, you explain your program."
The global Bass, MOCA Miami
The boxy new annex to the Bass Museum, designed by Arata Isozaki, debuted with a big and flashy group show organized by artist Robert Chambers. Called "Globe - Miami - Island," it features lots of big installations, ranging from wall paintings around the bathrooms by Purvis Young to Janine Antoni's melodramatic The Saddle, which seems to equate a crawling artist figure with a crucified cowhide.
One huge, warehouse-like space -- what is it with the concrete floors, are carpets too expensive to keep clean? -- is filled to the brim with wacky, experimental artworks. Ward Shelley's The Cube is a big box faced with translucent red plastic that contains a maze; visitors are invited in. Nearby is a towering pile of toys by Charo Oquet called The Power of Legba and an asymmetrical structure of plywood and 2 x 4s by Cooper called something like Untitled (This would probably look better falling from the sky, or burning in a barrel, or...
Down the beach at 125th Street is the Museum of Contemporary Art Miami, another big boxy space, this one holding a show of works by Roy Lichtenstein organized by museum director Bonnie Clearwater and called "Roy Lichtenstein: Inside/Outside." First thing, a guard nicely told me that photos were banned -- I hate that -- and secondly, that note-taking with a pen was not allowed. But she gave me a pencil.
Clearly, Lichtenstein was one of the most formally inventive of the Pop artists, even though (or perhaps because of the fact that) he was simply copying art motifs into a comic-book illustration idiom. The show has plenty of works from the 1960s that feature Lichtenstein's perceptual experiments with 3-D constructions and unorthodox materials like Rowlux. His style gave his works both a remarkable graphic punch and a simplicity and elegance that now looks classic. No wonder he is positioned, retroactively, as some kind of avatar of the media age.
It's great to see all the sculpture in the show, though the fact that so many of them are labeled "private collection" and "edition 1 of 6" makes the galleries, with their concrete floors (again), reminiscent of a new-product showroom. C'mon, there are plenty of instructional wall labels -- how about some decent provenance?
The exhibition has a paperback catalogue with great illustrations, priced at $40.
Speaking of books, on my way out of MOCA Miami I hitched a ride back to South Beach -- the trip up to 125th Street was a $30 cab fare -- with a fellow museum-goer, one of only a handful there on Sunday afternoon. She turned out to be Deborah Desilets, the last architectural associate of the late Morris Lapidus, fabled architect of the Fountainbleau (1954), the Eden Roc (1955) and all things ameboid in the postwar era. When she dropped me off, Deborah gave me a copy of his autobiography, Too Much Is Never Enough, published by Rizzoli in 1996. That's what I call serendipity.