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Sloan Schaffer


by Brook S. Mason
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Though Sloan Schaffer, 33, only opened his 101/exhibit gallery in Miami’s Design District a scant three years ago, he’s already racked up 36 exhibitions and appearances at a slew of fairs from Palm Beach3 and Art Chicago to Scope and Art Hamptons, as well as some in San Francisco. And while his latest show, “Jason Shawn Alexander: Undertow,” which spotlights the large-scale, figurative work of the rural Tennessee-born, L.A.-based artist, (b. 1975), only opened on Dec. 2, Schaffer has already sold 25 percent of the work, which is priced in the $7,000-$32,000 range.

Artnet Magazine’s Brook S. Mason sat down with Schaffer to learn about his collecting history and his hopes for the future of Miami.

For a dealer with a 5,000 square-foot gallery in Miami, is it safe to say that your art career began far, far from New York's Chelsea art district?

It started really at the University of Michigan, where I studied jewelry design, fine art and later architecture. I was with a firm here in Miami, and then on my own, handling both commercial and residential commissions. But in 2008, I realized it was a seamless move to open a gallery.

Since opening here, just a hop and a jump down the road from the Christian Dior store, which artists have you showcased?

I opened with a show devoted to Marilyn Manson, but since then I’ve shown Larry Rivers, Alexander Calder, Benny Andrews, Albert Paley and Michael Lucero -- to name just a few.

What is your client base like? Wholly South-Floridian?

Not at all. Seventy percent is West Coast, then there are the East Coasters with the balance of Florida, Georgia and Louisiana. At the same time, I have international clients from Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Switzerland and Germany. Some of them have homes here on the Gold Coast.

What has driven you meteoric success?

I believe in a huge internet presence, so I am active on Twitter and I appear on a number of blogs. Plus, I advertise in art magazines. I have a publicist in L.A., Heidi Johnson, and I also have Marilyn White in New York. We try to stay on the ball in order to reach new eyes.

When you opened, the Design District was still in its nascent stage, though anchored by some high-end to-the-trade establishments.

Right, at the time we opened here, there were carpet, tile and even faucet suppliers and empty shopfronts along with abandoned factories. We bought this 5,000-square-foot building, which had been empty. Overall the neighborhood was a bit of an eyesore in spots, but it has changed 180 degrees.

Why did you choose the Design District for your gallery over Wynwood, where the private museums like Dennis Scholl are located?

I wanted a real storefront gallery, a place with sidewalks, parking and cafes to sit and eat, whereas Wynwood is more uneven; it’s really a blur. In Wynwood, factories and warehouses -- including a Panama importer who sells potatoes and onions -- line the streets. In the Design District, we have a real presence as a gallery.

Your father, the insurance titan Jerome Shaw, built a formidable collection of Art Nouveau and contemporary decorative arts. Tell us about your family’s collections.

My family was involved in the Michigan Habitat Gallery, and early on, we collected Peter Voulkos. In addition to Voulkos' chargers and stacks, I have some examples of his 1948-1951 bronze wall plates. I also have numerous pieces by Michael Lucero and at least 12 by Albert Paley, as well as some by J. B. Blunk, who is now represented by Blum & Poe.

I’m also partial to Waylande Gregory, a Princeton artist who worked in terracotta. His Horse and Serpent (1936) graced the cover of Time magazine that year, and his Fountain of Atoms was featured at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

Your 3,000-square-foot house, Casa Grove, whose roof lets in so much light that it almost seems to float, is almost a design object in its own right.

Cuban architect Roney Mateu designed the house, and it garnered both national and local AIA awards. I furnished it with a mix of vintage and contemporary design, including a Vladimir Kagan wing-chair and an Edward Wormley chest that is a prototype for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Wright designed the drawer pulls. In addition, there is work by Paul Evans and even a 1951 George Nelson Marshmallow Sofa.

There is talk that the Miami City Council is considering opening the city to gambling, à la Vegas? Do see that as a potential blight on the city’s reputation as a growing art hub?

With gambling, what worries me most is crime, but if done right and tastefully tailored to the high-end, gambling will only add to the luster of the city.

How does Miami’s future as an art destination look to you?

It’s only a matter of time before the city can support the arts beyond the winter months, and even full-time. We will reach a point where galleries can flourish and sustain themselves even during the summer. I’m confident that we will soon be a contender right up there with Los Angeles and New York.

BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.