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MAXIMUM MIAMI
by Walter Robinson
 
Next to the Chelsea area on Manhattan’s west side, the Wynwood Art District in Miami has got to be the fastest growing art neighborhood in the country. A sprawling, 20-square-block area of warehouses, cinderblock cottages and vacant lots just north of downtown (and just over the causeways from Miami Beach), Wynwood has blossomed with massive high-rise condo projects as well as new museum and gallery spaces, which now number more than 60 on the ubiquitous hand-out map.

Furniture stores and big "antiques wholesalers" (antiques wholesalers?) are also there, as is a stretch of avenue lined with boutiques and bargain clothing shops (a la the Lower East Side’s old Orchard Street). On a recent Saturday, traffic was light and driving and parking on the broad streets was a breeze.

"Wynwood is fabulous," said veteran Miami dealer Barbara Gillman, who first opened in Florida in 1979. "It’s going to be like SoHo was and Chelsea is," she said. Gillman took a temporary space in the Wynwood area only three months ago, after being pushed out of the neighboring Design District (see below) by the burgeoning development there. She had a show of works by Robert Thiele, Judith Page and Werner Schmidt on view during Art Basel Miami Beach, Dec. 1-4, 2005. "The difference this year was that more than ever, people from Art Basel came to the local galleries," she said. "Miami’s a real exciting town for ten days in December," she added, laughing.

Debuting during ABMB were the new Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation as well as branches of Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin from Paris and Galeria Luis Adelantado from Valencia. Also unveiling a new space was Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts, which had been located in Coral Gables since 2000 (the gallery was founded in Buenos Aires in 1989). The Wynwood area was pioneered by the Rubell Family Collection and the artist-run, nonprofit Locust Projects, which opened in 1998; the Dorsch Gallery and Berenice Steinbaum Gallery moved there soon after. Rocket Projects opened about 30 months ago, and Kevin Bruk Gallery, Leonard Tachmes Gallery and Ingalls & Associates, relocated in Wynwood within the last year. And of course the area has always been home to artists’ studios.

Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation
First off, kudos must go to local art patron Ella Cisneros and her new Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO), housed in a perfectly renovated 1936 warehouse at 1018 North Miami Avenue, complete with a front plaza with benches and live bamboo, complementing a glorious façade done up in mosaics to depict a bamboo jungle by architect Rene Gonzalez. For its inaugural exhibition, the foundation tapped two dependable curators, who have in turn delivered exceptional shows. Though drawn entirely from the foundation holdings, it seems clear that the curators were able to convince their patron to buy new works that they wanted to include in their exhibitions.

"Beyond Delirious: Architecture in Selected Photographs from the Ella Fontanals Cisneros Collection," organized by Christopher Phillips, a curator at the International Center for Photography in New York, is a thorough survey of the subject via works by a surprising 30 artists from 13 countries, ranging from Ryuji Miyamoto’s noirish photos of the now-demolished Hong Kong shantytown, Kowloon Walled City, to the Los Angeles artist Stephen Pascher’s comical Lucky Chairs Sampler (2002-05), a sequential projection of 80 slides of simple wood chairs arranged as if doing an acrobatic act.

Other works in the show include a grid of 68 color photos of various bridges by Olafur Eliasson, a beautiful picture of the otherworldly architecture and signage of Hilo Street in Tokyo by Thomas Struth, an uncanny detail of a broken sidewalk by Gabriel Orozco, and a large photo of a huge installation featuring a vast wall covered with political-style commercial posters by Wang Qingsong.

The other half of the building is given over to "Indeterminate States: Video from the Fontanals Cisneros Collection," organized by Michael Rush, the new director of the Rose Art Museum in Brandeis, Mass. The transformation of the galleries into a series of airy mini-theaters for the several video and film projections, with their walls painted in various primary colors, is especially pleasurable. Among the 13 artists that Rush has selected for the show are Marina Abramovic, Chantal Akerman, Kutlug Ataman, Sophie Calle, William Kentridge, Ana Mendieta, Fiona Tan, Bill Viola and Robert Wilson.

One particularly interesting acquisition is a 13-minute compilation of videotapes shot by Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) in 1975-78, while she was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. A precocious artist who has gained a mythical status since her death (she jumped from the window of a building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan), Woodman’s black-and-white photographs of her own naked body have been described by one reviewer as the kind of art that might be made by Sylvia Plath’s Ariel.

Woodman’s Selected Video Works, done in 3/4-inch videotape and recently transferred to DVD, have the gray fuzziness and occasional visual static of early video, which gives them their own period poetry. In the various scenes, the winsome young artist methodically whitewashes her own naked body, for instance, or compares her torso to images of classical statuary.

The Goldman, the Rubell
The other major space to open in Wynwood this month is the 12,000-square-foot MOCA at Goldman Warehouse at 404 NW 26th Street, a downtown Miami outpost launched by the ambitious Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. The premiere featured an impressive selection of contemporary art from the museum’s permanent collection, mixing senior masters (John Baldessari, Louise Bourgeois, Dan Flavin, Nam June Paik) with younger artists (Inka Essenhigh, Mariko Mori, Jason Rhoades) and artists from Miami (Robert Chambers, Cooper, Frances Trombley).

One notable work was Let’s Not Talk about It (2005) by Miami artist Norberto Rodriguez (b. 1972), a gift of local patrons Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz. A sexy admission of male submission to female sexuality (not to mention a quotation of the mannequins in the 1938 Surrealist exposition in Paris), Rodriguez’s sculpture shows a nude female mannequin in red boxing gloves facing off against a male mannequin whose t-shirt reads, "Let me be your punching bag."

In a separate gallery, the Goldman Warehouse had Cloud City, a playground installation by a Miami artist collaborative -- their first museum exhibition -- named Friends With You (Sam Borkson and Arturo Sandoval). Visitors, including several in costume, were having fun playing with large -- nine feet tall -- balls in bright plastic colors, plus a giant purple cone on wheels. Friends With You was founded in 2002 to make "magical toys" that "help the everyday person cope" -- for details, see www.friendswithyou.com

These two new nonprofits join two well established ones -- the Martin Margolis Collection and the Rubell Family Collection. In the last couple of years the Rubells have kicked their operation up a notch -- along with the major art installations, the building is now complete with an outdoor café, a bookstore (courtesy of Phaidon), a gift shop of high-end art tchotchkes (courtesy of Ceraealart.com) and even its own line of t-shirts and totes ($15) and artists editions (including a book by the late Keith Haring, published in an edition of 2,500 for $200 each).

Don and Mera Rubell are as benevolent as art collectors can be, but still, to this viewer at least, their collection seemed more like an art-market index than anything as prosaic as, say, an "art exhibition." That is, the generous complex of galleries has rooms dedicated to Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Chris Wool and the like, plus a gallery of gaily trashy works by 2005 Turner Prize shortlister Jim Lambie, an installation of the up-and-coming artist Wade Guyton, and Paul Chan’s videogame-inspired My birds. . . trash. . . the future (2004), which has also been seen at Greene Naftali Gallery and "Greater New York 2005" in New York City, as well as at the Boson ICA and the Hammer Museum, among other venues.

On the other hand, the Rubells have given over gallery after gallery to some pretty horrible-looking figurative painting from Poland (installed along with Piotr Uklański’s noxious series of movie Nazis) -- most of the artists are unfamiliar (for now), and it’s hard to imagine that the Rubells actually bought all this stuff. But with so much material on view -- it really is an amazing place -- the Rubell does have some museum-like benefits. Sometimes you see something new, like Francis AlÿsRe-enactments (2002), a harrowing DVD projection showing how the artist bought a 9mm Beretta, carried it around Mexico City all day, and was finally arrested by the police. Plus, there are the old favorites, like Charles Ray’s epitome of narcissism, eight life-size, nude sculptures of the artist in a kind of sexual daisy-chain, titled Oh! Charley Charley Charley (1992).

Wynwood Galleries
Dealer Emmanuel Perrotin is the unofficial mayor of the hip Paris art world, so news that he would launch a branch of Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin in Miami was greeted with some interest. Now, opened in partnership with Cathy Vedovi, the new Perrotin gallery at 194 NW 30th Street plans five shows a year in its two-story space, which is still being renovated.

In the first go-round is a group of new canvases by the French painter Bernard Frize (b. 1949), a kind of formalist who is known for his multicolored brushtrokes. For this series of 14 square, black-and-white paintings, Frize has revealed himself to be a systems painter, using a gray band -- "a long line with no beginning or end" -- that "snakes regularly and symmetrically" through a 13 x 13 grid on the diagonal. "It’s like macramé," said Perrotin. Several had sold at $40,000 each.

Perrotin is also showing emblematic sculptures by the Argentina-born Miami-based artist Martin Oppel, and new photographs by Piotr Uklański, in which the artist has taken dramatic sunsets and landscapes, turned them sideways and paired them so they suggest Abstract Expressionist paintings by Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman. Perrotin has also launched his own gallery magazine.

Around the corner from Perrotin and across the street from the Rubell Family Foundation, the Valencia-based Galerie Luis Adelantado opened the spacious Luis Adelantado Miami with a film installation by Anthony Goicolea titled Snow Escape, an intoxicating 360-degree pan of an arctic landscape dotted with the artist’s cryptic piles of snowballs and outdoor clothes-drying racks.

Seven blocks south is a cluster of galleries along NW 23rd Street, including Ingalls & Associates, which was featuring an exhibition of comic, high-key drawings by Sean Mellyn (the announcement card featured an image of a forlorn penguin, sitting in a wheel chair with an injured foot and a wing in a sling) and a gallery-filling, multicolored balloon sculpture, titled Lucky Storm, by Lee Boroson. It’s $27,000. Love that inflatable art!

Nearby, too, is Kevin Bruk Gallery, which featured eight untitled paintings by New York artist Blake Rayne (b. 1969) in its front gallery, boldly graphic affairs that combine abstract images with photographic ones, including pictures of kittens, a personal favorite. Rayne filled us in at the opening, noting that he had been listening to the endless National Public Radio bumper for Werner Herzog’s film, Grizzly Man, in which he says -- use German accent here -- "When you look at the face of the bear, you see the monumental indifference of nature." For Rayne, an image of a cat suggests the picture’s indifference to the viewer (as compared to that of a dog, which would be much more pandering). Often, it seems, the abstract graphics in his paintings are inspired by and developed out of some underlying detail of the Photorealist image. The works, then, have their own internal logic -- they’re like Frank Stella’s "Black Paintings." Rayne has showed several times at Greene Naftali in Manhattan and at Johnen + Schottle in Cologne. Most of the paintings were marked sold, at  $18,000 each.

At one end of North Miami Avenue is Rocket Projects, a local gallery devoted to new talent that was launched by Nick Cindric, who previously had galleries in Santa Fe and Boca Raton. Now on view are photographs, films and sculpture by Ali Prosch, an under-25 Miami artist in her first solo show. The theme seems to be one of a modern bacchanal, with party music, an oversized beaded chandelier, a film loop of a girl gradually dancing herself out of a sequined dress, and a group of five photographs of very young people drinking themselves under the table. The photos, titled "Nightshade," are $1,200 for an edition of three.

At the other end of the avenue is Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts, who opened with a show of photographs and souvenirs by Carlos Betancourt, a Puerto Rican artist who lives in Miami. The artist was on hand at the grand opening in a vintage Miami Vice t-shirt. Most of the photos are comically ritualistic self-portraits, in which Betancourt poses with his face painted and his tongue sticking out. A few others, like the photo of the young man covered with lapis lazuli holding a small idol, or the naked pregnant woman covered with writing and magenta pigment in a pool, more possibly come closer to invoking a real "island way of knowledge," so to speak.

A few blocks away was a scene at Karpio + Facchini Gallery that seemed to say it all about the avid art market -- a gallery emptied out of paintings by Lydia Dona, as the works were taken over to the fair to sell. Karpio + Facchini had a particularly rich program for ABMB, featuring in its booth several mini-surveys, including "The NAP. . . la siesta," a show of 14 new Argentinian painters, a group that included Fabián Marcaccio, and "Mesotica, Inc.," a show of 15 artists from Central America.

Pulse Miami
Everyone was happy at the new Pulse Miami fair, despite some doubts about the black Astroturf that served as the floor covering. Over 60 galleries set up their modest booths in a 30,000-square-foot tent located at NW 2nd Avenue, in a fair sponsored by British promoter Will Ramsay (he of the Affordable Art Fair, which has breathed its last, in New York at least) and overseen by director Helen Allen. Pulse Miami announced total attendance of 7,200, and overall sales of around $4 million. It was such a success that Pulse New York is now scheduled for Mar. 10-13, 2006, concurrently with the Armory Show, at the 69th Regiment Armory at 26th Street and Lexington Avenue.

"In two hours I sold everything, more that I did in three years at Art Basel Miami Beach," said Berlin dealer Michael Schultz. "My guestbook is full of super contacts, collectors, curators." In addition to the mural-sized painting of a whirlwind by Norbert Bisky, which went to a Florida collector for $55,000, Schultz also sold everything he had by the Korea-born Berlin painter Seo and the German artist Cornelia Schleime

At the booth of New York’s P.P.O.W. gallery, dealers Penny Pilkington and Wendy Olsoff sat in front of three large "Flower Mandalas" by Portia Munson -- the works look like photos, but they’re pigmented ink on rag paper -- all sold at $6,500 each (in editions of three). The booth of Conner Contemporary from Washington, D.C., was filled with photographs of Joe Ovelman chronicling the artist’s adventures in drag in snowy Central Park, plus a large, arguably more spiritual painting by Kehinde Wiley (sold for ca. $30,000).

Chicago art dealer Monique Meloche was showing off several works by Rashid Johnson, a 27-year-old School of the Art Institute of Chicago grad who formerly showed his photograms of things like chicken bones and black-eyed peas at GR N’namdi Gallery. His new work includes a naked Self-Portrait in Homage to Barkley Hendricks (2005), priced at $8,500, and a suite of three framed suits of clothes marking different periods of black fashion. 

Other highlights included a brightly colored life-size sculpture of a picnic by Libby Black at Heather Marx Gallery from San Francisco, which had been reviewed in ARTnews and Artforum (sold to a New York collector for $22,000); Fifi (2005), a cut terrazzo sculpture of a poodle studded with small ceramic dog figurines by Mary Engel at Atlanta’s Marcia Wood Gallery (sold for $12,000); and charcoal drawings of disasters and exploding buses by Ben Grasso, a Hunter MFA student, at New York’s Sixtyseven ($2,200-$3,000). 

Aqua Art Miami
Of all the fairs, Aqua Art had the best ambience, and it was thanks to the setting -- the Aqua Hotel at 16th Street and Collins Ave., two levels arranged around a courtyard with palm trees. "I tried to get someone else to organize it," said Seattle painter and Aqua art fair mastermind Jaq Chartier, "but everyone said no." So she put together the fair herself, along with her husband, artist Dirk Park, who is also a partner in the recently opened Platform Gallery in Seattle. When looking for a site for the fair, Chartier said, she was inspired by the Affair @ the Jupiter Hotel in Portland, Ore., which was also at a hotel with a courtyard.

Aqua boasted 36 dealers, including Anita Beckers from Frankfurt, Anne Barrault from Paris, the Other Gallery from Winnipeg, Jane Hart from Miami, the Inman Gallery from Houston, Gallery Joe from Philadelphia and more. Also on hand was Caryn Coleman of Sixspace, helmsperson of the estimable Art Blogging L.A. Does it need to be said that everyone was happy, with sales going well? The price point was fairly modest, though everyone was bragging that Seattle dealer Greg Kucera had sold a small bronze sculpture of a horse by Deborah Butterfield for $28,000.

Dealer Cliff Benjamin of Western Project in Culver City had brought a large portrait of a boxer’s fearless visage by San Antonio painter Vince Valdez (b. 1977), who recently showed a suite of paintings of a boxer in an allegorical Stations of the Cross at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio. At Acuna-Hansen Gallery, which was opened five years ago in L.A.’s Chinatown art district by Chris Acuna-Hansen and Blair Sands Hansen, were several striking color photographs by the 27-year-old Mexican-American photographer Misty Cervantes. Somehow, her pictures of family and friends, either posing with predictable gravitas or camping it up a bit for the camera -- one shows a couple "pretending to be rich" -- welcomes the barrio into the art market in just the right way. They’re $1,200 in editions of ten.

Peter Doig at Windsor
Windsor is a kind of winter community for retired millionaires, located on a barrier island near Vero Beach, Fla., where golf carts are the preferred mode of transport. Founded by Galen and Hilary Weston (he is the billionaire owner of the London department store Selfridges & Co., among other things), the community sponsors an art exhibition each year, and flies in art critics to take a look. This year, the exhibition is "Peter Doig: Works on Paper," organized by Kadee Robbins, which debuted last fall at the Dallas Museum of Art and is due to appear next spring at the Art Gallery of Ontario. In the meantime it is at the Gallery at Windsor, Dec. 4, 2005, through March 2006, a suite of rooms on the second floor of the Windsor clubhouse. Windsor underwrote the cost of the show.

Doig was born in Edinburgh but grew up in Trinidad and Canada before going to art school in London; he now lives in Trinidad with his wife and four daughters, where he organizes weekly movie showings, among other things (an exhibition of some 100 movie posters he painted is now touring Europe). The Windsor show features 50 paintings on paper, many suggestive of the Caribbean, the Canadian wilderness or 19th-century London. Doig’s images often have an exotic, otherworldly air, but like a latter day Matisse, Doig augments what can be indifferent subjects through his subtle sense of color and line.

In an interview conducted in the Windsor chapel by Canadian curator Kitty Scott, Doig noted that he began his art-making after a stint as a costume designer. In the context of the highly polished 1980s fabrications of Jeff Koons, Doig said, he turned to a deliberately folksy style. "That’s what excited me." He noted that he often returns to the same image over and over. "There are only so many things you want to make a painting about," he said. An audience member asked Doig what he planned for the future. "I’m trying to get more primal," he said with a laugh. "Trying to paint more directly the things I’m seeing an a day-to-day basis, and rely more on my own ‘bad drawing’."

The Miami Design District
Among the fab things on view in Miami’s downtown Design District, which is just north of Wynwood and which has a more highly developed section of furniture stores and restaurants, was an installation by high-end art-furniture maestro Ron Arad. Dubbed Paved with Good Intentions and installed in the storefront of the Collins Building at 139 NE 39th Street, the work featured 69 unique, kidney-shaped, highly polished stainless steel tables that sprawl across the floor and up the wall of the space, like ice floes in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The installation was presented by Barry Friedman Ltd.

Another Design District exhibition, called "Trapped by Mutual Affection," was sponsored by Galerie Christian Nagel. Nagel explained that several years ago, he was approached by some Chilean artists, who declared that they liked his gallery program and wanted to show with him. Three of the artists had work on view here: Felipe Mujica whose large abstractions are on plywood panels; Diego Fernández, who makes paintings from newspaper images; and Johanna Unzueta, whose small "Industrial Sculptures" of hand-sewn felt -- lighthouses, factories, grain elevators, windmills -- are priced at $2,000-$5,000.

Also on hand in the Design District was artist Mark Kostabi, who put on a performance for the crowd on Saturday evening, Dec. 3, 2005. For three hours, Kostabi played the piano while three of his assistants worked at portable easels on Kostabi paintings.

And Vanessa Beecroft
Meanwhile, back in Miami Beach, Vanessa Beecroft staged a rather disturbing photo shoot one evening in Collins Park, where, in front of a scant crowd, she had 15 young Haitian girls dressed in formal black-and-white maids’ costumes sit in an open-walled model home (actually, it was something called the "push button house," designed to fit into a shipping crate). The young women looked uncertain and perhaps embarrassed -- working as a maid is one thing, being made a spectacle of is another. In any case, the work seemed like a profoundly political, very real demonstration of class and race in America, bringing a heightened social consciousness to a body of work that often has seemed more deliciously decadent that not.


WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.