With Art Basel Miami Beach holding a steady flame, the city’s art landscape is burgeoning, as galleries double down, institutions open up and a host of new ambitious development plans are in the works. Brian Noone reports from the global art world’s hottest city
“Miami is the most real city in the United States,” says gallerist Nina Johnson from her whitewashed office, where canvases lean against the wall waiting to be hung. “It is so closely connected to the way the rest of the world lives – more similar to most major cities in the Third World than to most major cities in the US.”
It’s hard to disagree with the home-grown gallerist as we walk through her new four-building compound, set amid the ramshackle homes of Little Haiti, a neighbourhood that another local gallerist says many of his clients would be “scared to walk in when it got dark”. Perhaps because of this, Johnson’s property is entered through a large white electronic gate, enabling an “intimate experience”, she says, in a space that has “more of a Miami vernacular than a warehouse”. And indeed, the echoes of Rio and Istanbul are much louder than those of Manhattan and London.
Geographically, too, Miami is more south than north, perched on a curved crest of south Florida that is closer to Havana than New York. It is a place where the the gaudy and the serious, sit side-by-side, where glamour obsession pairs unashamedly with bootstrapping ambition.
But where the metropolises of the geographic south have artistic landscapes that are largely driven by grassroots movements, Miami’s art scene has been distinctively top-down for decades. Call it trickle down art.
Retrograde? Yes. But not ridiculous – and if you had to design a city where art could flourish, Miami would be hard to beat, a tropical melting pot of genuine rough edges, cross-cultural connections and exceptional wealth.
The attitude across the city is universally hopeful: collectors, curators, gallerists and artists are all focused and the (inevitably prosperous) future, and the coming years should be very bright for the city, as long as the past does, in some sense, repeat itself.
Miami’s citywide art consciousness had barely begun when Art Basel selected it for its first satellite fair, Art Basel Miami Beach, in 2001. The fair was initially announced for December that year, but the attacks of 11 September made transporting art impossible, so those who came to the city went instead to the private homes of the de la Cruzes and the Rubells, collectors who opened their doors to showcase new acquisitions in what became the first of many such parties that have come to define the week-long event.
The two families’ collections are now both, in part, on public display: the de la Cruz Collection (delacruzcollection.org) sits on the outskirts of the Design District, while the Rubell Family Collection (rfc.museum) appears in themed exhibitions in an expansive Wynwood warehouse that once belonged to the Drug Enforcement Agency. The so-called Miami Model, where public institutions arise entirely from private collections, has many more such examples embedded along the coast: the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse (margulieswarehouse.com), also in Wynwood; the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (cifo.org) in Downtown; and the Bass Museum (thebass.org), which will reopen on Collins Avenue in South Beach in spring 2017 after a $12m renovation, comprise the principal privately endowed but publically accessible contemporary art collections.
The most significant institution of this kind, however, may not yet be built: the Nader Latin American Art Museum (garynader.com) will dwarf the dealer-cum-collector Gary Nader’s 5,110sq m gallery space in Wynwood, if it’s ever completed. The $900m facility is planned for Miami-Dade College and will, in Nader’s words, “be the Latin American cultural centre point of reference for the world”. Funding details and building permits are still in question – it was originally slated to open this year – but his enthusiasm is typical of Miami and of its attitude toward Latin American art, which is fast becoming the city’s calling card. As Nader said to NBC News last year: “I strongly believe the story of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Botero, Mata, Lam, Tamayo – the great ones – is untold.”
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When Art Basel Miami Beach finally arrived for good, in December 2002, the art-buying public embraced it as few anticipated. The city came with so little baggage – and so many opportunities for indulgence – that some patrons would come for art and find fun, while others would come for fun and find art.
“Along with attracting galleries, collectors, curators, arts professionals and art lovers from around the world,” says Noah Horowitz, the Art Basel director of the Americas, “the show has also attracted interest from the broader creative sectors. The active cross-pollination between the worlds of art, design, fashion, film and luxury has led to an even more diverse audience.”
Basel has spawned some 20 satellite fairs, which take place simultaneously, and it is these satellites that form the main link between Basel and the local galleries, so that while most gallerists call it “Basel Week”, they aren’t taking part in any of the headlining South Beach glamour themselves: they are in Art Miami, Pulse, Context, Red Dot, Ink or X, among many other well-attended but lesser-known events.
Just two Miami galleries are the on the roster for the 2016 edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, a list that includes 269 galleries from 29 countries. The galleries present a tale in the changing panorama of the city: both Frederic Snitzer (snitzer.org), the city’s most prominent contemporary gallerist, and burgeoning David Castillo (davidcastillogallery.com) moved their showrooms in 2014 from Wynwood to, respectively, the high rises of Downtown and the glamour of Miami Beach, and both specialise in contemporary art that is more often international than local.
They are at the fore of a stark transition for Wynwood, which is fast transforming from an edgy warehouse district into a hipster mecca. “The area has improved a whole lot in terms of the kind of businesses,” says Andrés Michelena of KaBe Contemporary (kabecontemporary.com). “That’s good: it brings people to the area. But it also operates in the opposite way – it raises rents and that makes it difficult for galleries to stay here.” Kerry McLaney, an artist and gallerist who has been coming to area for the last 17 years, puts it more starkly: “It used to be Wynwood Art District, and now it’s turning into Wynwood Retail District.”
At its peak, Wynwood was home to more than 70 galleries, a graffiti-laden working-class district that embodied the freewheeling atmosphere of the city. Now, the area is down to around 25 galleries, though many of the long-time stalwarts, including the one-of-a-kind Wynwood Walls (thewynwoodwalls.com), aim to remain. “We’re trying to stay here,” says Aliona Ortega, who notes recent strong sales at her gallery Waltman Ortega Fine Art (waltmanortega.com), which also has a space in Paris.
The biggest news in Wynwood these days comes from a developer: New York-based Moishe Mana has bought more than 16 hectares of land in Wynwood since 2009 and has recently had construction plans approved for more than 80,000sq m of business, residential and retail space. He is aiming keep the neighbourhood’s artistic vibe intact, but as two gallerists said under cover of anonymity: “these developments mean we will have to leave”.
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The prime destination for ex-Wynwood galleries at the moment is Little Haiti, and Nina Johnson is proud that her compound is at the vanguard. “A lot of people here feel that to be a viable cultural community you have to mimic what we see in other cities,” she says. “Which is going to a neighbourhood and walking around to the various galleries. This city doesn’t work that way for anything: there are very few places that you just park your car and walk around. You drive to the destinations that interest you – it’s like LA that way. It felt to me like an artificial coming together in Wynwood, and as we’ve matured culturally we recognised that everyone has to do what’s best for them.”
Little Haiti has been welcoming so far to longtime Miami gallery Emerson Dorsch (dorschgallery.com), newcomer And Gallery (andgallery.net) and Pan American Art Projects (panamericanart.com), which now has two spaces in Little Haiti, replacing its solitary storefront in Wynwood. “We’re optimistic,” says Pan American president Robert Borlenghi. “We have an excellent base of collectors who know that we do good work,” which includes running trips to Cuba to visit artists in situ, now more popular than ever with the easing of political tensions between the US and Cuba.
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For all the energy of the gallerists, however, it may be that the museums are the biggest draw for art enthusiasts in the 51 non-Basel weeks each year. The extraordinary $200m Herzog and De Meuron-designed PAMM, Pérez Art Museum Miami (pamm.org), is the Downtown hub for art, while the Design District is welcoming the newly located Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (icamiami.org) early next year, an institution that diverged from the also impressive Museum of Contemproary Art North Miami (mocanomi.org). The Faena Forum (faena.com/faena-forum) will give Miami Beach its most prominent art space, opening this year just in time for Art Basel.
The only thing missing are the artists. This lack was thrown into sharp focus in the spring and summer, when PAMM displayed a temporary exhibition of remarkable works by Michele Oka Doner, “How I Caught a Swallow in Midair”. The joy of being able to proclaim that, yes, Oka Doner is a native Miami artist – she was raised on Miami Beach! – was immediately followed by the awkward explanation that Oka Doner actually lived in New York and that the septuagenarian artist hadn’t been a Miami resident since 1963.
Similar stories trail other prominent Miami-bred artists, including Teresita Fernández, another New York resident and winner of the MacArthur “genius” grant, and Bert Rodriguez, who moved to Los Angeles a few years ago in search of increased exposure for his installations and performance art pieces. It’s not that Miami can’t produce artists; it’s that those artists haven’t been given enough reason to stay around while they develop.
The rapidly progressing infrastructure is starting to change that, as local patrons become more aesthetically up to date, and the international exposure brought by Basel has led to a steady influx of artists coming from both north and south – an antidote, perhaps, to all those years of exodus.
In this city of extraordinary transformations, it is, one hopes, only a matter of time before the creative class joins the rest of the city, making Miami a global force in the art world from top to bottom.
In a city that’s been defined by its hotels for decades, the offerings have never been better – and not just on the beach
The biggest news – literally and figuratively – is the arrival of the Faena District, a once down-at-heel six-block stretch of Mid-Beach that has been reimagined by Argentinean Alan Faena, who did much the same for a similarly sized parcel of Buenos Aires. When complete next year, it will house residences, an art centre, a shopping hub and the incomparable Faena Hotel Miami Beach (faena.com/miami-beach), which opened last December in an Art Deco structure reimagined with Latin drama, highlighted by the cathedral-like frescoed entry. Elsewhere on the beach, the Nobu Hotel at Eden Roc (nobuedenroc.com) introduces the Japanese brand to the city, while the always buzzing W South Beach (wsouthbeach.com) has just revamped a handful of its high-rise minimalist suites and burnished its impressive collection of contemporary art. The stunning W Miami (wmiamihotel.com) doubles down on the city, opening in June burgeoning Brickell, on the mainland. It’s joined there by newcomers East, Miami (east-miami.com), the first property outside Asia for modish hotelier East, the Langford (landforthotelmiami.com), a Beaux Arts beauty, and the whitewashed ME Miami (melia.com), which continues the Meliá global expansion to extraordinary effect and proves that the Brickell-Downtown corridor is fast approaching the beach in style, a trend that is set to continue with the completion of Miami Worldcenter (miamiworldcenter.com), a new 12.1ha high-rise district, in 2018.
A MOVEABLE FEAST
Mixing Latin and North American staple with inflections from Europe and Asia, the Miami dining scene is on fire
New American fare has arrived in the Magic City with a bang: chef Brad Kilgore, named one of Food & Wine magazine’s best new chefs of 2016, started hip spot Alter (altermiami.com) in Wynwood, joining his seasonal menus with a pared down industrial vibe. He has most recently opened Brava (arshtcenter.org) at the Adrienne Arscht arts centre, where culture vultures can get a taste of dishes like lamb ribeye with black garlic, dried apricot and icewine jus on performance days. For a more intimate experience, NAOE (naoemiami.com) offers only a chef’s choice sushi menu at the eight-seat Brickell Key-space, a longtime local favourite. Another locals’ choice is Yardbird (runchickenrun.com), which serves up some of the country’s best fried chicken; chef Jeff McInnis who founded the restaurant before moving to NYC, has returned with partner Janine Booth to open Sarsaparilla Club (sarsaparillaclub.com) pairing dim sum and Asian flavours with classic Americana to novel effect. Two South American restaurants are upping the ante at two new hotels, offering perhaps the most entertaining experiences, alongside their flavourable dishes: both Quinto de la Huella (quintolahuella.com) at East, Miami and Los Fuegos by Francis Mallmann (faena.com) at Faena cook entirely with wood fire without letting the backcountry smokehouse style overwhelm the delicacy of the dishes. Similarly southern in inspiration, local legend Cindy Hutson has opened Zest (zestmiami.com), where an easygoing heartfelt Caribbean vibe can be felt both in the atmosphere and in dishes such as pan-roasted cobia with coconut-scotch risotto, mango mostarda and cucumber salad. For more casual bites, try Coyo Taco (coyo-taco.com) in Wynwood or the mind-bending textures and flavours of Pubbelly Sushi’s latest PB Station (pbstation.com) in the Langford or Paulie Gee’s Miami (pauliegee.com), the first Miami outpost of the hip Brooklyn pizzeria.
THE LATE LATE SHOW
The beach may be beautiful, but most Miami action happens at night; herewith a handful of the top hotspots
Below the Edition on Miami Beach, there’s a 300-person dance floor, bowling alley and a deliciously cool ice rink. basementmiami.com
Bunbury Wine Bar
The vintage vibe is a great place to start the night, buzzing with Wynwood scenesters and serving up top tipples. 2200 NE 2nd Ave
Rooftop at the Langford, the creative cocktails impress as much as the cosmopolitan crowd. langfordhotelmiami.com
The 1980s live on in this new neighbourhood bar just inland from North Beach, a throwback dripping with style. theandersonmiami.com
The Broken Shaker
A year-round star with the see-and-be-seen set sprawled in the open-plan back garden, centred on a neon blue pool. thefreehand.com/miami
A MINUTE WITH DAVID CASTILLO
How has your move from Wynwood to Miami Beach changed things?
The difference is remarkable. After over 10 years in Wynwood, that neighborhood attracted large crowds, and still does I imagine. We used to have around 200 people at any opening but not one buyer, as buyers tended to come later after the show opened, precisely to avoid the crowds. Now, we get maybe 70 people at every opening at the gallery on Miami Beach, and always three to four sales at the opening.
As more galleries are leaving Wynwood, how will it affect the Miami art landscape?
The migration of galleries is normal and Miami specifically has always had a gallery scene that is spread out. I think it’s a positive thing for many different communities to be able to engage with art.
Where do you go to unwind?
I love the café at PAMM, great food with Biscayne Bay as the backdrop. My favorite restaurant in Miami is NIU Kitchen downtown near my home and my favorite bar is The Corner, also downtown.
One of just two local gallerists to be selected for Art Basel Miami Beach 2016, Castillo moved his gallery from Wynwood to Miami Beach two years ago and is widely considered the brightest young star in the Miami art world. davidcastillogallery.com