Miami’s critical mass
Why the city’s art market remains small despite leading Miami-based collectors and Art Basel Miami Beach
By Charlotte Burns. From Art Basel Miami Beach daily edition
Published online: 02 December 2011
If you want to know where the world’s most dynamic art centres are then take a flick through this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach catalogue. Galleries from New York, London and Berlin are a significant presence, while dealers from Latin America and Los Angeles make strong showings, and others have travelled from Tokyo or Helsinki. Noticeably thin on the ground are Miami dealers: of more than 260 galleries taking part, only three are local: Fredric Snitzer (L4), David Castillo (N16) and Charest-Weinberg (N19).
The decade-old fair has powered its way to the top of the international circuit by importing the best material, the top dealers and the world’s biggest buyers for one week each year. In contrast, the city’s own commercial scene retains a reputation for being largely regional and relatively unfocused on contemporary art.
Miami’s major collectors, not its galleries, have been the fair’s not-so-secret weapons. A handful of leading patrons traditionally stage major exhibitions to coincide with the fair, which helps generate a buzz. “We’ve been very much part of the scene from the beginning. People love seeing art installed in our home,” says Rosa de la Cruz. Together with her husband Carlos, she has opened her house to the public for the past 20 years. They also launched the privately funded De La Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space in December 2009 in Miami’s Design District, which attracts diverse audiences.
Other collectors include Don and Mera Rubell, who opened the Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Arts Foundation in a 45,000 sq. ft warehouse in 1993. Their latest exhibition, which opened on 30 November, focuses on contemporary American art. Property developer Marty Margulies first opened his collection to the public in 1999 at the Warehouse, which now comprises 45,000 sq. ft in the Wynwood Arts District, where patrons Debra and Dennis Scholl also opened their collection, World Class Boxing, in 2004. Collector Ella Fontanals-Cisneros established the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation in 2002 and real estate developer Craig Robins is planning to open a private museum in 2012, housed in a 20,000 sq. ft Design District block.
Such activity, combined with the attention the fair brings, might be expected to ignite major commercial enterprises to match. Not so, says local gallerist Fredric Snitzer. “We depend a lot on the five or six really strong collectors here, but that is not enough. The hope that the fair would turn the corner for us in terms of having a community of maybe ten terrific world-class galleries is not happening,” says Snitzer, whose gallery is one of the few long-standing and well-respected spaces in Miami.
Emmanuel Perrotin was one prominent international dealer to test the water, opening a Miami gallery in 2004. Snitzer says Perrotin’s decision to shut the space just after the global economic crisis in 2010 is “one of the big disappointments”. Dealers say there is little incentive to open in a place where the population is largely seasonal. “Galleries here during the year are almost empty. People don’t come through like in New York—there just aren’t [the] people,” says Miami resident and collector Aldo Rubino [he is in conversation with artist Carlos Cruz-Diez this week as part of Art Salon, 3 December, 5pm]. Even the collectors permanently based in Miami fly constantly to attend art events: “I travel out of Miami at least once a month to New York or Europe,” says Margulies.
Miami’s proximity to Manhattan is also relevant. “The big collectors are in New York all the time, they like to come and see what’s happening,” says Ales Ortuzar of David Zwirner gallery. Collector Debra Scholl concedes that while Miami’s commercial scene “has got bigger and has some great galleries, on the whole it is just too close to New York”.
But this is not unusual—in most cities the major collectors travel to develop relationships with the best galleries and artists nationally and internationally. It is usually the levels of collectors underneath who emerge, and who sustain and develop local markets—and these new collectors can take years to develop. This is a process that is happening gradually in Miami.
“There is a problem locally in terms of supporting high quality or challenging pieces [outside of the city’s major collectors],” says Snitzer. “If you dropped the best possible material into Oklahoma for five days, the community could see it for that time—but it does not mean they would demand it year-round.” The same could be said of most American cities, says Brett Gorvy, the chairman and international head of Christie’s post-war and contemporary art department. “There are various pockets of amazing collecting across the country but it is generally concentrated in the hands of four or five major players in each city aside from LA and New York. In Chicago, there are probably no more than 15 mega-collectors.”
While demand may yet have to reach a mass level, Miami’s reputation for developing artists is also slowly beginning to build. While the city has produced talented artists, it is generally held outside the city that it has failed to keep them or to attract new talent. This could just be snobbery: others point out that respected artists like Mark Handforth and Jim Drain live here, among others. Margulies adds that “the only all year round activity comes from the local artists and some of it is good.” Rosa de la Cruz, who dedicates a project room to Miami artists, says: “A lot is happening in studios and places that are not necessarily commercial. There is good art in Miami but it’s shown in a more casual way. It will change, but it takes time.”
New galleries are opening, says Bonnie Clearwater, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (MoCA). “Two large, serious galleries recently opened near MoCA where there is inexpensive warehouse space [Bridge Red Studios and Dezer Schaulhalle]. This is a good sign,” she says. Bridge Red is not primarily concerned with commercial success, says Robert Thiele, who co-founded the space: “We tend to work with artists who either don’t want to sell their work or whose pieces are difficult. It’s not our main focus.”
Meanwhile, although the New World School of the Arts is a top-ranked high school, Miami needs a graduate school to encourage more teachers and artists into the area. Los Angeles stands as a good counterpoint: famous first for its art schools and artists producing challenging work, the museums and market gradually followed. “For decades, LA collectors felt that New York galleries sent their seconds to LA, even when that wasn’t the case,” says art adviser Allan Schwartzman. “This only shifted in recent years as more and more collectors developed an awareness that some of the most important artists of recent decades were formed in, and chose to live in, LA.” Miami-born adviser Lisa Schiff agrees: “If the MFA programmes improve and the art community [in Miami] grows, it might give rise to a commercial scene similar to the one LA has slowly achieved.”
Equally important are the public and private museums, which, as they develop, will help foster recognition for Miami’s artists as well as galvanise local support for the arts. Of the public museums, Clearwater has popular backing and is leading MoCA towards a $12.5m upgrade by 2014. The Miami Art Museum has had a rockier path. Nonetheless, building work is under way on its new space, scheduled to open in 2013, a $220m project. Such institutional growth is “the next step”, says Schiff. She adds that while Miami’s commercial scene “might not seem dynamic, it’s 100% more so than it was in the 1970s. It will get there—it just might take another 20 years.”
Perhaps times have changed, though, and galleries themselves are less vital—as was concluded in a report produced by the dealers federation Cinoa (Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d’Art) earlier this year. “Art fairs themselves are eroding the gallery scene everywhere,” says Jeff Rabin of art advisers Artvest Partners. David Maupin of Lehmann Maupin gallery (K15) agrees: “The collecting public travels more than ever. It’s mathematical—there is a correlation between the increase in art fairs and decrease in the number of smaller galleries in cities other than London or New York. I don’t need to open a gallery in Miami because the people I see there during the fair I also see at the other major art events.”
The greater danger is that Miami’s future focus could shift away from art to gambling, should a state bill proposing three casino resorts in the Miami-Dade county be passed. The convention centre, home to the fair, would be the best venue, according to art buyer and Las Vegas businessman Steve Wynn. He is in favour of the project and says that Miami is the “greatest site for a destination resort in the United States”, according to the Miami Herald. Local gallerists disagree. The casinos would attract “a lot of people who are not necessarily culturally minded,” says Snitzer, adding: “They would put a huge thorn in the side of things, just when culture is going along nicely and there is a real interest in aspiring for more. That message will change if the casinos come in.”
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