For many visitors to Art Basel in Miami Beach, south Florida is an exotic destination in its own right, but Bill Powers, the founder of New York- and Los Angeles-based Half Gallery, has been searching for a truly unique locale to stage an offsite show during the fair week. Then he found the ideal place—offshore.
Today, a mix of nautical and holiday-themed works by artists including Richard Prince, Vaughn Spann, Andrea Joyce Heimer, Emma Stern and Mark Grotjahn are being displayed in a one-day exhibition in Stiltsville—an erstwhile nautical community built on pylons in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Around 45 minutes by boat from downtown Miami, the settlement flourished between the 1930s and 1970s. It boasted 27 structures in the 1960s, some operating as private clubs and, allegedly, playing host to illegal gambling and other unsavoury activities. Over the decades, most were destroyed by hurricanes. Now, only six remain, which are part of Biscayne National Park.
“The problem with a lot of art fairs and the art world in general is that if it only lives in a convention centre or a square box, it’s not that exciting,” Powers says. “I never thought it was possible to actually do a show like this, then a friend of mine who lives down here figured out how to get in touch with one of Stiltsville’s custodians.”
In a city so fundamentally shaped by water—and at such existential risk from climate change and sea-level rise—the watery site is especially apt. “They don’t have the Colosseum in Miami, they don’t have Roman ruins,” Powers says, “but they have Stiltsville, so why not activate it?”