November/December 2003

more feature articles:

Nude Orleans
From Bellocq to Bourbon Street
by Phil Oppenheim

The Best of Miami

If You Know Where to Look

by Joel Weinstein

The arrival in Miami of a suave, well-off event like Art Basel (scheduled this year for December 4ų7) never fails to get the local art scene hyperventilating. Otherwise lordly collectors haul out their best stuff and throw open doors that, most days, are firmly bolted. Galleries and museums work themselves into a months-long frenzy calculating which baubles will draw the visiting pooh-bahs. If Miami had a bosom, it would be positively heaving with the notion that they have eyes for us. Rarely does anyone suspect that south Florida‚s palmy climate and raucous club scene, rather than its artistic excellence, entice the black-clad crowds from their frosty lairs up north and abroad.

Nathan Carter, The Border Patrol will never let us across in this state∑Let‚s stop and have another 1664, 2003, plywood, wire, ink, vinyl, acrylic paint, 9 by 6 feet (courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York).

Yet Miami has juicy artistic bones to chew. In addition to a cadre of hard-working artists, there is a surprising array of small exhibition spaces, the best of which are consistently inventive and resilient.

The programming at the artist-run Locust Projects seems to be driven by the twin imperatives of „seat-of-the-pantsš and „no commercial potential.š When this combination works, the gallery is a true innovator, offering artists at the height of their powers considerable wall space to work out whatever is itching them. A year-and-a-half ago, the Locusts gave their gallery over to Miamian Rubén Torres Llorca. Torres Llorca, ordinarily a painter and arranger of found objects, used snapshots of failed artworks in his studio to create a visual gag about an artist wasting time, which gave way to a dark refrain of alienation and willful misunderstanding.

Rumor is that the Locust‚s co-directors, the excitable Gean Moreno (a Contributing Editor of Art Papers) and the rather more impassive Weston Charles, hash out their schedule at a bar called The One-Eyed Cat. Charles started Locust Projects with artists Elizabeth Withstandley and the one-named Cooper in 1998. Looking for studio and exhibition space for their projects, the three former Pratt students rented a building in a desolate, crackhouse-infested warehouse area north of downtown Miami. Moreno eventually replaced Withstandley as Cooper reduced his involvement and gentrification crept into the neighborhood..

Nathan Carter, The Border Patrol will never let us across in this state∑Let‚s stop and have another 1664, 2003, plywood, wire, ink, vinyl, acrylic paint, 9 by 6 feet (courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York).


Locust Projects has evolved into Miami‚s most reliable site for conceptual mayhem by artists from around the worldųfrom New York painter Jesse Bransford to the Italian collective Stalkerųthanks partly to the directors‚ ingenuity but also due to some unaccustomed alternative-gallery planning. The Locusts have installed a board of directorsųlocal collectors, legal eagles and, naturally for Miami, a fashion modelųand gotten non-profit status, allowing themselves a vigorous fundraising program and a schedule of panels, raves and other events tied to their exhibitions.

By contrast, you would expect a commercially-minded enterprise like Kevin Bruk Gallery to be nose-to-the-grindstone, and owner Bruk does like to buy and sell artworks signed by big, big names. He so adores mentioning Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha that he has earned a reputation as something of a loudmouth. Many local artists also dislike his apparent unwillingness to gamble more than occasionally on homegrown talent. However, Bruk shows significant new work by contemporary young artists from New York, L.A. and Tokyo (among other places) who Miamians otherwise would see rarely.

Bruk, thirty-four, has collected art since he was seventeen. He developed an appreciation for what he calls „hard-edged abstraction and extensions of the landscapeš exemplified by Rothko, early Stella and Diebenkorn, and he likes to exhibit masters of the form, such as Ruscha, younger practitioners like Odili Donald Odita, and purveyors of gooier, sometimes technologically enhanced permutations, like Fabian Marcaccio.

ARF 117 -- Alexander Ross, untitled, 2002, oil on canvas, 48 by 46 inches (courtesy Kevin Bruk Gallery).

He directed contemporary art galleries in New York and San Francisco in the mid-nineties before launching his Miami gallery late in 2000 with a show of Peter Halley paintings. Within a few months he had to find a smaller place. „I opened up with big shows in a big space, which put me under a microscope,š he says wistfully. „I didn‚t get to evolve.š

Now nearing his third year, there is no doubt that Bruk is evolving. He remains annoyed by Miami‚s provincialism, especially the way local collectors revel in buying elsewhere. But whereas a couple of years ago he seemed perpetually overwrought by such behavior, he has begun to savor his role as a vital link to the greater world.

It would be difficult to find in Miami someone stylistically as different from Kevin Bruk as the director of the Centro Cultural Español (CCE), the courtly Guillermo Basso. Yet Bruk, Basso and the Locusts all see themselves as filling a unique need in Miami‚s art world.

For Basso this role means having an exhibition space that is neither gallery nor museum, but part of a larger enterprise dedicated to a lovely fantasy he calls „cultural cooperation between Spain and Iboamerica.š In a city where casually cruel ethnic humor passes for party chitchat, this idea might seem feeble. Yet Basso‚s CCE has produced some of Miami‚s strongest exhibitions. Last spring‚s „The Parallax Effect,š curated by Miamian Elizabeth Cerejido, featured six Cuban-born photographers, three who still live on the island and three residing in the U.S., and it would have been troublesome, if not impossible, to place this exhibition anywhere else in this fractious city.

The CCE was established in 1996, and Basso assumed his post in 2001. Visual art has long been the biggest part of a program that also includes film, poetry, plays, concerts and lectures. The events often relate to the exhibitions, and even when they don‚t, the shows form a prominent backdrop to the center‚s activities.

In the beginning, Basso says, the crowd was older and predominantly Cuban. He jokes that at an early opening the biggest part of the crowd „ate the ham, drank the wine, complained and went home.š During his tenure he has included younger, more contemporary artists and diversified the CCE‚s audience. Basso also would like to bring fewer pre-packaged exhibitions from Spainųthough these are often quite good, including a survey of contemporary Spanish designųand have more exhibitions that originate in Miami.

For a recent, locally-organized show of works on paper by Latin American-born artists, the CCE drew one of its biggest, most boisterous opening-night crowds and got a nice spread in the city‚s Spanish-language daily, El Nuevo Herald. Basso, like the Locusts and Kevin Bruk, thrives by taking chances with his scheduling. This attitude takes the long view and favors the ephemeral satisfaction of community-mindedness over the rather too eager-beaver, self-aggrandizing exertions that characterize much of what happens in Miami, especially at Art Basel time. This is a good sign for the city, and if it impresses December‚s visiting hordes, so much the better.

During Art Basel, Locust Projects (105 NW 23rd St, 305-576-8570) will show new work by Nathan Carter and the video Gentlemen by Nick Ralph and Oliver Payne. Kevin Bruk Gallery (3900 B NE 1st Ave, 305-576-2000) will exhibit new work by Alex Ross. Centro Cultural Español (800 Douglas Rd #170, 305-448-9677) will feature a video of Spain‚s entry in the Venice Biennial.

JOEL WEINSTEIN writes from Miami.


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