Picture me in Miami
Long famed for sun, sea and OAPs, Miami is gaining a name as a vibrant centre for contemporary art. Morgan Falconer explores a city reinventing itself.
Coming from Britain, I always thought that the private homes of private collectors were, well, private. Charles Saatchi may throw open a portion of his collection for public perusal, but you can bet that he’ll never let you into his home. I had heard much of the generous openness of Miami’s collectors, but I never realised that I’d be able to land in Miami, make a couple of calls and find myself at the door of one of the most important collectors in the United States. I’m not greeted by a maid, but by Rosa de la Cruz herself, who leads me through a house laden with sufficient material for about five strong solo exhibitions. This is as good a primer as any for Art Basel Miami Beach, one of the world’s most glamorous art fairs.
De la Cruz’s house is devoted to art — paintings, sculptures and installations arranged by artists flown in especially for the purpose. She showed me some of the most recent paintings by the newest names, such as Kelley Walker, and works purchased from shows in London and elsewhere in Europe. (You can tour her house online at tinyurl.com/yc6n3r.) We went into the dining room to see an installation by Christian Holstad which involved a woolly, tentacled gas mask construction (left). Upstairs, we looked at Assume Vivid Astro Focus, a fantastical scene blending nightclub, skating rink and video installation. But de la Cruz’s thirst is not quenched, so she will certainly be visiting the fifth Art Basel Miami Beach fair. It’s the powerful offspring of the important Art Basel, and 200 of the world’s most significant galleries will be coming to the Convention Centre for it.
Like many of her neighbours, de la Cruz doesn’t just collect fine art, she collects design as well (two sets of Frank Gehry furniture made of steamed and twisted wood sit near her french windows). And to cater for that hunger the second Design Miami fair is being held this week. It’s an event that gives space to 18 of the world’s leading modern design galleries. It’s a serious business — the Pompidou Centre in Paris has brought some of its design collection to exhibit in a satellite venue. But serious or not, shoppers will also relax: I understand that one does business in the morning, lounges on the beach in the afternoon, and come nightfall one gallivants with abandon around the faded Art Deco splendour of the nearby poolside bars and restaurants that line the nearby Collins Avenue.
Miami Basel has come to be seen as a catalyst and symbol for widespread changes in the area as a whole. In the 1980s the city was dilapidated, poor and famous only for druglords, pensioners and vulgarity. Although it remains one of the poorest cities in the US, parts of it are starting to show a fabulous revival. One sign of this is the Setai, the new towering beach-front development recently created by a chain of luxury hotels in Asia and the Far East.
One of the most significant figures in Miami is Craig Robins, the 42-year-old property developer and art collector who is largely responsible for the revival of the city’s design district. He says that the marriage of Art Basel and Miami Beach makes a lot of sense. “What you’ve got here is the best and most serious art fairs in the world occurring in one of the places that is also the most fun. It’s the combination of a deep cultural substance with a really vibrant city.”
What undoubtedly lured the Basel organisers to this new location, however, is the wealth and accessibility of the private collections in the city. The Wynwood district, for instance, may be a rundown mélange of light industry, housing and cheap shops, but it is home to world-class art: one warehouse encloses the Rubell Collection, a massive trove amassed by Don Rubell (brother of the Studio 54 co-founder Steve) and his wife Mera; another houses one part of the collection of Marty Margulies, a real-estate potentate with a gargantuan appetite for sculpture and photography. Other prominent collectors sit on the boards of the city’s public museums, Miami Art Central and the Museum of Modern Art North Miami.
It wasn’t until a significant generation of Cuban exiles arrived in the 1990s, bringing figures such as José Bedia, that Miami’s art scene began to come alive. The prominence of the collectors and the arrival of new galleries is persuading artists to stay.
One could put all this new activity down to Art Basel, but the renaissance probably predates it. As Robins says: “I started my business in South Beach, a place for film, music and fashion. Maybe it didn’t have substance, but it was perhaps the only place in the world where everything was about style. Maybe it was less sophisticated, but it has always advocated creativity and individuality.”