Miami on the Move

March 15th, 2014

Record attendance figures at Design Miami and a brand – new art museum by Herzog & de Meuron: How has a city once left for dead become a laboratory for cutting-edge design?

Miami wasn’t on the global design radar until 2005, when a fledging area called the Design District hosted Design Miami, a fair initiated to attract collectors. These days, the show – now held in a tent that borders Art Basel – draws dozens of galleries and, on opening day, nore than 7000 visitors . Meanwhile, the District is becoming home to nearly every luxuary brand imaginable – 50 new residenrs are expected in 2014 and another 60 in 2015 – while the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) has reopened in a waterfront building by Herzog & de Meuron.

Before that, it was all hotels and high-rises. In the 1990s, developers and creatives form New York City and other urban areas rediscovered Miami’s Art Deco and mid-century architecture, as well as its tropical climate, affordable real estate and proximity to Latin America. In 1994 Philippe Starck redesigned the Delano Hotel, built in Miami Beach in 1947, setting a new standard for the area. Eight years later, the launch of Art Basel Miami Beach added a soon-to-explode market for contemporary art to the mix. After all, what gallerist wouldn’t want to do business in South Florida during the balmy days of December?

How is Miami transforming itsef into a design hotspot? Dan Rubinstein asked five influential residents for their views on the subject.

Gallery Diet is a local institution. Can it make a name for itself within the international scene?

Nina Johnson: We’re a contemporary art gallery that focuses primarily on emerging artists. But my main drive – and what I find interesting about bieng in Miami, as opposed to a more mainstream city – is that we’re allowed to play with our programme in a way that wouldn’t be possible elsewhere. For example, during Art Basel we showed the work of Betty Woodman, whom we’ve represented for a couple of years now. She’s an 83-year-old ceramist who’s as established as it gets. We don’t feel the need to pigeonhole the gallery in a city that can be so flexible.

How does the life of a Miami gallerist compare with that of a gallerist in another city?

It’s definitely not easy. It can be frustrating when I visit coleagues in other cities. For all the great things we have in Miami that makes it easier for us, there are so many things that make it harder. One of the main differences is that we have to build our audience. Even though I’ve worked at other galleries, I don’t have a single collector with whom I worked at a different gallery and brought with me to my own space. We had to start from scratch, and in many instances to begin with collectors who were starting from scratch themselves. On top of the role of gallerist, you take on the role of educator, consultant, and everything in between. That’s been the simultaneous challenge and joy.

Was the need to build a local audience what led you to start the Miami Rail?

The major argument for starting it was that all these changes were happenig in Miami and there was no way to record them. Our general press does a great job of reaching audiences in Miami that haven’t been exposed to culture. But there’s nowhere for artists to go to after an exhibition and ask: Was it good? Was it bad? What was the feedback? Where’s a record of this actualy happening?

Are there still opportunities for art and design in Miami? Has the city peaked?

I think whenever Miami has a building boom – which seems to be starting again – there’s space for creative people and for art, design and architecture to be part of that space. Design is something that particularly interests me, and we’ve started to incorporate it into our programme. It’s the one area where I still see a lack of sophistication, collector base and interest. When you go into collectors’ homes, you rarely see great design. You still see showroom – like furnished and traditional interior design.

What are your thoughts on home-grown Miami-first attitude?

I think my generation is the first to adopt it. I’m at the younger end of the scale – I just turned 29 – but my husband and I are part of the Core Creatives at PAMM, which is a junior capital campaign group. I see the group as the future patronage in Miami. Most of us either grew up here, live here full time, or have serious financial ties to the city. Although we can’t give 40-million donations yet, we have the kind of passion that’s needed to convince those who can donate $40 million that this is where they should put it.

What’s it like for a creative to live in Miami year-round?

It’s fabulous. Every person I bring to Miami – whether they’re from New York, London or Dallas – wants to look at houses after spending a week here. When we drive through the neighborhoods, I often hear remarks like: A house like that for $300,000? I encourage people who come for the fair to return and do weird things, even is just for three days. Don’t stay in a hotel. Rent a crazy house. Ask people like me where you should go and what you should see. I think you’ll find a very different, very dynamic Miami.

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