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D.C. is home to a fair number of contemporary art collectors, but sometimes, D.C. galleries have to go to Florida to find them.
At last week’s Miami art fairs, several local galleries found a new audience—-and new prospective buyers—-for the artists they represent. “In Miami, we’re showing stuff that, when we showed it in D.C., everyone loved, but was too chickenshit to buy,” one D.C. gallerist told me. Another said she sees more D.C.-based collectors in Miami than she does back home. The market surrounding Art Basel Miami Beach each year is an essential point in some galleries’ financial strategies, both to take advantage of international exposure and to present D.C. art in a fresh context that might make collectors and curators take notice.
“You get to see, in the six days of this, more D.C. collectors, more museum curators than in 10 years in D.C,” says Lenny Campello, a D.C. new-media artist who showed his work with the D.C.-area Alida Anderson Art Projects at the Context art fair in Miami. “This is the big dance for the art world.” Campello has been coming to Miami for six years and has shown his work at Context for the past two. Last year, he says, the gallery sold 20 large pieces of work and has sold some to celebrities, including Rachel Maddow, Burt Reynolds, and Lucy Liu.
The gallery also showed work from Audrey Wilson, a sculptor who works at the Washington Glass School. Wilson says just being in Miami puts her work on an international platform, exposing her to galleries and collectors she otherwise would never have met. “Just getting the opportunity to be here is important,” she says. “Seeing people’s interest in your work, and building off that.”
Andrea Pollan of Curator’s Office has been exhibiting at Miami fairs since 2005; this year, she set up shop at Context. Most of the galleries at Context, Pollan’s noticed, take an inventory approach to their booths, piling together a wall full of their artists’ greatest hits without regard for cohesion or message. A curator as much as a gallerist, Pollan took a different tack. “I wanted to do a booth that made a statement, that was a little more political,” she says.
In her booth at Context, Pollan showed a collection of works by local photographer Larry Cook and Jefferson Pinder, a visual and performance artist from Maryland who now teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Cook’s photos play with common perceptions of black masculinity, the subject of much nationwide soul-searching in recent months—-but Pollan says she and the artists had already chosen the works when conversations about racism and police violence began to get heightened attention in mainstream media. “It’s all synchronicity in terms of what’s going on this week,” Pollan says, referencing nationwide protests over the non-indictments of the police officers who killed Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York. Cook’s images of black men striking cocky poses in graduation regalia, in particular, recall the “If They Gunned Me Down” Twitter campaign that’s called attention to the media representation of the black victims or perpetrators of crimes. Another set of Cook’s photos, a triptych, shows three Americans standing in red, white, and blue: members, respectively, of the Bloods, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Crips (top). Pinder’s pieces on view included a multi-textured, adorned straitjacket and fencing mask he wore during a performance piece,”The Magical Negro,” that deconstructed the tired trope of mystical blacks who help whites with their otherworldly strength and knowledge.
Connersmith has operated booths at Miami fairs (first Scope, then Pulse, and now Art Miami) since 2002. “It’s amazing how many Washingtonians we see in Miami,” says gallerist Jamie Smith. “Washington has such a strong cultural core here.”
The gallery showed the work of two D.C. artists—-Erik Thor Sandberg and Sheldon Scott—-in addition to pieces by Patricia Cronin, Leo Villareal, and Barry X Ball, whose nickel, copper, and gold God-as-robot sculpture got a nod in the Huffington Post’s best-of preview of Art Miami. Sandberg, who’s been represented by Connersmith for several years, brought a handful of magical realist paintings, including the appealingly rosy diptych “Matter of Taste” (above) and the sensual, dream-like “Flow” (below).
Scott, a recent addition to the gallery’s roster, showed a selection of photographic self-portraits, as well as “Eeny Meeny Miny Mo” (below), a neon piece featuring Brazil nuts that he’d brought to the basement level of the (e)merge art fair in October.
Though D.C. artists made a formidable showing in both quantity and quality at the Miami fairs this year, it’s still a small enough community that they can—-and do—-share resources and support. Pollan says she sends collectors who show interest in Curator’s Office to check out the other D.C.-area booths, too. In Miami, it seems, a rising awareness of the D.C. art landscape could ramp up returns for everyone. “D.C. always struggles from being overshadowed by New York,” says Pollan. “Being here shows the world that D.C. artists are of equal caliber as anywhere else.”
Additional reporting by Perry Stein