Cuban Artists and Street Art Thrive at Art Wynwood
There's more to Miami than Basel.
The only time I’d ever been to Miami was for Art Basel in Miami Beach, a week-long onslaught of parties, art openings, and satellite fairs more broadly known as Miami Art Week.
There is, however, another entry on the city’s art calendar, thanks to art fair impresario Nick Korniloff, who founded the annual Art Wynwood, held each year on Presidents’ Day weekend, in 2012.
“Welcome to a simmered down version of Miami,” Dmitry Prut, owner of Miami’s Avant Gallery told artnet News at the fair’s VIP preview on February 16. Although the international appeal isn’t quite the same, a lot of out of town visitors come in for the concurrent Boat Show, he noted, and “some of them do like art.”
The gallery was showing a series of playful chimpanzee sculptures by Chie Hitotsuyama, arranged as though the animals had run amok in an art gallery, with one fellow swinging from the rafters of the Art Wynwood tent.
Crafted from rolled strips of wet newspaper, “they all have incredible, lifelike personalities,” said Prut. The lightweight works started at $9,000, and topped out at $18,000 for a large piece depicting a gorilla holding her child.
The consensus among dealers seemed to be that while Basel is the most significant time of the year, Art Wynwood is a close second. “There’s a big chunk of collectors who aren’t here in February,” admitted Bill Pugsley of Vertu Fine Art, Boca Raton, but on the plus side, “there are no competing fairs.”
Among his offerings was a new edition of a three panel Alex Katz metal plate, titled Ariel (Black and White) priced at $30,000.
What sets Art Wynwood apart from the rest of the art fair circuit is its focus on street art, which grew out of the Wynwood Walls, an outdoor street art gallery founded in 2009 by real estate developer Tony Goldman (who died in September 2012) and gallerist Jeffrey Deitch.
It was the first fair Korniloff founded after purchasing Art Miami, the city’s oldest fair; his art fair empire now features nine separate properties. “There were just a few people working from home a few years ago, and there’s an office with 12 people,” recalled Grela Orihuela, the fair’s director. “It happened quickly.”
One stalwart of the Art Miami stable is Cleveland’s Contessa Gallery, which owner Steven Hartman told artnet News is the only exhibitor to have appeared at every edition of every fair week run by Korniloff.
In addition to a massive new Mr. Brainwash work, a pastiche of brightly-colored visual cliches on a canvas predictably made to resemble a graffitied store front, the gallery was also showcasing a young street artist who calls himself Hijack. A large canvas titled Nothing Is Given to You depicted the artist removing a segment in his own mural, literally cut away from the canvas, in an apparent commentary on the commodification of street art.
“Imagine a graffiti artist doing the Berlin Wall and taking it right off the wall,” said Hartman of the $70,000 piece, noting that Hijack is already being sought out “by big collectors.” He was coy about the sales details, but said that he had already moved five works.
“There’s a really good blend of what you might call street art, lowbrow art, urban contemporary—mixed with some blue-chip stuff,” noted first-time fair-goer and famous street artist Shepard Fairey, who is being honored with this year’s Art Wynwood Tony Goldman Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award.
A selection of his work was being shown by New York’s Jacob Lewis Gallery, including three 2015 works featuring stylized portraits of Muslim women. They’re from a series titled “Universal Personhood,” a clear thematic predecessor to his iconic “We the People” posters, created in protest of the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
Just a few booths down, the higher-end sector of the fair was on display at Miami’s Cernuda Fine Arts, with a blend of Modern masters and contemporary work by Cuban artists.
Owner Ramon Cernuda cited a “revived market” following eased relations between Cuba and the US, and had already sold three $20,000 works, two by Miguel Florido and one 1950 canvas by Jose Mijares, each for $20,000.
The showstopper at the booth was a large-scale work by Wifredo Lam, Sin Titulo (Suenos Arcabes) (1955), for sale following the resolution of a repatriation dispute settled out of court this summer. The canvas was priced at $4 million.
Among the showier works on view was a collaboration between Czechoslovakian artist Juro Kralik and his countrywoman, tennis great Martina Navratilova, that reflects the fair’s playful spirit.
“This is the one that everybody likes,” said gallery owner Gloria Porcella, pointing to a textured reddish-brown canvas, inspired by the clay courts of the French Open, marked with Navratilova’s footprints.
For other works, Kralik set down the canvas and dipped tennis balls in paint, giving Navratilova a chance to work on her game. “It’s a collaboration,” he told us, “between an artist and a sportsman.”
Though the duo won’t be performing live until Saturday, there was one collaboration taking place in front of fair-goers’ eyes, as Trey Speegle invited visitors to fill in a massive one of his paintings inspired by vintage paint-by-number kits, at a booth presented by online art retailer Twyla.
It’s titled What Kind of World Do You Want (And What Will You Do to Get It?), Speegle’s personal reflection on the outcome of the 2016 election, of which, he admitted, “I imagined a very different result!”
As the colors are filled in, certain sections will remain white, revealing a message that can be interpreted both as inditement of Trump’s victory and a call to action for those unhappy with the result. The piece is his challenge to viewers to commit to doing at least one thing: “Give $50 to the ACLU and that’s cool!”
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