Fearless Art Lovers Trekked by Boat to Half Gallery’s Pop-Up in a House on Stilts in Biscayne Bay. It Was Worth It
The exclusive painting event was held 1.5 miles offshore at one of the historic Stiltsville homes.
As the rain came pouring down, the future of our trip to Stiltsville seemed very much in doubt.
This year marked the second time that Half Gallery had hosted the exclusive, one-day-only Miami Art Week pop-up. However, the torrential storm made the trek to the site—an open-walled wooden shack surrounded on all sides by the water—seem less than ideal.
The wind was so strong it took our catamaran 40 minutes to make its final approach to the site, and we all had to clamber onto motor boat shuttles when it became clear docking was impossible. But just as we touched down at the ramshackle home on stilts, the sun finally broke through the clouds.
It was stunningly beautiful, the light illuminating the jewel-like tones of paintings by the likes of Vaughn Spann, Umar Rashid, and Hiba Schahbaz, to name just a few of the 33 artists featured in the show.
“You finally made it!” said Bill Powers, the gallery’s owner, greeting us with a delighted grin.
Powers and much of his team has already been at the house for hours, with boats filled with collectors, the artists, and their loved ones, plus a motley crew of assorted art-world personages leaving from the tip of South Beach at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1:15 p.m.
That last boat that almost didn’t make the trip at all, taking off an hour behind schedule once the rain stopped, and not returning until after nightfall.
Despite soggy shoes and frizzy hair for those of us caught in the rain, spirits were high throughout the day, and it all became a bonding experience among friendly strangers with a shared love of painting. The catamaran was huge and beautiful, with a charming crew, a fully stocked open bar, and upbeat tunes piped through the sound system—plus, we were going to see art at one of Miami’s most special destinations.
Stiltsville, a historic sea village in Biscayne National Park that was also a former nightlife hot spot for the rich and famous, had been an object of curiosity to Powers for years.
“I was like ‘wow, someone should do a party out there!'” Powers said, comparing the event to the one-day affairs that Gagogian has thrown at Casa Malaparte on the island of Capri. “Stiltsville is like an American Malaparte.”
He was able to realize his vision by connecting with Chris Knight, the caretaker (and former owner) of the Bay Chateau, one of six surviving Stiltsville homes, and Kevin Mase, president of Stiltsville Trust.
“I love having art out here,” Knight told Artnet News. “It fits Stiltsville, which is kind of its own permanent sculpture.”
The exhibition, which Powers curated with Erin Goldberger, already seems poised to become a fixture of the Miami art calendar, offering a relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of the crowded fairs. (Relaxing—as long as you could stop worrying about getting back in time to do anything else within a four-to-six hour time frame!)
Many of the guests stripped down to their bathing suits to go for a dip. There were even artist-designed pool floats by Asif Hoque to swim with—although one of these blew away during the storm.
By the time the third boat arrived, many of the works had already sold. Mega-collectors Don and Mera Rubell had claimed Acrobat by Maud Madsen, while celebrities Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel had nabbed Samantha Joy Groff’s eerie self-portrait cradling a deer’s head. (Neither couple attended in person.)
“One of Justin and Jessica’s homes is in Montana, which would be a cool place to have a nature painting,” Goldberger told Artnet News. “In my head, it’s on a wooden wall next to a pine tree.”
Groff draws most of her inspiration from her upbringing in rural Pennsylvania, and her father’s family, who are strict adherents to the Mennonite faith.
“When I paint my cousins who wear the bonnet and the dress, people think they’re historical paintings,” she told Artnet News. “But the last 10 years with iPhones and computers, they are allowing a lot more things in the community. Growing up, my cousins were not allowed to be photographed.”
Groff’s relations on her mother’s side (who aren’t Mennonite) showed up in full force at Stiltsville, with no less than 10 of them flying from across the country to catch her appearance in the one-day show, turning the party into something of a family affair.
“This is how we roll,” Groff’s mom, Suzy Truax, told Artnet News of the impressively supportive clan, who were among the day’s approximately 130 guests.
The Stiltsville show offered a nice mix of artists, including both mainstays of the Half stable and figures the gallery hopes to work with more in the future.
“It’s a warming up of certain artists to our clients,” Goldberger said.
If you weren’t among the lucky few to snag a seat on the Stiltsville boat, you can relive the experience in the work of Daniel Heidkamp, whose contribution to this year’s show was a painting immortalizing last year’s edition. Titled Stiltsville, the vibrant canvas depicts the teal house with artworks on its walls at sunset, a red and orange sky ablaze behind it.
“This is a historic group show, so I wanted to make the first painting of that subject matter,” Heidkamp told Artnet News. “And Stiltsville is a national park, but I don’t think other artists have painted it, so it’s all mine.”
The artist had already started working on next year’s version of the delightfully meta piece dedicated to the current show even before it began, working off the checklist ahead of time to know what works to include. Was it cheating to paint the event before it occurred?
“There’s no cheating in painting,” Heidkamp insisted, “because it’s hard as fuck!”
See more photos from the event below.
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