Master of All He Surveys

Kingpin dealer stakes grand claim on the hood

On one of Wynwood's grittier side streets, a towering Fernando Botero sculpture of a nude male torso squats majestically behind a gated sidewalk, its crotch covered by a fig leaf the width of a hubcap.

Considered a masterpiece by many, the blubbery bronze Adonis, trumpeting the arrival of kingpin dealer Gary Nader's Colección Gary Nader into the suddenly buzzing hood, slows lunchtime traffic to a crawl.

I'm standing outside the eponymously named art impresario's new headquarters that house his $100-million inventory, a place he calls "the biggest art gallery in the world," situated on a strip where curb zombies still hold sway.

Gary Nader boasts one of the most remarkable art collections in the area
Jonathan Postal
Gary Nader boasts one of the most remarkable art collections in the area

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Ongoing. 305-576-0256
62 NE 27th St, Miami

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A large-scale John Henry steal-beam piece, painted red, juts diagonally from the far wall across the gallery's entrance. The shadow it casts gives the impression of a sundial splitting the parking lot where Nader's spiffy sable Rolls-Royce Phantom bakes in the early afternoon heat.

As one enters the 50,000-square-foot space, the first impression is of a sprawling Hialeah factory commandeered for an ambitious modern and contemporary art fire sale. A staggering cache of Pablo Atchugarry's marbles, along with Mark di Suvero and John Henry pieces, litters the area. Two dozen large paintings and more than twenty bronze and marble sculptures by Botero, featuring his trademark cholesterol-clogged figures, choke the room.

"I have the largest collection of Boteros for sale anywhere," Nader informs as he leads me to his office to point out the prize Matisse gracing the wall opposite the dealer's computer — a 1920 oil-on-canvas still life titled Deux Pêches that depicts a pair of peaches on a plate atop a table, a gem valued at $3.5 million.

Once inside his office, I spy yet another Botero, a rare marble equine figure in the half-million-dollar range sitting on his desk. As I look at a Yoshitomo Nara painting of a small girl, Nader fields a phone call from a collector whom he claims to be helping broker the sale of a Botticelli, a renaissance masterpiece the dealer later informs me is one of a few privately held in the world.

"It's a painting of a Madonna and child, and I might have a buyer for $17 million," he says, leaving one wondering whether a Nader domestic has been sprinkling flimflam dust into his breakfast birdseed.

As we embark on the grand tour, the gloating dealer hyperventilates over the $12 million he raked in during his humdinger preopening reception a few weeks earlier. He mentions the sale of a couple of bronzes by Joan Miró and another by Henry Moore, a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, and a monumental canvas by Chile's master surrealist Roberto Matta.

Walking through the modern masters section, one of several capacious galleries his mammoth space lodges, the dealer waves at a Frank Stella sculpture in a nearby corner and a trove of Amelia Pelaez, Cundo Bermudez, Mario Carreño, and Wifredo Lam paintings on a far wall. "Tell me, where else are you going to see a collection like this?" he triumphantly declares.

Acres of contrasting styles and clashing colors are splashed on soaring raw cinder-block walls. Works by Carlos Capelán, Julio Galán, Carlos Quintana, Guillermo Kuitca, Rufino Tamayo, José Bedia, Manuel Mendive, Albert Oehlen, Sigmar Polke, Anselm Kiefer, Martin Kippenberger, Robert Rauschenberg — the art world's elite are draped everywhere.

Trying to keep stride with the fast-talking dynamo as he escorts me to a spectacular Matta mural, I can't help being impressed by the nearly 2000 works Nader has amassed. The Matta, a 1968 work titled Watchman, What of the Night?, is the size of a tractor-trailer and until recently belonged to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The piece appears to depict a pig-iron foundry with multiarmed factory workers toiling at an assembly line under the steely watch of jackbooted guards. Swirls of billowing smoke and fiery orange sparks fill the air while what might be giant turbine engines drone ominously, suggesting an indictment of capitalism.

"It was a mistake for [the Met] to sell a painting like that and probably just to end up buying the work of lesser artists with the money," Nader cracks. He resold it to a private collector for more than a million dollars.

A kaleidoscopic Stella oil-on-canvas painting dated 1968, rendered in pastels and the size of a garage door, hangs nearby. The gallerist informs he is negotiating with the artist for a solo show next year.

A rare Kippenberger latex wall sculpture, of a bathtub with an arm sticking out, displayed on the opposite side of the room is worth $700,000, the dealer explains. A flashy Basquiat costing more than a million dollars rests on a nail around the corner.

Stunned by the whopping price tags of his stock, I ask Nader what type of collector is buttering his bread, and he responds that most of the top-ranked local and international names give him preferred status in their Rolodexes.

"The top fifteen local collectors all come to me; some are in here every other day. I've sold to Prince Charles and Saudi royalty. All the big collectors from Latin America, Europe, and Asia buy from me."

Nader is also quick to add that the heavy-hitting art-dealing powerhouse Nahmad family, known for its London and New York warehouses packed with Impressionist and modern work, has been sniffing at his heels.

"Helly Nahmad's New York gallery contacted me after hearing I sold the Mirós, and expressed interest in doing a show of his paintings and sculptures here. Think about it — who else could they call?"

Jolted by the brash dealer's unabashed self-promotion and choice to base his operation in the sketchy fringe of the neighborhood, I ask Nader why he took the plunge in Wynwood.

"I have been shopping around here since the Rubells and Marty Margulies opened up their collections but had to wait for the right time for a large enough building. I had a very successful opening. I think more people come through this space than the Coral Gables gallery all last year. I may cater to a different, more sophisticated, international crowd than others here, but these people follow my eyes, my taste, my advice because of my 30 years in the business."

Although the bulk of the work Nader traffics in is from the secondary market, one of the artists the gallery represents, Brazilian Walter Goldfarb, catches the eye.

An untitled charcoal, fire-action, and embroidered canvas tondo depicts a scene straight out of Dante's inferno, where the drawn and quartered remains of a man are being roasted on a spit. Several nude male and female figures devour bits of his flesh as the victim's bearded head plops into the sputtering flames. A young savage fans furiously to keep the fire alive.

Gefilte Fish Recipe for las Meninas and the Granddaughter of the Inquisition on a Starry Easter Night is another startling example of Goldfarb's powerful work in a suite of many that alone merit a visit.

In a room dedicated to contemporary photography and photo-realistic paintings, several works stand out, including pieces by Andreas Gursky and Shirin Neshat.

A large Thomas Ruff C-print shows the blurred images of three nude sailors on leave engaged in a rollicking ménage à trois.

Robinson, a dramatic oil-on-canvas painting by Guillermo Muñoz Vera, reveals a ham-jowled couch potato swilling a liter of soda and crunching on a bag of chips as a blindfolded hostage slumps before a terrorist cradling an AK-47 on television.

After several hours at the gallery, one feels like a return visit is necessary to absorb the scope of Nader's holdings.

Laying a manicured paw on my shoulder, he tells me not only will he soon inaugurate a video room but also dedicate 15,000 square feet of space for traveling museum shows, as well as feature an outdoor sculpture garden.

It's clear Gary Nader houses some of the most remarkable art in the area. It's also evident that the showboat charmer is the most priceless piece of work in his lucrative collection.

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