Miami's Big Moment in the Arts Hits the Screen

A pair of filmmakers kicks off a series of home movies with the Wet Heat Project.

Since moving here from New York City in 1996, Bill Bilowit and Grela Orihuela have had front-row seats to the art brushfire that has engulfed this town.

"Art is the currency of Miami now," Orihuela says.

"It's become a global nexus where art has found a comfortable home," Bilowit pipes in. "We've noticed that at every strata, from the bottom to the top, people are enthusiastic about the development of the art scene, and that it has helped open the world's eyes to the city itself."

Bert Rodriguez gets paid.
Bert Rodriguez gets paid.
Hernan Bas, an elusive trade.
Hernan Bas, an elusive trade.

Bilowit is a director and writer whose credits include working on George Romero's Creepshow and B horror cult classics including C.H.U.D. and Sleepaway Camp. Orihuela produced concerts for legendary rock impresario Bill Graham and later worked as an executive producer for Telemundo.

A few years ago, they returned to their roots and started Tareco Pictures in Miami, producing music videos and indie films such as Round Trip, shot in Miami and Tokyo and featuring a cast of local artists, musicians, actors, and even a gallerist.

Their newest venture, Wet Heat, offers an insightful take on a critical moment for our city and the cultural engine driving it. "The overall concept of the project is to produce documentary content about the historically amazing Miami art scene, and the rise of this place at this moment to achieve its new identity as a global art destination," explains Bilowit.

For Wet Heat, the duo is producing a seven-part documentary series called Miami Artists Now, targeted at PBS, arts cable network broadcasts, and screenings for museums, arts organizations, and schools. They plan on screening the project during this year's Art Basel confab in December.

"For us, it was a no-brainer," Orihuela says. "Bill sees the world through a lens, and I produce. If we take a moment to reflect, in one way or another, this is what we've been doing since we were kids."

The arts confluence unfolding on their doorstep and the opportunity to chronicle living history is the Ariadne's thread that binds these films.

"Each edition is an in-depth, cinema verité, behind-the-scenes profile of a Miami-based artist at a milestone moment in their career," Bilowit states.

They just wrapped filming locals Bert Rodriguez and Hernan Bas. The hour-long documentaries are in production; excerpts can be viewed online.

The documentaries shadow the artists in their studios and at art openings and fairs, and feature interviews with dealers, collectors, critics, and high-art honchos, conveying the subject's development as well as telling the story of Miami's dramatic upswing.

"The style is more experiential than didactic. More like a Maysles brothers documentary than Ken Burns," Bilowit says.

They chose an impromptu and informal approach to filming that allows viewers to make their own connections with the artists rather than being spoon-fed the theory behind their work.

The results have been amazingly candid, Orihuela says. "For the Hernan Bas documentary, we were able to get all these people to talk about the art market and how it affects an artist during the early stages of their career."

Among those filmed for the piece are Bas's Miami, New York, and London dealers; Vanity Fair and ARTNews contributor Barbara Pollack; and artist Ross Bleckner, who experienced an equally meteoric rise early in his career. Bleckner remains the youngest artist ever to have a solo show at the Guggenheim.

"We didn't choose to interview Bleckner because he was the 'it boy' back then and Hernan might be considered so now," Bilowit says. "Bleckner didn't even speak about his past but rather chose to focus on Hernan and the social aspect of his work now — that was the beauty of it."

Bas's Miami dealer, Fredric Snitzer, reflects on the secondary market and how at auctions the artist's work often sells for up to five times more than what it goes for in his gallery shows. What drives these prices is basic economics: Demand exceeds production. Snitzer says he has close to 200 collectors on a waiting list for Bas's work.

ARTNews's Pollack, who calls Bas "the genuine article," concurs. "I hate it when people act as if the artist has done something scurrilous and that's why they have these high prices," she says in the interview. "There's no big manipulation beyond people's desire for the work."

She agrees that the high prices are due to the scarcity of Bas's work. Unlike "Jeff Koons or Murakami," who have armies of assistants churning out work from "factories," Bas does not. "The fact that he makes his own work is more and more a rarity now."

Orihuela and Bilowit decided on the 30-year-old Bas as a subject because of his impressive 10-year survey on display at the Rubell Family Collection, which opened during last year's Basel and marks a milestone in his career.

Bilowit and Orihuela themselves were early Bas supporters and bought a suite of his 2001 watercolor-on-paper works priced from $500 to $1,500 at the time, "before the Basel marching band came to town," says Bilowit.

The intimate, evocative pieces depict Boy Scouts at a campground and reflect awkward moments of male bonding and budding sexual awareness.

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