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End of an Era: Edge Zones Closes Its Wynwood Gallery

Edge Zones' recently closed Wynwood space
Edge Zones' recently closed Wynwood space

As we enter 2012, things will feel different in the Wynwood Arts District. Most things will look the same, but there will be one establishment in particular we'll miss. The nonprofit Edge Zones on NE 25th recently announced the end of its run as a gallery.

The Edge Zones entity itself is not going anywhere, though. Opened in 2003, Edge Zones was created to support ideas, people, and projects -- not to be held to the constraints of a single building or space. Founded by artist Charo Oquet, Edge Zones had a mission to foster artistic ties between Miami and the Caribbean. Times are tough for gallery owners, and the economic market has an increasing chokehold on their success, but that's not stopping Edge Zones from staying true to its initial purpose -- to help artists, both locally and abroad, in the development of their careers.

We spoke with director and interdisciplinary artist Charo Oquet for a look at its past as a forward-thinking gallery and its bright future as an international exchange project.

Edge Zones founder Charo Oquet
Edge Zones founder Charo Oquet

New Times: Why is the space closing?

Charo Oquet: We basically just evaluated the current economic circumstances and what

it was exactly we were doing in Wynwood. We tried to rethink our

strategy in compliance with what would best serve our mission, and we

just didn't feel that it was what we should be doing anymore. We had a

good run and a great location, but at the same time, the way Wynwood is

developing and the direction it's going in, I think it's turned into

something that in a sense we didn't feel so much a part of.

Has the popularity gained by Art Basel and the Wynwood art community influenced this other direction you're looking to go in?

To a certain degree, yes. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not criticizing the

popularity it's gained. I think it's a good thing that art has become so

popular and that a lot of people are enjoying it and exposing themselves

to it. At the same time, I don't think it can sustain the amount of

galleries that are currently there. I think the kind of work that we're

representing is not necessarily kind of "fun" -- it's more for period art

lovers and people who really are interested in what's going on, rather

than just the party.

Although this whole party scene has been really

good for the populists, I do think it's been really negative for the

true collectors. Our audience is not even necessarily true collectors,

but people who are really interested in art in terms of what's going on

with current art and the development of it. If you're not into the party

scene, then you're sort of left out, and I think our audience has shrunk

because of it.

We also weren't really satisfied. I, myself, felt under

the pressure and in need of a small break from the gallery life in order

to rethink where we should really be working and what other areas in

Miami we could help develop their art community.

What would you say were Edge Zones' greatest accomplishments?

The creation of a platform that took risks at the time that

it did, and to actually fuel the development of Wynwood. When we were

there, we had this enormous, three-story building, and because we had this

incredible space, we were able to do very large installations, have huge

bands and huge crowds. It was fun, it was open, we were able to take

risks because we weren't necessarily paying rent, and things were just

different at the time.

Also, one of the important aspects of our mission

was to link with the Caribbean communities around us, and we succeeded

thanks to international exchange projects that we plan to continue as an

organization. We were also among the first to make prints in Miami, and

with artists that weren't necessarily well known. We started printing in

2005 through 2008. After us, Gean Moreno also started doing the print

thing, but we can say that were the first to start that.

We were also

always very community-centric. Everyone pitched in and helped each other,

whether it was by putting something together or making food. Because of

our democratic nature, we were able to help a lot of artists launch

their careers, and not only nationally, but internationally as well. I

can name a whole lot of people [for whom] we were very influential in the

development of their work internationally, and I think we set off a lot

of the international projects. When we all started to go to art fairs

around 2004, there weren't really that many people going to Art Basel or

going to art crawls -- we were actually in the forefront of that, and we

actually participated in them, not just as a vessel.

We've also helped

launch the careers of many international artists. We did a parallel

exhibition that brought a lot of people to the Dominican Republic. We've

helped these artists from small island nations such as the Dominican

Republic participate alongside top-tier American artists, and introduced

them to a whole different network of people they would have otherwise

never had the opportunity to [meet]. We've always had the vision of looking

beyond the United States and in other directions -- from hosting art fairs

in Puerto Rico to taking our artists to El Salvador to giving them an

exhibition space at Zones. We were also one of the first ones to

actually start a local art fair concurrent with Art Basel that actually

competed against it. As small as it was, it was still an art fair that

used to be on everyone's calendar, and it was local and about local

artists.

What's next now for Edge Zones as an organization?

We're all about development, and we're looking for other areas that we

can develop. We are going to take a slight sabbatical to really assess

what's needed and what's next. We're asking ourselves what it is Miami

is lacking right now, where can we become agents of activating something

new, and in order to do that, you have to sort of lay low and just listen.

If you're moving all the time, or sitting in a gallery, you don't have

the opportunity to see what's going on.

Right now, it's really important

for us to see how we can expand into neighborhoods that are not as

popular, such as Allapattah, or even coming back to Miami Beach where the

art scene is kind of dried-out to a certain degree. I mean, we will

continue with our international exchange project, and perhaps be more

flexible, and take art where an art scene is not the norm. It's all about

finding a new location and new venues. I think it's a really exciting

and creative time for contemplation and a motive to grow.

Aside from your future endeavors with the Edge Zones organization,

what's next for you as an artist? Are there any new projects you have in

the works?

I'm also going to be taking a small sabbatical. I'm an artist, and I have

been trying to activate my career a lot too. We were doing so much

before that it slowly started taking away from my own work. I don't even

know myself what it is I'm really going to do. I do know what I don't

want to do, and it's basically to not continue in the path we were going

in and under my leadership. I've been looking for other people to take

over, and it's been difficult because we're not a very wealthy

organization. Times are tough right now and there's not a lot of money,

so people are not willing to put in a lot of time and work for free. I

feel like I've really worked hard and thrown in a lot of my own energy,

but I'm not saying that I'm over, I just feel that I need to replenish.

I

think Art Basel has been really great for Miami in so many ways, but I

think that because of it, we've also sort of lost our innocence. The game

has changed dramatically because you're dealing with the top art

business in the world -- you have the most important dealers and the most

important galleries and auction houses, and everybody just shows up here

once a year. This has all affected us in a big way. We have all had to

quickly catch up to that level, whether we wanted to or not. Not

everybody necessarily wants to be at that level, and not everybody

necessarily wants to be a part of that whole machinery, but it seems

like regardless of whether or not we want to, it's still omnipresent. As

an artist, you don't always want to see the business side of art because

it will affect you in negative ways. This whole game is played by big

boys and big international names, and who are we? We're just, to a

certain degree, little pumpkins compared to them. Art Basel has been a

good thing for Miami, but it wasn't particularly good for us. We saw a

lot of people, but they weren't buying. The whole year is sort of

reduced to four days, so you have to evaluate what is you're doing. It's

sort of scary, but you have to think fast and decide whether or not you

want to get on that bandwagon and where it is you stand amongst everyone

else.

--Vanessa Martin

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