Relief for frazzled nerves, hypertension, stress, and other ailments might be as close as a Walgreens, but at two Miami Beach stores you don't have to comb the shelves to find it.
The Windows at Walgreens public art project, organized by ArtCenter/South Florida, is playing an unheralded role in helping customers at the 74th Street and Collins Avenue store as well as the Lincoln Road and Collins Avenue location stay healthy not to mention pacifying some souls in the process.
The notion that shoppers can decompress and unplug by viewing the works of artists such as Alekxey Sabido, Diane Hanson, and Pablo Constriciani might have stemmed from studies that suggest art is therapeutically beneficial for all kinds of illnesses.
Swedish researcher Britt-Maj Wikstroem of the Ersta Skoendal University College in Stockholm has been examining the effects of art in different settings since the Eighties. Over a period of four months this past summer, Wikstroem observed twenty elderly women viewing and discussing art. Results show that members of the group experienced various medicinal benefits from the stimulating cultural exercise.
"Their attitudes became more positive, more creative, their blood pressure went in the right direction ... and they used fewer laxatives," reports Wikstroem. "It's all about using art in a structured way."
The novel alliance between the retail chain founded in 1937 and ArtCenter is providing local artists with not only a unique venue for exposure but also an unlikely opportunity to interact with a pedestrian public, says ArtCenter curator Claire Breukel.
"Our 46 artists in residence show at both Walgreens in rotating exhibits throughout the year," says Breukel, adding that those involved in the project have sold quite a bit of work.
Others seem to share the idea that working and living surrounded by art is a positive way to break away from the rat race, while some have opted to set up their art businesses in off-the-beaten-path environments where they believe a cozier venue helps seal the deal.
Miami orthodontist Arturo Mosquera converted a house on SW 87th Street into a dental office. In a popular project he calls "Art@Work," he organizes four exhibits each year, showing the works of top locals, including Glexis Novoa, Liz Cerejido, Eugenia Vargas, Jorge Pantoja, and Edouard Duval-Carrié.
"My wife and I started collecting in 1989 and experienced a powerful transformation living with the art in our home," mentions Mosquera. "I wanted to share what we felt with my patients and started bringing art from my collection to the office and then began organizing exhibits a few years ago."
Mosquera laughs when I relate the story about the backed-up biddies grooving from a culture fix, but agrees with the research findings and swears that engaging with art is a powerful tonic, mentioning that his patients enjoy exposure to the works when receiving treatment, and art has helped him combat stress.
"I can give you personal testimony that the last couple of years being surrounded by art at home and at work have lowered my stress levels," Mosquera affirms.
Ramon Williams's digital prints are currently on display at the dental practice, and the artist's epic movie, Open Mongo Napoleon, is screening in the doctor's lobby through December.
Wynwood pioneer Brook Dorsch ran an alternative mom-and-pop operation from the living room of his modest Coral Way apartment for nearly a decade. He walled up the windows of his space above an old drug store, cleared out the furniture, and converted it into a gallery to give all of those suffering from indigestion due to a souring Gables scene the opportunity to fill their prescriptions for a funky art experience.
His kitchen pulled double duty as a bar, and the joint was a favorite haunt for art lovers during most of the Nineties.
"I was the gringo anchoring Cuban Memorial Boulevard," Dorsch quips. "We had over 50 shows at the place."
Nowadays he owns a spot in Wynwood but occasionally features exhibits in the gallery's neighboring building a former crack house he also owns including two wildly popular shows, David Rohn's "Le Chateau del Pueblo" and Julie Lara Kahn's "Crack House."
"This is not a new concept," explains A.J. Japour, a former professor and AIDS researcher at Harvard Medical School who now runs an Internet art business and often exhibits work at his chichi pad at the Murano Grande in South Beach. "People sold work from their homes in the 1900s until galleries began cropping up later."
A few years ago Japour went on sabbatical, during which he was gunning for a post with the Bush administration and basically waiting for his phone to ring. He took a relaxing cross-country road trip, stopping at museums and galleries along the way, when he caught the art flu.
"I had an epiphany and felt like I wanted to promote artists but I didn't want to open a commercial space," he says.
Instead, from his 33rd-floor crystal palace, Japour curates four shows a year under the banner Art with a View. His next exhibit, "Cosmic Oasis," opens December 2 and will feature the work of glass sculptor Henry Richardson. Japour says he'll be hosting an exclusive hoity-toity soiree for Washington, D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery during Art Basel.
One can't help being amazed how the greenhorn impresario swung that deal. Maybe he pledged at the same frat as a Corcoran bigwig, or some of the Capitol's yokels found themselves hyperventilating over Japour's magisterial view of Biscayne Bay.
"I didn't know much about what I was doing at first but felt strongly about giving back, so I organized many of these events to support charities that benefit children. I feel very seriously about what I'm doing and have invested a lot into my art business," he intones.
Setting up shop where the action is motivated Lenny Tachmes to close his North Miami gallery and convert a two-story Twenties home on the corner of NW 39th Street and Second Avenue into an alternative art space with living quarters upstairs.
"The house was perfect for me. I was tired of paying rent and wanted to invest in property and be near Wynwood," Tachmes says. "Also, it was close to my plastic surgery practice at the Four Seasons."
Tachmes sunk $40,000 into retro-fitting the first floor into a three-room gallery, covering the windows with sheet rock, installing lighting, hooking up a spiffy sound system, and treating his public to a topnotch commode. He preserved the home's original plaster crown molding and the fireplace tricked out with Spanish tile. The house features a spacious front porch with coral rock columns, where the culturati kibitzed during the opening-night bash.
"What I love about this place is that it's great for entertaining VIPs and hosting private cocktail receptions for collectors to meet my artists," Tachmes comments.
The gallery popped its cherry with "Vol. 5, No. 1," a sweet little group show featuring the work of Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, Victor Muñiz, Eddie Lopez, and Thomas Nolan. Catch Rodriguez-Casanova's Cornered, a kitchen cabinet tucked into a corner wall, and After Dark, an immaculately boxed window-to-nowhere you're likely to overlook if you don't keep your eyes peeled. Muñiz's room-swallowing mural is a kick-in-the-groin winner, and Lopez's war-themed drawings are charged with relevance. Nolan's magnetic micro-landscapes of urban skylines fashioned from duct tape, bolts and lug nuts, stacked staples, and toothbrush bristles made me grin, and I found Tachmes's choice digs a gem.
Let's hope that once Tachmes is settled, he can concentrate on upgrading his program and effectively promoting his talented stable of artists. If his goal is to strut with the big dogs, he should consider hiring a savvy gallery assistant to help him become more consistent.
Nomad curator Carol Jazzar has been organizing exhibits in Wynwood and the Design District the past few years, often suffering heartburn in reward. Exhibiting her small group of artists at home began making sense when weasel landlords at loaned spaces took nasty bites out of her hide by asking the dealer for large percentages of her sales commissions.
The overhead associated with running a commercial space made Jazzar queasy, so she transformed the four-car garage behind her El Portal house into a gallery. The peaceful nature-lover enjoys the best of both worlds with her quaint 800-square-foot space nestled in a lushly landscaped half-acre lot that appears quite the savory spot in which to show work and entertain clients.
During a recent visit, I felt transported by the hundreds of orchids and the scent of wild jasmine that perfumed her back yard. Squirrels romped across mango and avocado trees, and blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, and orioles seemed to be perched everywhere.
"El Portal is a bird sanctuary," she tells me while gesturing toward an iridescent cloud of fluttering butterflies. "I've had events here with DJ Le Spam and Suenalo Sound System. The neighbors fix finger food and support my openings," she mentions. "It's been wonderful."
Jazzar is currently exhibiting "Tapage," showcasing the work of Brad Kuhl and Monique Leyton. The fledgling conceptual team has created what appear to be Weegee-inspired crime scenes with brightly colored acrylic tape on paper. The riots, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, accidents, fires, and sundry snapshots of mayhem that pepper the artists' visual lexicon are culled from the violent supper-time television fodder on which American families are nurtured.
"They were big fans of Cops growing up and take their imagery from newscasts as well," Jazzar points out.
One piece, She Never Left Her Desk, depicts a young woman, perhaps a suicide victim, sprawled over a desk with a gun in her hand. The artists achieve almost a painterly effect with textured layers of tape; their loud blue, red, green, and yellow hues give the dark subject matter the veneer of a twisted fantasy.
Another work, One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer, named for one of John Lee Hooker's plaintive numbers, shows what might be a pair of derelicts bleeding from head wounds, perhaps as a result of a hit-and-run accident or a drive-by shooting. A gaggle of emergency personnel lingers in boredom as if wondering whose turn it is to make the next doughnut run.
Outside her gallery, mounted on the garage walls, are two pillowcase-size vinyl banners, each featuring a close-up photograph of a white cat posing in a garden. I ask Jazzar who the artist is.
"I took those photos," she muses wistfully. "That was my cat, and I found her dead in the yard, which was strange, because she was only six years old. I think she must have been licking one of those poisonous toads. At least I can still see her when I come out to the yard."
The cat is buried in a sculpturally marked grave under an avocado tree next to the gallery. "Her name was Soma, and she had been my panacea," the earthy dealer sighs.
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