While high-power collectors were fingering six-figure price tags inside the Miami Beach Convention Center during Art Basel last year, I hit the jackpot for less than the cost of entering the prestigious fair.
While slumming in Wynwood, checking out the hundreds of visiting dealers who'd transformed the area into an art lover's bargain basement, I came across an offer too rich to refuse.
And it wasn't inside NADA, Pulse, Scope, or any of the other smaller fairs where the invading hordes were peddling their wares.
It was at Grubstake Good Works, a nonprofit neighborhood thrift shop a stone's throw from the city's best galleries, in an area founder Heather Klinker calls the city's Skid Row.
Inside I found a sculpture that appeared to be the work of local artist Edouard Duval-Carrié, known for his depictions of Haitian vodou deities. His works are in the permanent collections of the Miami Art Museum and the Bass Museum of Art.
The asking price was $30, but short on funds, I yakked her down to $20 and she agreed, wrapping it up with a smile. Later I took the piece to the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, which represents Duval-Carrié, less than a mile up the road from Klinker's headquarters, to have the find authenticated and appraised.
"It's one of Edouard's sculptures of the vodou god of the sea," Steinbaum said, adding that it was worth $500. Informed about my bargain, the dealer batted her eyelids incredulously and mumbled, "Boy, you did great."
I was left wondering how an accomplished artist like Duval-Carrié might feel about his work being sold at a thrift shop during Basel. Upon contacting him, I was greeted with laughs.
Duval-Carrié explained his kiwi-green, seashell-crowned, powder-sugar-dusted confection represented Agoue, Haiti's version of Poseidon. It's part of a cast resin series of sculptures he often uses in his installations.
"I was wondering where that thing went. One of them was missing from my studio and I thought maybe a delivery person or one of the creepy characters around here might have walked off with it. I promise you I didn't pawn it," he cracked.
Klinker, who depends on charitable contributions to stay afloat, says the sculpture found its way to her shop from the estate of an elderly woman who lived in a retirement condo in North Miami Beach.
"After she died, relatives sent us her stuff, which included several quality artworks and odds and ends."
While Grubstake's neighboring galleries were gearing up for Art Basel this week, Klinker was hanging still lifes by Cuban artist Luis Enriquez from clothespins in her space. The oil-on-canvas paintings burst with lush tropical fruits, flowers, and coconuts, gaily festooning the walls and adding color to the kitchenware, furniture, and assorted bric-a-brac lining the entrance.
Outside her shop, she was also installing a "pink polka-dot mobile" emblazoned with the names of people who support the charity. "It's our tribute to Christo's community-spirited Wrapped Islands," she says. "We are an impoverished charity helping the impoverished in South Florida. We work with senior citizens, the homeless, and foster kids coming out of the system trying to find their own place."
Klinker, who opened Grubstake in 1999 — long before the first art galleries arrived in the area — reminds that Wynwood is home to several homeless shelters, and that she witnessed two daylight muggings outside the Filtro Art Space across the street from Grubstake during Basel last year.
"People forget that it's still more Skid Row than Soho around here. For every homeless family we help each day, we have to turn two other families away. Right now we are in a state of intensive care and hoping Basel visitors can help turn things around. Hey, you found a small treasure at Grubstake last year!"
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