Robin Rhode's Wheel of Steel from MAM's "The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl."
Robin Rhode's Wheel of Steel from MAM's "The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl."

In 2012, Miami Proved It's a Year-Round Arts Powerhouse

As 2012 fades in the rearview mirror, Miami's art community is looking back at a city slowly, incrementally reinventing itself beyond the weeklong mania of Art Basel.

The past 12 months proved the Magic City can sustain ambitious art events year-round, from February's standalone Art Wynwood to the Miami Performance International Festival during the dog days of summer. But 2012 was also a transitional year, marked by big-name galleries closing and an exodus of local artists.

The downtown corridor seems poised to become a hot art enclave, evidenced by the impending opening of the new bayfront Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), the purchase of the historic Bacardi Building by the National YoungArts Foundation, and the relocation of artist-run spaces such as Dimensions Variable. South Florida's museums kept the momentum alive with blockbuster shows, while local artists such as Agustina Woodgate repped at Basel.


Miami Year in Art 2012

All in all, 2012 showed that Miami is amid an extraordinary evolutionary cycle. Its cultural sophistication grows every year, even as hiccups and handwringing slow the progress. Let's revisit the city's biggest art stories and best exhibits of the past year.

Art Wynwood: This spinoff of Art Miami opened in February with more than 50 galleries — nearly a quarter of whom were local spaces, far surpassing the number of South Florida galleries invited to the Miami Beach Convention Center during Basel the past decade. Art Wynwood corralled 500 artists from 13 countries exhibiting an arsenal of contemporary works in painting, photography, sculpture, video, and new media.

But most important, it drew tens of thousands of attendees while competing with the Miami International Boat Show, including a whopping 7,000 guests on opening night. It proved that a standalone fair could lure collectors to town months after Basel.

Miami Performance International Festival (M/P' 12): Billed by organizers as the "anti-Basel," the city's first performance art festival featured more than 50 emerging talents from 11 countries during its four-day run in July. M/P' 12 was organized by Edge Zones' Charo Oquet, whose goal was to present contemporary arts in a more democratic, visceral fashion than at the stuffier confines of December's fairs.

At several locales, including the Miami Beach Botanical Garden and Design District galleries, she did just that. With the theme "The Art of Uncertainty" explored across video installations, music, poetry, and other nontraditional forms, the newbie festival attracted thousands and demonstrated that Miami audiences are eager for challenging, provocative art year-round.

An Artist Exodus and Major Galleries Closing: If the success of M/P' 12 lifted Miami's spirit, another summertime trend left longtime art scene observers queasy.

Within weeks, A-list artists Jen Stark — a New Times MasterMind Award winner in 2012 — FriendsWithYou, Alvaro Ilizarbe, Pres Rod­riguez, and Raul Sanchez all relocated to Los Angeles in search of a stronger collector base. The group joined others luminaries, such as Louis Gispert, Hernan Bas, and Daniel Arsham, who left Dade after earning headlines at Basel.

Despite Miami's booming fortunes on the international art radar, many observers worry the trend signaled the city isn't doing enough to support local talent. Despite the Knight Foundation's grants and other Miami-centric programs, the vast majority of local creatives still need day jobs to survive.

Likewise, people wondered what impact Bernice Steinbaum closing her eponymous gallery in Wynwood would mean for the neighborhood. For more than a decade, Steinbaum's pioneering space presented some of Miami's most polished shows.

But Steinbaum was spotted a few weeks ago at the Art Miami Fair booth of Wynwood's Zadok Gallery wearing her trademark plush bunny slippers and working in her new role as a consultant. Her appearance goes to show that no matter how strong the appeal to retire or to ply one's trade in better markets, the buzz of Basel is too strong for any artist or dealer to totally cut ties with Miami.

A New Art Hood: In downtown Miami, the arts are revitalizing a once dormant scene.

When PAMM opens next fall, it will anchor a newly vital neighborhood including Young­Arts in the Bacardi Building. The nonprofit has tapped Frank Gehry to design the campus's master plan and will host events to coincide with Second Saturday Art Walk in Wynwood. It is planning outdoor film and video "wallcasts" and expects to turn an adjacent building into a performance art center and a parking lot into a green space. Those plans are a catalyst for other art groups and galleries following YoungArts into the area, including graybeard Wynwood pioneer Fredric Snitzer, who recently sold the building housing his eponymous gallery and is looking at downtown.

The move makes sense: Downtown rents are considerably cheaper than those in Wynwood, and there's a growing feeling among gallerists that Wynwood's monthly art crawl has become more about spectacle than culture.

Top Museum Shows of 2012: Miami's growing cultural heft was most consistently evident in 2012's excellent batch of museum exhibits.

In March, the Museum of Contemporary Art's retrospective of Rita Ackermann's work showed why MOCA's director and chief curator, Bonnie Clearwater, calls her "an artist's artist." Her exhibit boasted 48 works from 1993 to the present, including paintings, drawings, and collages, several of which had not been previously publicly displayed.

The same month, the Miami Art Museum opened "The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl," a groundbreaking celebration of the iconic musical medium and its transformative sway on several generations. It featured close to 100 works by 41 artists in a blockbuster ode to the record. The exhibit also adopted an intergenerational approach, seamlessly incorporating audio with visual riffs and pop culture chords.

In April at the Frost Art Museum, Ursula von Rydingsvard's sculpture solo delivered monumental works crafted from cedar and powdered graphite. Her show impressed with the inherent power of the pieces, many of which appeared like mammoth, ritual objects from antiquity or, in the case of Five Lace Medallions, pieces from a soaring archaeological site like Angkor Wat. These colossal tablets, roughly hewn from red cedar between 2001 and 2007, were crowned with serpentine carvings reminiscent of hand-stitched lace. They seemed to have been hijacked from an Indiana Jones movie.

The Bass Museum of Art ushered in another highlight with "Unnatural," a September group show featuring nearly 30 international artists exploring how our sense of the wilderness as a real, pristine place is fading into memory. The exhibit, curated by Tami Katz-Freiman, investigated the ethical dilemmas arising from humanity's need to dominate its environment. Our ever-faster technological advances leading to overpopulation and dwindling resources inspired Katz-Freiman to imagine a day when the artificial will completely replace nature. The artists she chose, most based in Israel, worked in a range of mediums to create their pieces, including the show stealer: a Moby Dick-size virtual whale swimming behind a massive sheet of glass.

That ingenious creature made a fine metaphor for Miami's local arts scene in 2012: an ever-growing behemoth assailed by change but increasingly resilient as time goes by.


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