Alex Gartenfeld's art career began, like so many others, on Canal Street in New York City. Unlike most curators, however, Gartenfeld launched his career out of his own stereotypically cozy New York apartment.
"It was a cramped, tiny place on Canal, which at the time was a really central art block neighborhood," Gartenfeld, now 27, remembers. "It had one bathroom that came out of the kitchen. It was definitely one of those inventive living situations."
Gartenfeld made the most of it, launching art exhibitions inside the place he called home. The DIY space attracted creatives poised to hit it big — but who were, back then, slow to take a hint.
"People would sort of plop down on the floor," he explains. "I wouldn't name names, but people who are well-known musicians and artists now, when they were in their early 20s, would plop down on my floor, and I'd have to try to get them out."
Throughout his career, Gartenfeld has made a habit of surrounding himself with talent on the cusp of success. It's part of what makes him a perfect fit for the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami, whose ranks he joined this past May.
He's also worked with the art world elite, citing Jeff Koons and John Miller among the biggest names with whom he's collaborated. But don't ask him if he's been starstruck.
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"I'm not a fan personality," he explains matter-of-factly. "I don't have any sort of idols." When it comes to artists such as Koons, he says, "I've been blessed to work with a lot of people I respect very highly... But no idols. People always ask, 'If you could work with one artist, living or dead, who would it be?' And the beauty of being a curator is that you have to make every show like your last. It has to be very important and have really immediate ideas behind it, and that's the important thing."
That outlook should add a refreshing focus to Art Basel. In the midst of the art world's largest party, he'll work on one of the biggest museum shows to hit the city in years: a selection of light-up sculptures by Tracey Emin. The exhibition marks the last show curated by MOCA director Bonnie Clearwater before she took her talents to Broward.
"As an exhibition of all neon, it shows Tracey, who recently got an apartment here and has been spending time in Miami, thinking about the industry, thinking about the aesthetic here, and allowing the city to be reflected a bit in her work as well," Gartenfeld says. "A neon show — the perfect show for Art Basel in Miami."
It's also a fairly perfect launch to a new chapter in Gartenfeld's short but impressive career. "I never thought I'd find myself in the thick of [Art Basel], but here I am," he says. "I will be a host instead of a visitor. That's always a fun place to be."