Art Wynwood brings Basel in February

Is the Magic City ready to challenge the world's art capitals as a cultural destination? Can we convince moneybags collectors there's a sustainable year-round market here for contemporary art?

Nick Korniloff thinks so. That's why he's raising the curtain on the inaugural version of Art Wynwood this weekend. "We are in a cultural growth mode unlike any other city in the country, including New York," he says. "Soon the Wynwood Arts District's name will be rolling off tastemaker's tongues like 'Chelsea' and 'Soho.'"

As director of Art Miami, one of the area's top fairs during Art Basel week, Korniloff has earned the event critical acclaim as one of the highlights of the busiest weeks of the season. Now he's ready to see if he can match the buzz with the help of Wynwood's contemporary arts leaders in a stand-alone event focusing on the area's hastening revitalization and distinctly urban flavor.

In the works for more than three years, Art Wynwood will feature 50-plus galleries from 13 countries. About a quarter of the participants are local galleries, including Pan American Art Projects, the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Dot Fiftyone Gallery, and 101/Exhibit.

The event will be grittier than Art Miami and will feature photography, painting, sculpture, video, installation, urban street art, and every conceivable contemporary genre by more than 500 international artists. It will be held at Art Miami's sprawling 100,000-square-foot tent pavilion in midtown, which typically houses approximately 100 galleries during Basel.

Korniloff says more than 80 galleries applied for Art Wynwood's rookie edition and most that made the cut are veterans of Art Miami and selected for "the high quality of their programming." Jerald Melberg, a longtime veteran of Art Miami who owns an eponymous gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina, says two factors should work in Art Wynwood's favor: (1) it's independent, and (2) it coincides with the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach.

"I think the fair's appeal for many collectors is that visitors will be less frantic than they are during Basel," Melberg says. "I will be showcasing gallery artists like Susan Grossman and Thomas McNickle along with works by Robert Motherwell and Hans Hoffman."

Melberg, who also represents the late Romare Bearden, also says that with help from Macy's in Aventura, he's organizing a display of the seminal African-American artist's work during Art Wynwood to celebrate Black History Month.

"Macy's will be presenting vignettes of Bearden's more famous collages at several stores across the nation, and the artist was a native of Charlotte and I am involved there with his foundation," Melberg mentions.

For Sloan Schaffer, who owns the Design District's 101/Exhibit, Art Wynwood represents an opportunity to expand awareness of South Florida's growing stature as a market for contemporary art and to capitalize on President's Day weekend, one of the busiest times during the local tourist season.

"It is an exciting time for the art scene in Miami now," Schaffer says. "Art Wynwood offers a vital opportunity to continue the traction gained during Basel week. Everyone has pulled together to support this.

"We have reached the critical mass to stage a new art fair in Miami," he adds. "But now it's time to see if Miami is the real deal and can sustain success the rest of the year rather than just focusing on five days in December."

For Art Wynwood, Schaffer will show the work of Larry Rivers alongside that of one of his stable's rising talents, Jason Shawn Alexander. He will also exhibit several monumental pieces by Charles Pfahl in his stall at the fair this weekend.

Local developer Tony Goldman plans to install what he calls The Flying Murals of Wynwood in the fair's VIP Lounge. It will be created by artists such as Retna, Daze, Aiko, Futura, and How&Nosm.

Isaac Javier Perelman, co-owner of the Dot Fiftyone Gallery, cautions that Miami's civic leaders need to become more supportive of local culture before Wynwood can tout itself as a viable year-round art market. He credits Korniloff, Goldman, Lombardi, and local art dealers for banding together to roll the dice on yet another new art fair, but says it will take time and effort to convince some that Miami is poised to rival New York or Los Angeles as an art capital.

"This city is maturing every day, and Art Wynwood is important for us to keep improving our image," Perelman says. "But we need to get our leaders to join local cultural institutions fighting perceptions that the only thing we have to offer is hedonism."

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Carlos Suarez De Jesus