With Art Basel Miami Beach just a couple of months away from focusing the art world's critical eye squarely on Wynwood, the standard move for galleries in the neighborhood is to showcase their biggest names during October's art walk rather than rolling the dice on unknowns.
But both Gregg Shienbaum Fine Art and O. Ascanio Gallery, separated by just a few blocks on NW Second Avenue, are gambling they can catch eyeballs by bucking that trend and turning their spaces over to first-time solo shows this weekend.
The two artists they're highlighting during one of the season's busiest Second Saturdays couldn't be from more divergent backgrounds. Both, however, try to interpret Miami's gritty urban landscape in a gallery setting and both are already creating buzz among collectors.
Second Saturday Art Walk October 2012
"Clandestine Culture": Gregg Shienbaum Fine Art, 2239 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-205-9089; gsfineart.com. Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"Concrete Perspective": O. Ascanio Gallery, 2600 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-571-9036; oascaniogallery.com. Tuesday through Saturday noon to 6 p.m.
"I felt now was the right time to accurately gauge the response to [the new] work rather than showing some Warhols or Lichtensteins or my other bread and butter to make money," Gregg Shienbaum says. "That way, I can integrate the works more naturally into my December exhibit."
Inside Shienbaum's gallery, a local street artist who operates under the name Clandestine Culture has re-created the entire exterior of a Wynwood warehouse. The 30-foot-long street installation includes a cement sidewalk, a chainlink fence, barbed wire, plywood panels, and a 30-foot street-art mural with the help of some of his graffiti/street-artist friends he invited to collaborate on his project.
The artist, who goes by the nickname Poska, will also include about 30 of his trademark latex-paint-on-paper posters depicting protesters, police in riot gear, portraits of strangers, and others — all with the words Clandestine Culture printed across the bottom.
Although this ambitious exhibition marks his first solo in a commercial gallery, his works might be familiar to Second Saturday art crawlers because his posters are plastered throughout Wynwood. That's how Shienbaum discovered the artist more than a year ago.
For Poska, Shienbaum's show of faith couldn't be more rewarding. As recently as 2006 he was living on the streets, making art out of frustration as much as creativity. In the years since, he's worked odd jobs — from construction to farming — to support his art career.
"The concept for my work came to me about six years ago when the economy was still strong, but I was at a low point in my life and homeless here in Miami," relates the artist, who declines to provide his real name but says he was born in Cuba during the '70s. "Strangers would walk by and look at me as if I was a crackhead or a delinquent who was going to rob them. At the time, I wrote, 'I am Clandestine Culture. Welcome to my world,' on a sticker as a very personal message of how others in society view one judgmentally."
Poska explains that for him, anyone who finds himself marginalized by societal prejudices offers inspiration for his imagery.
"I always think of people that are respected — like a teacher or a doctor — and how an impression by others can make them part of a clandestine culture if taken out of context."
Just up the street at O. Ascanio Gallery, Hester Esquenazi will make her Wynwood debut with the show "Concrete Perspective," which has been close to 20 years in the making.
Hester, as the Colombian-born, Miami-based artist prefers to be called, studied environmental architecture at the Parsons School of Design in New York City during the late '80s, pursuing photography as a hobby until it became a full-time career that sidetracked her from her fine-art aspirations.
"When I moved to Colombia, I started doing photo shoots of beauty pageants, and a chance encounter led me to start photographing for all the major magazines, shooting everything from brides to babies," she says. "Later I started doing fashion shoots and a lot of commercial work for catalogues, especially lingerie. So I spent close to 20 years taking pictures of tits and ass nonstop."
But after relocating to Miami in 2001, she says, she began to feel desperate to return to her roots as an artist. In 2006, she started taking pictures of barren urban landscapes and highway overpasses. More recently, she's turned her lens on some of South Florida's most recognizable landmarks, including Marlins Park and Herzog & de Meuron's parking garage at 1111 Lincoln Rd.
Hester's process is labor-intensive and her wall-engulfing photographs impeccably executed. Typically she photographs an image during quiet moments of solitary introspection. Upon returning to her studio, she digitalizes the pictures and painstakingly doctors them pixel-by-pixel, working on each image upward of a month at a time until each is reconceptualized, not unlike an architectural drawing.
When Hester showed Oscar Ascanio, a Venezuelan art dealer who owns eponymous spaces in Caracas and Wynwood, her new work, it made a lasting impression.
"She is a new artist, but her artistic style is of the highest quality, and I also feel it's important to show new artists, new visions, at exactly the time when we see the most traffic in the neighborhood," Ascanio says. "Her architectural photographs offer a new perspective."
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Indeed, Hester brings a fresh eye to urban photography, which she distinctly credits to her many years of doing fashion and commercial work.
"I use the same techniques on these buildings and structures that we use in fashion, such as making women's bodies more elongated or their waistlines seem smaller or highlight features such as cheekbones," she says. "It's that part of our culture that makes everyone want to appear to be perfect."
Those tactile details in her architectural photos drew Ascanio into the work.
"Construction materials such as concrete, tubes, screws, and cables are transformed into sensible and visually delightful surfaces," he says. "There is undeniable beauty in these inanimate landscapes that lie dormant around us and enrich our surroundings many times without us noticing."