Since she was appointed director of Pulse Contemporary Art Fair, Helen Toomer has redefined the typical Basel exhibition. When she took the helm of the commercial behemoth, the fair was comprised of a long and disjointed selection of galleries and artists from around the world, held far afield on Miami's mainland. An avid art collector herself, Toomer brought her extensive experience working in the New York art scene to the sands of Miami Beach.Through her guidance, Pulse Miami Beach went from a large and fairly impersonal experience to a warm and inviting atmosphere ripe with burgeoning talent.
On the eve of this year's festivities, we sat down with Toomer as she met with locals at Mindy Solomon Gallery in preparation for this year's fair.
New Times: What can the average Pulse attendant expect from the fair this year?
Helen Toomer: Excitement and discovery. I always use the word discovery because through the artists, gallerists, and venue we put together it's a place for the community and visitors to come in and see artists that they haven't of heard of, and see some artists that they will have heard of. The big thing for me is building a community. I know people have fair fatigue, but the truth of the matter is that we're providing a platform for different artists to put together a collection of different visions. It's great for the seasoned art world crowd, but also great for people who don't get to see that much art. I think of it as sort of summer camp for the art world. We have all different groups of people working closely together, and that closeness brings about amazing things.
You revamped Pulse last year. What were some things you thought were extremely successful? What were some of the things that could have been worked on?
Moving from Wynwood to Indian Beach Park was the biggest thing we did last year. A lot of collectors just weren't willing to make it out to see us. One of the new things we have done is focus on Conversations — Conversations is an inaugural presentation at the fair that will focus on galleries presenting dual-artist exhibitions, creating a dialogue between the artists’ practices. The dual artists exhibitions I think are very powerful. It's about seeing the connectivity of the work. There's been a steep learning curve. The first fair I did, we did practically four pieces of programming every day; we've toned that down [this year]. It's constantly evolving, and I'm not afraid to change. Miami's landscape is constantly changing, why wouldn't we want to adapt to that?
You have an incredibly eclectic personal art collection. Does your collecting influence your curation or vice versa?
Yes, and yes. I'm like a magpie. I'm very reactionary when it comes to art. I'm a very visual person so I get very nerdy about artwork. What's been interesting is that we have a new selection committee this year. So it's making me think about artist and gallerists in a different way — it's not just my vision. They're sort of my sounding board. The art fair shouldn't just be my personal taste, it should have a selection of artwork that appeals to everyone.
You talked about Miami having a special buzz around it. Can you explain a little bit what you meant by that?
It's the energy here, I love it. I love Miami. You just don't know what's gonna happen, and people are so incredibly passionate. Moreover, who doesn't want to go to Miami in December? I'm reinvigorated every single time I come here.
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What are some of the galleries and artist you're most excited to work with this year?
I'm excited about having a good Miami representation there from Mindy Solomon, Emerson Dorsch, Art Lexing, among others. Also thrilled to see Grace Weaver's work. There's more of a movement of figurative painters with a narrative, so I think her work fits into that.
You took a break from working with the fair in 2010 to work on your own gallery. What were some of the things you learned from that experience?
It was the best of times and the worst of times. Honestly, I loved it, and I miss having that space and that connection to the artists, and the artwork and people that came into your space, there's a pride in that. I always admired gallerists, which is why I wanted to open one. But I think it's help me empathize more with them. Trying to sustain a gallery right now is so difficult and there are so many questions: Should I have a brick-and-mortar? Do I merge? Do I do a project space? Do I do pop-ups? I want to have a conversation with people about that, because it's evolving.
What's your read on the present state of the Miami art scene? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
I've been chatting with a couple of people, and Mindy Solomon has already moved, so has Emerson Dorsch, and Primary Projects is moving as well. The spaces are shifting. It's happening in New York, Chelsea people are coming to the Lower East Side and now that's getting expensive. I think the Miami scene is a microcosm of the global scene, and it's happening all around the world.
Pulse Miami Beach 2015
December 1 through 5, at Indian Beach Park, 4601 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets $15 to $40; pulse-art.com.