MOCA Hosts Mystery Dates With Miami's Emerging Private Art Collectors, and You're Invited

Becoming an art collector isn't as easy as laying down a couple hundred grand. Money fulfills only the base requirement, aka the finances to acquire art. But to become a big fish and make a name for yourself as a real connoisseur, you need to hone your artistic eye, learn the language of the visual aesthetic, and come to appreciate more about art than the six-figure price tag.

In an effort to introduce young professionals to the world of art collecting, the Museum of Contemporary Art will host its sixth annual Mystery Dates night this Saturday. The event, intended to introduce new collectors to emerging ones, has a lovely twist: Each attendee will be invited to the personal residence of one of 17 participating art collectors for a dinner party and house tour.

"We're trying to help people feel comfortable with being collectors and living with art," Valerie Ricordi said. "And what better way to do that than to show how other people do that."

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The night will begin with a cocktail party at MOCA in North Miami. Attendees arrive still in the dark about where they'll be dining that night. At the doors of MOCA, each guest will be handed an envelope which will announce their host for the evening. For the next two hours, they'll mingle and drink cocktails, and bid on silent auction items and experience packages, before heading out for their mystery dinner party.

Mystery Dates grew out of Enchanted Evenings, another fundraising effort for local art collectors, where the nightly ticket was $1,000. The cost, too expensive for young professionals, ensured that the event was usually attended exclusively by the super wealthy. Bonnie Clearwater, MOCA's Director and Chief Curator, wanted young people to have a similar event aimed at their level of experience in art collecting, as well as their pay grade. So she launched Mystery Dates in 2006.

In the beginning, Clearwater recalls with laughter, the title "Mystery Dates" confused some people who thought the event might be a blind dating service. But she does admit that some still try to use the event as a love connection. Sometimes, she explained, wealthy patrons of the museum buy Mystery Dates tickets for their single adult children, then call Clearwater to give her the lowdown on their kids and ask if she can, maybe, send them to the same dinner so they have the chance to hit it off. That's not the purpose of the evening, but she kindly obliges.

Kathryn Mikesell and her husband, Dan, love entertaining and sharing their art. So when Bonnie Clearwater of MOCA gave them a call and asked them to host a Mystery Dates dinner, they jumped at the chance. The events, she says, are always a thrill.

Every year, the couple hosts anywhere from 25 to 40 guests, whom they encourage to wander the house and check out their art collection. Every year, the crowd is very different. And every year, immediately following the event, they're giddy to do it again.

"We have pieces that are simply beautiful, that everyone can relate to, and then we have some more challenging work," Mikesell said. "Each room has its own character."

The family has darkly designated one room the "War Room." That's where all their conflict and crisis photography hangs. They also have a wool room, where the floor is made completely out of wool.

The first time Nina Johnson went on Mystery Dates, she was placed as a diner at the home of her first client as an art gallery owner. He still owned the photograph she had sold him and had it featured prominently in his bedroom. She was thrilled to have the chance to talk about the host's collection from the perspective of someone who had sold him art.

After attending Mystery Dates for the last few years, Johnson will host her own. As a gallery owner, she sees a wide range of art, and her home reflects that. But it's not stodgy or prim and proper. Quite the contrary; it's a place to relax, kick up your feet, and talk, the perfect place for an aspiring art collector.

"They can see the way that everyday--I don't want to say everyday like quotidian and boring--but everyday people live with art," Johnson said.

However varied the spectrum of hosts' homes may be, from a mansion in Golden Beach to a classic bungalow in Morningside, there's one unifying principle: These houses are veritable art galleries, and the hosts' charisma unrivaled. Organizers say hosts are chosen as much for their great personalities as they are for their cool houses and their collections.

After dinner comes the after party in South Beach at the Shore Club. Stories of Miami wealth and extraordinary personal art collections will invariably abound.

Tickets for the Mystery Dates evening are still available. Members of the museum's young patrons group, the Shakers, pay $150 a ticket; non-members pay $200. Don't forget your checkbook; during the early evening cocktail party, there will be a silent auction. Visit mocanomi.org.

--Anna Hiatt

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