Inside a sprawling white tent in midtown Miami, Jesse Gellar stands atop a riser, his lanky frame clad in a Tyvek suit, his face covered by a black and gray respirator.
The New York-based artist spray-paints his graffiti tag over and over again on massive acrylic sheets that stretch the length of a third of a football field and soar 20 feet into the air.
As varying shades of blue, pink, yellow, and gray cover the clear structure suspended from tent poles, the 32-year-old pauses to inspect his handiwork.
Geller is in town to create a rectangular mural that will hover over the VIP lounge at Art Wynwood, an international contemporary art fair that opens with a ritzy private preview for collectors this Thursday, Valentine's Day, and runs through this weekend. Now in its second year, Art Wynwood is honoring the late Tony Goldman, who helped shape both the Wynwood Arts District and the fair.
Geller's abstract-patterned opus was commissioned by Jessica Goldman, Tony's daughter and CEO of Goldman Properties; and Nick Korniloff, director of the growing art fair.
Says Meghan Coleman, the art manager for Goldman Properties: "This installation is a different and new format for [Jesse], and the acrylic surface he is painting on is covered with all these gradient colors yet still appears light and airy."
This year, Art Wynwood boasts 66 galleries from 13 countries, marking more than a 20 percent increase in participation from the 50 art dealers who attended in 2012. Nearly a quarter of the fair's roster is made up of local spaces, including Pan American Art Projects and the Robert Fontaine and Black Square galleries.
Last year's Art Wynwood attracted more than 25,000 visitors and enjoyed impressive sales. It is held during perhaps the busiest week of the year, when the Yacht & Brokerage Show draws thousands of visitors to Miami Beach. Its success is a tribute to Tony Goldman, says director Korniloff: "Tony helped prove that the Wynwood Arts District is a cultural destination year-round and can draw thousands of collectors here beyond December's Art Week."
In addition to a focus on street art, this year's edition, housed at Art Miami's 100,000-square-foot tent pavilion in midtown, features a broad range of mediums, including photography, sculpture, painting, video, and installations by close to a thousand international artists.
Korniloff is also director of Art Miami and helped make it one of the most popular Basel fairs. He also launched Art Miami's sister fair, Context, this past December. "Art Wynwood has its own identity — the mix of urban street art... alongside modern and contemporary art by international galleries. Last year, sales were very strong, and 80 percent of participating galleries have returned. We have art dealers from New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles... Germany, France, China, the Netherlands, and England participating in the fair. We expect to welcome 30,000 visitors."
New York's Hollis Taggart Galleries is one of the spaces returning to Art Wynwood this weekend. The gallery's director, Vivian Bullaudy, says a combination of good sales at the inaugural edition and Korniloff's astute mix of the local and global gives the fair a vibrant brand.
"Last year, we showed works by Alexander Calder, Tom Wesselmann, and other modern masters, along with the emerging talent we represent, and enjoyed solid sales," Bullaudy says. "This year, we will also be showing works by Robert Rauschenberg and one of our younger artists, Karina Wisniewska, who is Swiss and whose current solo show in our gallery has nearly sold out."
Robert Fontaine, who owns an eponymous gallery in Wynwood and is making his debut at the fair this weekend, says the event is a clear indicator there is a sustainable market here for contemporary art year-round. He plans to show work by local artists, including Troy Abbott and Tina La Porta, along with British talent Nick Gentry and Norwegian street artist Dolk. "I believe this fair sends a message both locally and internationally that the art market in Miami is focused, coherent, and an undeniable force on the world stage," he says.
Geller, who used close to 900 cans of spray paint on his neck-craning wraparound installation, says it's the largest mural he has ever created. His work will be the centerpiece of Art Wynwood, which highlights street murals, pop surrealism, and other contemporary urban art forms.
"Basically, I'm using my street tag or signature, which is graffiti's purest form, to create an overlapping abstract pattern [with a] good sense of depth," he says. "It's the largest mural I've ever painted outside of a building's walls."