The smack fiends and hood rats no longer hold sway in the tall weeds of the empty lot next to the Spinello Gallery in Wynwood.
The sketchy tract that until recently looked like a scene from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video has been sanitized in advance of Art Miami, and a gargantuan tent is being pitched to house the fair next month.
It's a timely development for Anthony Spinello, who, armed with only a spray paint can, found himself fending off a curb zombie outside his space last month.
"I had been painting and saw the guy [going into] my car, so I walked out and pointed the spray can at him and yelled, and he took off," says the dealer. "It made me realize you still have to be careful around here."
Observing the work unfolding next door, Spinello expresses hope that Art Miami succeeds in its Wynwood gamble and that its fortunes take a positive turn. "It's a make-it-or-break-it year for them, and I hope it works out because that would benefit us here."
While Art Miami may rest its laurels on being the oldest local fair, Spinello has opened the "smallest fair in town" as a spoof of the marathon art orgy that annually consumes South Florida during Art Basel Miami Beach.
"It's crazy. This year we have over 1,100 galleries coming from all over the world. I thought the best way to get people into my gallery was to turn it into a fair," Spinello cracks. A veteran of the art fair circuit, the young dealer hired the same company that outfits local fairs to cram four booths into his gallery.
His space is painted the same shades of trademark Art Basel pink and gray, reflecting the rash of status envy felt by most dealers who can't make the cut into the "big fair" (which, in case you live in a cave with no wall paintings, begins December 6) at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Cocurated by Spinello and Claire Breukel, "Littlest Sister 07" features small-format works by 25 artists, all priced to fly off the walls. It's a clever concept for a group show likely to get lost in the hoopla in two weeks, but Spinello opened his exhibit with an "exclusive press and collectors preview" during the November 11 Wynwood arts crawl to draw a bead on competitors. So far sales have been brisk, and the show is functioning effectively as advertising for the dealer's brand.
Lou Laurita's untitled postcard-size gouache-on-paper pieces mix words and faces and depict the bruised and stitched mugs of teens behind phrases such as a raw deal and an act of God.
Tawnie Silva's One of These Things Just Doesn't Belong Here are two watercolor and colored pencil on board works featuring a dancing ice-cream cone on one panel and a proctologist's rubber-gloved hand ready to go rectal on the other.
Tiny brushes and a pair of slippers made of her own hair represent Agustina Woodgate. Kerry Phillips offers hand-woven tapestries that are wallet-size family snaps. Lee Materazzi's small c-prints, featuring nude people sitting in their living rooms with bushels of clothing obliterating their heads, are a scream.
Adriana Farmiga weighs in with arguably the most unusual piece in the show. She has stapled two wooden chopsticks onto a booth wall, each with a tiny paper figure precariously balanced on the tip.
These are typical of the cash-and-carry art fair sensibility Spinello goofs on while laughing all the way to the bank. "Pulse, Nada, Scope — all of us are trying to be the little sister to Art Basel," he says.
And, not unlike most art fair experiences, five minutes after you exit Spinello's condensed version, it's nearly impossible to make sense of what you've just been force-fed.
Across the street, Nina Johnson inaugurated her new space, Gallery Diet, with "Particulars," an engrossing group show featuring her modest stable of talent.
Johnson, a former assistant director at the 00.00.00 copy Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, divided her space into six rooms and gave each artist free reign to transform the areas using installations, performances, sculptures, or drawings.
On opening night, Abby Manock entertained crowds with her performance, Bag Tag: Episode of Assortment. Her room was painted in bold swaths of turquoise, yellow, pink, red, and green. Each area contained corresponding boxes of junk, a garbage collector's getup, and giant paper Christmas trees in a herringbone tweed pattern. A shiny metal garbage can anchored her installation.
The performance was organized like a relay race. Manock donned garbage collector's garb, walked out to the audience, and then proceeded back to her room to sort junk stashed in numbered cardboard boxes before dumping it into a trash can. One quick-change act later, dressed as a homeless person, she then dumpster-dived for the discarded treasure.
In an adjacent room, Daniel Milewski's What a Story hangs at eye level like a menacing sword of Damocles. The artist mashed a thousand books to a pulp in water and then compacted them into a Flintstones-size boulder that dangles dangerously from the ceiling, suspended by only a few suspect lengths of cord.
Walking around his massive sculpture, which tips the scales at a quarter ton, viewers can read snippets of faded text informing "you must eradicate the fears of energy when fear is present."
Mostly the words are illegible, and pop up by chance. The gutted books are a jarring reminder that in the age of the Internet, the printed word might soon suffer the same fate as the dinosaur. We'll all end up crushed by ignorance instead.
Brian Burkhardt snares spectators with four frozen spider webs that are gorgeous and embalmed in pristine white oval frames. His manhole cover-size webs are hand-braided with delicate strands of silk string and silicone gel. They convey a sense of the greenhouse effect on the Amazon.
Perhaps María José Arjona best conveys the spirit at work behind Johnson's vision for the Diet program with her heady show-stealer, What Is Performance Art? (From the White Series). During the opening, Arjona, clad in a spacey white jumpsuit and harness, suspended herself from a wall at a spine-warping angle. A butterfly-shape stereo speaker was wedged in her mouth. As visitors took turns sitting in a white velour chair beneath her, she channeled phone messages from anonymous callers who offered notions about what performance art is.
"I became an amplifier for all of these voices, and people began to relate to me as an object," she explains.
In a video at the gallery, the Colombian artist appears like a weird human incubator, her closed eyelids trembling and her mouth drooling from exertion after the three-hour performance.
"I've been inspired lately by the theories of the French philosopher Deleuze," she says.
"'The Solar Anus'?" one asks incredulously.
Arjona's eyes flash brightly as she gushes, "I'm interested in the body without organs and the multiplicity of texts."