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What’s up with Miami’s art scene?

2 December 2016

There is nothing the art world likes more than a new thing. Flash back a decade and Miami was fresh. Art Basel Miami Beach was flourishing into an exciting fair. Local artists like Jim Drain and Hernan Bas were gaining serious acclaim. Local collections such as the de la Cruz and Rubell became destinations. Parisian gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin opened a lavish space in the city. Yet today the Floridian art scene is given less attention. The artist list for the 2017 Whitney Biennial was announced recently and not a single artist from Miami was included. As a litmus test for American taste and relevance this is quite notable.

Miami was the proto Los Angeles. A city with a beach in the sunshine with cheap rents and a lot of space for arists. Yet in the past four years, artists, curators and gallerists from New York and Europe began to head west. Miami-based artists such as Michael Genovese and local gallery OHWOW, now renamed Moran Bondaroff, were amongst the exodus.

According to the New York Times, the Whitney’s chief curator, Scott Rothkopf implied the lack of inclusion of Miami-based artists was due to those artists’ lack of political engagement. Though this may not be true, it does demonstrate how biennials always reflect a curator’s position. When Michelle Grabner co-curated the Whitney’s 2014 biennial, for example, a larger number of artists featured from her local Chicago.

MIAMI BEACH, FL - DECEMBER 01: A view of artwork during the Art Basel Miami Beach Vernissage at the Miami Beach Convention Center on December 1, 2016 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

A view of artwork during the Art Basel Miami Beach Vernissage at the Miami Beach Convention Center on 1 December, 2016. Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Miami itself is also changing. Following the massive gentrification of Wynwood, traditionally an area where artists worked, property developers are now seeking out new artist hubs as areas to buy. Even Little Haiti, one of the least glamorous areas of Miami, is beginning to see a level of gentrification that is pushing artists out of the area.

There are, however, positive things in the city that still make it relevant to the art world. The new Pérez Art Museum Miami designed by Herzog & de Meuron opened in 2013 (and recently announced a substantial new donation from Jorge M. Pérez). The well-curated Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (ICA) launched in December 2014. Bortolami gallery did a successful year-long pop up project with Daniel Buren in Miami’s M Building, which closed this week. Local galleries like Nina Johnson and Michael Jon & Alan, and artists like Jillian Mayer and Bhakti Baxter, are doing well in the city.

The Whitney list is also a simple reflection that artists stay close to their galleries and collectors. Of the 56 American artists to be featured in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, 41 are based in New York or California. Thankfully there is also a new interest in discovering other sites of creative production. The Atlanta Biennial relaunched this August (and remains open until 18 December), co-curated by ART PAPERS editor and curator Victoria Camblin, with 33 artists from the often ignored south eastern states. An indication that there will always be new frontiers to discover and redefine what American art actually is.