A Collision of Art and Commerce

Jun 02, 2015

Article courtesy of The Miami Herald by Ricardo Mor

For better or for worse, Wynwood is still seen by many as the heart of the Miami arts scene. But one could argue that the true epicenter of our arts scene is at 8375 NE Second Ave. in Little Haiti. Here you’ll find GUCCIVUITTON, an artist-run space that has quickly risen in the Miami gallery ranks for thought-provoking exhibitions that challenge viewers to question what it means to be an artist (and an arts institution) in Miami.

In 2013, Miami-based artists Loriel Beltran, Aramis Gutierrez and Domingo Castillo became increasingly frustrated with the city’s arts scene, primarily because of what they perceived to be a lack of representation and discourse from local artists at the institutions founded by the city’s most prominent collectors.

With limited resources, the artists opened a humble arts space in Little Haiti called GUCCIVUITTON. The name was a happy accident, blurted out by chance during a brainstorming session. But it happens to capture the essence of Miami’s consumerism, from the fixation on high-end luxury to the fake-it-till-you-make-it knock-off culture.

GUCCIVUITTON functions on an unusual model. The collective operates a for-profit commercial gallery, but profit is hardly on their minds. Although they say making a profit would be nice, they’ve sometimes staged exhibitions where little or nothing is for sale.

Since opening their gallery, the founders have churned out a slate of exhibitions that focus on the colloquial aesthetics of South Florida artists while at the same time challenging perceptions of what is expected from South Florida artists. Among those showcased have been cutting-edge talents like ART 404, a post-Internet collective who have collaborated with the hacktivist group Anonymous to take down the websites of major art galleries including New York’s Gagosian and David Zwirner.

On the other end of the spectrum, the gallery has also shown works by established names like Purvis Young, the late African-American artist whose racially charged works captured the tumultuous, harsh experience of being black in Miami and also caught the eye of prominent collectors like the Rubells (who lent works for the show).

Despite being open just two years, GUCCIVUITTON is the subject of a museum show at the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami in the Design District. It’s highly unusual, and nearly unprecedented, for an artist-run space to be the subject of a museum show. ICA Miami Deputy Director and Chief Curator Alex Gartenfeld, however, believes the gallery has proven itself worthy with its programming.

“I approached them to exhibit at ICA Miami based on my interest in artists who ask critical questions about the relationships between art and commerce, and art and life in the city,” Gartenfield said.

The show itself is a mammoth undertaking, featuring more than 100 works by 30 artists (nearly all local). Interestingly, almost every work on display was previously featured in one of GUCCIVUITTON’s exhibitions but did not sell. The irony in having castoffs from past gallery shows become the darlings of a museum show is unmistakeable.

If the show’s scope isn’t enough to stretch the imagination, the setting will. The entire show takes place inside the ICA’s atrium, a lofty indoor room four stories high with an intersecting grid dividing up the space. Its height, lack of wall space and narrow beams make it a precarious and extraordinarily difficult space to install and curate exhibits.

Designed by Miami-based designer Jonathan Gonzalez’s firm Office GA, the show installation is inspired by the infrastructure of art storage. The mesh screens on which many of the works hang are commonly used to store art; the setting borrows direct inspiration from the storage system at the nearby Rubell Family Collection.

While the show features works from nearly every past exhibition at the gallery, the founders of GUCCIVUITTON deliberately wanted to distance the show from the gallery and instead focus on the artists on view. Works are viewed not by chronological order but rather grouped by size, much as a registrar might catalogue works.

The intricate arrangement allows for a bird’s-eye view of not only GUCCIVUITTON’s curatorial vision but also offers a snapshot of the Miami arts scene on its A-game. Joseriberto Perez’s paintings are rooted in abstraction but also utilize a regional visual vernacular of lush colors and dense patterns.

Perez isn’t the only person in the show inspired by the South Florida landscape; several works came from a previous exhibition on that same topic. The most haunting of these is by Scott Armetta, who renders our landscape in brooding, gothic colors.

Others have take their concepts of Miami to more conceptual spectra. Multimedia artist Hugo Montoya showcases of what appears to be a cracked slab of earth — really a wall of clay that he sourced from a historically segregated blacks-only beach in Key Biscayne. GUCCIVUITTON co-founder Beltran also contributed a wall to the show, though his was sourced from an actual wall of the former Locust Projects location, a contemporary art space formerly located in Wynwood. Here he digs wavy lines into the drywall to reveal the past exhibitions at the space, including layers of paint or murals from previous shows.

Some of the strongest works are from a previous exhibition on Haitian artists called “The Look” that showcased both established and emerging artists from the island nation. Artist Guyodo showcases a selection of scrappy “idols” made from materials such as blenders and gaudy craft materials, while Georges Liautaud shows off intricate, flat metal sculptures (including one of a cat that appears to be walking along the steel beams).

Surprisingly, the most unusual part of the show has nothing to do with the works on display. In a bold move on GUCCIVUITTON’s part, everything on view in the show is for sale, and both the gallery and the museum have made no attempts to hide it. In fact, anyone can go to www.guccivuitton.biz to see the works available and purchase them straight from the website.

In a mindset where showy success equals sellout, the very fact that GUCCIVUITTON is the subject of a museum show leads to the question: Is it, too, now passe? Its founders seem unconcerned. They intend to keep up the work they are doing at the gallery and consider this exhibition to be a side note — albeit a significant one — to their ongoing practice.

In fact, even with this gigantic museum exhibition taking place, they continue to show at their own space, this time with Cristina Lei Rodriguez, a multimedia artist who explores the materiality of art and material culture through a new body of functional art objects. The show itself also has a schedule of programs that will explore various themes in her artist practice.

Said gallery co-founder Gutierrez, “We literally got to do a wunderkammer of Florida culture, from our perspective at least.”

IF YOU GO
What: GUCCIVUITTON, through Sept. 25.
Where: Institute of ContemporaryArt, 4040 NE Second Ave., Miami Design District.
Open: 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday
Info: 305 901 5272; icamiami.org.
What: ‘Agency,’ works by Cristina Lei Rodriguez
Where: GUCCIVUITTON gallery, 8375 NE Second Ave., Miami
Open: noon-5 p.m., Saturday and by appointment
Info: www.guccivuitton.net; agency-miami.com

Lombardi Properties