Thursday, January 13, 2011

Miami International Art Fair (Preview Day)

Yesterday I described the arrival of a damaged huge painting to Mayer Fine Art's focus booth at the MIA and how that cast a bad start to MIA for Norfolk's best art gallery.

I got up early today, drove to Rico Bakery (3401 Northwest 17th Avenue, Miami, FL 33142-5537 (305) 637-0707), where they make 2-3 dozen different Cuban pastelitos and a lot of really yummy baked food, and bought two dozen Cuban pastelitos (they give you a free one when you buy six), plus a generous breakfast sandwich (a fried egg with ham and cheese on a Cuban bread bun that is then put on that hot press that is also used to make the famous Cuban sandwich.

I drove to MIA and passed the food to some of our gallery neighbors (both of them are galleries from Bogota, Colombia) and to Frank and Helen from Philadelphia's hardworking Projects Gallery. By the way, Projects Gallery's Frank Hyder has one of the coolest installations that I've ever seen in any fair. It has everything that a good installation should have: cool, intelligent sculptural elements, sound and an intelligent sense (actually aura, not sense) of truly transforming a space (a whole booth in this case) into a distinctive work of art. I will do a video of this installation later this week.

About eleven or so, a nice Cuban guy with bright blue eyes (Proof that Anderson and Cameron Diaz are not the only ones) and with the unfortunate name of Fidel (for a Cuban in Miami anyway) shows up. He is the restorer with the task of fixing the damaged Alexey Terenin mega-painting.

I will blow the climax of the story by telling you that by the end of the day this guy will prove himself to be a magician as well.

It is seldom in my experience that I have seen an "expert" not only be an expert, but also an aficionado of his expertise and a true hero in this case. For my fellow galleristas: when you come to Miami, if you need any repair work, or stretching, or conservation, or framing, then Obrapia Fine Arts (1648 Southwest 8th Street
Miami, FL 33135-5220 (305) 646-6751) has my highest possible recommendation.

Fidel arrived, looked at the work and initially began to repair the two holes right on the spot. He did that easily and quickly, and after he was done, it was impossible to find them again. Because the painting had been laid flat during shipping (even though the crate was marked with giant letters with DO NOT LAY FLAT signs), the canvas had stretched and was wavy and bubbly and had several pressure marks. Sheila Giolitti needed it re-stretched, and it became clear that the only way to get it back to a taut canvas would be to un-frame it and re-tighten it. This is no easy task for a huge seven feet by seven feet work of art, and the decision was made to take the painting back to Obrapia's shop and work on it there.

Easily said, but that meant that Fidel would have to go and rent a truck, come back, pick up the painting from the Convention Center, take it to his shop, un-frame it, upgrade the stretcher bars, stretch it, re-frame it, drive it back to the Convention Center and hang it. And it was 3PM and the fair opens at 6PM.

Somehow this dude did it. At 5:30PM he was back with a beautifully taut painting, and not only had he fixed the tiny pricks, and not only had he re-stretched the saggy linen, and not only had he upgraded the stretcher bars and added a cross bar and four angle corners, but the amazing dude had also touched up the frame and eliminated all the nicks and bruises from it. And then he hung it.

And then he gave Mayer Fine Art the bill, and Sheila was shocked at how reasonable that bill was, and the amazing degree of professionalism and expertise and joy for the job shown by this talented conservator. And Obrapia Fine Arts got a well-earned tip on top of the bill from Mayer Fine Art. And not only that, but a lesson learned as well: from now on, MFA plans to ship all the large Terenin canvases to Obrapia ahead of the Miami fairs. They can stretch and frame it and deliver it to the fairs for a heck of a lot less than it would cost to frame it and then ship it to Miami and take a chance for damage during the shipping.

At 6PM the crowds started pouring in and we were essentially flooded with people and press. The food was hard to get at, as the food tables were surrounded by a mass of humanity, but we still had a good stock of pastelitos left.

Michael Fitts paintingFirst sale of the night was a gorgeous trompe l'oeil painting by Michael Fitts. It was sold to a French collector who paid in cash. He counted in French and kept making mistakes and giving us anywhere from 5-8 twenty dollar bills in what was supposed to be $100 counts (that's five $20 bills equals $100 for you folks in California). We all kept having to recount the money and after a while it was either a farce or I was beginning to suspect that this guy was doing it on purpose for some kind of a scam. Finally we got it under control, and we ended with a lot of Jacksons and Benjamins and he ended with a cool trompe l'oeil (on reclaimed metal) of paper airplanes.

All through the night I was being accosted over my Che Guevara video drawing. Even a member of the press warns me that I shouldn't have that piece in Miami. "Someone will take a hammer to it before the fair is over," he predicts. Once I explain the whole reverse meaning of the piece, he becomes more understanding. Later in the night he brings his wife over and I see her eyes rage with fury - he's the one having fun with her now. And he's the one that explains the work to her. At the end she congratulates me on a well-done piece.

At one point the video drawing is almost sold to a Venezuelan collector, but I begin to discuss the second video drawing that I'm now working on (Frida Kahlo) and he wants to see that one instead (once it is finished). I get his business card and kick myself.

MFA then sells an Erwin Timmers glass sculpture to a very well-known Florida art collector. Timmers will be pleased when he finds out who this collector is. The buyer tells me that he'll be flying to DC for the WPA Auction.

And just like that, the preview night is over at 10PM, and with all the drama of the damaged painting behind, we're now looking forward to the real opening (to the public) of the fair tomorrow.

Miami International Art Fair (Set up day)

The 5 AM cab ride from Potomac to Reagan National was pretty hairy considering that the streets of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Montgomery County were pretty icy and snowy, and there were more than one ice tail spins along Bells Mill Drive on the way to Seven Locks and Democracy Blvd and the Beltway.

The Beltway was pretty clear of snow and ice, but I am always shocked to discover how many cars are out there at 5 in the morning. Who are all these drivers and where the fuck are they all going at 5 AM?

My cab driver (I always call the same guy, his names is Bones, and he will get you from A to B every time on time. Once you have a dependable cab driver, one must return to the force every time). Bones is reliable, big and strong, a brilliant storyteller and really resembles that huge guy from the Green Mile.

So we get to DCA on time, in spite of a few spin-offs at the George Washington Parkway, and I'm loving Jet Blue because they don't charge a fee for luggage while most of the other airlines scam you out of $50 per round trip if you check in a bag; and because flight 1795 is leaving on time in spite of the ice and snow. But once we're in the plane, by the time we're de-iced it is is almost 90 minutes past departure time, but I'm cool because I am heading to Miami for the second Miami International Art Fair (MIA) at the Miami Beach Convention Center and it is in the 70s in Florida and according to the weather people, Florida is the only state in the union (including Hawaii) which doesn't have snow somewhere on the ground today. WTF happened to global warming?

When we land (it was a Navy landing by the way, because it was clearly the short runway), the tall, skinny flight attendant dude tells us that we've made up 30 minutes from our late departure, which as usual leads me to think: do they fly "faster" if they leave late?

Then I get a rental car, and as always marvel at all the bullshit car rental taxes in Florida that cost almost as much as the actual rental car cost, but I get a free upgrade to a minivan because they're out of "real" cars...

Then I drive to quickly see my parents before stopping over at Casablanca Bakery in Hialeah for the best pastelitos, papa rellena, croquetas, bacalao, yuca rellena, and Cuban bread in the area (and a full breakfast anytime for $3). They put it all in a nice box and I take it to my parents.

From there I drive to Little Havana, where I had left a bunch of my artwork in store at my cousin's house. I get there, load up the minivan and head to Miami Beach to meet Sheila, the hardworking artist and owner/director of Mayer Fine Art to help her set up in booth 105 of the fair.

At the MB Convention Center there's an army of people assembling booths and putting art shows together. This is the same floor, the same place where the "real" Art Basel Miami Beach takes place, and there's a feeling to being here that is quite unique.

Mayer Fine Art actually has two booths at this fair: one for gallery artists and one focus booth for their big selling European superuberartist Alexey Terenin.

Terenin deserves the focus booth (curated by Aldo Castillo).

Terenin... this Russian-born painter is an exceptional master of the marriage of the palette knife with the brush and with intensely psychological scenarios... and he sells like crazy!

For MIA, Sheila has chosen a huge Terenin painting, almost seven feet tall. She has spent over a thousand dollars getting it stretched, framed, crated and shipped to Miami Beach for the spotlight of a focus booth in this show.

When it arrives, it has been damaged in transit by the shipper, who has clearly ignored the DO NOT LAY FLAT markings on the crate. There are two huge gouge holes on the crate, which in turn have worked their way through the protective wood, board and plastic protection around the linen painting to just barely kiss the back of the painting with a sharp steel tooth of a yellow gear transport and bite the linen to leave a mark, almost invisible, on the canvas, and the tiniest of wounds to the paint itself.

Two of them, as if a gigantic snake had brushed the rear of the painting with needle-like teeth. Two tiny pin-like pricks... almost invisible to the eye, but not to the ethics of a decent art dealer.

Within minutes Aldo Castillo has a conservation restorer on the line. He will come tomorrow morning to assess the damage and repair it on site. Sheila's investment in this yet unsold painting continues.

And so does this report from MIA... tomorrow.