Miami Project: A Family Business

by Corinna Kirsch on December 8, 2013 Art Fair

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If you were to start at the corner of NE 36th and 1st in Miami’s Wynwood Art District, and start walking towards the Miami Project, the directions might look a little like this: Start with the glowing white tent of the Brazil Art Fair on your left, and walk south, past the glowing white tents of the CONTEXT Art Fair, Red Dot Art Fair, and Art Miami. If you hit SPECTRUM Miami or the ArtSpot Art Fair, you’ve gone too far. One begins to suspect there are a few too many satellite fairs.

So how can a young fair like Miami Project, now in its second year, set itself apart? With camaraderie, wit, and a little bit of resilience. Many of the nearly five dozen galleries show together throughout the year at the artMRKT fairs in San Francisco, Houston, and the Hamptons. They often describe themselves as a “little family.”

“I’m making sure she doesn’t have to buy herself a drink,” Max Fishko, one of the fair’s managing partners, told me at the fair on Friday evening. He was pointing to Catharine Clark, who has run San Francisco’s Catharine Clark Gallery for over twenty years. With the fair about to close up for the night, she had just made a sale on a series of Nina Katchadourian self-portraits. Fishko, 30, comes from a family of gallery owners and has grown up around the fairs. “I’d be screwing over mom,” he explained, if he didn’t make sure the exhibitors’ needs were met.

That effort seems to be paying off. Miami Project’s second year has seen an increase in foot traffic (over 8,000 visitors by Friday morning), and though that’s no guarantor of sales, it certainly seemed to be helping the mood.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Caitlin Moore of Culver City’s Mark Moore Gallery beamed, telling me about several works that had sold, including Penelope Umbrico’s candy-color series “Mountains, Moving: Of Dr. George C. Poundstone” (2013). That was purchased on-site by the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach, and like many of this year’s sales they were from new clients (about 80 percent, she mentioned).

It’s true, Moore noted, that nothing matches the now-storied boon years of 2006 and 2007—“When people ran through and went that, that, that!”—but sales were better than she was used to with Pulse Miami, where the gallery and several others at Miami Project had moved from, and where Moore had shown for the past eight years. This was the first time since the “feeding frenzy” that she felt celebratory. And while first-day sales at NADA and Basel were notably swift, with booths selling out entirely as the rising tide lifted all boats, sales at Miami Project seemed to take a little more work. I’ve never seen such a range of emotions on dealers’ faces: some were ecstatic, others exhausted, and one was on the verge of tears.

“Not everyone wins all the time,” Fishko mentioned regarding Miami Project’s galleries. Well, of course: The fair is still new. But this year, it seems there was enough cheer to help get this “little family” fair off the ground.

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