Despite years of winnowing, a handful of successful galleries have stood firm in the Gables, a nucleus of talent that could provide the foundation for a rebirth of the Gables art scene
By JP Faber // Photography by Jon Braeley
Ramón Cernuda will be the first to tell you that the Gables art gallery scene is nothing like it once was. “The place where our gallery is located (Ponce de Leon Boulevard, south of Miracle Mile) used to be called gallery row. There were 30, maybe 40 galleries up and down Ponce, up to 16th [Mendoza] and down to Bird. We had a terrific, vibrant gallery scene in the late ‘90s and up until about 2006 or 2007….”
That is when the great diaspora took place, when art galleries fled largely to Wynwood, but also to Little Havana and even Downtown Miami, all in search of larger spaces and lower rents – especially lower rents. Today there are maybe a dozen galleries in the Gables, and even that takes a stretch of imagination to include artist studios that act as galleries, and places like the Colombian Consulate that houses a gallery of Latin art.
“Our original location was Ponce and Andalusia, where Bulla restaurant is now,” says Silvia Ortiz, owner of the Americas Collection gallery. “Then the rents were doubled, and tripled in some cases. So most of the galleries left. Wynwood was up and coming, and also had very attractive pricing.”
While the Americas Collection briefly opened a second gallery in Wynwood, they followed the lead of Cernuda and bought a building in the Gables to house their art. While Cernuda purchased two buildings on Ponce just south of University Drive, Ortiz bought a warehouse-sized space on Ponce south of Bird Road, an industrial area that has since become the unofficial design center of the Gables, with neighbors like dress designers Filomena Fernandez and Silvia Tcherassi, and home design stores like Artefacto, StudioBecker, Fine Line, and Miele.
Likewise for Virginia Miller, the doyen of the Gables art world, who heads up the Gables Gallery Association and who has been the most recognized art purveyor in Miami for nearly four decades. She purchased her ArtSpace gallery on Madeira Avenue; otherwise, she says, it would have been difficult to continue.
But does this mean the gallery scene in Coral Gables is now moribund? Far from it, say those who have survived the winnowing and those who are returning to, or have opened new spaces, in the Gables.
On a recent Thursday night, the Conde Contemporary Gallery on Miracle Mile held the opening for its new show, “Idols of the Tribe,” a collection of symbolic and magical realism works mostly by Cuban and Latin American painters and sculptors. If the gallery scene in the Gables is dead, no one bothered to tell the more than 400 people who came through the gallery that night.
“Business is good,” says Stacy Conde, who runs the gallery that is named both for her and her Cuban American husband Andres Conde, an accomplished painter in his own right. Conde Contemporary was lured from Little Havana to Miracle Mile four years ago, thanks to an attractive rent package from Terranova, the largest landlord on the Mile.
“I have to say that we lost a lot of foot traffic during the renovation of the street. I think that people got accustomed to going other places because it took so long to finish,” she says. “But I do see it coming back.”
A Resurgence Ahead?
The idea that the Gables can once again become the center of the South Florida art scene has not been lost on city officials, either. While South Beach and the Design District have stolen some of the Gables’ cache as the culture hub of Miami-Dade, neither has grown a blossoming gallery scene. Like the Gables, their rent rates are more suitable to Gucci and Prada outlets than show places for starving artists. Wynwood is also in the process of driving away its galleries in favor of tony stores that can afford rising rents; many have already fled to cheaper locations in Little Haiti and Allapattah.
“For gallery space anywhere in Miami, the rents are going up. It’s happening even in Wynwood, so we are not unique in that,” says Catherine Cathers, the city’s art and culture specialist. “But right now, there’s an artistic resurgence in the [Gables] community, with the streetscape project and art in public places programs,” she says, adding that we have the politically rare support of the mayor and city commission to rebuild our status as an art hub. “Coral Gables is a natural fit for new galleries, emerging galleries and well-established galleries,” says Cathers. “In addition to major collectors living in our community, there are a lot of upscale residences that need artwork.”
In the last few years, while some galleries have left, others have arrived, such as ArtLabbé on Ponce. Several have been in “pop up” locations, such as the Ninoska Heurta gallery on Aragon at the corner of Salzedo. Some newer galleries, such as Imago Art in Action (which opened on Majorca in 2016), have diversified into offerings such as educational programs in order to pay the bills.
“The [city’s] retail strategy hasn’t addressed bringing in art galleries up to now,” says Francesca Valdes, the retail development specialist in the city’s Economic Development Department. “But the city would love to have more art galleries here in the downtown and find ways to do that. We are exploring how we can use storefronts and use them in their vacant stages to incorporate more art.”
Both Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli and Vice Mayor Vince Lago are in discussions with city staff to explore ways to subsidize galleries as a way to bring them back to the city. “We are very much trying to attract them here,” says Valdés-Fauli, himself an avid art collector. One big idea: Instead of using the 1.5 percent fee the city charges all new million-dollar-plus developments for public art projects, use those funds instead to subsidize gallery spaces.
“The problem with the galleries that we lost is that we didn’t necessarily have the space for them to thrive, and Wynwood did,” says the mayor. “They had these warehouses and ample spaces, so we lost them. We had Gary Nadar here, for example, in a beautiful space. But look at his warehouse [in Wynwood]. It would take two city blocks of our space to accommodate that.”
Just what the city can do to revitalize the gallery scene in the Gables remains to be seen. Cernuda, for his part, believes the city should target some of the well-established galleries in cities like New York or Los Angeles to encourage them to establish a second location here, based on the Gables’ brand as an affluent city for high-end art collectors. Regardless of tactic, almost all agree that a robust gallery scene should remain a part of the city’s cultural fabric. “In Coral Gables the art scene is important to maintain the city as a viable center of civil discourse and culture,” says Giora Breil, manager of the Rojas Ford Gallery, which opened on Ponce across from Cernuda in late 2017. “The real question is whether it’s a good idea to have a gallery, because the dynamics of showing and selling artists has changed, due to the internet.”
Having said that, the Rojas Ford Gallery is one of the participants in the city’s monthly First Friday event, where people are encouraged to roam the city’s art spaces, including the Coral Gables Museum, with the aid of free trolley service. While not as vigorous as it once was, the monthly evening event still brings visitors. “We absolutely participate, and we usually get 80 to 120 people,” says Breil. “But it should be re-energized. I come from the television industry, where you have certain key programs that sustain the brand of your network or feed. In Coral Gables, the brand is culture, and that is the magnet.”
Magical Realism in the Gables
Conde Contemporary | 204 Miracle Mile | 239.961.0452
For Stacy Conde, a Miami native, there was never any doubt that Coral Gables was the place she wanted her gallery.
“When I think of Coral Gables, I still think of it as the cultural hub of Miami,” says Conde. “To me, Coral Gables is the center of elegance and sophistication, and that’s what it means to me – and has always meant to me – as a native. So, when we were offered this opportunity from Terranova to come from Little Havana over to Coral Gables [four years ago] to this amazing location on Miracle Mile, we jumped at it.”
Conde says that, like other gallery owners today, success requires that you go beyond the gallery, with an aggressive digital presence and with a presence at various art shows around the country. “We have succeeded because we have a large online presence, we have a large social media presence, and we do art fairs.”
Of course, sometimes nothing matches the ability to interact with current and potential clients in the physical space of a gallery, and in the presence of the artworks themselves. “The truth is we give very good customer service,” says Conde. “We have excellent recommendations from one client to the next, and we have this core group of artists that has expanded as our reputation has grown. There is this beautiful balance between the gallery and the collector and the artist. When all three of these entities are in balance, everything flows.”
Cognizant of the different demographics of its potential clients, Conde Contemporary carries artworks that span the range of affordability. For the gallery’s current show, Idols of the Tribe, prices range from a $2,000 oil-on-wood by up-and-coming Cuban surrealist Anthony Ardavin to a $90,000 work by Chilean master Roberto Matta.
Conde says she learned about art, design and fashion while working 10 years as the assistant to famed London designer Barbara Hulanicki, and has since then developed what she calls a “penchant for forced realism,” leading her gallery to specialize more in figurative and representational work than abstract art. “I love surrealism, magical realism and, if you can incorporate a little academic realism here and there, I like it,” she says.
While geography has played a big part in the gallery’s selection of artists to represent – i.e. Cuban and Latin American – Conde says it comes down to personal relationships as much as anything else.
“To me, art is not just some product,” she says. “I prefer to work with people who are putting something of their heart and soul into what they do, and trying to communicate something. Whether that is something sad and tragic, or beautiful and uplifting, it’s all so worthwhile to me, that kind of human experience.”
Master of Cuban Art
Cernuda Arte | 3155 Ponce de Leon Blvd. | 305.461.1050
Since establishing his gallery in the Gables in 1999, Ramón Cernuda has focused exclusively on Cuban art, and has become a leading authority on the subject. There are virtually no Cuban masters from the 20th or 21st centuries that are not represented by Cernuda – from Wifredo Lam and Victor Manuel to Tómas Sánchez and René Portocarrero.
“I think that as a country, considering the context of Latin America, Cuba has produced a very interesting body of art,” says Cernuda. “It has to do with the colonial occupation, and being an island with many different ethnicities and cultures, where one element did not control the island.”
Not only does Cernuda specialize in Cuban masters like Lam and Sánchez, whose works can fetch anywhere from a half million to several million dollars, he also works with new Cuban artists who are now in vogue among U.S. collectors. “Cuban art continues to grow and evolve with a vibrant contemporary movement. So it’s not only the 20th century artists, but the new artists that are coming out,” he says. “They are gradually finding their way into international contemporary collections.”
While Cernuda has a strong local clientele, he says his success is based partly on operating “outside the box” of the Gables. “We have developed outside markets, Dallas, Chicago, Palm Beach, New York. We have not depended on the local market – one of the reasons we have done well.”
Like Virginia Miller and Silvia Ortiz (The Americas Collection), Cernuda
also purchased his space early on and so avoided the rental hikes that drove most of his colleagues from the city. Beyond the rent hikes, Cernuda also blames parking restrictions. “Basically it was a combination of factors [that drove galleries away]. The rents were too high but there is also the issue of parking restrictions. In the areas adjacent to the galleries, the streets that are perpendicular to Ponce, it used to be that people could park on these streets. Now they are reserved for residents of the homes. They are empty all day, but if you park there you get a ticket.”
Cernuda believes the city should lure established galleries from places like New York, rather than trying to attract newbies. “The current reality in the Gables is that it’s the right market for high-end galleries, not for someone who just bought a hammer and bag of nails… You need to actively and professionally go out and recruit the top galleries in the US. Those are the ones that can afford the Gables, and also find patrons here.”
As for Cernuda himself, “I am very happy being in the Gables. I love it and don’t have any desire to leave. I’ve told all my colleagues at FADA [the Fine Art Dealers Association] that they should have a second venue here.”
Leader of the Pack
Artspace Virginia Miller Galleries | 169 Madeira Ave. | 305.444.4493
It is hard to exaggerate the importance of Virginia Miller as a pioneer and doyen of the Miami art scene. Since her first shows in the 1970s, to the launch of her Gables gallery in 1980, she has led the pack. Her accolades could fill pages of this magazine, from her Russian art show in ’82 that drew 2,000 visitors to her Gables gallery (theMiami Herald called it “the party of the year”), to her placement of more than 150 works of art in E.F. Hutton’s Manhattan headquarters collection, topping every gallery in the nation.
Miller has curated more than 300 exhibitions, introducing Miami to such renowned artists as Richard Pousette-Dart of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism, Leon Berkowitz of the Washington Color School, and Alice Neel, one of the foremost American figurative artists of the 20th century. And though her gallery has naturally exhibited many Cuban and Latin American artists – such as Claudio Bravo, Fernando Botero and Roberto Matta – she has also gone well beyond the region. Starting in 2006, for example, she has produced five of South Florida’s first exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art.
“Cuban and Latin American works have been a large part of our sales during the last four decades,” she says. “However, that narrow focus on collecting has slowly changed over the years… Sometimes I think we are the UN, showing art from all over the world. We have shown work from Asia, Latin America and Europe. I even did an Australian aboriginal show at one point.”
As president of the Coral Gables Gallery Association, Miller remains a strong supporter of Gables Gallery Night, which she launched in the 1980s as chair of the Chamber of Commerce’s cultural affairs committee. She also applauds recent city discussions of incentives for galleries and artists’ residencies. “Coral Gables may never see as many galleries as it had in the 1990s, when at one time we had around 50 galleries. Galleries need inexpensive, large spaces, like old warehouses or this former ballet school with its large open space, and the Gables has very few of those,” she says. “I bought my [4,000-square foot building] in ’79. Otherwise the rent would be 10,000 or 12,000 a month. No gallery can afford that.”
Miller’s gallery, which had been a ballet studio, had also once been a Stutz Bearcat showroom and a stable for Gables trolley horses. That suits Miller just fine, whose roots here go deep; one of her grandfathers came to Miami in 1908 and started the nursery that landscaped City Hall.
“It’s very difficult [to run a gallery] in Coral Gables. But I love the city and wouldn’t live anywhere else. It’s so well run and so beautiful,” she says. “I believe Coral Gables will always attract galleries.”
Champion of the Americas
The Americas Collection | 4213 Ponce de Leon Blvd. | 305.446.5578
Outside of Virginia Miller, no one has been part of the Coral Gables gallery scene longer than The Americas Collection, which was launched by the Nicaraguan family of Silvia Ortiz in 1991.
“We are part of the original group and still belong to the organization [the Coral Gables Gallery Association] with Virginia Miller that we created together,” says Ortiz. “So we have always been involved, and we continue to be, though most of our original colleagues moved to other parts [of Miami-Dade]… but our heart was always here, so we never left the Gables.”
That strategy has served the Americas Collection well, especially since they side-stepped the escalating rents by purchasing a space in what was then the industrial zone of Coral Gables.
“We always believed in our city,” says Ortiz, who estimates that at least half of her clientele comes from the Gables. “We acquired this space and we renovated it.
There was practically nothing around here then, but this became a cultural arts corridor, so we call it the Ponce Corridor of the Gables. And all of us interconnect – like Fine Line and Filomena [Fernandez] and StudioBecker. All of us here have become our own village within the Gables.”
In terms of artists that the Americas Collection represents, many come from Central America and the Caribbean – from Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Panama and Honduras, for example – as well as from Ecuador and Chile. And, like other galleries, the offerings can range from a few thousand for the works of new artists to more than $50,000 for the works of established names.
“We do have younger collectors, which are the future, so we cater to any budget,” says Ortiz. “We also have clients that we have had for 15 or 20 years. We get to know them and they become like family. They become friends and family and sometimes call just to get an opinion. And sometimes we cannot offer what they are looking for, but we try to assist them with an opinion, or an installation, or refreshing their art. We have custom framing, so sometimes it’s just about refreshing what they already have.”
Among the better known artists currently hanging at the Americas Collection are works by Cuban American artist Jose Bedia and Chilean master Andrea Carreño. Then there are works by abstract Nicaraguan artists Ramiro Lacayo-Deshon and Norlan Santana, and canvases by still-life painter Chilean Enrique Campuzano.
“We have artists that we have represented since our inception, and in the interval we have incorporated emerging artists to give a balance – because we want to cater to our young collectors as well,” says Ortiz. “I feel that Latin American art will always be trending, so we do have our own niche.”