Robert Fontaine on His Wynwood Gallery and Second Saturday Art Walks
What you won't find is pretentiousness. The space, nestled along 23rd Street, provides a welcoming and comfortable vibe almost immediately upon entering its doors. With only two rooms, the gallery immediately whispers, "less is more, quality over quantity." Cultist caught up with the gallery's director about how he chooses artists, what he thinks of the crowded art walks, and what he has planned for Art Basel.
Director Robert Fontaine is the maestro of this orchestra. His up-and-coming collection blends perfectly with the maelstrom occurring in Wynnwood. In addition, Fontaine is affable, unpretentious, and knowledgeable. Due to his humble and youthful demeanor, he may appear more of a docent than an owner, but make no mistake, he's the boss, and his collection is amazing. Fontaine has an incredible eye and he knows how to sell the heck out of art. If you have a chance, if you haven't already, drop by and see for yourself.
Robert Fontaine: Wynwood wasn't my first stop. I originally set up a gallery on South Beach, on Purdy Avenue. Since I live on South Beach I wanted to keep with the European idea of walking to work, walking home, stopping at a café on the way.
But South Beach did not support such a gallery and soon I set sail for Wynwood. I braced for it really. I felt like I was leaping into the sea at night, not knowing if it was high tide or low tide, a feeling I'm sure gallerists felt in Chelsea, NYC before the district there was a fully matured art destination.
Were you welcomed with open arms and pocketbooks?
The first week of unpacking in Wynwood was amazing. I had serious collectors venturing in while I was still outfitting the space. I quickly became acclimated to the energy of the area just by how brisk the interest was in the work I was preparing for exhibition, perhaps it was just good timing, almost serendipitous maybe. I have no regrets being in Wynwood.
What do you think of Wynwood?
It's edgy, but not stuffy. Dealers can leave their black pointy shoes at home. It's relaxed. Galleries are approachable and less intimidating, this is a rare find. Truly devoted and warm gallerists welcome collectors and well-wishers without hesitation. It's nice to be a part of this, there is true excitement in Wynwood.
What is the aesthetic of your gallery?
The gallery program is to exhibit fresh international contemporary artists discovered and newly discovered...Urban/street artists are especially of great interest to us. We focus on artists that have an idea which is new, something that speaks of this very moment.
I come from the philosophy that an artist has a responsibility to visually speak from their own generation, their own footprint perhaps, without mimicking too much the past ideas and attitudes. We are all linear, so should be the direction of the artist.
We have a handful of artists I really ran after to represent with the belief they share a totally fresh idea worth exploring: Nick Gentry, Troy Abbott, Tina La Porta, Scott Snyder, C. Finley. I only show artists that move me, not necessarily artists who are moving in the market.
What has been your best exhibition so far?
"Stencil & Candy," an exhibition which showcased works from the pop art movement and the present street art movement, highlighting the relationship between the two. It was highly successful.
Do you rep any Miami artists?
We show a few Miami artists; I enjoy showcasing locals. I almost feel a moral obligation to do so. We're always hopeful to find fresh thinkers who offer groundbreaking viewpoints.
Talk about the business side of the art world.
It's like any other business I suppose, not everyone at the top deserves to be there, not everything is vacant of politics, one needs a leap of faith. I'm driven emotionally which may be different than most businesses. Being surrounded by art all day makes it feel less like business; it's much like being the last guy to lock up the museum at closing time.
Do you have future plans to expand?
I rather like the size of the gallery and program of artists. It's manageable and still intimate. Anything larger would be difficult and I fear would kill the excitement for me.
What do you honestly think of Second Saturday Art Walks?
I'm fairly new to Second Saturdays. I do like the idea of the Second Saturday Art Walk, we do well that night, but we close at 9 p.m. now, after 9 p.m. it's just a party with less serious collectors swarming the streets. Aside from the occasional viewers who feel the need to touch every piece of art in front of them, I like it. It's a positive step in showcasing that Miami is a serious platform in the art world.
What advice would you give an emerging artist?
It's a rough ride. Hang on to your dreams, be open to change, don't create things that have already been done.
What's the next few months have in store?
We are preparing for Art Basel, our participation in Scope as well as a show at the gallery during this time called: "Sex, Drugs & Profanity," an exhibition which showcases how art has been impacted by the change in social norms.
The Robert Fontaine Gallery (175 NW 23rd Street) is open Monday through Saturday, 12 to 4:30 p.m. Visit robertfontainegallery.com.
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