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Wandering through UNTITLED’s airy pop-up tent on Miami Beach, I bumped into Savannah College of Art and Design curator Alex Sachs in the booth of Andrew Rafacz Gallery, which represents Wendy White (B.F.A., Fibers) in Chicago. Always curious about the works that catch a curator’s eye, I asked Alex to tell me what has her attention at the fair. In this case, it was the geometrical forms, beguilingly folded aluminum, by artist Robert Burnier that drew Alex in.
What followed, after Andrew approached us in the booth, was an enlightening and organic conversation about Robert and why UNTITLED is the best fair in Miami Beach.
Andrew Rafacz: Robert is Chicago-based and studied at the art institute but he is in his 40s and started as a software engineer years ago and decided to go back to school for art, because it was his first love. And that kind of informs his work because these start as designs in the computer and some of the lines are very precise and then he’s manipulating them by hand in his studio. So they have that hand-involved quality, but they straddle different lines. For me they’re about drawing. They look like folded paper, they’re sculptural and they have this mystery of materiality that I think is really epiphanic.
Alex Sachs: When you walk up to the booth you have no idea what they are. You really need to approach them to see what the materials are and to see the intricacy of the folding. The discovery is also why they’re really intriguing.
AR: This piece, you know, I stared at it in the studio and then we had it in the gallery, but having it in here, I was walking up to it and there are so many crazy folds inside this thing and it’s revealing itself even further.
Tarana Mayes: Andrew, have you exhibited at UNTITLED before?
AR: This is my second time exhibiting here. These guys are doing something really special. It’s a curated fair. I feel like some art fairs have said they are curated, but nobody curates a fair like Omar Lopez-Chahoud, who curates this. Because he is hands-on from day one all the way through this fair. He has been on site every day.
AS: Did he make any changes to your presentation?
AR: He didn’t. I feel like – last year he loved it, too. I had Wendy’s work here last year. I’ve watched him make changes here and there, which is an amazing thing, actually, to have somebody that dedicated, because sometimes you do art fairs and the person across from you, maybe the booth’s over hung or things don’t visually line-up. I mean a fair is always about a multiplicity of artistic voices, so it’s never going to be seamless.
AS: Yeah, the diversity.
AR: But you also want it to be like, we’re here as exhibitors for seven days. You want it to be visually arresting and not oppressive. So the combination of a really well curated fair with a tent bathed in natural light during the day makes it a joy to be in.
AS: The other thing I’ll say about this fair is that there’s a lot of restraint. A lot of times at art fairs there are a lot of people taking photos. I think it’s so overwhelming.
AR: Yes, they’re over-stimulated.
AS: Often times at fairs people are just taking photos and they’re like, “I’ll think about it later, I’ll look at it later.” But here it’s open and bright, and there’s plenty of wall space so that you really see each work individually, the way that you’d want to see them in a gallery. So it’s proximate to an ideal situation for showing art. Lots of natural light, lots of white space between the walls, and plenty of room between the booths, so it’s really open.
AR: And what’s amazing is that all of the things you said…having a fair take those things back, which we know worked in the first place, that is radical. It’s radical in what it’s not, actually.
TM: Having a fair remove the things that weren’t working?
AR: Remove the things that work for the big fair, I guess, or work for selling a lot of product, but they don’t work for taking in art in any sort of substantial way. I’d even go a step further and say the art fairs are starting to eclipse what happens in the gallery. So many galleries are struggling to stay open because they only sell art at an art fair. Well, that is truly problematic in the long run, because if you don’t have a space for an artist like Robert Burnier or Wendy White to develop and articulate a solo idea or exhibition in a space like that, what do we have left? We don’t have artists who can evolve like they need to. My point is that [UNTITLED] is taking it back by not reinventing the wheel.
So many galleries are struggling to stay open because they only sell art at an art fair. Well, that is truly problematic in the long run, because if you don’t have a space for an artist like Robert Burnier or Wendy White to develop and articulate a solo idea or exhibition in a space like that, what do we have left?
AS: Again, I’ll just say restraint. It just feels elegant and shows great restraint, which enables the viewer to see the work in it’s best light.