'Gallery Adds Caribbean Twist to Art Basel'
by Nicole White
MIAMI — Reggae music blared from the walls of the Diaspora Vibe Gallery. The whimsical collection of art by Aimee Lee rocked with each pulse, seemingly taking on a life of its own. Lee’s collection, called “Native Intelligence,” is a part of the Caribbean Crossroads Series at the Miami gallery owned by Jamaican-born Rosie Gordon-Wallace.
The exhibit features small to large scale pieces of paper – crushed, dyed, appliquéd – in multiple shapes, all suspended from the gallery’s ceiling.
In one, layers of paper flutter like a costumed dress from La Dolce Vita. In another, paper is wetted, and pieces of it are then dried to each other, mimicking the motion of action figures.
“I liked the idea of each piece having a life of its own,’’ said Lee, a New York native born to Korean parents.
Each piece tells a story, a snippet of a story, a thought or an observation that Lee culled during her journey to Korea. There on a Fulbright scholarship, she studied the ancient art of Korean papermaking, a process that helped her connect with her roots and the traditions of her ancestors.
“Paper is so central to human civilization and culture. Korean homes are enshrined in paper. It’s a part of every day life,’’ she said.
That Lee’s collection of spirited pieces found a home at Wallace’s gallery – long dubbed the epicenter of the immigrant art experience – was no accident.
“We courted Aimee for years,’’ Gordon-Wallace said. “We are an immigrant space. Her work is everything we represent – affordable, scholarly. It completely transformed the space, and that is part of the excitement of the work. This show is a global show - Asian, female, immigrant. All of our trigger points are translated here.’’
Diaspora’s mission, after all, says Gordon-Wallace, is to make art affordable, understandable and accessible to anyone willing to embrace it.
As such, shows are intimate affairs that include Caribbean music, food and laughter, a far cry from the austere settings replete with silence that often define traditional galleries.
Lee’s installation, which runs through Dec. 17, coincided with Art Basel, last week’s mammoth display of art from around the world.
The sister show to Switzerland’s Art Basel, the Miami/Miami Beach version has become known for attracting major dealers and collectors, and for showcasing the work of emerging artists such as Lee. The event transforms the city into a weeklong art bacchanal of sorts with endless parties.
But while all the talk and display of art during Art Basel may seem far removed from the lives of many within the African Diaspora, Gordon-Wallace declares the show the single most important event for artists and those who promote the arts.
“I’m happy for the catalyst that Art Basel brings to the art community,’’ Gordon-Wallace said. “Art Basel is the most sophisticated art show in the world, but it is also a business. Why aren’t we positioning ourselves to take advantage of it?”
An art aficionado who has been in the business for 14 years, Gordon-Wallace opened the gallery seven years ago. She says the community benefits from Art Basel if it makes strategic input.
“You get what you put in. I have no problems with Mr. Basel,’’ she said. “When Art Basel leaves, we’re still here, and we invite people to come up these stairs and see the work that is going on here all year round.’’