Call him Omar. A bundle of kind energy dedicated to his curatorial craft, Omar Lopez-Chahoud guided UNTITLED. through its first iteration last year during Miami Art Week to a very successful conclusion. Much more than a white whale beached on the sands off Ocean Drive, the great white tent designed by Keenen/Riley Architects (K/R Architects), and redesigned this year by the same, promises to be as exhilarating as last year, a welcome respite amidst the floundering chaos of Miami Art Week.
The main element that sets UNTITLED. apart from the rest is not its beautiful location, nor its ability to attract galleries that show great awareness and guile when it comes to contemporary art. Its greatest characteristic is its ability to take in the multitude of disparate voices of the contemporary art world and produce a harmony. A visitor to UNTITLED. may well feel as if they are in a museum rather than a fair. A quality that any intrepid fair-goer can appreciate.
On the eve of its second year, I sat down with Omar, the Artistic Director and lead Curator of UNTITLED., to discuss what makes UNTITLED. different. Trying to pin down just what makes a curated art fair is difficult. Where it begins, however, might just be in the reorganization of what has come to be a fundamental component of an art fair: the selection committee. Generally comprised of dealers, application to a selection committee can be an intimidating experience for many gallerists. UNTITLED. skips the often shrouded group and places the selection process in the very capable hands of Omar. Up-front from the get-go, Omar gets down to the specifics with galleries, going so far as to select artists and specific works that he believes will lend to the cohesive narrative of the exhibi...err...fair. “I meet the galleries but I also like to meet the artists and converse with them,” says Omar. While a fair must take into account sales, politics and the art world at large, Omar keeps focused on what he believes should be at the forefront of a great fair – the artworks. “I want to keep it clean like last year. What I mean by clean is not overcrowding the booth and not overcrowding the space. That’s very important because it facilitates a better sense of the work for the viewer and it’s better for the collectors, to get a clean vision of what the artist is doing rather than getting confused or getting overwhelmed with stuff and then in the end making the wrong decision or making no decision at all because it is confusing. We try to make an experience that is not confusing.” Amidst what has become contemporary art worlds, Omar’s dedication to restraint is encouraging. “I want people to spend time at UNTITLED., to feel comfortable there.”
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Zero Noon, 2013, computer, processing software, square HD display, electronic, metal enclosure, 17” x 17” x 4" (43.2 cm x 43.2 cm x 10.2 cm); Courtesy of Bitforms 19.
This year, UNTITLED. has pulled greatly from Latin America, making it more international as it has grown from forty-nine to ninety-seven galleries with nineteen different countries represented altogether. With such a quick expansion, UNTITLED. could face some difficulties in keeping such an open and fluid layout as last year but Omar is confident they’ll manage. “The tent will be twice the size. We believe in open spaces, in an open layout. It’s really important for us to keep that and we are working with the same architects and that’s their signature. We had many conversations with them. It will be a more organic but structured floorplan that will be beautiful, more natural light; we’ve changed the entrance and have a VIP lounge designed by a group of artists.”
Also new to this year’s UNTITLED. will be a series of panel discussions (editors from Cabinet, Brooklyn Rail and Esopus talk on non-profit mags, LaToya Ruby Frazier gives an artist talk, etc.) and performances by Jacolby Satterwhite, TM Sisters, Santiago Sierra and others. UNTITLED. also founded a residency program with the Fountainhead Residency that sent three artists to Miami and also started a six-month residency in New York, the winner of which will be announced at the fair. “I focused more on artist-run spaces and non-profits this year. Why? Because I feel they are important organizations in the formation of an artist’s work. For an artist to try out a new idea, take a huge risk, they have to go to an artist-run space or organization. They are mixed in with the other galleries because we take that into consideration, the positions of the galleries. I try to create a narrative.”
A narrative through an art fair seems like an impossible task: to curate hundreds of artists into a coherent message, heralding the state of contemporary art in one location, at one time. Of course there will be some blind spots, that’s always the case. Yet, as cluttered as life can be, it is encouraging to know that some out there are still trying to make sense of it all and represent it to others with skill and conviction – that there are some who can wrangle the white whale.
[Image on top: Rodolfo Diaz Cervantes, Buscando Patrones I, 2013, digital print, 6.3” x 7.8” (16 cm x 20 cm); Courtesy of talcual gallery.]