Since it was first organized in 1895, the Venice Biennale has been one of the main events of the art world, unmatched by any other exhibition for its location if not always for the quality of the work displayed. Situated in the picturesque Castello Gardens, a short water taxi ride from the center of Venice, the fair was separated into more than 30 free-standing pavilions representing different nations, including the United States, when it was founded. In these times of globalism, the underlying structure of the fair seems as quaint as the telegraph, and some members of the Italian Government, which has subsidized the fair since the 1930’s, have recently moved to scrap it altogether.
But the 1999 Biennale, which will open on June 13 with considerably less money from the Italian Government than in any other year, promises to be a vast improvement over the last fair in 1997. This year’s director is Harold Szeemann, a charismatic independent curator at the Zurich Kunsthaus, where he has organized major exhibition of works by conceptual artists Bruce Nauman and Joseph Beuys. Mr. Szeemann has been aligned with the Biennale since 1980, when he created the Aperto pavilion, a section devoted to younger artists. At a meeting with curators in January, however, Mr. Szeemann announced that he is abolishing the Aperto pavilion. Instead, he intends to include more theater, music and conceptual installations by younger artists, especially women, in this year’s event.
Ann Hamilton, who is represented by the Sean Kelly Gallery in SoHo and whose work is currently on display at the Aldridge Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Conn., will be one of those women. On March 24, a committee of curators under the auspices of the United States Information Agency elected Ms. Hamilton to represent the United States at the Biennale. Ms. Hamilton is best known for her 1993 installation at the Dia Center for the Arts in which a person sat at a table signing the pages of a book in a room carpeted with horsehair; in the background there was a broadcast of the garbled speech of a person with aphasia, a condition which makes it difficult to talk.
Helaine Posner, the New York-based curator who sponsored Ms. Hamilton with Katy Kline, director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Me., said they nominated Ms. Hamilton before they knew Mr. Szeemann would be directing the Biennale.
“It was fortuitous that his interests coincided with ours,” said Ms. Posner.
Ms. Hamilton, 42, intends to build a wall made of water glass, which has a rippling effect, in a steel armature outside of the U.S. pavilion-a scale model of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Inside, she will cover the walls with a red powder that drifts, and Braille text. There will also be a recording playing. The details of the text and the audio broadcast have not yet been determined.
Artists in Residence … In Miami
Across Biscayne Bay from South Beach, a design and art community-a SoHo South-is being re-established in the Miami Design District northeast of downtown Miami. Developers in the area are purchasing property in an 18-block neighborhood of 1970’s style buildings that were abandoned in the wake of the 1980’s riots. The area is drawing talented artists, dealers and architects from New York.
Craig Robins, 36, an art patron who has helped promote the careers of Kenny Scharf and John Baldessari, is one of the developers who have revitalized the area. Mr. Robins has also hired artists to work for his development company and has generally become a salesman for the new, affordable and wide-open art enclave. You could turn the cast of characters Mr. Robins has assembled into a pretty entertaining sitcom.
Antoni Miralda, a Barcelonan and likely inheritor of Salvador Dali’s mantle, is best known for having designed El Teddy’s restaurant in TriBeCa. He is “director of ideas” for the Dacra Companies, Mr. Robins’ real estate development organization. For the past three years, Mr. Miralda has divided his time between Barcelona and Miami. He told The Observer he likes Miami because it is “hot, violent, sensual and chaotic.” He has installed Gondola Shoe , a giant red shoe that would fit the Statue of Liberty, in the lobby of one of Mr. Robins’ buildings.
Walter Chatham, an architect based in New York, has redesigned many of the buildings in the design district, primarily with creative use of tiles and paint. And architect Alison Spear said she moved to Miami from New York because Mr. Robins offered her work designing a new shop for Holly Hunt, a design showroom.
Ms. Spear, 39, grew up in Miami, but has not lived in the city since she left for Cornell University at 18. She recently purchased an apartment in a building that was designed by her sister, Laurinda Spear, a founding partner of Arquitectonica, a Miami architecture firm. But the former Fifth Avenue architect was motivated to move back to Miami for another reason: “a tragedy in my family that you can read all about in the current issue of W ,” she told The Observer . Her husband, Carlos Gomez, is serving a 55-month sentence for embezzling $18 million from clients of Citibank, where he was previously employed.
“It is nice to have friends like Craig,” said Ms. Spear.
Leah Kleiman, a New York-based art dealer whose trade is 19th-century statuary and salon paintings, opened Leah’s Place, a gallery in a 1920’s historic building in the design district, at Mr. Robins’ urging last year. Ms. Kleiman’s clients include Michael Jackson and Sylvester Stallone. She said Mr. Jackson recently flew in from South Africa, where he is on tour, to buy some statues from her.
A few avenues away, Mera and Donald Rubell have installed their collection of contemporary art in a 40,000-square-foot former Drug Enforcement Agency building, a remnant of the cocaine wars that turned the area into a war zone in the 1980’s. The Rubell Family Foundation would have stayed in New York if the couple had been able to find a building they could afford. Until two years ago, Mr. Rubell, who is the brother of the late Steve Rubell, co-founder of Studio 54, had a thriving practice as a Park Avenue gynecologist. Ms. Rubell was a commercial real estate broker in Manhattan. The couple has been shrewdly collecting art for 23 years; Mr. Rubell is especially proud of a Cindy Sherman photograph from the Untitled Film Stills series he purchased for $25. Ms. Rubell pointed out that they bought the building the collection is housed in, in 1996, for $400,000: “the price of a studio apartment in Manhattan.”
The Rubells seem to revel in the dark glamour of their place. On a recent tour of the building, which has a room of magnificent paintings by David Salle, Ross Bleckner, Gilbert and George, Julian Schnabel and Francesco Clemente, Mr. Rubell bragged that the building once had a room in it that contained nine feet of cocaine and was armed with machine guns; another room contained piles of cash.
“In some sense, it is almost an artistic Wild West here,” said Mr. Rubell.