Carol Jazzar stakes out a corner of the Miami gallery scene far from Wynwood—in every way possible.

Carol Jazzar
Carol Jazzar turned her El Portal home’s two-car garage into an exhibition space for a different kind of art experience.

“I don’t see myself as an art dealer,” Carol Jazzar earnestly insists. “I see myself as a provider.” Come again? After all, Jazzar does own and operate one of the most intriguing art spaces in Miami—Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art—where she regularly exhibits and, yes, sells, artwork from both local notables and out-of-towners.

Still, Jazzar says this distinction is more than mere semantics. “I am in service to both the artists and the viewers,” she says. “To the artists, I provide a sounding board for their ideas and aesthetics. To the viewers, I provide a space that, I hope, takes them out of the ordinary so they can experience something closer to home.” Or, as Jazzar pronounces that last word, “om,” drawling it out in her purring French accent—still thick despite her having moved to South Florida from her native Paris over two decades ago. “Om,” she repeats, alternating it with “home.” The linguistic nod to the Zen concept of inner peace is crucial, she adds.

That this is more than mere affectation becomes apparent with an actual visit to Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art, located behind Jazzar’s own circa-1953 home in El Portal. As if the vintage architecture on her quiet, leafy street weren’t enough of a break from Wynwood’s gritty sidewalks, huge avocado trees shroud a long driveway leading back to the gallery.

Carol Jazzar
Jazzar in her gallery, with Paradise Lost, by New York painter Carlos Fragoso, 2013.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Jazzar chuckles. “I knew a number of contemporary artists who were always complaining they didn’t have an opportunity to show their work.” She had already begun making a name for herself as an independent curator earlier this past decade, staging well-received shows in the Design District ranging from a multimedia installation by Museum of Contemporary Art founder Lou Anne Colodny to a centennial celebration of Salvador Dalí. Yet she lacked the funds to rent a permanent warehouse space and hang out her own shingle. What she did possess was a large, high-ceilinged, two-car garage—perfect for transforming into an exhibition space, albeit one far removed from most gallery-hoppers’ itineraries.

Being located off the beaten art track quickly became part of her gallery’s appeal. “The environment where you present art is very important, beyond just the inside of the building,” Jazzar says. “When you come here and park your car in front of the house, already you’re surrounded by big trees. Even if you’re stressed out, being in nature is going to quiet down your mind. When you enter the space, you’re calm. The way you’re going to see the artwork is different than if you’re in a ‘white cube’ gallery, or a museum where your mind is already pre-set.”

The other part of that visual equation is the art itself. Since its debut show in 2007, Jazzar’s gallery has carved out a niche where craftsmanship remains central—don’t expect to see much in the way of minimalist painting or piles of found debris masquerading as “political” statements. Call it a theory-free zone.

Chris Fennell: Guts and Glory, 2013 (above)
Guts and Glory, by Chris Fennell, 2013

Jazzar has also opened up her gallery to several generations of Miami artists that all too rarely interact with one another: Robert Huff first made a local name for himself in the 1970s, though his latest geometrically intricate drawings remain as transfixingly beautiful as ever. Performance artist David Rohn initially set eyebrows fluttering amid the South Beach scene of the early ’90s—no mean feat given that period’s louche atmosphere. His current work is no less provocative, but displays as much of a devotion to the world of theater as to playfully lampooning the art world. Representing the younger Miamians who came of age in the wake of Art Basel is Jen Stark—her sculptures, meticulously constructed out of eye-popping hues of color, are instantly striking. Rounding out Jazzar’s roster are several New Yorkers, including the collagist Chris Fennell. Whereas other Florida galleries add out-of-towners to their exhibition schedules in hopes of goosing sales or prestige via an established art world name, Jazzar simply follows her eye. Fennell was referred to her by a Miami artist, and upon a visit to his Brooklyn studio, she was wowed by his dazzling collage work focused on swirling geometric patterns and starbursts, some recalling the Op Art of the 1960s. That was all it took to offer Fennell a Miami show.

Bucking marketplace trends hasn’t always translated into easy sales—“I started with my enthusiasm, and I’m still operating on my enthusiasm,” she quips—but it has helped make Jazzar’s bimonthly gallery openings must-attend gatherings for art aficionados. Indeed, on the appointed evenings they can be found spilling out of the gallery, across Jazzar’s backyard, and around—as well as occasionally in—her pool. That informality is fully intended, Jazzar says. “I’m not looking to move to Wynwood or to the next art hub. I want to keep growing this place and bringing artists and viewers here for a different kind of experience. Art for me is not just a piece of work someone creates and then someone else puts up on a wall. Art is life. The whole point is to throw art and life together!” Chris Fennell’s “Say Yes” is on exhibition through April 18 at Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art, 158 NW 91st St., Miami

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