Robert Thiele: The Accidental Gallerist
By Brett Sokol
Rather than move all those massive stone sculptures to a new space, it just seemed easier to scrounge up the money to buy the warehouse himself. Once he’d done so, he couldn’t imagine evicting his fellow artists also ensconced there. Enter Bridge Red Studios, and call Thiele the accidental landlord. Thiele then had an epiphany: Add an exhibition space—one devoted to the artists he’d evolved alongside, the artists who’d been left behind in the wake of Art Basel’s Miami arrival. Enter Bridge Red Studios Project Space, and call Thiele the accidental gallerist.
“Students graduating now are thinking in terms of a career; they’re thinking about how they can turn their art into something that puts food on the table. That never occurred to any of us,” he explains of his generation of Miami artists. “It was just assumed that when you got out of graduate school, you better look for a teaching job—or at least a bartending job.
“Because of the renaissance—or what people call a renaissance,” Thiele says of the explosion of Wynwood-centered activity, “the rush of the new, the rush of the immediate, ran roughshod over the art scene that used to be here. And still is here! We never left; we never stopped working! But this kind of blitzkrieg of new activity marched through.”
Last spring’s debut exhibition of Salvatore La Rosa’s paintings set the template—a career overview from one of Miami’s most talented painters whose handiwork was sadly collecting dust while the barely formed ideas of barely legal “emerging” artists were filling the walls of Wynwood’s most prominent galleries. The enthusiastic response to La Rosa’s work, as well as a subsequent exhibition by local heavyweights Robert Chambers, William Cordova (a former student of Thiele’s) and Barbara Neijna, has proved there’s an audience hungry for a program focused on mature talent. It’s an attitude seconded by the Knight Foundation, which has named Bridge Red a finalist for one of its annual Arts Challenge grants.
Plans call for five new shows a year, with no shortage of worthy candidates. “There are so many artists in South Florida who have fallen through the cracks and should be looked at again,” Thiele says. “For one reason or another, they don’t have gallery representation and they don’t show in the museums. Yet the reaction to Sal [La Rosa]’s work at Bridge Red was incredible. So many younger artists—who’d never seen his work before—just said, ‘Wow! This is how you can make a painting!’ There is this degree of energy, and it’s building from one show to the next!” Thiele catches himself and begins laughing: “At the last opening, someone said I was sounding more and more like a gallerist. I didn’t know if that was a compliment or not.”
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