By Brett Sokol | September 1, 2015 | Culture
Local artist Naomi Fisher's massive frieze installation at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden further elevates the global buzz surrounding the Miami art scene.
“Showing the stories about you in The New York Times to the people down at the bank is not going to help you get a mortgage. Believe me, I’ve tried,” says Naomi Fisher, a rising star in the Miami art scene.
“This building has been in the background of my whole life!” Naomi Fisher exclaims about the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s flagship structure in Coral Gables. Fisher isn’t just speaking metaphorically. Long before she became one of Miami’s most internationally known artists, profiled in the press and fêted with museum shows for her flora-filled photographic explorations of female sexuality, she was a small child visiting her father, a botanist, at his Fairchild office.
Now she’s the creator of six 13-foot floral-themed friezes, which have become a permanent part of the Fairchild’s grounds, courtesy of Miami-Dade County’s Art in Public Places program. It’s a career achievement that is personally symbolic for Fisher and a measure of the cultural ascendance of Miami’s art world. A subsequent commission for a five-story-high frieze at the Coral Gables’ headquarters of powerhouse developer Codina Partners further dramatizes Fisher’s rise and that of the local art whirl—now viewed as a key asset by real estate interests looking to burnish their brands or the value of their properties. Fisher freely admits to some bittersweet feelings about her role as It girl of the Miami art world.
Despite her enthusiastic public cheerleading for all things Miami, Fisher says returning to South Florida after graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 1998 was borne of necessity, not choice. After all, Miami in the late ’90s was hardly a thriving art burg. “All my classmates were leaving for New York; it was a weird moment for me,” she explains. “I didn’t come back here for the Miami art scene. I came back here to make the work I needed to make—and I knew that could only happen in Miami.”
She’d already caused some friction at MICA with her insistence on returning home during school breaks to photograph a continuing series of female figures in states of dishabille—all surrounded by, and sometimes seemingly being swallowed up by, thick tropical foliage, the kind that doesn’t exist anywhere near Baltimore. “Teachers at school used to tell me, ‘You need to be able to make work wherever you are!’” she says. “Uh, no! My work is not about a forest in Maryland. My work is about the tropics.”
These days, few would second-guess Fisher’s post-graduation migration. Her art across a range of mediums—whether photographs, paintings, videos, or the off-beat installations now annually commissioned by Art Basel in Miami Beach to raise eyebrows amid the fair’s elite selection of galleries—is increasingly seen as part of the local cultural firmament.
Yet Fisher insists she’s far from being established: “There’s this misunderstanding that once you’re an artist who is exhibiting, then you’re making money. Whatever money you do make goes right back into your studio. And if you have one bad show, you’re screwed! It’s a really hard life. But people see artwork selling at a certain price point and assume you’re rich.” With a rueful chuckle she adds, “Showing the stories about you in The New York Times to the people down at the bank is not going to help you get a mortgage. Believe me, I’ve tried!”
Dancarchy Refuge, a project commissioned by Art Basel Miami Beach, featuring works by Naomi Fisher.
Indeed, for all the hype surrounding Miami’s growing stature as a “world class” cultural player, Fisher says she knows far too many talented artists here who are having a tough time paying their bills, let alone sinking roots and constructing sustainable artist-run institutions. “We don’t have a fleshed-out art ecosystem,” she says. Still, Fisher isn’t willing to simply gripe. Her nonprofit exhibition space, BFI (originally known as Bas Fisher Invitational, a reference to its since-departed cofounder, painter Hernan Bas), has branched out into all manner of activities dedicated to expanding the art crowd beyond the cognoscenti.
“The way I hope we bridge it with BFI is by keeping our exhibits at a highly critical level, but also finding ways to open it up to a larger public audience through activities like the Weird Miami bus tours,” she says. “Sometimes when an artist gives a lecture about their work in a traditional setting, it can remain in the artist’s head as a dialogue only for other art professionals.”
Accordingly, Weird Miami’s outings dispense with both the artspeak and the podium in favor of artists sharing their personal experiences—from an excursion into all things “el exilio,” courtesy of veteran curator César Trasobares, to a creepy crawl through South Beach’s back alleys led by writer Nathaniel Sandler. “If you put artists on a bus tour and see the city through their eyes, it becomes a conversation anyone can be a part of,” Fisher continues. “And once you start that conversation, it opens up access points to the artist’s larger practice in a real, lived-in way.” Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, 305-667-1651
photography by Nick garcia; Wardrobe courtesy of proeNza schouler. opposite page: photography courtesy
of the artist (Try LisTening, Dancarchy refuge); courtesy of bas fisher iNvitatioNal, MiaMi (Weird MiaMi)