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Written by Elisa Turner, BT Contributor   
July 2019

For art dealer Anthony Spinello, message matters

AArtFeature_1s a kid growing up in Staten Island and Brooklyn in the 1990s, Anthony Spinello never went to museums or galleries. Manhattan’s flashy art world was another galaxy away from his working-class family.

“But I was always artsy,” recalls the Miami art dealer. “And that is something I would get from my mother. She was always crocheting or painting porcelain.” She even painted cookies and pumpkins. “They were awesome,” he remembers.

Spinello’s “artsy” side took center stage early on. In high school, he designed sets and acted in productions of Hair and Bye Bye Birdie. When he was a senior at Staten Island’s Port Richmond High School, a teacher told him: “You’re a graphic designer.” He had no idea what a graphic designer did, although the profession sounded appealing, he says. As an undergrad at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts, he learned about it in the most hands-on way possible, by tapping the keys of his first computer.

“I started my first year of college really struggling,” he recalls, “but I learned so much.”

ArtFeature_2The transformation to art dealer was serendipitous. After 9/11, Spinello left New York for Miami and moved into an apartment above an art gallery called Liquid Blue, on N. Miami Avenue in Wynwood. He says that an unfiltered remark about what he considered its lackluster art spurred the owner, real estate entrepreneur Jeff Morr, to offer him a job directing the gallery.

Spinello was stunned. He asked his mom for advice because, he admits, “this was not necessarily my direction. My degree is in advertising, communication arts, and graphic design.” When his mom said, “Go for it,” he did. With this condition: free rein to start from scratch, rebranding the gallery and bringing in new artists.

“The gallery world is not the type of world I come from,” he laughs. “I definitely learned everything from the ground up.” Wynwood gallery walks were just starting to take place. “There weren’t even sidewalks,” he recounts. “It was pretty desolate.”

Liquid Blue closed in 2005, and soon afterward Spinello opened his own gallery, Red Dot Project, in his second-floor apartment. Since then, he’s moved his gallery to other rented locations as neighborhoods have changed and gentrified.

“I’ve been in more than ten spaces in the last 15 years,” he says. “I guess my practice is inherently nomadic, just because of how things are being built. I’ve never moved to any place because it’s the next thing. I’m very content in being more of a destination.”

This past May, Spinello was back in Manhattan at a prime art destination, the Whitney Museum of American Art. The occasion was a tony event that, love it or hate it, encapsulates Manhattan’s high-powered world of contemporary art: the opening of the Whitney Biennial. Among the artists chosen for this prestigious exhibit were not one, but two from Miami. Spinello Projects represents them both: Eddie Arroyo and Agustina Woodgate.

For this young art dealer, that’s a major coup. It’s a particular tribute to Spinello’s passionate, informed eye for art, as well as his savvy use of the Internet. For years there’s been an active Spinello Projects online presence, including the recent @houseofspinello on Instagram.

ArtFeature_3In 2018 he left his space at 7221 NW 2nd Ave., where Spinello Projects had been located since 2015. When the Biennial opened in May, he didn’t have a brick-and-mortar gallery.

But now he does, after moving to 2930 NW 7th Ave. in Allapattah and opening in June, with selections reflecting his artists’ work at the Whitney. There’s a new wall clock sculpture from Woodgate’s National Times series, and documentary-style paintings by Arroyo in his signature activist spirit.

Spinello, now 36 years old, welcomes these new digs. Yet with or without a physical space, he presents art via innovative programming. During 2018’s Art Basel Miami Beach, he produced an art fair called FREE! in several places at the new Brickell City Centre. Funders included the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Swire Properties, the Hong Kong-based developer of Brickell City Centre.

FREE! upended the traditional art fair by placing site-specific artwork in a downtown shopping mall. It launched an astute, fervent protest to the intensely market-driven hype of Miami Art Week. Nothing was for sale.

Did it lead to sales afterward? Perhaps. “We are selling a message, not a commodity,” explains Spinello. “Many of the artists did make contacts with curators and arts professionals leading to future opportunities.”

ArtFeature_4At Brickell City Centre, FREE! was primarily located in a 6000-square-foot raw storefront space. All told, the fair involved close to 50 artists, many with ties to Miami, and others internationally known.

That was Miami, December 2018. By May of this year, Spinello was at the Whitney with artists he represents. What’s it like for someone of his background to rub shoulders at one of the nation’s most prominent showcases for contemporary art?

Spinello pauses. “These moments seem to come at difficult times,” he says. “It’s a marathon; it’s not a sprint. It made me realize that we are going in the right direction.

“It’s great because at times you feel like you’re giving so much,” he continues. “And it’s really hard to see the results. So this is one of those moments.” Other such moments came when he learned that Spinello Projects was accepted to Art Basel Miami Beach in 2012 and 2013.

Still, it’s no secret that these are challenging times for young and midlevel art galleries. “It’s a transitional time for me. Galleries are having a difficult time just being able to sustain themselves,” he says. “As long as you’re consistent and produce quality work, I don’t think any one space should hold anyone down. If anything, these days we need to be as flexible as we can. Expand when you need to expand and contract when you need to contract. And pivot when you need to pivot.”

He has just pivoted to Allapattah.

On June 9, Spinello held an opening for “Within Time: Eddie Arroyo and Agustina Woodgate” in the grandly branded Gesamtkunstwerk Building on NW 7th Avenue. Its name means “total work of art,” a concept associated with the grandiose operas of Richard Wagner. (The building was christened not by Spinello, but by its newest owner, artist Paco de la Torre.)

That day the building’s name wasn’t clearly visible from the street. And the surrounding streets themselves, rutted and aging, undercut the Wagnerian flourish. Nevertheless, exuberant blue, green, and orange murals on two sides of the building complement a nearby Poinciana tree in radiant bloom. Both tree and murals act in concert to announce Spinello’s newest destination.

 

“Within Time: Eddie Arroyo and Agustina Woodgate,” through July 31 at Spinello Projects, Gesamtkunstwerk Building, 2930 NW 7th Ave. For more information, e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; or go to @houseofspinello at Instagram or artsy.net/spinello-projects.

 

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