Spinello Projects Returns to Art Basel With Intense, Eclectic Works

Four glass jars filled with plush animal eyes are lined up on a table in the corner of Agustina Woodgate's studio in El Portal.

"There are so many other parts," Woodgate says. "But I have bigger plans for the eyes."

She is on all fours amid green and blue scraps of fur to assemble what will eventually become an 18-by-10-foot carpet made from deconstructed stuffed animals. The gallery that represents her, Spinello Projects, will participate in Art Basel's main event at the Miami Beach Convention Center for the second consecutive year. Along with Woodgate's works, Spinello Projects will present pieces by conceptual sculptor Sinisa Kukec and postminimalist Naama Tsabar.

With only three weeks before the fair begins, none of the artists have completed their pieces. But in Woodgate's case, at least, that's by design.

"Hours and time are embedded in the concept. There is suffering in the process," says Woodgate, surrounded on the floor by bears, sharks, and penguins collected from thrift shops and friends' children. "We don't discriminate. These animals are as alive as the cow you might open up to make a rug. That's the dichotomy of what's crazy and what's normal."

In New York several years ago, Woodgate saw a performance in which Tsabar fronted a punk band and, at the end of a song, began to smash a specially reinforced guitar against the stage.

"I tried to break it, in that clichéd, male-dominated rock way," Tsabar says. "The band had to keep playing until I had smashed through the stage and had fallen through. I told them to play until I dropped, one way or another."

Woodgate immediately called Spinello Projects founder Anthony Spinello to tell him: "We need to meet her." One studio visit later and Tsabar signed on with the gallery.

"The last thing I think I am is a gallerist," Spinello says while mashing out texts from behind his desk. On his office walls, a rotating collection of work by his artists forms a shorthand survey of some of Miami's best-regarded and most daring art. Last night, Spinello and about half of his roster worked there until 7 a.m. "I think what we are, are cultural producers."

Tsabar is there too, newly returned from her native Israel, where she has a show at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Adjusting a new interactive sculpture made of reinforced watercolor paper pulled into shape by piano wire, she says, "[Spinello] is almost suicidal in his belief in art and taking it to the limit, and all of his artists are as well. I can see it taking a toll on all of us, and it's almost a durational performance in and of itself."

Spinello passes around a bottle of chewable vitamin C tablets.

Aside from his Manny Prieres show at the Bass Museum of Art, Spinello has been preparing a new show in his gallery by TYPOE, incorporating neon, skulls, Twister mats, and a clown painting found on the street. Spinello Projects has been transformed with the addition of glossy black walls, narrow passageways, and deeply set vitrines. It is a museum-quality presentation with very little in common with the typical white-cube gallery experience. (See page 30 for more about TYPOE's solo show.)

"Every time we have a show," Spinello says, scratching at several days' stubble, "I want it to feel like a different gallery so that people don't notice anything but the art. The trick is to make it appear effortless."

He came into the art world accidentally, after renting an apartment above a Wynwood gallery ten years ago. During one of the first art walks, he went downstairs to see what the commotion was and, while talking about art with a gallerist, was hired to run the space.

Later tonight, Tsabar will fabricate her work at Churchill's. After rock band Cave of Swimmers performs, the members will take their instruments but leave their cables. Then Tsabar will make a 3-D cast of what remains using cotton, gaffer tape, and epoxy.

"It will be an imprint of their work on the stage," Tsabar explains. "It's the echo of them in the material. This is the aftermath, and the other piece has capability of constant sound. To touch them is erotic. They vibrate."

Back in El Portal, Kukec's studio is crammed with boxes of neon tubing and metal sheets that look pried from crashed spaceships. He has the heft that sculptors always seem to possess, resembling his work the way some people resemble their pets.

"I'm from Croatia, where it's God, soccer, and country," Kukec says. As an atheist who doesn't care for soccer and lives in Miami, he's "got nothing left," he says. "So I work with it — the void. That's why I work with these mirrored surfaces, especially graphite surfaces, reflecting back this nothing."

For the fair, he will coat a giant foam ball taken from a salvaged holiday display snowman, which he has filled with 250 pounds of concrete. To create the mirrored surface, he will use "epoxy, automotive pearl, and tempera," he explains. "So it's toxic but colored with things kids can eat. The runoff makes these unconscious paintings that I'm looking forward to seeing. I guess it's not much different from watching paint dry, but I like to lose myself, watching gravity function.

"Working with Anthony," Kukec continues, "it's not just a dude choking himself with his chemicals anymore, but an open dialogue to share thoughts and ideas. When I start pouring the epoxy, there are a lot of poisons in the air. I live here, so there are going to be nights where I guess I'll sleep at Anthony's."

Spinello doesn't know when he'll sleep next. Maybe after the fairs.

"The fact that we're at the fair, for me is already successful," Spinello says. "I was always told you just need one artist, one star. But I'm interested in all my artists being stars."

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B. Caplan