Visual Art

Miami indie bookstore Dale Zine takes on the art world

Written By Douglas Markowitz
June 30, 2023 at 1:12 PM

Rows of books, zines, and artwork line the walls inside Dale Zine’s colorful space in Little River. (Photo courtesy of Alfonso Duran)

The bright, welcoming space of Dale Zine’s shop in Little River has a pull — it draws you in and makes you never want to leave.

Sunlight streams through the windows and onto the funky orange-and-off-white checkerboard linoleum floor. Art books and zines, the majority published by independent presses, line the walls and tables alongside stickers, candles, t-shirts, sunglasses, and other ephemera.

The shop, recently declared “Best Bookstore” by Miami New Times, sells books on all kinds of subjects: exhibition catalogs from prestigious museums, experimental photography books, zines featuring rave culture memorabilia. One can walk out of the place with a quarterly magazine on natural wines or a funky jigsaw puzzle from an independent designer, a photo book of street art in New York or a pack of incense. You never know what you’ll leave with, but you’ll always leave with something.

Outside Dale Zine’s storefront in Little River. (Photo courtesy of Alfonso Duran)

The space’s focus on art and visual culture has seen it survive where more traditional bookstores have closed. They also use the shop as a community space, holding events like small press fairs, book signings, and art classes.

“I’ve noticed a lot more people being more endearing to Miami, and being like ‘we want to support what you do, and we understand how hard it is,’” Lillian Banderas, the shop’s co-owner, says. “I think, definitely, our demographic has grown into that, where before it’s just been, I feel like, people that geek out about specific things like we do.”

Her partner Steve Saiz agrees, pointing to things like a comic book on Drexciya, a conceptual techno group from Detroit. “If one person comes in they’re obviously gonna be (excited) like, ‘Why the hell do you have this?’ And that’s what we love so much. It’s not like, ‘where’s the bestseller section.’ We try to get the deeper things in there.”

Dale Zine expanded from a shop selling art books into a gallery selling art. It recently showed work from local artist Kelly Breez at the NADA New York art fair. (Photo courtesy of Vanessa Diaz)

It’s this kind of esoteric appeal that’s made Dale an inseparable part of local life for many Miamians, especially when such spaces remain threatened by rising rents and encroaching development. Banderas and Saiz both hold down full-time jobs in addition to running Dale, and the physical shop itself has been forced to move frequently – their first locations were small, booth-sized storefronts in Downtown Miami. Their current space, adjacent to the Fountainhead Studios arts complex, is the largest they’ve ever had. Artists with studios in the Fountainhead complex frequently pop in, adding to the shop’s neighborhood feel, and although the building has been threatened with demolition, Banderas and Saiz feel confident in their landlords and their ability to source another location nearby, should the need arise.

“I feel really secure in the neighborhood, but I’m starting to feel like, you know, really our brand is always on the go. It’s a part of Miami, too,” says Banderas.

“We’re movers and we also sell books and art,” Saiz says jokingly.

Dale Zine’s owners have been forced to move locations multiple times. They’ve gotten creative by reusing materials, such as creating this display table out of an old shop sign. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Martinez)

“I think we’re a good example of how hard it is to have a small business in Miami,” Banderas continues. Saiz adds, “That’s not like a tourism or nightlife thing. Something cultural in Miami, I feel like, I grew up here and (small art businesses) aren’t really a thing that survives.”

For Dale, sustaining their business has meant traveling down a new avenue: art dealing. The shop began showing art as a gallery when the current location opened in 2021, including at NADA Miami during Miami Art Week. Buzzy locals such as Alejandra Moros and Thomas Bils, both known for their hyperrealist paintings, have held down shows with Dale, which usually shows artwork on the shop’s back wall (on a recent visit, works on paper by Portland artist Momo Gordon were on display). Their gallery activity has been such a success that they were invited to show at NADA’s New York art fair in May; they recruited friend and Fountainhead resident Kelly Breez, who curated the space’s inaugural show “Sun Showers,” to show new work.

“. . . Starting to sell things in that kind of atmosphere will help us support having (the shop) and having this platform for keeping things accessible,” says Banderas.

Banderas and Saiz credit Ebony L. Hayes, a boundary-pushing curator at David Zwirner Gallery and 52 Walker, for helping them take the next step from publishing zines and artists’ books to putting on art shows. “She dry-called us, basically, and was like ‘Hey, I would love to see you guys as curators for NADA,’” says Banderas. “She was very matter of fact, like ‘I’ve been following your guys’ careers for a while, and what you guys are doing with zines is kind of disrupting how we see gallerists.”

In keeping with their grassroots sensibility, the duo tries to take a more sustainable approach to art dealing, a field that can be fraught with ethical issues and high prices designed to gatekeep art for the upper class. “Every show, we’ll try to do a scene with that artist that someone could get for like five or 10 bucks,” says Saiz. “Or you could buy a painting, depending on your economic (situation).”

Banderas believes it’s about removing barriers.

Kelly Breez’s work explores the kitschy culture of a bygone era of South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Vanessa Diaz)

“I think accessibility starts with us, and with the artists too,” says Banderas.

Both describe a certain sense of impostor syndrome when exhibiting alongside art world heavy-hitters like multinational mega-dealer Hauser & Wirth, one of several art world heavy-hitters with gallery spaces in Chelsea where NADA New York was held. But they say it is empowering considering their humble origins, comparing themselves to David going up against the blue-chip Goliaths. Maintaining a firm curatorial voice and focus on Miami’s idiosyncratic culture helps: Notable past shows have included meditations on Hurricane Andrew and illustrations by Brian Butler riffing on local iconography. Breez’s presentation at NADA New York featured “matchbook paintings” celebrating vanished and imaginary small businesses evoking the ‘80s and ‘90s in South Florida.

Not all of what Dale shows or sells comes exclusively from locals – they’ll stock whatever they think is cool whether an artist lives in Opa-Locka or Osaka. But it’s undeniable that having such an accessible space for art and artists in Miami has had a deep effect.

“We’re not trying to sell work to sell work. We’re selling the work to really empower new artists to feel really secure about their future,” says Banderas.

WHAT: Dale Zine

WHEN: 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

WHERE:  7395 NW Miami Place, Miami.

COST:  Free.

INFORMATION: dalezine.com or instagram.com/dale_zine

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