Visual Art

Review: Flash can’t hide what’s bland about Marquez Art Projects

Written By Douglas Markowitz
September 29, 2023 at 1:07 PM

Flashy clothes, valet parking, lines down the block to get in – driving past the blank-faced building surrounded by auto shops and industrial blight in working-class Allapattah, one would think a new nightclub had opened up. In fact, the destination for Miami’s hoi-polloi on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 23 was a brand-new museum.

A who’s who of Miami art world figures gathered in curiosity at the opening of Marquez Art Projects (MAP), a private museum owned by art collector, real estate developer, and restaurateur John Marquez. A massive line for the tiny bar snaked past a Hernan Bas painting as guests mingled in Prada and Louboutins. Artists like Reginald O’Neal and Kelly Breez, ICA Miami director Alex Gartenfeld, gallerist Anthony Spinello, and even the Rubells themselves were in attendance. Fredric Snitzer, in his own pithy way, put it to me best: “All the players are here.”

I wonder how many of them left as unimpressed as I was. He may be a trustee at ICA Miami, but Marquez, owner of the Michelin-starred Sushi Noz, clearly knows more about entertaining than good art.

A family admires a Loriel Beltran painting at the Marquez Art Projects opening on Saturday, Sept. 23 in Allapattah. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Beltran)

First off, there’s the curation of the space, or rather the lack of it. The MAP space is split into four distinct rooms, and each has a theme that can best be described as loose. A central gallery is dedicated to single-artist presentations, a room to the northeast features contemporary abstraction, and one in the northwest is dominated by local artists. There’s also an outer room snaking around the central gallery with several unexceptional works by celebrity artists: KAWS, George Condo, Rashid Johnson. There is no sculpture, mixed media, or anything besides paintings on display. The only room with wall text or information of any kind is the single-artist space where Cristina de Miguel’s messy, macabre abstractions of bodies split into pieces hang.

It all feels very lazy. Nothing links the Florida room together, for instance, besides the fact that all the works are by Florida artists. An abstract canvas by Loriel Beltran, which could dominate a gallery on its own, sits across from figurative paintings by Bas and Didier William. Thematically, tonally distinct canvases from Alejandro Piñeiro Bello and Bernadette Despujols sit side-by-side. None of it coheres. The abstract gallery is where things really take a dive. The whole space is filled with bland, vapid canvases from artists like Jadé Fadojutimi and Yuan Fang. The space felt like a zombie formalist bouquet, epitomized in the flat floral motifs of Fang’s “Germination” – pretty, but lifeless.

Seeing the space, I find it hard to believe Marquez actually likes art, or at least, he doesn’t like challenging or interesting art. He clearly doesn’t go out of his way to build his collection, which seems composed mostly of artists that are either famous or nearby. In an interview with The Art Newspaper that I find telling, he describes the genesis of his habit: He started collecting art to furnish his condo, and when he started taking it seriously, he bought a print by Banksy, one of the most famous contemporary artists in the world. To me, there’s no indication of vision or purpose anywhere at MAP. It’s all just decoration to him.

John Marquez with ICA Miami director Alex Gartenfeld. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Beltran)

Perhaps this is a bit of a strong reaction to something as ultimately insignificant as a private art collection. Marquez could have done what the majority of collectors do and kept his art to himself, after all. But it’s precisely that point that ultimately turns the institution into an affront. He didn’t keep it to himself and instead decided to plant it somewhere it doesn’t belong, in working-class Allapattah. The black-washed, unmarked, nearly windowless MAP building, which is open by appointment only, sits like a UFO among the surrounding auto shops and warehouses in its immediate vicinity. Nearby on NW 20th St., thrift stores, wholesale fabric and clothing retailers, and Latin restaurants provide a glimpse of a Miami that is rapidly being replaced by flashy, expensive, inhospitable glitz.

That’s also why it matters whether or not the art on display at such a space, or the way in which it’s presented, is of poor quality. I don’t know the degree to which Marquez is aware of the effect that his museum might have on his surroundings. Maybe he doesn’t care at all. Maybe he actually wants to upzone Allapattah. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what his intentions are, because the thoughtlessness and egotism evident in the space renders them moot. The best works in the space would be better situated elsewhere, and the worst are just helping the place take up space and further deplete the area of its working-class character and population.

An area of the new Marquez Art Projects in Allapattah. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Balber)

It’s perhaps also useful to consider the impact of the Rubells, whose vast museum just a stone’s throw from MAP still serves as the model every other collector-driven museum in Miami attempts to imitate. But their collection was amassed over decades and still to this day feels intentional and elucidating. There is almost always something on display there that gives one pause, and there are always interesting, potentially challenging perspectives on offer. That takes some of the sting out of their own role in the area’s gentrification, which should not go unremarked upon – shortly after,”immersive” art center Superblue, owned by mega-gallery Pace opened across the street, charging up to $40 to access a handful of installations best suited for selfies. New York’s Museum of Sex and global for-profit photography space Fotografiska have also announced branches opening in the area.

Marquez is not so visionary. His new space demonstrates how few others are willing to put in the same amount of work, to go the extra mile and turn their collection into a genuine civic asset. His museum is of use to one person only: himself. For the rest of us, it’s just another warehouse full of paintings.

WHAT: Marquez Art Projects 

WHEN: Open by appointment only, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

WHERE: 2395 NW 21st Terrace, Miami

COST: Free 

INFORMATION:  305-646-1125 or marquezartprojects.com

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com.

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