This is the third part of a series of interviews with Miami-based arts professionals whose multifaceted practices were once seen as contradictory and now are quite necessary. Naomi Fisher and Jim Drain are both artists and in charge of the Bas Fisher Invitational.

In High Price: Art Between the Market and Celebrity Culture, Isabelle Graw has an interesting passage about the expanding roles of those in the art world. She says:

…Every art boom is accompanied by a restructuring of the art system, reflected in expanded demands made on artists and in hybrid identities such as the artist/gallerist/curator/critic. Just as the Dutch artists of the late sixteenth and especially seventeenth centuries broadened the spectrum of their painting, committing themselves to interiors or still lifes, in the early twenty-first century, an expanded job profile for artists has now become the rule, bridging the gap between the art and the market. They are now responsible not only for their work in the narrow sense, but also for the production of meaning, self-promotion, and marketing. In the wake of every new advance by the market, then, come expanded profiles and altered artistic identities…

 

Can you list the roles both of you have had in the art world?

Naomi Fisher: Right out of art school I worked at a private art collection for two years.  Back then I just made my own work.  Things shifted in 2004 when I started the artist run alternative art space Bas Fisher Invitational with Hernan Bas.  Around 2006 when Jim Drain became my partner with the gallery we became more focused and in 2008 we won our first Knight Arts Challenge Grant. We’ve been growing ever since. 

Beyond making and exhibiting my artwork, I do lectures about my artwork in schools and museums, I do outreach with at-risk girls through a program called “Women on the Rise” through MoCA and this is my second year as a national panelist for Young Arts, selecting and mentoring the most talented students in the arts from high schools around the nation.

Jim Drain: Part of my interest is to think about things and draw things into the art world that are not being included.  There are too many worlds out there to only be limited to one. Thinking about community before a singular practice comes easily for me- I blame my large family for that.

At the beginning of his book on Richter, Robert Storr quotes Nietzsche. “When we have to change an opinion about anyone, we charge heavily to his account the inconvenience he thereby causes us.” Obviously referring to Richter jumping from style to style in pursuit of his theory of painting, the quote I feel can be applied to the anxieties caused by changing direction. Has leading a multi-faceted practice led to much anxiety? Has it helped to synthesize a style? Does switching gears frequently help you clarify your goals?

NF: Building viable alternative structures to keep my community vital has been important to stave off the isolation of living in a pioneering tropical city.  As an artist, I don’t switch gears quickly, my changes in medium and ideas evolve with each project.  Keeping a lively community where you can discuss these ideas is important; I feel fortunate to have created a platform that responds to the needs of my community. Running an alternative art space can be the best thing ever: it allows me to give amazing emerging artists their first shows, create critical platforms to discuss what is happening in contemporary art, host lectures, film screenings, performances with a flexibility to build my community.  Other times I feel overwhelmed with everything that has to happen to maintain this: finding funding, reporting on grants, keeping track of the finances, making sure press releases get out, working with the artists.  We do it all ourselves, and really need more funding to maintain and build upon the incredible structure we have built.  When the gaps feel too wide, anxiety builds.

JD: Changing ones mind is sometimes the only freedom one has left.

Do you consider yourself first anything and then whatever else (first an artist, first a photographer, etc.), or do you place equal importance on the different aspects of your practice?

NF: Absolutely an artist first.

JD: Mobility At All Costs

 Are there any combinations of professions that are more or less problematic? For instance, is it less contradictory for someone to be a critic/curator than a critic/collector?

 NF: Of course there are always exceptions, but generally I would agree that things like critic/curator is less problematic than critic/collector.

JD: Are there really critic/curators that are not also collectors?  At least as a critic/collector there is no hiding the fact and you put your money where your mouth is.

Economic realities aside, how does having a pluralistic identity cramp or enable your mission?

NF: Again, time is the limiting factor.  I keep thinking about how long it has taken me to get to this interview: I’ve been trying to balance a week of working with Young Arts winners from breakfast to bedtime, trying to finish three in-depth grant reports, sending off images for press requests for my organization, I have two other interviews I still need to work on, an invitation I need to finish for a talk next week, a new grant that I need to work towards matching, I’m preparing to deinstall my show at Vizcaya next week and I’m working to find a new space for my studio and alternative art space to move to.

JD:  And Naomi made some really good chicken soup that I am now sipping happily.

 Can we locate this trend historically and geographically? Baudelaire was a poet and a critic, Motherwell was a writer and a painter, but it seems like there has been a recent swell of artists who have based their practice around this multiplicity. Do you find that this is more accepted in Miami than in New York?

NF: I think the trend in multiplicity has a lot to do with economics.  One often needs multiple projects to keep floating.  It’s ideal when these projects intellectually support your art practice, but the reality for most is that if you aren’t coming from a financial situation that can support you in the down times, you have to split yourself to survive.  I think it’s socially acceptable anywhere to do things like teach, work in art spaces and doing charitable outreach, but I think there are still stigmas attached to commercial artwork as a side job.  The myth of the artist as bohemian dilettante killing themselves to reach their vision is alive and well.  Sadly, health insurance isn’t sexy.

JD: It is hard to compare cities.  I think everything is accepted in Miami; I can’t imagine anyone poo-pooing anything here.  What does Miami foster? TropiCapitalism.