Bridge Red by Anne Tschida
No one was quite sure what to expect this Sunday evening in 2011, when walking upstairs to see the inaugural show of Bridge Red Studios / Project Space. Most everyone knew it was a new alternative gallery in the studio complex owned by well-known sculptor Robert Thiele, who converted this second-floor former studio with his artist daughter Kristen Thiele and photographer son-in-law Francesco Casale.
But who opens up on Sunday night, on a lonely North Miami street behind the railroad tracks, with a solo show from a painter named Salvatore La Rosa? Some knew who he was and were familiar with his work, but others didn't. That was the point.
What was revealed up the freshly gray-and-red painted stairs was a career survey of almost half-a-century of work. There were huge abstract canvases, layered in oil paint, dense with color, swirling with movement in the main space. Smaller collage pieces in heavy wooden frames and expressionist portraits covered other walls, including the one facing the kitchen, where snacks and drinks were served. The visitors were diverse - a mixture of old friends, art lovers, students. And they all fell hard for the work.
For those who missed the opening but soon heard about it word-of-mouth, there would be a closing brunch, with bagels and Bloody Mary's, also on a Sunday. It was a prescient opening and closing, as this would be the successful recipe for the more than a dozen exhibits that have been offered up since that February evening, a blend of unconventional space and time with art from experienced hands that has far too often been hidden from general public view - and an audience hungry for such fare. That sums up Bridge Red.
Initially, the newly rehabbed and empty studio #5 was just an unrented space that would soon become available again as a working studio. In the meantime, Thiele thought to utilize the clean and newly painted space to showcase the work of the reclusive Miami artist Sal La Rosa. Longtime friends, the two met at Kent State University in the 60s and then subsequently, though separately, moved to Miami in the late 60s to begin teaching at MDCC. Both Thiele and La Rosa received early recognition in 1975 when they became the first Miami-based artists ever to be chosen to show at the prestigious Whitney Biennial in New York.
But while Thiele's sculptures continued to be seen around town, La Rosa's seemingly disappeared. Not that the painter had stopped painting, far from it. He had been featured the interactive Trading Places at MOCA in 2005, where several artists were invited to both exhibit their work and also to set up temporary studios. For the most part however, he had been a reluctant art-world participant - until Thiele persuaded him to pull some of his prolific output from his house to exhibit at Bridge Red.
Both the paintings and the space created a buzz, clearly indicating that by the year 2011, the art world was ready for works like these, revealing talents and histories of Miami that had been submerged.
Dating back to a time in South Florida just before Art Basel Miami Beach, Miami was steadily becoming more and more enamored with bright young things. But after Art Basel hit the shores in 2002, emerging art from emerging artists seemed to completely corner the market and exhibition spaces in town. Many artists, teachers, professors - people who worked diligently through the decades, building up solid bodies of work while mentoring others - had effectively been banished from the front benches, at least locally. Together with his daughter and son-in-law, Thiele set out to try and change that exposure dynamic From this followed the mission of Bridge Red; to exhibit long-standing artists from the South Florida community who haven't received the exposure their work merits, locally.
Fast forward to September 2012, to the opening of another retrospective, this time of Robert Flynn. Like previous shows, an eclectic art crowd was in attendance, people who had come to expect the quality of art that Bridge Red was dedicated to exhibiting. Flynn had worked in Miami for years, starting back in the mid-1990s, until he moved to Vermont in 2007, where he unexpectedly died of an undetected heart condition at the far-too-early age of 39. The Thieles had long been fans of his work - drawn from his fascination with nature but expressed with his own particular flair, in painting, drawing, and sculpture. So here this night was an example of an early series that first garnered him attention; rows of painted cows of various breeds. The slightly darker but no less beautiful graphite and charcoal drawings, some of the last works he made, were also included. And then there were the gorgeous, large-scale canvases of tiny birds flitting over a lush background color, from his best-known Peep series. Like La Rosa, the director of MOCA Bonnie Clearwater had realized the power of Flynn's painting, highlighting the Peep series work in the trailblazing 2000 exhibit Making Art in Miami: Travels in Hyperreality. But still, Flynn remained underrepresented in the town in which he had worked and taught, and certainly had not been shown with this kind of scope.
Another solo exhibit, Sherri Tan, A 20-Year Survey, presented the opportunity to explore the development of an artist who's clear and strong vision was evidenced from the very early stages of her career. Works in the exhibition ranged from Tan's delicate collages to her complex and forceful wall constructions, described by the artist as 'tableaux vivants' with skewed edges and jutting forms. These operatic collage/paintings, made from found objects, texts, picture frames and a hodge-podge of other materials are hard to describe in print, the 3-dimensional nature of them have be seen in person - which until then, hadn't been since the early 2000s.
Not limited to solo exhibitions, Bridge Red's group exhibitions have served to bring established artists back into the light as well. The 70s; MDCC North Campus 1970s Faculty Exhibition, featured names that were unfamiliar to an audience raised on Miami's new millennium art alongside several who were not so unfamiliar, including Thiele and the late, great sculptor Duane Hanson. In the 1970s, the close-knit community of working artists would often earn their living by teaching at the local colleges and universities. This show featuring Miami Dade Community College's (now MDC) North Campus Faculty from the 70s underscored the fact that serious art-making was not confined to the last decade by any means and that these artists were in fact the ones who made up the Miami 'scene.' The exhibit served to fill a much-needed gap in our historical perspective.
In another group show SET, alongside the digital prints of Odalis Valdivieso and the oil on plaster paintings of Kerry Ware, Tom Schmitt exhibited his 1960s shaped, monochromatic canvases punctuated by protrusions and projections that created swells and curves in the canvas that literally added new dimensions to the geometry of the supporting structure. For the closing event, the addition of a video monitor evidenced Schmitt's status as an early video pioneer as far back as the 1960s.
A variety of forms and styles have been displayed upstairs, from painting to sculpture to video, from artists of various ages. But there's an extra bonus when visiting the complex. Often during the events, one may visit other artist's studios in the Bridge Red warehouse. One such example is the sprawling ground-floor space of Robert Thiele, dominated by his monumental sculptures, disarming in their intimacy and veiled, quiet presence despite their heft. On a March night in 2012, sound artists Gustavo Matamoros and Rene Barge intervened, installing a sound art piece that bounced around the concrete monoliths - it is still there to be experienced, and is still ever changing.
The collaborative intermingling of artists and art aficionados that Bridge Red fostered spawned an off-shoot in the downstairs studio of Lou Anne Colodny who has a long track record of making video and photographic work. She is also known for her role of art facilitator - Colodny was the founding director of MOCA and its precursor COCA (MOCA today resides just down the street from the Bridge Red complex). Colodny decided to host her own artist-run space - she wanted to invite artists, represented or not, who she simply thought should be shown outside of a commercial setting. She called it Under the Bridge.
One of the inaugural shows down under featured 14 artists, some better known than others (Luis Gispert and John Espinosa in the former category), curated by William Cordova. Cordova, also a Whitney Biennial participant, shows work all over the globe but is not represented here in Miami - the reason why he was part of the second exhibit at Bridge Red back in 2011, which also included Robert Chambers and Barbara Neijna.
This artist-run effort to bridge the past to the present, one generation to another, the present to the future, one medium to another, has not gone unnoticed. The Knight Foundation awarded the gallery a Knight Arts Challenge grant, in an effort to help fortify these links. But the foundation is sound. Bridge Red has a fine eye for showing and curating quality art work that deserves more acknowledgement, and connects to an art public that appreciates it. On a given Sunday a month, either on a nighttime opening or an afternoon closing, as visitors linger over and discuss artworks, this bridge seems to be working.
Francesco Casale is a photographer and designer born in Rantoul, Illinois. Casale earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Miami. Clients include ACCU-BREAK Pharmaceuticals, ArtCenter/South Florida, Baptist Health South Florida, CBS Productions (PILOT/CSI Miami), CAC Florida Medical Ctrs (Humana), Columbia Pictures (Bad Boys II), Florida Chamber Orchestra, DIAGEO, Emerson Dorsch, The Graham Companies/Graham Residential, Mercy Hospital, National Safety Council, Parfums GIVENCHY, Shop Rite Supermarkets, Don Shula's Hotel & Golf Club, Shula's Steak Houses, VITAS Healthcare, and WAHAB Construction. Photography & design featured in editorial and advertising in Art in America, ART PAPERS, b7 bazkulturmagazin (Basel, Switzerland), the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald/STREET, Ocean Drive, and Sculpture Magazine.
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Kristen Thiele lives and works in Miami, FL. Thiele received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1995 and her MFA from Miami International University in 2012.
After graduating from SAIC, Thiele apprenticed Chicago screen printer Steve Walters of Screwball Press and learned the art of silkscreen printing, primarily printing posters for local and national bands. During her time in Chicago, Thiele participated in numerous shows exhibiting her work, including 3 solo exhibitions at the David Leonardis Gallery. Upon her return to Miami, she became a member of Art Center/South Florida on Lincoln Road in South Beach, where she held a studio until her recent move in 2010 to Bridge Red Studios in North Miami. Thiele's posters were published in the definitive rock poster book, "The Art of Modern Rock" and her paintings are featured in "Miami Contemporary Artists".
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Robert Thiele is a sculptor who divides his time living and working between Brooklyn, New York and Miami, Florida. Thiele received both his BFA and MFA from Kent State University in 1964 and 1966. Thiele's work is exhibited widely with recent shows in New York at the Howard Scott Gallery, in Berlin at Galerie Tammen & Partner, and in Miami at Emerson-Dorsch. Thiele owns the artist studio warehouse Bridge Red Studios, and oversees Bridge Red Studios/Project Space.
Based in Manhattan, Dean Roman has been designing and coding sites for over 20 years. His diverse background as a Fine Artist, Professor of Design, eLearning Course Developer, Gallery Director, and Pastry Chef allows him to identify with a diverse clientele and provide solutions which focus on the essential aspects of each business, product or personality within a minimal design aesthetic which serves to clarify content and sustain viewer interest.