Words by Dejha Carrington
There are a few pivotal moments and relationships that have anchored my Miami experience, which over the past 10 years, has included everything from bodycon and a tattoo artist named Diamond, to art parties and trail runs at Oleta River.
Working with Primary Projects has been one such experience. We were lucky to find each other one early autumn in 2009, in preparation for Primary’s first gallery show at ArtCenter/South Florida during Basel. Since, we have together catapulted into new dimensions, in constant search of alternative platforms, compelling narratives and cool shit.
Primary has now had its own space for several years, and brings a fresh perspective to contemporary art coming out of Miami. And not Miami as in a provincial town that lives in the shadows of national attention during off-season, but this place as a unique breeding ground for creatives that are using site, relevance and experience as departure points in a much broader, human context.
MAN MADE | A CONVERSATION ACROSS DISCIPLINES, GALLERIST/CURATOR
Meet Books IIII Bischof, founder of Downtown Miami-based contemporary gallery Primary Projects. He runs Primary with partners, Cristina Gonzalez and Typoe.
Dejha Carrington: As one of three curators, what role have you taken in shaping the identity of Primary?
Books Bischof: Lately, my focus has been on positioning and education. Collectively, we believe that the gallery model most people are familiar with is outdated. We are spending more time learning about alternatives in the growth of our business, as well as new approaches to curatorial practices. Artist development is always a priority, but to make the kind of strides we aspire to achieve, we are heavily focused on reinventing ourselves, our brand, and how we work with our artists.
DC: The launch of International Friendship Exhibition – a name appropriated from Kim Jong Il’s North Korean pavillions – coincided with much of the Sony drama, which, in many ways, questioned how far is too far with freedom of speech (if there is such a thing). What is the artist/curator’s responsibility in this highly politicized environment?
BB: Artists, curators, or simply creatives, have always utilized their practice as a platform for voice. We have a responsibility as humans to contribute to the conversation in some capacity or another.
International Friendship Exhibition was an opportunity to bring together a group of like-minded individuals to open up dialogue about the state of the world. This is the project’s first incarnation, inspired by an existing collection of objects that are centered around a culture/regime of higher controversy. One has described it all to be an exercise in contradiction.
In the words of Abbie Hoffman, “Free speech means the right to yell ‘theatre’ in a crowded fire.”
DC: Appropriating exhibition names has been a running theme at Primary.
BB: We find inspiration through research, conversation, more research, and more conversation.
When we appropriate a name, we’re utilizing it as a tool of discovery. It’s similar to how Quentin Tarantino may briefly show the title of a book at a key moment in his films: we’re inviting our viewers to learn more about our curatorial voice through the power of suggestion.
This idea also works both ways when it comes to how search engines like Google. Maybe the user is interested in learning about mega-art-dealing family Wildenstein [in reference to Primary’s 2011 exhibit, Here Lies Georges Wildenstein, and instead, discovers our project online with the appropriation of their family name.
DC: We often talk about how few art critics are based in Miami. What does the rest of the country/world need to know about what’s happening in our city right now?
BB: The power of a young artist is the freedom to truly do whatever they want. That developmental period is exciting: it’s raw, experimental, and is the perfect moment to invest in the talent of that young artist. Similarly, Miami IS this young artist on the verge of coming into its own.
The world knows that there are various types of investments here; the artist is one of them, and like in any investment situation, those that get in at key moments stand to gain the most.
DC: Is the local market sufficiently a buying market to sustain Miami’s art industry?
BB: That’s a loaded question. I’ve heard various arguments. “We need better education, more MFA programs”, “We need a better breeding ground for collectors”, “We need critical writing”…
Sure, why not? We need it all, right? Our artist Kenton Parker says “I’ll see it when I believe it” and Primary believes that market is only going to get stronger. What is awesome about Miami, is that it’s going to be whatever we want it to be.
DC: How do you choose the artists you want to work with? What’s the process?
BB: It is all relationship-based. Typically, we do not review portfolios sent to us unsolicited. Artists must be vouched for, through collectors, curators, artists, friends, or family.
We have learned over the years that an artist talent needs to ultimately be backed by a strong work ethic, not just in the studio, but in how they approach the ongoing performance piece that is their life.
DC: International Friendship Exhibition closes February 28. What’s next?
BB: In Miami, Primary is working on a group exhibit inspired by specific basics of art history, and we are also working towards solo exhibitions with Andrew Nigon, Alex Sweet, and Karen Starosta-Gilinski.
Oustide of Miami, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T.S. Eliot