A conversation with Alette Simmons-Jimenez
2004. Alette Simmons-Jimenez created Artformz Alternative art space at Miami Design District. Since then, the artist has been continually invigorating it with collaborative exhibitions. I’m now entering Artformz, two years after its creation. I’m really keen about getting the insight of her artist space model.
MAG: What is Artformz Alternative? Why did you create it?
Alette Simmons-Jimenez: Artformz is an artist run space. It looks like any other contemporary art space, but underneath, things are run in a very different “alternative” way. The group shows I produce bring artists together – most have never met before. I am amazed that there is always such great rapport. There is no fixed representation of any artist. Part of the selection criteria is based on the professionalism and seriousness of the artist’s intent. I first opened Artformz because I wanted people to see my work the way I envisioned it. I’d been working for many years, with several galleries, but I felt that there should be more. Creating a visual experience and exhibiting once or twice a year made no sense at all. I want my work available to the public all year. My work is extremely varied – that is always a concern with gallery representation. The issues I desire to work with have always been consistent, but I refuse to inhibit myself and work in only one direction. There came a moment when I knew what I wanted from my work. I just needed the freedom to do it. The whole mission of Artformz is based on getting extraordinary exposure. The more people see something strange or different the more they understand and enjoy it.
MAG: You have been located at the Design District for two years already. How do you like it so far? Are you planning to stay?
ASJ: I have fallen in love with the area. It’s a tiny town within a town – people are friendly, great food, a great school and great art & design venues. It is by no means a perfect place and everyday the rents get higher, but I like it here. I have worked hard with our little community and we have made significant improvements. When you invest so much in what you believe in, it is difficult to think of going somewhere else and starting over, I would not want to go far, but relocating to the fringe may be a necessity in the future.
MAG: Artformz Alternative exhibits curated shows. How does it work to show at Artformz?
ASJ: Shows come together for different reasons but mostly from artist’s submissions or work I have discovered and feel strongly about. I always managed to find time to take a look at new work. When artists show here, in some way or another they have to give something back to Artformz. Whether we sell something or not we still pay our bills. So everyone collaborates. Each show also has one artist who is volunteering his time working in the space for his portion. It’s really a win / win situation. A lot of artists don’t see it that way but I prefer to deal with artists who believe in their work enough to make an investment. Our exhibitions run for two months and are group shows, except for my solo show that is done in the summer, when it is so slow. When organizing a show at Artformz I prefer to say I “produce” rather than I “curate”. Curating implies a personal viewpoint, or philosophy, or ideal is being explored or made public. The premise is as important as the work itself. My selections are based more on media – giving light to work of merit that has been seen very little or not at all. I hope to have visually strong shows as opposed to a philosophically strong idea. I prefer that the artists take care of the ideas through their work. I want work that pushes boundaries, either with a subtle nudge or in a big obvious way. I will admit though, I do not respond to art that is not “visually” exciting or that does not have a sense of something profound. I do not respond very often to work that does not communicate a new experience, like “seen that a million times”, or work that needs so much explanation as if a PhD is required to enjoy it. Of course it’s a personal thing.
MAG: What is your experience from running an art space as a business? How do you see Artformz in relation to your career as an artist?
ASJ: Wow, hectic – it gets very crazy most days. To actually make enough to call it a successful business will take more. That was never the intention. To be self-sufficient, to make enough to survive, to put up a new show, that is the goal. Other than a dear friend, a one-day a week assistant, I’m the only employee. I find that common in alternative spaces. Between the phone, emails, visitors, press, hanging, designing invitations, retouching walls, mopping, paying bills, the website, outside meetings, I’m usually at odds with my family ‘cause I’m never home. Then when I’m home I’m usually working. I guess you’d say I have no life, but this is my life. It is intense but so far, I enjoy every minute. We get together – do a show – then everyone goes their separate ways. I am not a gallerist… I couldn’t possibly find the time. I’m up early working in the studio at home, get into Artfomz and work nonstop on gallery stuff till 7 pm, then go home and often, back into the studio after dinner. I have actually been able to produce better works in the last two years than I had in the previous five.
MAG: What kind of crowd attends your events? Do you think the gallery nights are attracting the right audience? What has been done to accomplish it?
ASJ: The important thing is to focus on the fact that it is going to be a social night. We hope people look, fall in love and come back to make a purchase. But attracting the right “buying” audience is a mystery I don’t think I’ll ever solve. One afternoon I had a couple come in urgently looking for a restroom. In less than five minutes they had bought two of our more cutting edge pieces. You just never know. But of course we’d always like to see more…more collectors, more press, more curators.
Every audience can have its positive side, but of course we do need collectors to survive. During the Art Basel week there are so many collectors from out of town wanting to see what local venues have. It is amazing that many local collectors don’t have that curiosity. I guess they must sit at home and wait for the correctly marketed, perfectly packaged product to be delivered to their door. They are missing so much.
I personally have worked extremely long hours to improve our image and identity. Right now, we are lucky to have some very serious, proactive people in the District. When we first opened 2 years ago, things seemed to be going down hill really fast. I had already invested too much sweat, and tears, and money to stand by and watch. We joined forces, worked even more hours, and we are turning things around. Many people seem to appreciate what is going on here and often come through with a helping hand. Also, the press has been my best ally. They have been great for us and I try to respond to their needs quickly and professionally. However, I do think that there is an enormous amount of serious art being produced locally, and it deserves much more serious attention than it’s currently getting. You know, you can put a beautiful, healthy seedling in a little clay pot, but if you don’t give it the attention it needs it’s not going to make it. We just need more people with vision, willing to give a little support to what they feel is good.
130 NE 40th Street, #2
Miami, FL 33137