Curator Helen Toomer has an uncanny knack for finding tomorrow’s hottest talents today, whether as a contemporary gallerist on NYC’s LES, the former director of Miami’s Pulse Art Fair, or in her current role as co-founder and artistic director of the Stoneleaf Retreat residency in the Catskills.
Here are her picks for artists to seek out in Miami (before everyone else does).
The dark-room wiz: Liz Nielsen
Nielsen’s poppy and geometric photographs — which will be on view at the Pulse contemporary art fair this week — are painstakingly constructed in the darkroom. Her handmade, hands-on approach involves layering transparencies on glass plates, and exposing the paper with everything from flashlights to rave-lights. “I’ve watched Liz’s career go from strength to strength for years now,” says Toomer, “I’m fascinated by how she uses unconventional photographic development processes like that, which is so unusual nowadays.”
The cultural witness: Cidgy Bossuet
The Miami-based National YoungArts Foundation provides mentorship and support to artists ages 15 to 18; Pulse, in turn, showcases work from its alumni. This year’s booth includes pieces by 25-year-old photographer Cidgy Bossuet (a 2012 alum), whose “Nappturality” series explores the complex history of African-American hair. Toomer curated the booth last year and counts it as a career highlight. “I love, love, love YoungArts,” she raves. “It discovers and nourishes artistic talent at a very early age.”
The eco-aesthete: Tomás Saraceno
Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet is renowned for commissioning intriguing, experiential work by vanguard artists — with a focus on sustainability — to present during Miami Art Basel. This year, Argentine-born Tomás Saraceno’s interactive project deploys 40 out-turned umbrellas, artfully arrayed to harness the power of Florida’s winter sun just across from Collins Park. “The umbrellas are reflective, so I’m sure it will be a selfie sensation,” notes Toomer. The energy captured will fuel a variety of on-site attractions — including Saraceno’s flying aerosolar sculptures and solar-cooked corn tamales.
The cheeky sculptor: Katie Stout
The Brooklyn-based artist-slashdesigner makes what Toomer calls “unapologetically kitsch and colorful ceramics.” Stout turns a satirical eye to conventional images of the female form in her new “Girl Lamps” series, which she workshopped during a recent residency at Colorado’s prestigious Anderson Ranch and will appear at Design Miami. The pieces aren’t just rarefied objects — Stout encourages collectors to use them, rather than storing them in glass vitrines.
The sparkling subversive: Devan Shimoyama
Toomer expects works by this 20-something rising talent to sell out this week. Such success will further increase the buzz he’s earned via his current solo show at Pittsburgh’s Warhol Foundation. “He’s a beautiful person who’s unpacking and celebrating notions of masculinity and sexuality through flamboyant, yet sensitive portraiture,” she explains. His glittery decorative pieces are subtly subversive: Shimoyama’s signature motif — tears — are intended as a subtle nod to ongoing racial injustices.
The Teen Activist: Ameya Okamoto
Eighteen-year-old activist and US Presidential Scholar in the Arts honoree Ameya Okamoto will be showing at YoungArts’ own gallery space on the mainland, part of a standalone show featuring 20 YA alums. “Invest in their work [here], before you see them at one of the blue chip fairs in the future and kick yourself,” Toomer says, citing superstar Daniel Arsham, a 1999 alum who’s now showing at Art Basel. Given the quality of her work, which focuses on her identity as an Asian-American woman and her marginalized peers, expect Okamoto to be at the big show herself in the coming years.
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