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Image by David Sherry

Art Basel: OHWOW

We speak to the co-founder of OHWOW's group exhibition at Miami Beach's art fest

This week the art world descends on South Beach for Basel Miami, the most (in)famous fair on that continent and a sort of spring break (albeit in winter) for the creative class. But not all the best galleries and shows are imported from soberer climes; in the past several years, Miami has emerged as an artistic breeding ground amid the bacchanalia.  

The most important underground art gallery in Miami, and perhaps anywhere in America, is O.H.W.O.W. Founded by Al Moran and Aaron Bondaroff in 2008, it's really more of an artist clubhouse or youth-cultural experiment. This is the third year they'll counter the inflatable carnival that is Art Basel Miami Beach with a small, artist-focused group exhibition: It Ain't Fair. Participants include Aurel Schmidt, Nate Lowman, Agathe Snow, Dan Colen, Andre Ethier, Neck Face, and FriendsWithYou.

Here, Al Moran tells Dazed about the problem with art fairs, his favourite "punk rock" artist and some expansive plans for O.H.W.O.W. 

Dazed Digital: First, can you talk about the genesis of It Ain't Fair, three years ago? That was at the pre-recession peak of art market craziness, right? What were some of the art-world or art-fair issues you wanted to address or counter with your own show?
Al Moran: Actually, we opened the first It Ain't Fair about 30 days after the crash in '08.  IAF was conceived as a response to that art market craziness you mentioned.  Our artist selections weren't based on who was selling at the moment.  We chose to exhibit artists whom we felt were making interesting work.  Period.  We didn't care if we sold it or not.  It just so happened that the market crashed at the right time and we came off looking like the ones that "got it."  While the rest of the industry considered that particular Basel a bust due to poor sales, we considered it a wild success.  I also take issue with art fairs in general.  I'm not a fan of the visual overload of the fairs and prefer to do a site-specific group show that makes sense from an exhibition standpoint.  Hence, It Ain't Fair.

DD:  OH-WOW is independent and "underground," but not at all anti-commercial. Is it fair (ha) to say you guys want to make the work you sell more widely accessible than hugely inflated?
Al Moran: Yeah, definitely.  In my opinion, it doesn't help anyone - artist, collector or gallery - when prices rise too rapidly or for no good reason.  I like the fact that young collectors support our program because I see it as a way for them to grow alongside the artists.  Lately though, established collectors and institutions have tuned into what we're doing and have become supporters as well.  This is putting a little bit of downward pressure on the younger collectors but we do our best to make work available to those that have believed in us since the beginning.

DD: Who would you most love to see at the opening of It Ain't Fair on December 2nd?
Al Moran: All of the artists that we work with.  If it wasn't for them, there would be no IAF. At the end of the day it's all about the artists.  It's my job to give them a platform.  They're the ones doing all of the work.

DD: You held Scott Campbell's first solo show. What was your first reaction when you heard he'd burned down his own show at the Vice Gallery in Mexico? Could ABMB use a little more pointed rebellion?
Al Moran: Campbell called me right after he did it and we had a good laugh about it.  We both thought it was funny.  Again, it's all about the artist.  If a gallery mistreats an artist to the point where he wants to burn his own work, rather than sell it, then that gallery obviously has problems. That move was definitely punk rock, though, no question about it.  Scott, you ever pull that shit on me we're fighting one-on-one in the parking lot!

DD: Besides It Ain't Fair, obviously, what are you looking forward to seeing and doing at ABMB this year?
Al Moran: We're opening a permanent book store at The Standard Hotel on December 1, so I'm really psyched on that.  It's a collaboration between the Standard and OHWOW.  My good friend -- and all around advisor -- Rafael de Cárdenas designed the space. It's the best store he's done for us so far. 

DD: And when it's over, how do you plan to recover?
Al Moran: Right after Basel, I jump on a plane and head to LA to find a permanent gallery space.  We have programming for 2011 and 2012 already, starting with a solo show for Scott Campbell in late February, and no space yet.  I have about 8 weeks to find a space, have Rafael design it, build it out and get that first show up. Never a dull moment.