The gallery is slated to close July 15, but a couple weeks before it was already robbed of the spark that danced there for a dozen years, that bounced wall to wall with the inspirations of all of Steinbaum’s artists. She leads you to the threshold of her office to show how the furniture is already gone, how the works she loved most are down. One of her artists, Karen Rifas, kneels in the center of the empty space, painstakingly packing one of her fragile sculptural works: endless strings of stitched together oak leaves that she’s folding up, one brown leaf against the next.
“We’re delivering the last of the purchased works to clients, returning other works to artists. Then I’m out of here,” Steinbaum says and tears up. She kicks off her shoes and settles into an office chair she has rolled into the middle of the main gallery. Behind her, glowing with a force all the more electric now that it’s offset by so much nothing, is an eight-foot mixed media piece titled Purple Lace Tree by acclaimed Haitain-American artist Edouard Duval-Carrié. He was the first Miami artist Steinbaum signed, and his works happen to be the last to be carted off.
“Edouard is safe. He’ll have to think very carefully about what gallery he chooses next to represent him. But he’s safe,” says Steinbaum, who is concerned about some of her other artists now that she’s closing shop. “Carol Prusa, she’s ready now. She has enough internal power that she can go to a museum and say, ‘This is my resume.’ With some, I know I can cut the umbilical cord. With others, I do worry.’’
She worries, for example, about Enrique Gomez De Molina, an artist who works with taxidermy. His career was gaining momentum when he was caught smuggling parts of protected and endangered wildlife, which he incorporated in the creation of mythical hybrid creatures. In May, he checked into federal prison in Pensacola to serve a 20-month sentence.
“Enrique is one of those artists I will take with me no matter where I go,” says Steinbaum, who plans to continue representing just a handful of the 25 artists on her roster. “I send him a postcard every day. The worst part is how his partner is doing [Troy Abbott, also an artist]. He cannot work. He is just listless. Someone who has known Enrique’s work for two years came in the other day and bought two pieces. And I feel like a child telling you this, but it’s such a pleasure knowing that your artists and their mates are safe, and that you had something to do with helping make them safe.’’
From the start, Steinbaum has faithfully followed a mission to be more than just a dealer. She has long believed in building careers, in betting on an artist for the long haul, in being an artist’s No. One fan.
“Please don’t use the word ‘stable’ when you talk about my artists,’’ she tells you one afternoon over lunch at Sugarcane, one of her favorite spots in Midtown Miami. “ I hate when dealers talk about their ‘stable of artists.’ It’s very important to me that they not be regarded as horses and cows. They are thinkers. That’s the most exciting part for me of being an art dealer, that I get to be around all of these people who think.’’