Earlier this summer, CU-1 Gallery opened its doors to showcase its inaugural exhibition, Look At Me, with works by prolific European photographers. While new gallery openings happen regularly in Miami, they are often taking place in the Wynwood Arts District. While this gallery sounds like a perfect fit for the Wynwood Arts District, it’s somewhere that few galleries have dared to venture: downtown Miami.
CU-1 Gallery is the work of four partners, Stephen Goettlicher, Roger Weber, Marc Schmidt and Bernd Mueller, all of whom hail from Europe. Goettlicher, Weber and Mueller have all worked as professional photographers, while Schmidt, a former surgeon, co-owns four photography studios in Hamburg with Mueller. With their extensive backgrounds in photography, it seemed like an obvious decision to open the gallery specializing in that.
The gallery is located inside the Security Building, a historic site built in 1926 and designed by architect Robert Greenfield in the Beaux Arts style. The team behind CU-1 Gallery discovered the space when Goettlicher’s wife began working at the design and branding group Lemon Yellow inside the building, where the gallery is currently located. The partners had heard the former bank space on the first floor was available and fell in love with it upon first seeing it. The former first-floor bank space’s lofty ceilings and industrial nature seem like a natural fit for a gallery space.
For Look at Me, the gallery is showcasing works by European photographers, most of which have extensive backgrounds in fashion editorial and advertising. Several works by gallery partner Weber showcase cinematic photographs of fashionable (and scantily-clad) women worthy of any high fashion magazine. The former bank vault is lined by large portraits of women in a muted palette In the upstairs mezzanine, Christopher Tomas showcases close-ups of crushed and weathered soda cans.
Perhaps the most unique photographs in the exhibition are the works by Simon Emmett, photographer and British GQ creative director, in collaboration with graphic designer Paul Solomons. Among the duo’s works are large scale photographs that from afar appear to be patterns painted in watercolors or ink. On closer inspection, you will find that the image is created by photographs of naked models, all of whom have worked in the adult film industry. Emmett says he spent four years working on his contributions to the exhibition and that he wanted to showcase these works for the first time in Miami.
“I’ve had offers from Hamburg, Los Angeles and New York but nothing quite seemed right. But all anybody in Europe is talking about is Miami. ... If you’re an upcoming artist or you’re an established artist, Miami is the one place you absolutely have to show at.”
The undertaking of the gallery was not without risk. Despite the partners background in photography, none of them had operated their own gallery. Miami’s notoriously lengthy permitting process also delayed the opening by a few months longer than anticipated. Further, they were opening a gallery in the heart of downtown, far away from the bustling Wynwood Arts District that has become popular destination for art connoisseurs, locals and tourists alike. But the risks were not on the mind of the gallery partners.
“We didn’t think about risk. We just thought the idea was so great, putting a gallery into this space and bringing this kind of photography to Miami, that we don’t really care about the risks and we’re pretty sure this will be a big success,” said Schmidt.
There has been a movement in recent years to develop the arts scene in downtown. Several art fairs including PooL and Miami River Art Fair showcased art downtown during last year’s Art Basel, far from the satellite fairs on the beach and in the Wynwood Arts District. In addition, the Downtown Development Authority has developed an initiative called DWNTWN, which promotes the downtown arts scene and also sponsors the yearly DWNTWN Art Days, currently in its second year and takes place this September.
But there are still few galleries in the area, all of which are spread far apart from each other; the recent move of the Pérez Art Museum Miami (formerly the Miami Art Museum) from the center of downtown to a bayfront property highlights the lack of a defined arts hub in the neighborhood. However, Goettlicher believe they are a forefront of a trend that will help grow the arts scene in downtown.
“I think we’re at the front of a movement that is absolutely going to happen. It’s absolutely happening. Downtown is about to change so much that I think it’s going to be place for everybody.”