By Vanessa Packer
AMID SMALL APARTMENT BUILDINGS and vacant commercial corridors, stood a large building painted in jarring black and white stripes. So out of place in the industrial district, someone could have told you it was dropped there from outer-space, and you may have believed them. In 2008, OHWOW, opened. A gallery/publishing house, when it opened it brought with it a community of cool, hand picked from the epicenters of New York and Los Angeles. Heralding a new way to experience art, and the new school of artists to take notice of, OHWOW’s approach to the young and restless hit a cord with a Miami that hadn’t quite found it’s way.
Many years later, Miami, and the areas of Wynwood and Design District are overgrown with designer shops, new developments, and galleries, and Art Basel is a bigger draw then ever, with over 50,000 people in attendance. While the alien-like space where OHWOW once stood no longer exists, the gallery continues to program in Los Angeles. Bonberi sat down with Mills Moran, one of OHWOW’s founders, to discuss the changing landscape of Miami, the art world, and a growing community now focused on wholesome food and well-being.
How did OHWOW come about?
OHWOW was an idea between Aaron Bondaroff and my brother Al and myself that came about in 2008. The original idea was to build a community space. Aaron had been working in New York in a community style with The Rec Center. We wanted to establish something on a larger scale. Doing it in a neutral space like Miami would give us the ability to work on different shows with a variety artists. As we started working with artists, the more we developed and as we grew they grew and then we started really honing in on how we wanted to operate as a gallery.
When you say neutral space what do you mean?
The art world is very territorial. Miami was an outlet for us to build off this community idea.
What is the mission of OHWOW?
Community and book publishing has always been important to us. I think book publishing can be a very powerful tool for artists. To be able to publish artist work or a collection of their work and of exhibitions and getting that information out there, between publishing, putting on exhibitions and building artists careers.
Do you see book publishing as its own art form?
Absolutely. It’s a huge mission of OHWOW and takes up a lot of our time and isn’t a big monetary draw, but it’s not about that, its about getting a quality book out there and getting more exposure for the artists.
The OHWOW space is no longer in Miami, but it was the birthplace of OHWOW. How did those first shows shape what would develop for the gallery?
We would have 40 plus artists in those shows, and it gave us the ability to work with so many people. As we started growing, we knew what we wanted and we narrowed our focus.
The area you started in changed, what made you go and open there and what do you think of it now?
We were even further west then where most people consider the border of Wynwood. We actually weren’t interested in the Wynwood area and were able to get a much bigger space being just a little outside of it. We never thought the Design District would be right for a gallery, and Wynwood was a little bit to kitschy, it wasn’t right. So we found this massive building on Northwest 7th avenue and asked Rafael de Cardenas to design our space. it wasn’t much more of a drive if you came out to Wynwood. When we opened it was a rough neighborhood. I remember there was a guy across the street who had a little Haitian market, and he would time our openings and stay open all night with huge packs of beer for sale at the market. He made so much money on our openings he loved it. But it was a rough neighborhood. Now it’s not so rough, they’ve done a ton of development on that block.
What is your main focus for the gallery?
We work with a lot with the artists and collections. Throughout this process, I’ve managed to carve out some amazing friendships. I’m lucky because i’ve been drawn to really good people, maybe it’s what I put out I’m getting back but I really enjoy it. Working with the artist is empowering and inspiring. Getting the chance to see what artists do, and going to the studios, spending time with them. It’s rare, not a lot of people get to do that.
When you work with artist and collectors how do you work with them?
I’m out there a lot so I see a lot. Brain picking, strategy sessions, coming up with different ideas for their future, presentation to a museum, or a proposal for a collection. We just signed Torey Thornton who is an amazing painter. It’s fun to see the young guys grow and it’s fun to start working with the next generation.
Are there any new artists you are excited about?
The newest artist we added is Robert Mapplethorpe, we just began representing the estate in Los Angeles in conjunction with Sean Kelley. And Torey Thornton who I mentioned along with Jacolby Satterwhite.
How do you pick the artists that get featured in OHWOW?
It’s an incredibly organic process. One of the things we look for the most is ambition. I look for people that are hungry. Some of the guys we know the work is going to change over the years, so you have to look at what they are thinking, how they are thinking about their process, how they look at art, how they incorporate historical references into their work and what they think about that. I have my personal taste, my wife Jackie and I love to collect our artists, so who we work with is incredibly important. You almost know right away when you walk into the studio. You need incredibly thick skin to be an artist and work in the art world.
Are there shows you look forward to at Art Basel?
When I go to Frieze in London there are amazing gallery shows. There aren’t amazing galleries in Miami, so that’s tougher. Mainly the main fair and Nada. The Bass Museum does interesting exhibits, Rubell too, Margulies are interesting.
Do you cook? What do you like to make?
I love to cook. I can make anything. I love to look for recipes online. My last ten minutes of the day at the gallery I research a recipe online that I want to make and then go to Whole Foods on my way home. I like to buy everything fresh, I buy whatever I’m going to make that night. I don’t get to do it as much as I like to unfortunately. My wife Jackie doesn’t eat meat, so I have this amazing vegetarian cookbook that I constantly reference. For both of us I do really good vegetarian dishes, like a garbanzo bean kale salad and a vegetarian cassoulet, thats one of my favorite dishes. I love basque food and I wanted to make one I could enjoy with my wife, so I found this really good vegetarian recipe. I have an inbox in my computer with just recipes because I like keeping track of what I make so I can go back to it. When I cook it’s the only time I’m really not looking at my phone. It’s a really serene process for me. Everything is put away. I like to go and buy all the ingredients, go home and chop them up and I love to have everything pre-ready. I put everything into little bowls before I start cooking, and clean as I go so there isn’t a huge mess in the end. I hate when people cook messy, you make a beautiful meal and then there’s a pile of dishes. I hate that, it should always be clean as you go. Art and food have been coming together the last few years. Jennifer Rubell has been doing a lot of that.
Do you have any foodie heroes?
Alice Waters is a hero of mine. I was in Rome at the American Academy, and they do residencies and fellowships there. We were having lunch, this incredible spread, and the director of the museum Peter Miller asked if I was familiar with Alice Waters. I was literally at Chez Pannise the week before for my bachelor party, four friends in San Francisco at Chez Panisse, Quince and Zuni during the day. All we did was eat. Anyway, I was eating this amazing food in Rome and here she was sitting behind me. Turns out she’s a distinguished fellow and built a sustainable garden for the school and was there doing a residency. It’s all her food and recipes and you can see the garden she built, I was in heaven. I didn’t get to talk to her, but I wanted to get a photo. She’s my favorite. She literally changed the way we eat.
What an average day look like food wise?
Either egg whites with avocado and toast, or granola with greek yogurt. If I’m super busy, I get a coffee and I don’t eat breakfast. Jackie likes when I make avocado toast for her in the morning, so I’ll do that. There’s a great coffee shop called Commissary on Fairfax that I’m obsessed with. My favorite lunch is sushi. If I want a super clean lunch I go to Fresh Corn Grill, they have lean protein, lots of vegetables, and brown rice bowls. M Cafe does an amazing salmon bowl. Ammo in LA has the best brown rice bowl. I love the root bowl too with tons of root vegetable. Dinner I cook, and eat out sometimes.
What is your indulgence?
Cheese, pizza and wine. Epicure in Miami has amazing wine and cheese, both my indulgences.