Piero Atchugarry, a 4,500 square foot contemporary and modern art gallery has been hiding out in plain sight since late 2018. Its second gallery location can be found within the boundaries of Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood (the first resides in Uruguay) representing artists from Brazil, Cuba, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Uruguay, United States and Venezuela.
Housed in a restored 1955-era industrial warehouse, this perfect space found gallerist Piero Atchugarry for use as a welcome addition to Miami’s art presence. Along with architects Diana Boytell (Miami) and Leonardo Noguez (Uruguay), Atchugarry turned the warehouse into a venue emphasizing the interior with a liminal exterior leading viewers from an urban Miami industrial street scene into the calming inner universe of thoughts and ideas.
On my first visit in early 2019, by the time my eyes adjusted from the blinding winter light reflecting white on white outside walls, I was an instant fan. The work they choose is consistently both thoughtful and well executed. I am not alone in this assessment; ideas presented stick around longer than just a visit in the gallery.
Your head will change as the door shuts behind. During the next few months join them in a world belonging to Hélène de Franchis, a pioneer who opened her gallery Studio La Citta in Verona, Italy amidst the universally daring year of 1969. This latest show is an appropriate addendum to the Womens’ History month of March. Still successful 53 years later, the remarkable gallerist de Franchis navigated a less than accepting art world for women at the time she dared to dip a toe.
Her choice of artists and savvy perception of the business of art struck a chord. The Atchugarry Gallery, in their own words, explains the show best... constitutes an absolute oddity: an open dedication from gallerist to gallerist, and tribute to 50 years of Studio la Città.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exhibition is the amalgam of elements, cultures, ideas. The feeling is of calm, occasionally playful, but always a focused exploration of the 17 various artists' concrete grasp of chosen media. There’s a sureness from these artists that the gallerist clearly is attracted to, I posed a question or two for Hélène de Franchis via Verona before meeting in person at the opening on April 2.
I found her charming, continuing to be vibrantly challenged and open to new ideas while sharply aware of the stamp of time and style from decades gone by. From her catbird seat of past exhibitions, tempo and knowledge weave into a greater understanding of the world and nuance of the creative mind. We need a balance of raw young energy tempered with those who can step back... get a wider focus on how things work. I appreciated the opportunity to dig deeper.
Irene Sperber: “What force pushed you to open a gallery in Verona 53 years ago and how did that vision successfully hold throughout the decades?... How have your thoughts on contemporary art changed gears?”
Hélène de Franchis: “At the time I lived in England, I was married and had a small child... a friend called from Italy to tell me a group of his friends wanted to open a gallery in Verona. I had never been to Verona. Before getting married I lived with my parents in Rome or abroad. This can sound very odd but one must not think with today’s mentality. I had a degree in Art History, my father was a diplomat and I had traveled with my family since I was born. I mention all of this to explain that I was accustomed to changing countries and environments, therefore I thought it was an exciting adventure to go to Verona and be the director of a new art gallery, even if it was in a small town where I knew nobody. My husband shared in my excitement and so we left for Verona with my son who was nearing 2 years old. I thought of staying a year or two, and here I am still, after nearly 53!”
De Franchis explained how challenging the undertaking, soon running the gallery solo.
HdF: “I started to work with English artists that had never been shown in Verona and very little in Italy, and with the help of the Marlborough gallery in Rome, I was also able to showcase the best Italian artists of the moment. I had the advantage of speaking English and being accustomed to traveling. This attracted the attention of the art world and I started having modest success, gradually learning and understanding more about the rules and language of the art world.”
De Franchis went on to explain how she started traveling more to acquire a wider audience, outside the small town of Verona: New York, her attendance at art fairs, soon including Dusseldorf, Basel and Bologna and eventually Paris, Koln, Stockholm, Chicago, Frankfurt, Shanghai, etc. And imagine how challenging to accomplish before the internet; traveling by car to meet collectors and organize exhibitions. Tenacity shines through her story.
“It was a wonderful and exciting experience—it really opened my mind.” she remembers.
“My thoughts haven’t changed that much over the years in the sense that I followed my taste and I still do. The big difference is speed, now things change very rapidly and artists become famous very overnight if they work with the certain galleries, but also fall into oblivion as rapidly if they are not careful. I believe one has to learn to recognize quality, to be prepared, to not be in a hurry, and to not be afraid to like work that is not fashionable, yet at the same time to be open to all new possibilities and fight for one's own beliefs. I am sure this sounds very old fashioned but then again, I am old fashioned...
De Franchis sees this show as a “a kind of resume of my gallery life.” Though not all were able to be included because of space, the Atchugarry made final selections. “I have always tried to be coherent in my choices and I hope this is visible. Some of the artists shown are now very well known internationally, others haven’t had the same luck but always with the same quality.”
Often the Atchugarry Gallery invites local and international guest curators. Marco Meneguzzo led the way to “50 Years, a Day - Studio la Città, a Story.” Meneguzzo has written copious books and curated many exhibitions, effectively working the Studio La Città’s 17 exhibition artists into the best possible balance of de Franchis ideas. Not his first curatorial foray with Studio La Città; most recently he curated the fascinating “What I Did Not Sell... 50 Years. A Story,” right before Covid shut down the planet in early 2020.
Irene Sperber: “What is it about the Studio la Città that Miami visitors need to know now specifically? What prompted Piero Atchugarry to choose this exhibition?
Marco Meneguzzo: “Studio La Città belongs to those kind of galleries born immediately after the pioneer era of contemporary art. They are characterized by the strong personality of the owner, that always tried to affirm his/her personal point of view on art, choosing artists usually linked to a single artistic movement or to a single trend.
The alternative to this behavior has been to show a ‘style.’ The style, the mind of the gallerist that could link together also different artist under this single idea: so, when you enter the show about the history of a gallery of these times, you don’t have only to look at the fame of an artist or to his/her success, but you have to perceive the Whole, the idea of the style of that gallery, that choosing different artists wanted to add something to their artwork, to link it to a wider stage of art.”
There is a comprehensive video installed in the gallery, traversing the timeline of Studio la Città; the gallery spaces it has inhabited all the way to their latest gorgeous venue... the video shows what a vision coupled with tenacity and a sharp eye, can accomplish. In this exhibition we see an historic trajectory... how do we know where we are if we don’t know from where we arrived.
If you have not discovered the Atchugarry Gallery perhaps it’s time for a visit.
Piero Atchugarry is an Italian-Uruguayan gallerist, art dealer and Executive Director of the Fundación Pablo Atchugarry. Piero’s father is Uruguayan abstract sculptor, Pablo Atchugarry, well known for his large public marble pieces.
“50 Years, a Day. Studio la Città, a Story” will be exhibited through July 30, 2022.
The gallery is located at 5520 NE 4th Ave., Miami. More info: pieroatchugarry.com/miami
Stuart Arends, Gabriele Basilico, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Lawrence Carroll, Vincenzo Castella, Lynn Davis, Lucio Fontana, Alberto Garutti, Herbert Hamak, Jacob Hashimoto, Igino Legnaghi, David Leverett, Emil Lukas, Giulio Paolini, Michelangelo Pistoletto, David Simpson and Ettore Spalletti.