Miami Art Dealer Yuval Ofir and I have the same philosophy when it comes to contemporary art. Art is available to everyone and artists are our friends. That sounds so simple, but if the art world embraced this, things would be so different for struggling artists. Anyway, I had a cool chat with him about this and more. Check it out.
MICHAEL: Hey Yuval, I first heard about you through an article I read online. Your philosophy is like mine. You also believe that art is really for everyday people despite the fact that everyone seems to think otherwise. What led you to this belief?
YUVAL: When I was around 15-16 I started helping my grandpa at his warehouse located in Midtown (Miami) and couldn't help but get caught up in all the graffiti in the area. It wasn't quite as recognized by the public as it is today, but there was definitely always a strong presence. I was going through some old college work on my computer when I first started the www.yo-miami.com site towards the end of 2011 and came across this photojournalism essay I had to do for my first English class (in '09) and it made me realize just how much of an influence it had on me. Being in the midst of that environment on a daily basis for so many years, combined with occasional interactions with the culture that creates it, probably made it inevitable that at a certain point I'd have to take it a step farther than idle interest. It was toward the end of college when I was going to places like The Vagabond (http://thevagabondmiami.com/) and Transit Lounge (which is now called Blackbird Ordinary) when I realized that maybe the intriguing world I was looking in on wasn't so far out of reach after all.
MICHAEL: And so you had a connection.
YUVAL: Between the fact that the art I liked was relatively affordable ($100-$200) and that the artists themselves tended to hang out at those same places, it was hard not to get sucked in. The first concrete step that led me to diving in head first was when I met the artist Kazilla, who was the featured artist at Vagabond that particular month. I loved one of her pieces, "She's Got It In Spades,” (http://kazilla.biz/gallery/art/#) so much, I had to get in touch with her to see if it was anywhere close to affordable for me. Turns out that it wasn't, but I ended up buying a canvas print of it, along with another one of a different piece as well.
MICHAEL: Sounds like you were getting hooked.
YUVAL: Eventually I did end up buying the original as well because of the importance it had to me, being the first major art investment I'd ever made. It gets a little convoluted after that but between meeting my girlfriend, who's also an artist, around that time and meeting more and more artists through Kazilla and others, I just ended up in the middle of this big sea of talented people. And I guess it's just human nature to want to pull other people into the deep end with you. My take on it is that you shouldn't be worried about how much a piece of art costs and whether it'll appreciate in value, other than to the extent that you're not going broke just buying paintings left and right. Each one of the items in my (somewhat extensive at this point) art collection has a story that makes it important to me, whether I know the artist personally or there's something about them that made me want to own a piece of their story basically. That's the best recommendation I can give people out there about buying art; don't do it unless you feel like every time you pass that thing in your house or office you're going to be affected in some way, remembering the initial impulse or feeling that made you buy it in the first place.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. I feel exactly the same way about knowing so many artists. It makes me feel wealthy. Obviously, art galleries cannot survive on passion alone. They are businesses. How did you manage to learn that side of things? Plus, the fact that you're still in business in this current economic climate seems to be an accomplishment.
YUVAL: As I mentioned, I grew up learning the ropes at my grandpa's company, “Paris Perfumes,” from a very young age. I basically was facing a decision at 15 years old whether it was the business I wanted to go into down the line and decided that it was the path I'd take. So I've been immersed in the business world pretty much since then. Even during college, most semesters I was working there three days a week and in class for two. As far as the business end of the art world, all I can do is apply the principles I've learned from my grandpa and hands on experience in the perfume industry and hope for the best. The truth is, most of YO Miami's expenses at this point have been paid out of pocket by me and I'm still working to recover that investment. I'm definitely aware and grateful of the fact that I had a family business to get into and glad I chose to pursue that route because without it, YO Miami definitely couldn't have come to life. Thankfully now with the gallery space I opened in a warehouse my mom owned (yes I still pay rent) I have artists paying rent on studios and that has really been a big help in at least stopping the downward pull of the expenses and hopefully turning the tide back towards the black.
MICHAEL: Very cool. I LOVE Miami and Miami Beach. They're havens for naturally creative people. I even feel that's my spiritual home. How does the area inspire you?
YUVAL: I was born and raised within about a 10 minute drive of everywhere I've lived (aside from my time at the University of Miami). Whether it was the beaches as a kid or the city streets as an adult, it's really not hard to find inspiration if you're even remotely perceptive of your surroundings.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world in general terms and how it operates today?
YUVAL: To be honest, I'm only peripherally educated on the art world since my only connection to it has been through other people and whatever I've picked up along the way. Whether it's my girlfriend or one of the artists with whom I have a personal relationship, I'm constantly looking to them when it comes to things like knowing whether I should know who an artist is or whether a gallery has clout. I'm more interested in the stories of the artists I come across and just follow whichever ones grabs my attention. It could be a local graffiti artist whose stuff I've seen around town or seeing Salvador Dali's work at the museum in St. Petersburg. At the end of the day, I end up just following my gut pretty much and trying to learn more about the people who happen to intrigue me.
MICHAEL: Finally Yuval, What role do you think art plays in society and what would you like to do in the future?
YUVAL: Regardless of the form it takes, I think art at its core is about reassurance. The same way our dreams are our subconscious process for sorting through the myriad input that gets shoveled into our brains every day, I think art is a way for us to consciously try and sort through and put in perspective our experiences. Whether it's visual art, writing, music or anything else, the artist is really taking something that had a profound effect on them and presenting it to the world saying, "Hey, this is how I see things, does anyone else out there see anything similar?" At the end of the day, we just want that reassuring feeling of knowing that the other people walking around this rock have an inkling of what we're going through, I guess proof positive of the "misery loves company" theory.
MICHAEL: Thanks Yuval. Much success to you. I'll visit when I come for Art Basel.
YUVAL: Great. Thanks again for everything.
Visit Yuval Ofir at his site, www.yo-miami.com.