This morning in Miami Beach, the hoteliers are battening hatches and tying down the potted palms in preparation for Hurricane Irma, and while she’s not their first storm, Irma has been reported to be one of the strongest in recorded history and has already mowed a path of destruction through the Caribbean. Just a few days ago, the beach splashed with holidaymakers glistening with Brazilian cuts — decorations to a sunbathed paradise of private islands, Lamborghinis and the multicultural, tanned cheeks of an American dream. This morning the dream is sobered by among other things, bobcats and sandbags.
A few days ago, Miami’s galleries along Lincoln Road and downtown pulsed with the speedy strokes of Miami’s latest pop art sensations: Skyler Grey, Alec Monopoly, Gold Man, Santlov and Miami Beach’s most ubiquitous art mascot, Romero Britto. Downtown, an über-babe in a body-con dress motioned toward a series of varathaned collages stenciled with dollar signs, other people’s cartoons and luxury logos, glitter and superheroes. On the street, the neo-cubist heart, flower and smiley face sculptures of Romero Britto colourblock Miami’s boulevards, children’s museum, restaurants, housing complexes, metro rail station and even the interstate off-ramp. In what the ad-men call, “frequency and reach,” these technicolour cairns blur artist, message and locale into one big brand. In Miami Beach, the brand is Britto.
Romero Britto was born in 1963 to a single mother and grew up with his eight brothers and sisters in Racife, in Northeast Brazil. He painted on newspaper and cardboard scraps and dallied in law studies before moving in his twenties to Europe, then Miami to pursue a career in art. In 1989 Romero was invited to participate in the Absolut Vodka bottle campaign, exposing his colourful, cute motifs to millions. After getting involved in local charities, he met the stars of Miami’s entertainment and political glitterati including Gloria Estefan, David Caruso, Jeb Bush and Ted Kennedy, who became early collectors and friends.
In 2011, a Britto sculpture of a beach ball adorning the entrance to a Miami golf club was vandalized with the grafitti tag, “Not Art.” Apparently the frustration with Romero’s wild commercial success, disregard for the art world’s prized inaccessibility and elitism and his undiscriminating alliances — he’s done work for Monsanto, Bain Capital and Phillip Morris — had ramped up while Miami’s international art fairs were at the same time gaining a global foothold, putting Miami Beach on the heat map of cultural currency and esoteric aesthetic strivings. To some, including critics, dealers and local artists, the optimistic kittens and smilies of Britto were found to be “a commercial, flashy and warmed-over version of Pop art.” “We don’t condone it as a crime,” wrote one of the local newspapers, “but [the tag]is guaranteed to spur more serious conversation and thought than any recent Britto work does.”
PS: “It helps so much if you like people and people like you.” (Romero Britto)
Esoterica: “The dude’s not an artist,” continued Kyle Munzenrieder for the Miami New Times, concerning the vandalized beach ball Britto. “He’s a businessman, and he’s in the business of creating pieces for developers to plop in front of glorified strip malls and for tasteless rich people to hang above their sofas.” And what about the Miami art fairs, to which Romero Britto’s “non-art” is non-invited? In Artnet’s 2017 case study of commercial galleries’ balance sheets when participating at Art Basel, costs for a small gallery including booth rental, airfares, hotels, lighting, furniture, shipping, insurance and client dinners clocked in at around $128,000 and resulted in an approximate gross sales total of about $2 million. For larger galleries, costs were a bit higher at $275,000 and reported gross sales around $5 million — not bad returns for an equally dollars-driven enterprise defined by numbers and spectacle, endeavoured in part for the benefit of a city’s spirit, cultural caché and tourism revenue and as jet fuel to a global art food chain that’s bulging at the top while the middle shrinks. In 2007, Romero Britto divulged to the New York Times that his annual revenues hovered at $12 million, earned through the sales of his original paintings completed by assistants in his downtown art factory and sold from his namesake gallery Britto Central on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, plus manufactured merchandise, online prints, licensing deals, corporate commissions, cruise ship sales and multi-edition sculptures. This morning, as we’re evacuated to the airport ahead of Irma, who’s to say what’s better for Miami’s art brand? “In the end of the day, people don’t want to hang a piece of art in their living room that is horrifying. I make images to inspire people, not to make them depressed and scared.” (Romero Britto)
Our thoughts are with all of the people affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Katia.
“We need more images and news that is good news, to make us wake up in the morning and do something good for yourself and someone else.” (Romero Britto)