People & Art: Downtown Collectors

Emerging local artists inspire the Benmelehs

By Aaron Glickman
Photos by Manny Hernandez

Tara Sokolow Benmeleh & Jack Benmeleh
Starstruck by Hannes Bend

Miami’s cultural evolution has spawned many fresh facets to our city’s social landscape. One attribute is the advent of new collectors inspired by the city’s increased and better focused creative energy.

Jack Benmeleh and wife Tara Sokolow Benmeleh are native Miamians who are two such collectors.

Currently residing at Marquis in a downtown loft overlooking the construction of the Herzog & de Meuron designed Perez Art Museum (PAMM), the Benmelehs are young collectors who enjoy acquiring pieces from emerging artists in the same age range as themselves.

“We’re supporting our peers,” said Tara, founder of Espiritútara, a travel and art-inspired jewelry line handmade in Miami.

Jack, a litigator at Militzok & Levy, spends much of his days devoid of the creative process and embraces his passion for collecting as an artistic release.

“I do lawyerly things all day,” he said, “but there is another side of me and acquiring art allows me to satisfy my creative energy; but more than that, it actually fulfills our mission to support emerging artists.”

Supporting emerging artists is exactly what Jack and Tara are doing. Their entire condo is filled with the works of young talent, most of whom they know and most of whom are from Miami.

Their defining piece is the stunning and powerful Blue Diamond by Miami artist Bhakti Baxter. The enormous oil on canvas work is modeled after a mandala and the Blue Hope Diamond and dominates the largest wall.

The Benmelehs were in the studio as Baxter created the piece, which provides them with a personal connection to the work that is deeper than if they had purchased it from a gallery or at auction without ever knowing the painter.

Left: Crocheted Bike by Olek; Top: Blue Diamond by Bhakti Baxter

Another Miami artist represented is Antonia Wright, a performance artist who creates unique photographic works that feature her in some way. On the other Hand is a photo of Wright’s extended arm projecting from the stump of a chopped down tree trunk located underneath the 395 expressway.

On the other Hand by Antonia wright
Crocheted Skate by Olek

Next to Wright is a slightly disturbing work from Josafat Miranda, a Mexican artist based out of Fort Lauderdale. The painting, which the Benmelehs aptly call Psycho Bunny, is of an unstable looking girl dressed in a bunny costume with blood smeared near her mouth.

“I would say that 70 percent of our pieces come from artists that we know,” said Jack. “Every time we see a piece, we correlate it with experiences we had with the artist.”

The couple had recently hosted Olek, an artist from New York who crashed on their couch for a few days and created two crocheted pieces while there. Olek’s stay concluded with a blowout bash, which brought together many from Miami’s young artist/collector set.

Sculpture is also a part of their collection. The terrazo Glide Slope by Nick Lobo exhibited this year at MAM and part of PAMM’s permanent collection is a long, triangular sculpture solidifying the abstract flight path of airplanes flying in and out of Miami International Airport.

Glide Slope by Nick Lobo

The couple’s love of art is no accident and the basis of their initial relationship. They met at the Bass Museum and their first date was at a MAM Contemporaries event.

The Benmelehs are optimistic about Miami’s cultural rise, but realize that the Magic City has not reached its potential.

“I think we have very talented artists here,” said Tara, “but there are not enough people who appreciate it yet. Other major cities with a strong art scene draw bigger crowds at museum and gallery openings. In Miami, we’re catching on, but we have a lot further to go.”

Tara in front of piece by New York
photographer Leslie Lyons

Jack and Tara – situated downtown in the new heart of Miami’s cultural evolution – in conjunction with a growing assemblage of young collectors and patrons from their generation, have the potential to inspire others to dip their toes into the budding art scene. In doing so, they and their contemporaries will help add fresh faces to frequent Miami’s expanding number of cultural institutions.

People and their Art is sponsored by Markowicz Fine Art, a contemporary art gallery that opened its doors in the Miami Design District at the initiative of Bernard Markowicz, ex-partner of Opera Gallery. While providing the perfect showcase for the works of the famous artists such as Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, Picasso, Buffet, Miro, Braque and Chagall, Markowicz Fine Art also devotes itself, early on, to promoting new artistic French talent Alain Godon, Alexandra Gestin, Clara Poupel as well as Claude Charlier. Markowicz Fine Art also represents in Florida the Mourlot estate (original lithographs and lithographic posters from the great Masters).