Smash & Grab art madness at Locust Gallery

Artists Jim Drain, Jillian Mayer, Lucas Leyva and Naomi Fisher enjoy collector chaos and free food at Smash & Grab

Even the name is different. Smash & Grab – sounds like standard operating procedure for barbarian hordes (or perhaps the contemporary financial system). But actually, Smash & Grab is the annual fundraiser for non-profit gallery Locust Projects, one of the Miami art scene’s most buzzed about parties. And a very odd combination of creativity, democrativity, and acquisitiveness. Also, excellent cupcakes.

Here’s how it works: artists (many hot, some not so much) donate artworks to Locust, a beloved and adventurous non-profit operation in the Design District. Locust sells ‘raffle’ tickets for $450, which go into a glass bowl and are pulled at random – as soon as your name his called, you run (often iterally – the names are called quickly) to ‘grab’ a piece by sticking your sticker next to it. You might be propelled by desire, or by the fact that some of the pieces on the wall can be worth thousands of dollars, an excellent instant return on your $450 investment.

On Saturday Knight Foundation arts honcho Dennis Scholl, a Locust board member and longtime supporter, added extra excitement to the proceedings by knocking the glass bowl to the concrete floor as he prepared to pick the first ticket, sprinkling the inner circle of eager collectors with shards. No, it was not a gimmick. “I gave blood!” said Scholl, holding up a bandaged finger. Scholl, who’s genial and white-haired and would look a lot like the art world Santa that he is if you added red suit and beard, swore he didn’t rig the pick. “I’ve been 80th, 92nd, 97th – if I was ever 2nd or 3rd they’d kill me.”

Before the raffle starts, people scope the walls, marking down first, second, third choices on a list. “I can’t talk, I’ve got to look at art” is something you hear a lot. Some keep their eyes on potential value, others fall in love. Once the official rush starts, people get quite avid, racing from one piece, then another, depending on whether someone else has snagged their choice, craning to hear their name called and to see who’s staked out what at the same time. “I once saw someone literally smash someone to the ground getting to a piece,” one woman told me. A neighbor of mine just managed to place her mark on a painted wood sculpture woven with hot pink cord by Sleeper, whose work is rising in the scheme of things, before another eager art seeker. “She was really mad” my neighbor said “The drama! The drama!”

Meanwhile, the artists stand around grinning at the spectacle. Lucky Donna Baptiste was first out and got an ethereal piece by Carlos Bettancourt, whom she’s known since South Beach in the 90’s, before he was famous and before she had money to buy art; she left glowing, her piece wrapped in bubble wrap against the rain.

This was my second time at Smash & Grab, and while it’s a fun party (did I mention the excellent cupcakes? From Misha’s. No, I am not getting any graft, although my daughter’s birthday is coming up), watching beauty I can’t have disappear so quickly does drive home my rock solid position among the 99%. Only a few people came in costume, including a couple as a filthy Raggedy Ann and Andy – I thought they were doing a Occupy Wall Street update, you know, homeless, genuinely raggedy ann and andy, but they meant to be zombie versions. “But I do know at least 7 people here who belong to the one percent,” Andy told me.

Even Locust is part of the 99% – the gallery will have to move soon after Art Basel, to make way for Craig Robins’ re-development of the District into a Bal Harbor-esque mall. So will Naomi Fisher’s Bas Fisher Invitational, another creative, community minded space. Both have benefited from Robins’ munificence in paying lower rent, but now have to make way for the kind of luxurious retail that thrives on cultural cachet and the collectors who fund it. At least they won’t have to pay to decorate the walls in their new homes.


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