ArtCentric

Miami Art Collectors Cricket and Marty Taplin Support Culture at Sagamore Hotel

What would Miami be like without collectors who take risks to support the city’s creative talent? I don’t even want to think about how lackluster Miami would be–all sun ‘n’ fun, and no culture. Those folks from Basel would have never wanted to come here!

Cricket and Marty Taplin are among the dynamic collectors who make this city tick. During this past Art Basel Miami Beach, they hosted yet another fab brunch at the Sagamore Hotel on South Beach with spectacular art to see, as well as an absolutely exquisite dance performance. I recall how I have seen art there by Pablo Cano, Robert Chambers, and Jen Stark, to name just a few artists. Now I understand they are hosting an art talk for Francie Bishop Good, whose exhibit at David Castillo Gallery in Wynwood is one of several I have included for my February Critic’s Choice on the cool website http://www.artcircuits.com/

Here’s what I wrote about this dynamic duo for The Miami Herald in July 2002…

ROOM SERVICE

They agonized over the lobby most of all. Not a single artwork collectors Marty and Cricket Taplin hung next to the registration desk at the Sagamore, their recently renovated South Beach hotel, looked right.

When they taped up photocopies of a dozen implacable portraits by one of Germany’s brightest art stars, the construction workers putting finishing touches on the lobby complained that the pictures resembled mug shots.

“It was great work,” Marty says, but, continues Cricket, “It had no punch.” In the end, finding the right punch turned out to be a picnic–or more accurately, a few hundred picnickers lounging on velvet green stretches of a crisply landscaped park in Paris. The Taplins eventually decided this picnic en masse, captured in four large panels by Italian photojournalist-turned-artist Massimo Vitali, was the piece that should hang next to the registration desk.

In fact, as soon as the couple saw Vitali’s picnic while strolling the aisles of last year’s Art Basel fair in Switzerland, they knew it was a must-have photograph. And buying it became a pivotal moment in their thinking about the Sagamore, which they’ve furnished with stunning examples of contemporary art.

“That was the zinger,” remembers Cricket. It brought their choices for the hotel, she explains, “to another level. We could only go up, not down, after that.”

Though Vitali’s subjects are caught unposed and not always from flattering angles, his large-scale works captivate with radiant, painterly streams of color and fascinating, sometimes strange, voyeuristic glimpses. Certainly his wide-roaming eye for unguarded leisure suits a place such as South Beach, where the goal is to see and be seen.

Open since February to guests as well as people off the street just curious about art, the 93-suite Sagamore, at 1671 Collins Ave., actually made its debut in December, hosting a bevy of international collectors, dealers, museum professionals, and artists at a Sunday brunch. The event, staged by the Taplins, collector Martin Z. Margulies, and several Miami-Dade County museums, was one of several events that took place in lieu of the postponed Art Basel Miami Beach.

ANXIOUS MOMENTS

Seven months later, on a July morning more cloudy than clear, the Taplins, who have a habit of finishing each other’s sentences, are speaking about their collecting over coffee in the casual, high-end comfort of the Sagamore’s library.

There were risks to this venture, they say, and anxious moments. And there were concerns about protecting the valuable art, now bolted into place. But accidents still happen, such as when an installer recently dropped the monitor for Jason Rhoades’ video installation.

Dressed in a summery linen shirt and sky-blue pants, Marty is not shy about confessing that his taste in art is more mainstream than his wife’s. As a real estate developer and attorney running his first hotel, he says that “in the back of my mind I was thinking that maybe we were overshooting the market, that this was a little bit too sophisticated, because this is cutting edge.”

That’s why he looked for some unvarnished feedback.

“I was hanging out in the lobby looking at people’s expressions and [rap mogul] P. Diddy checked in with a group of his people,” he offers. “I said to them, ‘I just want to be honest with you–tell me the truth, is this too much?’

“P. Diddy’s reply, ” he says, “was, ‘Man, this hotel is in a zone by its own.'”

‘AN ART HOTEL’

Andrew Mark, a New York engineer, was also taken with the Sagamore’s collection and its library. He collects photography, and though he says, “no one will ever accuse me of knowing much of anything about art, it is an art hotel, one that, to my taste, provides as much beauty as the hotel provides wonderfully warm, exciting accommodations.”

The raves are comforting, the Taplins says, because the idea of turning their hotel into an exhibition space almost didn’t happen.

“We never really knew until the white tile was down that we were going to have an art gallery [in the hotel],” explains Cricket, who curates the Sagamore collection. “But you know, it evolved.”

In that evolution, guided in part by historical architect Alan T. Shulman and conceptual designer Patrick Kennedy, the library’s humble origins as a galley kitchen have been completely submerged by its chic, minimalist decor. A series of brooding, moss-shrouded landscape photos by Olafur Eliasson occupy one corner. Wicker chairs are pushed up next to a marble table nearly as long as a fashion show’s runway and dozens of art books are stacked invitingly on shelves nearby.

There are tomes on Andy Warhol, Walker Evans, and Graciela Iturbide, publications on Miami artists, and a paperback with the guaranteed-not-to-intimidate title of Instant Art History from Cave Art to Pop Art.

ROOM TO READ

And in another novel touch, the library is larger than the bar.

“I love how they’ve left a lot of material around for people to read,” says Dahlia Morgan, director of the Art Museum at Florida International University. “A lot of the general public doesn’t go to museums, and I think this would be a very encouraging way for people to live with art.

“When people walk in the door they know they’re in a very different public space. [The Taplins] could have just gone the way of buying knock-offs, but they worked very hard to buy serious work by a lot of younger artists.”

Presiding over the phone booth on the first floor, for example, is a miniature wardrobe of frilly frocks and broad-shouldered suits. With the precision of a couture seamstress and more than a dash of feminist irony, sculptor Donna Rosenthal has created these party duds from the pages of romance novels, now all yellowed and crisp from layers of shellac.

The title each outfit bears–not to mention the romance writers’ breathless phrases that float in and out of your consciousness as you place a phone call–might be lifted from hotel trysts or bar chatter.

“He said he’d always hug me,” says one dress. “She said she’d never cheat on me,” says one suit.

BUILT IN 1948

The Sagamore was built in 1948 by Albert Anis, and though its angular modern lines seem less playful than the nearby Art Deco hotels, the artfully renovated building embraces the legacy of those earlier architectural landmarks, says William Cary, design and preservation director at Miami Beach’s planning department.

“Many Art Deco hotels had beautiful murals and a high attention to art,” he says. “When Marty and Cricket had the fire in their heart to bring their own personal art collection to the Sagamore, it added a wonderful layer of richness to what Miami Beach has to offer. It’s truly a unique historic hotel and a special gift to the public and hotel guests.”

The Taplins’ art collecting goes back to 1988 and their days as newlyweds, when they asked Margulies to help them choose art for their home. Like many novice collectors, they took notes from a seasoned veteran of the international art circuits–in this case, Margulies.

“You spend time with someone who knows so much, and he really brings you along,” says Cricket, who made the rounds of 30 New York galleries with Margulies in a single day.

“It’s exhausting,” she laughs. “I just listen and absorb. He’s my mentor.”

Now, it seems, part of Cricket’s task as the Sagamore’s curator is to bring her husband along. Toward that end, she gave him an extremely red-lipped self-portrait by Israeli photographer Hilla Lulu Lin, who ominously masked the rest of her face in tight white cotton.

“I wanted to put it in our house,” she says of the anniversary gift, “and he didn’t want it.”

“You know what that’s like?” he asks, over her laughter. “It’s like a cowboy buying his wife a saddle for his wedding.”

So Lin’s riveting photograph, commissioned by Israel’s major art journal, now hangs in the Sagamore lobby above a table of delectable green apples. The combination is tempting and a bit terrifying.

“But it works in South Beach,” says Cricket. “It’s got that sex appeal. It’s a little edgy.”

WORK IN PROGRESS

The Sagamore is still a work in progress nearly six months after opening, and more changes and artworks are on the way. Till Freiwald’s lifelike watercolor portraits will be moved from the bar to face a haunting corridor of sculptural heads by Christine Borland, small pieces that provoke big questions about links between art and science.

In December, the hotel plans to show vintage photographs by Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Walker Evans, and perhaps sooner a spicy new piece by Tracey Rose, who took part in last year’s Venice Biennial.

Marty hasn’t seen Rose’s new photograph, so Cricket hands him a photocopy of it, showing a young woman astride a red fire engine.

“I’m a more conservative person,” he sighs. “She’s a lot of steps ahead.”

“He’s not as rigid as he used to be,” counters his wife. “And now that we have the hotel, he sees that there are many personalities, younger people, and he can get with it quicker. I suppose I was always interested in art, but I didn’t know how to express it. Could I sit and draw? No, but I always admire people that do. So this is my canvas.”

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