MIAMI BEACH — When Gabriel Kilongo decided to quit his job as a sales associate at Mitchell-Innes & Nash to open his own gallery in Miami’s thriving art scene, he chose a significantly less predictable location than a hub like the Design District or Little Haiti.
Opened on March 5, Jupiter is located in North Beach, in a Miami Beach community known to locals as Normandy Isles, Normandy Isle, or Isle of Normandy. The gallery is located on a no-frills commercial stretch of Normandy Drive, next to a laundromat and a few doors down from a Dominican beauty salon and barber shop. Across the street is a row of low-rise apartments.
“I wanted to find a space that wasn’t in a place that’s too trendy, already overdeveloped,” Kilongo said on a recent sunny afternoon. “There was part of wanting to start a trend.”
Jupiter is not the first gallery to open in the area. Next door is Central Fine, which opened in 2012. The selection features an eclectic mix of notable artists, including Myrlande Constant, a Haitian textile artist, whose work has been included at this year’s Venice Biennale; Georgia Sagri, a Greek performance artist who participated in the 2012 Whitney Biennale; and Iranian artist Hadi Fallahpisheh. The gallery’s clientele includes foundations and institutions such as the Pérez Art Museum Miami, or PAMM, which has acquired several pieces in recent years.
This month, it is planned to open an exhibition featuring work by Haitian artist Frantz Zéphirin, also featured at the Venice Biennale.
There is no sign outside Central Fine; since the pandemic, it has largely been open by appointment. “I like the idea that when you come to Central Fine, you make an effort to see it,” says Diego Singh, the artist who founded the gallery, which he runs with a fellow artist, Tomm El-Saieh. “It’s not near anything so you really want to see art when you come here.”
On a recent Sunday at dusk, some 40 people, mostly from outside the immediate area, stood outside the gallery to watch a performance that was part of an exhibition by artist Jen DeNike, using rubber tires from the show as props. DeNike said earlier that day, a passerby walked in asking if the space was a tire store.
Several years ago, Singh, the founder of Central Fine, was reprimanded by construction department officials for keeping his shop window too empty when it was actually filled with an intentionally scarce piece of Sagri.
“I had to explain to them that that was an installation,” Singh recalls. “They would fine me $1,000 a day because it looked like an abandoned space.”
For a few years now, the neighborhood has also hosted Jada Art Fair, which is held concurrently with Art Basel Miami Beach, in a large building that used to be a deli and restaurant. (At one point there was also a funeral home at the location.). The most recent fair attracted about 500 people to the space, according to one of the founders – about 59,500 people less than Art Basel’s official attendance.
The community is welcoming, but not luxurious: The median median family income in North Beach is about $37,000 per year, according to Rickelle Williams, Miami Beach’s director of economic development. Since last summer there has been an incentive to improve the area, with help from the North Beach Community Redevelopment Agency. The goal, Williams said, is “to take the unique features of North Beach and just enhance them.”
For Kilongo, 30, the path to Jupiter was unconventional. He was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and grew up in Israel, where he immigrated in 2002 with his parents and six siblings. Nine years later, he came to the United States to study at Bard College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 2015. He considered becoming an architect, but an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which included working on a show about African art, convinced him to change direction and dive into the art world.
For the past few years, Kilongo has been commuting between Miami Beach and South Williamsburg, where he regularly speaks Hebrew with his Orthodox Satmar neighbors. Like several of his siblings, he’s a practicing Jew—at one of Mitchell-Innes & Nash’s temporary outposts in Miami, he met a rabbi for a Torah lecture. It’s an exercise he wants to continue with Jupiter.
Kilongo is confident that buyers will travel outside of Miami’s established arts communities. “What I’ve noticed in Miami is that unlike New York or LA, collectors are very motivated to drive to see the art,” he said. “I don’t think the location really matters.”
And now there will be two neighborhood galleries to attract visitors instead of just one. “To me, camaraderie between those galleries is more important than the actual location,” says Franklin Sirmans, director of PAMM.
“To go next to someone like Diego and Tomm, that says a lot,” he added. “It says you’re interested in the emerging end of the market.”
“There is a demand and a need to broaden the conversation of what is being shown,” Kilongo said.
That expansion also appears to be geographical. “It makes sense that Mitchell-Innes & Nash have a space in the Design District; It makes sense that Galerie Lelong has a space in the Design District,” Sirmans said, referring to two New York galleries that have recently featured seasonal pop-ups in Miami. “It doesn’t make sense for Gabe Kilongo to have a space in the Design District.”