Helen Toomer Moves PULSE to the Beach
This year marks the 10th Anniversary of PULSE Miami Beach, and its new director Helen Toomer has a few changes in store for us. First, the fair is moving out and up to Indian Beach Park at 4601 Collins Ave. Coming off the successful PULSE New York last May, she’s continuing to pare down the number of galleries, refocus booth presentations, and added in some new programming.
Whitewall spoke to Toomer about the work that artwork that first moved her and how she personally combats fair fatigue.
WHITEWALL: We read that the thing that got you into art was Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of Crucifixion when you were 15 at the Tate. You said it changed your life. Any recent shows or works moved you like that?
HELEN TOOMER: Nothing since has had the same effect and I’m not sure if it ever will. I’d love to be proven wrong and of course will still keep looking! The most recent show I saw which moved me was David Altmejd’s show in Paris at the Musée d’Art Moderne. His work is beautiful and macabre and reminds me of our fragility. I think the idea of human fragility and the deconstruction of the human form (Bacon, the Chapman Brothers, Velazquez, Hans Bellmer, etc.) strikes a chord with me.
WW: Ever had that kind of reaction happen to you at a fair?
HT: Not exactly. I’ve been struck by works at fairs to the point that I have been unable to walk past – they have drawn me into the booth, like a magnet. I love those moments; it’s a powerful and exciting reaction.
WW: Last spring’s PULSE New York was your first as director. You made some changes then, integrating the young and established galleries, doing away with Sections, lowering the number of galleries and the number of works or artists a gallery could present. Looking back, do you think it successfully improved the exhibitor and visitor experience?
HT: Yes, absolutely, as it created more dialogue between the artworks, exhibitors and visitors. It was a more manageable fair that allowed visitors space and time to engage with the work and the programming. With regard to the exhibitors, this is an incredibly difficult time for gallerists. Rent is going up and so are art fairs costs. I think creating an environment that gives them more exposure to an engaged audience is important. Also, the more communication they can have with each other, especially for younger galleries, the better. Having had a gallery myself, I looked to my peers for advice and support.
WW: You were part of the founding team for the Collective Design fair, a unique kind of fair during Frieze week in New York. Were there things that Collective did well that you wanted to bring to your directorship at PULSE? From that, did you decided to implement more changes for PULSE Miami Beach?
HT: The process of developing any organization, whether it be an art or design fair or a gallery, is all about growth and evolution. We’re all learning from past experiences and, hopefully, applying these in the future to make things better and keep things fresh. Change is exciting and inevitable, so I choose to embrace it.
WW: The Miami edition of the fair is in a totally new location, up Collins Ave., and real close to the beach. How do you think the change in location will improve the exhibitor and fairgoer experience alike?
HT: It will greatly improve everyone’s experience! Being an anchor in the midst of many fairs with a more accessible location in mid-Miami Beach that comes with ocean views – who doesn’t love that?!
WW: Fairs are a great way to see a lot of art in a short period of time, but it can be overwhelming. How do you personally combat fair fatigue? How do you avoid it at PULSE Miami Beach?
HT: I start by taking notes during my initial walk through and quickly jot down notes on works/booths I would like to revisit. Then stop and take a break, eat, chat with friends – re-energize. Then I go back to my top picks to fully engage with the work and the gallerist. PULSE Miami Beach’s scale and new custom layout is designed with this pace in mind. We also have a number of places inside and outside for people to rest and recharge.
WW: Lindsay Howard curated PULSE Play this year in collaboration with Tumblr. Anything in particular from PULSE Play we should keep our eyes out for?
HT:I really like Lindsay’s overall selection and we are excited to be working with Tumblr. I must admit, I’m really enjoying Carlo Ferraris’ I’m no longer obsessed with winning, as every time I watch it I discover something new.
WW: Anything else in Miami you’re looking forward to checking out in your very spare free time?
HT: Free time will be hard to find during the fair, which I why I came to Miami early this year to visit our partner organizations and see the exhibitions I normally wouldn’t have time too.
WW: We hear you’re taking a much-needed vacation after PULSE Miami Beach. Does a holiday for you also mean a break from looking at art?
HT: In theory it does but that never lasts long…
PULSE Miami Beach opens to the public on Thursday, December 4.