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A Miami Gallery Joins the Top Ranks at Art Basel

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

When Mr. Castillo first reached out to Kalup Linzy, a performance artist, “He was real versed on my work,” Mr. Linzy said, noting Mr. Castillo’s understanding of what it was like to be a person of color and queer in the art world, too. And when Mr. Linzy’s mother became ill and died while he was mounting a solo show at the gallery, Mr. Castillo encouraged Mr. Linzy to grieve. “I felt like he understood me,” the artist said. “I didn’t have to hide it from him.”

But what Mr. Castillo’s artists respect most about him, including Ms. Simmons and Mr. Linzy, was that he stayed in Miami. Today, his gallery — which sprawls over 3,000 square-feet in the heart of South Beach — is as sophisticated and as highly regarded as those in New York or Los Angeles. “He stayed the course,” Ms. Simmons said. “I think that’s admirable and also fierce. That’s belief in yourself. That’s beyond what anyone could teach you. That’s a vision.”

In the 1960s, when Mr. Castillo’s parents were faced with remaining in Cuba and losing everything or starting anew, they headed to Spain. “That’s a decision a lot of Cubans made and continue to make,” he said. In 1973, he was born in Madrid, but only four months later his family moved to Hialeah, Fla. Eventually he attended Yale University to study art history. The departure point of his gallery’s program began with a letter he received as a freshman.

“Dear person of color,” it read.

“Honestly,” he remembered, “I wasn’t sure what it meant.” Then, he realized its role in referring to “the other,” but growing up in South Florida, “I never felt like the other,” he said. “I really felt — growing up here — that people were people.” But once that term was applied to him, it grew into a concept that has guided him for decades.

Mr. Castillo says he has watched Miami grow from sleepy agricultural outposts strung together by ribbons of asphalt into the bustling urban center of today. “I witnessed it from the very beginning, because I’m from here,” he said. “I’m fortunate enough that I’m from a place where I could grow with the city. It gives me a particular insight: I know the history.”

At this year’s Art Basel, Mr. Castillo plans to show 9 of his artists weaving together the visual, temporal and historical idea of “black and white”— evoking the palette of master paintings, the world as seen through television, journalism or photography, and as a powerful racial marker. For Mr. Castillo, the concept is a place where modernism meets antiquity meets the contemporary. “It was interesting to me how that concept was informed by the arc of the gallery,” he said, adding that black and white often means that something is cut and dry, “but in black and white, there’s actually a lot of nuance.”

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