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Collectors profile: The Mikesell family

Kathryn and Dan Mikesell at home in their collection.

Lester Bangs, a rock critic and more, once said in an interview with Jim DeRogatis: “I double back all over myself” which means that he might at first go negative then later come to embrace that which at first he criticized.This article is not based on any particular interview or any set of questions put to the Mikesell family, yet much of what I know about this family comes from conversations with them. This article is about generalities yet it is also based on real worldly observable accomplishments—-This article is about a family that collects.

The Mikesell family.

This family that collects also runs an art residency program called the Fountainhead Residency. In addition to the residency Dan and Kathryn Mikesell manage a two story warehouse where dozens of artist have studios.

As we know there are many families who collect, and at least one collection, here in Miami, that I know of, has a modest residency program added to the collection / exhibition program. As well we know that there are many collecting families whose collections, especially here in Miami, are open to the public or prudently opened on special occasions due to limited access restrictions imposed by location or residential zoning laws–or to certain expectations of privacy. For those collections located in commercial / industrial settings these family collections have become simulacrum like versions of public institutions that are normally kept afloat by both public and private funding. In this world of private collections gone wild we have seen a proliferation of private collections gone public with the additional aid of 501 non-profit tax exemption and other perks that go along with that class.

Although the Mikesell’s collection is not open to the general public at this time, nor is it a non profit 501, it is often open to locals in the Miami arts community on special occasions due to the limitations of its residential address.

As for non profit exemption, the Mikesell family do not seek non profit status–they simply explain at their residency website, rather coyly, that they are “not for profit”. Which means that that door is closed for now, to profit gained from selling or trading works in the collection?

View inside the Mikesell household.

Then what motivates collectors if not a “profit” model? No doubt this is a subject that includes a critique of intentionality–private verses the public consumption of art as well as privatization versus the public access to art works–private property versus public–for instance can anyone really think that they actually own an artwork (above being the caretaker of it) especially if a works content is social in nature?…Questions: Must one have the right to flirt with social privation? Want answers? Then these questions must concern what essentially effects the utility of circulation, distribution and dispersion of art–otherwise the consequentialist protagonist might just favor an elitist hierarchy in which only an elite class will be privy to any progressive artsy discourse.

I suppose that I really don’t want to speculate, for now, in this article at least, on such interesting tautologically head spinners or travel in those muddy hermeneutic waters with out a leek proof boat and a stout paddle. However, politically speaking, moralisms and ethical concerns or just plain old phenomenological intent inherent in art works and artistic intentionality should concern us all very much when the issue of privatization absorbs these concerns into the institution of collecting thus deflating arts greater social potency–otherwise, this will always run the risk of encouraging an introverted subjectivity, alienating the viewer from the social phenomenon by misdirecting and leading down to the debts of rings of mercurial territorial fires, if what is meant to be said out loud is instead internalized.


Politically whether they be this way or that–right or left handed, might they, or just anyone, for that matter, just be overshadowed or pale in the light of what ever is produced for the public good–not being driven by the “hidden hand” of Laissez-faire art market exchange or speculation?

Skye and Galt Mikesell at home.


Can what’s seemingly implied in a name truly reflect in that name, necessarily be a predetermined articulation of those whom ever are working under its current marquee? In other words can yesterdays fiction based on drawing straw men, set a predetermined contemporary outcome? The resulting quandary is how I have come to view the Mikesells. In my view, one that has more to do with their enthusiastic and appreciated contribution to Miami’s burgeoning arts scene rather than a suspect banner.

There are two ways to read the name Fountainhead–The first is the title given to a novel written by Ayn Rand…the second is to believe that the term fountainhead refers to the belief that the source of creativity emerges from within, each of us, in isolation–our inner muse–not effected by paradigms or other existing ideas or caused or affected by things outside of us–an outer muse. The Former, the novel, written by Ayn Rand, illustrates a radical self-interest from a radical right wing libertarian ideology. The latter is the idea that the genesis of human creativity bubbles up from within. The former can easily be taken with a grain of salt, for either way you look at it, it is ultimately about liberty and freedom to create freely in an open society. And if Ayn Rand were alive today, she too might likely have recanted much of what she believed.

Building collections.

However, there are two major problems that most will have with Ayn Rand’s objectivistic faux philosophy that concerns her once notorious hatred for altruism and her assertions that pure creativity is not effected or inspired or expounded on the work of others lest they be human parasites. It is precisely these two particular issues that I see as the pivotal point from which the Mikesells make their point of departure from Rand’s philosophical position of radical self-interest, regarding how trickle down self-interest effects community. Because, I see Rand’s myopic self-interest being replaced by a far greater self-interest involving the community’s self interest–especially, the self interest of Miami’s art community. For it is self-interest of community which is at the heart of good old lefty libertarianism and anarchism which, too, seeks less control and oversight from the State or what we see today as a growing state sponsored acquiescence towards corporate plutocracy.

The opposite of this Randism of self-centered self-interest is the profound enthusiastic giving of ones time and other resources with out the guarantee of expecting the same in return. Artful and authentic moves that concern making things happen around us are akin to unrequited love…. This altruistic maneuvering, to me, is the keystone supporting the arching reach of the arts and its cultural possibilities that ensures arts always “becoming”, always bringing art to every crevice of everyday life directly…not holding it hostage to the highest bidder.

A family dining room.

Firstly, anyone involved in the arts has a story–a narrative flowing out of an inherited nurturing environment or from more or less a spontaneous contingency or a chance encounter that catalyses an ongoing infatuation with the arts–less defined. As well, there does exist amongst many collectors a transparent narrative that directly reveals there involvement in the arts–on the flip side, there is the hidden narrative that’s crafted and contrived from sleek streamlined exquisite manipulation secreted behind gold plated doors–not exactly what I think the Miksell’s are up to or about though. And since the the Mikesell family’s narrative as collectors began approximately 12 years ago…their story is still new and emerging.

What motivates people to be in this so called Art world in the first place? If we take the high rode and assume that it is not nor should it be merely for the sake of profit, then if not for profit then why do we do what we do. Obviously profit can be more than monetary gain. For instance, self fulfilling satisfaction sought from diving into the art world’s mosh pit is another kind of gain. This is that kind of authentic engagement with the unknown that comes from that sort of fountainhead from with in—its just healthy enthusiasm and curiosity that inspires us to go forward with out clear foresight or results or outcome known–oh the horror vacui of it all.

This kind of authentic involvement can be more than the speculative gain because it involves uncertainty. And its in this kind of uncertainty that I think fuels many people in the arts. Especially the artistic flavor of less pedantic art — superseded by discovery and invention or discovery and research.

Seeking surplus value in the arts as though market forces were the final end is a shallow way to view art. It causes an increase in hoarding art commodity as the personal source of fetish–is all too easy….where as, increasing surplus value of lived experience is another matter all together. Any old capitalist can invest private capital into commodity exchange or production; yet not just any capitalist goes that extra mile to invest resolutely into the void and take that leap into that unknown quantity of being outside oneself….

A Michael Loveland work on view at the Mikesell’s house.

Instead, if we look at profit as different from that which is a result of market exchange, then we can get further into what it is that we expect our expectations to be….of what art and its potential can be–rather than being stuck investigating art’s value or how its price as a commodity earns and maintains that value. Perhaps, if the profit in art is anything metaphysically gained from an exchange then it is arts capacity to act as a catalyst for awareness, or for lack of a better way to put it–As Adorno would have us believe–art is the fetish of all fetishes that reduces…

Never the less, and thankfully so, the art market exist and this family does buy art locally, or trade residency space to artist for art work…thus adding to the collection.

And as it goes with artist: artist emerge so do collectors…. Artist, viewers and collectors  can also be passive….the opposite are those like the Mikesells who collect and maintain a high profile by supporting many of Miami’s cultural organizations.

They have what I respect; they have endurance, they show up. They ride the ups and downs like any artist that I know. They are not rich, relative to other collectors, and like all emerging artists this family is an emerging collecting family whose collecting goes beyond the object to include collecting knowledge and experience from DOING – being hands-on involved in the arts community…whether it be financial or hands-on working support for such non-profits like Locust projects’ or Legal Art’s programming to many other worthwhile community assets. These people are involved–being active or adventurous is how we move forward.

An adventurer is not someone to whom adventures happen, but someone who creates adventures.” A quote from Guy Debord (Potlatch in 1954).

Left: The family out collecting. Right: Kathryn and Skye with TYPOE work at Spinello Gallery.


To be adventurous you can’t be passive–you must engage…move forward. From the point of being adventurous comes another interesting tactic to the way the Mikesell family collect that I label for now as: “Drifting Expropriation”, which in a nut shell is wondering about, in this case, in Miami, taking / expropriating art made for the street. The activity is simple. While wondering around the streets they [initially inspired by their son Galt] locate some kind of art(y)fact that is removable from its site and carefully remove it. It can be anything from unique stickers to graffiti tagged signs or images painted on what ever is removable.

It all helps to disclose another subtext of this article, perhaps…”property is theft” (a phrase coined by the french anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon), which seeks to get at what Private Property really is, if it exists at all.

Galt’s door.

Through the grape vine, I heard about this approach to collecting, as a way to expropriate street art freely–that which is left to the weather the storm of what inadvertently leads to gentrification. It’s as though this family unit were some kind of contemporary urban aesthetically charged archeologist looking to save a piece of inspired pre-gentrified urban development? What ever you want to make of all this–this family’s drive and seemingly endless enthusiasm impresses me. What’s also interesting, to me, is how this activity is also, coincidentally, a simple version of the Dérive / drift, the “Situationist International’s” practice of drifting about the urban environment as a conscious raising activity looking with keen eyes affected by local psychogeography. [I recently wrote an introductory article on psychogeography here at ARTLURKER, A running dérive through psychogeography*. My twist on psychogeography involves running instead of walking...which as it turns out, the Miksells curiously enough use both running and biking as a bifurcated approach to checking out the town.]

Skye’s door.

On any Sunday, I joined the family activity by running a 7 or so mile round trip with Kathryn Mikesell, down the road, and back, which turned into a rendezvous with Dan, Galt and another kid who were already hard at work finding and removing decals / stickers from many various surfaces [its a case for decalcomania--they dislocate a sticker / decal then stick it on their clothing to transport them home]

As I hinted, at the beginning of this article, like Lester Bangs, I too “double back all over myself” for at first when I made the connection with the name Fountainhead as a name for a residency I thought perhaps that this family was wearing Ayn Rand on their sleeves, so at first I objected…but then as I got to know this family I realized just how far from Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy this family really is. So all I can do now is to tell my own tale of another weird Miami story where what appears on the facade may not reflect what is inside the building. Or put another way “A Rose by any other name is NOT necessarily a Rose?” For altruism is really at the core efforts of what I can tell of this family, no matter what I might have claimed before.

Dan’s door.

Also in this emerging Miami arts community there seems to be a huge audience for contemporary art yet while concurrently, alarmingly so, there exists a wanton lack of collector support. It goes with out saying that Miami needs a hell of a lot more families and individuals like the Mikesell family who do much more than passively absorb all the eye candy of old Miami. We need more than conservative art voyeurs.

In conclusion, as Miami’s contemporary arts community grows so hopefully too will community support for the arts. The more collectors that emerge and actively get involved in an arts community, the better for all. Like the endurance test of long distance running, the example that the Mikesell family set, will hopefully inspire those who sheepishly lay low, to get more involved in Miami’s growing arts community. Then as our community moves progressively forward, we can all still be relieved to know that Miami is still on its way to transcending its past as just another dumbed down tourist destination–promoting that less thoughtful decaying visual aroma that we still get a whiff of now and then…that kind of old Miami putrid commercialized smell that turned so many despondent and sour and caused the international arts communities to view Miami’s indifference to an international discourse as but a memory, constantly recuperating the South Florida pastiche…a past that if you need reminding of you need only take a trip to Key West to know what kind of image Miami is still fighting against–the land built on coral and swamp, but filled with cheap and shallow tawdriness, like acid in your contemporary, progressive face, eyes of mundane kitschy campiness saddening and maddening, dumbed down affection that solicits and sells itself to another kind of cultural neanderthal–the accidental drunken tourist who seeks passive mediocrity and the same in other kindred spirits[.]

Other odd things that Galt Miksell finds around railroad tracks and other pathways.

And the beginnings of my own expropriated art collection.

For more information on The Fountainhead Residency and Studios please visit:

This post was contributed by Richard Haden.


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Collectors profile: The Mikesell family