Country Club plays with the big boys in Miami

COUNTRY CLUB, the new gallery in the West End with the capricious name, the tongue-in-cheek logo and two directors -- doppelgangers, ostensibly -- who come across as antitheses of urbane contempo

Dec 10, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Joe Lamb

Country Club's Matt Distel (left) and Christian Strike are heading south this week.

COUNTRY CLUB, the new gallery in the West End with the capricious name, the tongue-in-cheek logo and two directors — doppelgangers, ostensibly — who come across as antitheses of urbane contemporary art dealers, is already taking a trip out of town.

Christian Strike leans against the gallery's office wall, looking over to partner Matt Distel, who's tapping around on his laptop.

"Well," Strike says, "we're going (to Miami) to have a presence really. It's hard to ... apply for art fairs when you don't even have a physical gallery space."

He laughs. It's true. Strike founded the successful multiples and print shop Iconoclast and has had working relationships with sundry artists, including all those he brought together for the insanely popular exhibition Beautiful Losers. And Distel pretty much saved the Contemporary Arts Center with his forward-thinking but sometimes less-than-popular curatorial expertise. Together, Distel and Strike make a convincing, if scale-tipped team. (Is anyone else sick of skateboard culture?)

Still, when applying for the New Art Dealer's Alliance (NADA) Fair to be held this week in Miami, they missed the mark.

Young, smart and connected, they brushed it off and kept moving. Miami in the first week of December is not a place a new gallery wants to miss. It turns into the spectacle of American art spectacles: Art Basel Miami, Ink Miami, the NADA fair, every artist new to the scene, every art dealer making deals not even the financial fantasy of Chelsea could procure.

"Fortunately we (had) the opportunity to do this project at this new hotel that Todd (Oldham) designed," Strike continues. "So we took it, and Country Club will have a presence with (Joao Paulo Feliciano's) work and Lee Renaldo's work, and also Iconoclast is also bringing down some editions as well. So we'll have kinda both brands, if you will."

"It's a one-off kind of a project," Distel says. "Meaning, it's not attached to any of the existing art fairs but right in the proximity. It's just our effort to get our feet wet in the commercial — 'cause you know I've been down there every year since they started doing (Art Basel Miami), but I've never been down there as a gallerist. So it was a chance to kind of get to know what the scene is like when you're down there for a different reason."

Country Club has been open now just over a month, but Distel and Strike don't give off any sense of the novice. Distel has been a curator for years and can generate exhibitions like Country Club's current one, I'll be alright, that even the best museums would have trouble pulling off. It's a tough show — edgy, spare and in a typical Distel way, very elegant.

But not everyone can see elegance in an image of Osama bin Laden and E.T., posed together like a married couple. No matter — Cincinnati, despite what we might say about ourselves, has enough intelligent, quick-witted eyes to see what's happening here.

"We haven't been Molotov-cocktail bombed yet or anything," Strike says. "(Our) expectations, at least at the beginning, are very modest. I want to contribute to the arts community here, and I think we are. And I think we will in a significant way. But we are also looking beyond the Cincinnati community. And I think, ironically, that by looking beyond (Cincinnati) and trying to get exposure on a larger scale… that will bring more attention to the Cincinnati arts community."

Distel agrees: "Our model going in was to exist on several fronts. Iconoclast is sort of a web-based initiative… (and) we have this project space and this exhibition space in Cincinnati, and our other model is to be a collaborative with other galleries. Whatever that means."

I´LL BE ALRIGHT is on view through Jan. 5. To see more about Country Club´s special exhibition in Miami´s Fairfax hotel, go to