Internationally pedigreed artists with something to say find their way to Aldo Castillo’s doorstep, although he won’t say exactly how he amassed his lauded roster—just that they come through his vast worldwide network.
The explanation, while vague, is completely plausible. The founder of Aldo Castillo Gallery earned coveted positions directing international art fairs in Shanghai and Miami, which is how the Chicago gallerist ended up in South Florida.
In 2010, Castillo was invited to travel south from the Windy City, where he’d run his gallery since 1993, to direct the Miami International Art Fair. He liked what he saw.
“The southwest region of Florida is filled with amazing, affluent people from Canada, Germany, Russia and a lot of people from the Midwest,” Castillo says. “They were investing like crazy in their homes and had changing tastes.”
A new look took hold in South Florida—the contemporary, white-walled urban aesthetic, which replaced the traditional coastal or Tuscan-imitation design. “When the whole thing shifted, clients were starving for a more artistic, international, sophisticated look,” he says.
Castillo, who was born in Nicaragua, found his niche amongst the worldly patrons of South Florida, although relocating meant leaving behind significant personal history in Chicago, where he immigrated to from Central America.
While studying architecture in Guatemala, Castillo served as a precocious graphic designer and museum curator for the Museo Popol Vuh. Wanting to explore his own possibilities as an artist, he ventured to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1986.
There, he acquired political asylum due to the Iran- Contra affair, a political scandal that occurred during President Reagan’s second term, in which senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran. “After this, I became an art curator and dealer to educate the masses about social issues through art,” Castillo says.
To that end, he represents global artists who make some very pointed statements. “Through their talents they’re able to talk about human conditions, whether it’s racism or things we’ve done to women or to animals,” he says.
Take, for example, Lorna Marsh, a South African artist who reflects on the entropic human tendency to destroy nature, the environment and ourselves. Her hazy, contemporary images jolt viewers with their mix of ethereal pastel hues and sinister subject matter. In one composition, a kaleidoscope of butterflies distracts the looming military helicopter above. Shadowy figures wear gas masks and tote automatic rifles while toxic yellow smog trickles down the canvas.
Then there’s the work of Scott Ashley, a conceptual artist who reimagines everyday objects in provocative ways. Consider his disco ball impaled with feather-tipped arrows or his chef’s knife that bends at the center on a hinge.
“When we get angry and frustrated, we often have homicidal or suicidal thoughts, although we may not act on those thoughts,” Castillo explains. “The hinge reflects that we haven’t gone through with them. Scott creates a space where we can talk about these issues.”
These new media works might be beyond comprehension for some art appreciators, which is why Castillo makes it his personal mission to educate his clients on the importance of new media work.
“People will say they don’t understand conceptual art,” he says. “They need to be told what the artists are trying to do.”
He has several ways of reaching his clients: via their designers, with whom he coordinates efforts; directly with clients, who may have multiple homes that they entrust Castillo to fill with art; or through the shopper who comes to the Miromar Design Center and happens upon one of Castillo’s seven showrooms.
With that big of a footprint, not only in the Miromar Design Center but worldwide, Castillo says he’s fortunate to be able to reach many.
“I’m one of the luckiest people on earth,” he says. “At an early age I found out what my mission on earth is. My vehicle is art, and through that I can fulfill my contribution to society.”
Alaena Hostetter is a Dallas-based journalist who writes about her favorite things: art, design, culture, music, entertainment and food.