Miami has always been a place alluring to folks who dare to dream on a grand scale and place equally grand bets that those dreams will come true. Think of America's Gilded Age titan, Henry Flagler, who slapped the lust for living large into Miami, once a muddy swamp at the turn of the 20th Century. Undaunted by huge challenges, he brought his Florida East Coast Railway to Miami in 1896, paving the way for countless visitors and riches to follow.
At the turn of the 21st Century, the heart of Miami is true to this spectacular tradition. Never mind the gloom and doom pervading the art world, with museums cutting budgets and staff and galleries closing everywhere you look. When the chips are down, leave it to Miami to play with a dynamite hand. As preparations around town gather speed for the arrival of Art Basel Miami Beach and its satellite art fairs, Miami art lovers and artcentric visitors can relish stunning offerings in their midst.
Stopping first in Miami is the traveling show "Guillermo Kuitca: Everything, Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980-2008." Co-organized by the Miami Art Museum and other institutions, it promises to be a remarkable survey of the multi-tasking talents for which this outstanding Argentine artist is known. Kuitca possesses a vibrant flair for melding music and mapmaking, theater and topography. Those of us in Miami merit a special treat: MAM is hosting "Guillermo Kuitca: Everything (else)" at Miami's Freedom Tower. This features his recent art inspired by Wagnerian opera and the dramatic fusion of light, space, and image.
An exquisite architectural landmark, the Freedom Tower offers more art this season with two shows providing incisive looks at the metaphorical and truth-telling powers of photography. "Tetralogy: Lies, Adaptation, Tracing and Duplicity as Identity" explores compelling photography recently created by MarÃa Martinez-CaÃ±as. It is curated by Gean Moreno. As both artist and curator have long ties to Miami, the show reveals the city's deeply-rooted talents.
Then there's "Invasion 68 Prague." Documentary street photography by Josef Koudelka explores the historic 1968 week in Prague when Soviets crushed cries for freedom animating Czechoslavakia and the world. With images never seen before, this exhibit is co-produced by Aperture Foundation, Magnum Photos, and the Art Galleries of Miami Dade College. "We found that combining two different forms of photography from Miami and Europe becomes a very interesting mixture during Art Basel," says Jorge Gutierrez of Miami Dade College.
At the Bass Museum of Art is "Where Do We Go From Here? Selections from La CollecciÃ³n Jumex," drawn from the famed Eugenio Lopez Alonso collection in Mexico. Iconic images by Andy Warhol and Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss mingle with internationally-known contemporary art. Co-organized by the Bass with Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati, this show is a further example of how the Basel season in Miami becomes a dynamite hand for our city's artcentric natives and visitors. It is co-curated by Bass director Silvia Karman CubiÃ±a. Of course, this much-anticipated show arrives here first.
But as superb art comes and goes from Miami museums in an era darkened by a historically battered economy, one exceptionally bright spot now gleams. This is the opening of the Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz Collection in the city's Design District. Three floors of richly varied art promise to lure art lovers and students long after art fairs depart. Special attention goes to artists with profound ties to Miami: Ana Mendieta and FÃ©lix Gonzalez-Torres. This collection, along with its library, is open to the public for free.
It has all the hallmarks of an outstanding community resource, especially in Miami where museums don't have space to show their permanent collections permanently. "I think people do like to look at a permanent collection," says Rosa de la Cruz. "I do not want to do shows. There's no curator here pushing any agenda. I think people are hungry to spend an afternoon looking at art just for the sake of looking at art," she adds. "It is going to make a difference in Miami."
Years pass, yet this is still the same eye-catching story: To make a difference sure to dazzle, people place spectacular bets on Miami.