Miami’s Storied Collectors & Collections

The resounding success of our November ArtTable meeting at Books & Books in the Gables is still quite stunning to me. I think that this was the first time our panel discussion lasted a full hour!

Kudos to Helen Kohen for planning this riveting discussion on "The Decorative Arts Difference." And kudos to the articulate panelists who had so many remarkable things to say about working with truly special collections at The Wolfsonian/Florida International University in South Beach and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Coconut Grove.

From the Wolfsonian we heard from Director Cathy Leff and Marianne Lamonaca, who is Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs and Education. From Vizcaya we heard from Dr. Flaminia Gennari, who is Deputy Director for Collections and Curatorial Affairs, and Wendy Wolf, the School, Youth, and Family Programs Manager.

Cathy gave us a director's perspective, while Marianne and Flaminia were quite enlightening about how curators develop stories from the many objects and artworks distinguishing each museum. Wendy really opened my eyes to all the fascinating and vital ways a museum's education staff contributes to how visitors experience these artcentric jewels in Miami.

I recall how Flaminia explained that the whole place of Vizcaya, completed in 1916 as an elaborate winter home for Chicago Industrialist James Deering, was really conceived as a fiction, to engage the smart set at the time, who were intrigued by visiting a young city called Miami.

I have often thought of Vizcaya as palatial Italian villa carved incongrously from mosquito-infested mangroves in a then very remote, isolated place that could be battered suddenly by hellish storms. There were no Channel 7 weather people then to make the city nervous for days at a time!

Marianne and Cathy spoke about the indefatigable collector Micky Wolfson, and how the Wolfsonian/FIU continues to carry the living legacy of this inspiring man, who has not at all halted his passion for collecting. They also spoke of the many, impressive ways that the Wolfsonian has become part of the higher education community in Miami--also well beyond the city and even this country!

But is the way in which museums and their curators tell stories for the public that truly engaged me, a journalist forever fascinated by the innumerable stories shaping Miami's diverse and growing art community, in this spectacular panel discussion.

I recall how Flaminia said that it was possible to look at Vizcaya as a "palimpsest," a special document layered with stories of the past and the present. I learned how hard the staff at the Wolfsonian and Vizcaya work to involve their visitors in the stories of these museums and their collections, so that visitors' own stories become intermingled with the stories that have shaped these special Miami collections. So many quinces and weddings have been held at Vizcaya!

As I looked around the crowd who listened so attentively to this panel discussion, I saw many artcentric friends who brought back stories I remember from my former life with the Miami Herald. But, well, the past is the past and that is that.

Now I am learning how to blog! As I recall telling Enrique Martinez Celaya, when I invited him to be part of our September ArtTable panel discussion at Books & Books in the Gables, these ArtTable panels are, in a way, my own blog. So it does make sense that I am blogging about them this morning!

It is quite heartening to me to discover that so many people are interested in these panel discussions. ArtTable is a women's organization, but these meetings are free and open to the public, and now men are starting to come. At our November meeting I saw my wonderful artcentric friends Bob Huff, Barry Fellman, and Arturo Mosquera.

Blogging is so brief, compared to writing newspaper stories and reviews. It's not possible here for me to convey all the remarkable things I learned that evening. So I invite any person who attended, both panelists and members of the audience, to post further comments on my blog. This can be a wonderful way to keep that memorable panel discussion alive in cyberspace!

2 responses to “Miami’s Storied Collectors & Collections”

  1. Anonymous says:

    It was fascinating to realize how these institutions not only teach us about history but are a part of the history of our community. I just did a project at Shangri-La, Doris Duke's estate in Honlulu which is full of Islamic Art. In the same way as the years have passed, it is not just about Islamic Art, but about relevance and history in the community since 1935. We are fortuntate to have the Wolfsonian Museum and Vizcaya as part Miami. Rustin Levenson

  2. amandaserrano says:

    Elisa, I would love to learn more about ArtTable. Could you post or email more information about this for people (like me) who are not familiar with it? Thanks! Amanda

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