ArtCentric

Miami Art Space Feeds the Soul

Such a fun and heartfelt evening we had in Miami this past Friday night! It was really a night to satisfy my artcentric soul!

First my husband and I went to the opening for "Everything" by Hugo Michel Hernandez at Farside Gallery, 1305 Galloway Road (87 Ave.), and then it was back to Coral Gables for supper and music al fresco in the courtyard at Books & Books.

There we met some of my very dear artcentric buddies: Elizabeth Cerejido, Howard Farber, Glexis Novoa, and Liana Perez. They had gathered at Books & Books to hear about a new book by Rachel Weiss, professor of School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was terrific to meet Rachel at long last, because her contact info has been in my address book for ages! I told Rachel how Fernando G at the Herald had first mentioned her name to me.

The highlight of this artfully soul-satisfying evening, however, was experiencing the richness of the art community gathered at Farside Gallery and at the Art @ Work space next door in the always remarkable orthodontist office of Dr. Arturo Mosquera.

You may recall that I blogged about him last week. What is happening there is so special that I'm blogging about it again this morning.

Friday night's opening reception was an eye-opening chance chance for me to see many artworks by artists I have known for years and by artists I met for the first time. They included Hugo Michel Hernandez--we discovered that we are colleagues at Miami Dade College!--and Robert McKnight, whose studio is at the Bakehouse Art Complex, where I have been volunteering in efforts to broaden the reach of programs and exhibitions. Then I saw striking artworks by George Sanchez Calderon, Gean Moreno, Vickie Pierre, Jen Stark, and Sara Stites, to name just a few.

I also picked up a touching edition of Arturo's Star Smiles News, from the fall of 2009. The cover story was about his wife Liza and son Arturo, written by Anne Tschida--another artcentric buddy who covers the visual arts for the Knight Arts Blog--with photographs by Elizabeth Cerejido.

In Anne's profile of Liza, which described how Liza came to Miami and how her life has changed dramatically since she has been doing so much to help her son Arturo heal from his brain injury, I was moved by the opening sentences: "Life's path, as most of us know, is never straight, and never predictable. As much as we try to diligently and optimistically plot the future, it always seems to throw a wrench in all the best laid plans."

Yet Friday night was a vibrant and memorable evening. I could see how happy Arturo was to tell visitors about the art in his office and at Farside Gallery, my husband and I both commented on how well we thought his son Arturo was healing, and Liza spoke to me about her plans to become more involved in the work of the office again.

And, in a way, suffusing this entire evening, was the soulfully generous spirit of Miami artist Miralda, whose photographs of diverse tongues are the focus of the current Art @ Work exhibit. It was a truly nourishing evening. In honor of that experience, I thought I would share with readers a story I wrote about Miralda and his ongoing fascination with tongues for The Miami Herald in July 2006.

TASTY EXHIBIT A DELIGHTFUL MIX OF FOOD, CULTURE

This dinner party spans 13 cities. So far, with their current stops in Miami and Coral Gables, Antoni Miralda and his collaborators are almost halfway through the cosmopolitan progressive dinner that is "Tastes & Tongues/Sabores y Lenguas." Miami is the sixth stop on a tour that began in Caracas and will probably wind up in Barcelona, Miralda's hometown.

"I am behind the project as artistic director and artist, but it is a project made with all the different people. It is a collective project," says Miralda. The show was preceded by his 1998 exhibit at the Miami Art Museum, "New Work Miralda: Grandma's Recipes," a warm-up for the more ambitious "Tastes/Sabores."

He sighs, when asked to explain the art of the exhibit. "It's always difficult, because there is not a product that people can take home as a piece of art. So they take home more a memory, and an image, or an experience." For him, art happens at the nexus of food, history, and anthropology. He prefers poking around supermarkets in Paris to galleries in the Louvre.

'CROSSING BARRIERS'

In some ways, at 64, this longime Miami resident, who wears his thinning salt-and-pepper hair pulled back in a short ponytail, remains a child of the irreverent 1960s. He's not really interested in art with a capital A, secured behind velvet ropes.

"I always feel an artist needs to be crossing barriers," he says. Artists "need to go through the refrigerators. They need to walk with people."

He spins artistic metaphors about cultural identity from humble contents of refrigerators and busy street markets. In Miami's Collins Building in the Design District, he laughs as he looks at the photographic portrait that "Tastes/Sabores" produced of Mexico City. Images of corn and huevos rancheros make bold splashes of red, green, and gold.

Growing up in the lean years of Franco's Spain, Miralda came of age as an artist in 1960s Paris, soaking up the revolutionary tides of the times, the populist spirit of Pop art, and the street culture of happenings from that freewheeling era. He made an international name for himself by staging baroque festivals that combined the three P's: public art, Pop art, and performance. They had almost nothing to do with the art market.

In 1977, he took part in the international art festival of Documenta in Kassel, Germany, planning a parade and feast inspired by that city's statue of the mythic figure of Leda. In 1992, there was the notable "Honeymoon" project he staged around the metaphoric marriage of New York's Statue of Liberty and Barcelona's statue of Columbus.

Such art projects are seasoned with stories layering food, culture, and myth. They sparkle with puckish fun. His works have provided grand reasons to turn a traditional festival on its head, or to make an old one new again.

Miralda's current project brings a latter-day Pop and performance-art twist to his ongoing culinary diary of cities. He says the project offers an "urban culinary topography" deeply rooted in daily life. In each city, "Tastes/Sabores" becomes part festival, part imaginary dinner party, with giant tongue-shaped photo collages, a video, and dozens of unique objects created by inhabitants of that city. They document daily examples, mostly humble but disarming, of how food and creativity mesh.

In the project's video about Miami, on view at the Collins Building, you see a saucy sign, painted on a fish restaurant in Little Haiti, in which a leaping sailfish sports a chef's cap. In the photo collage about Miami, you see a dish of frothy Key lime pie, Publix sushi, take-out packages from Joe's Stone Crab, fried frog legs, a lavish dessert from Cacao in Coral Gables, smoked sausage from Jackson's in Overtown, ropa vieja from Versailles.

Before coming to Miami, "Tastes/Sabores" made stops in Caracas, Lima, Bogota, Mexico City, and Havana. Next it will go to Managua, Santo Domingo, San Juan, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and Barcelona.

In each city, Miralda and his assistants photograph the remarkable range of places where food is consumed or sold: markets, grocery stores, restaurants and bars, street corners, banquet halls, and tables in private homes. Miralda and his team have asked about 200 people in each city, many of them artists, to decorate a simple white plate in a way that somehow reflects the cultural taste of their city.

At the Collins Building, white plates are laid out on a floor to create a dazzling mosaic in a giant, tongue-shaped design. Not all plates are playful; some are left empty. They might be emblems of want in this city of haves and have nots. In that vein, artist Duane Brant has sculpted on his plate a misshapen baby out of Wonder Bread toast. It's his riff on the scathing satire about cooking infants for poor families in Jonathan Swift's classic essay, "A Modest Proposal."

On his plate, artist Pablo Cano has created a rippling tower of merengue, looking like an armless Michelin Man, in homage to the merenguita his Cuban grandmother used to make. Father and daughter team Tom and Claire Austin painted a pinkish-orange wedge of pie crawling with large black ants.

Each previous venue has included a wall, like the one in the Collins Building here, painted with chalkboard paint. Sticks of chalk abound for folks to scribble their thoughts about food and art or whatever. An example here: "Say yes to life, yum!" There's a video that flickers with photographs shot of Miami scenes, like signs for Mary's Soul Food or one for Chef Creole, the chef-capped sailfish.

VIDEOS, LATIN SONGS

At Centro Cultural Espanol in Coral Gables, you'll see videos playing photos from the cities "Tastes/Sabores" has already visited. In Lima, butchers hack into fleshy, raw sides of meat; in Havana, a bartender mixes mojitos leafy with mint; in Mexico City street vendors hawk juicy oranges and pink cotton candy.

The videos flicker with always-changing images; just as you have absorbed most of the detail in a particular image, it fades away and is replaced by yet another image packed with nearly as much color as a child's exploded pinata.

As the videos play, you hear a soundtrack of Latin songs about food, some dating back to the 1940s. They're songs that Miralda collects as part of the several thousand items in the archive that he and Montse Guillin, the talented chef who is his partner, are obsessively assembling in their Little Haiti warehouse, TransEAT/FoodCulture Archive. Some food-related items, gathered from local collectors, are on display there now: wooden mortars and pestles from Haiti, children's lunch boxes, vintage shirts printed with coconut palms.

At the Centro Cultural Espanol, one regrets the lack of contextual information about the food. Without an insider's knowledge of the food common in each city, the video for each city reads as a juicy travelogue of an unknown destination, raising more questions than it answers. Maybe that's the point--to open a dialogue, even a dinner conversation, about what really makes each city unique.

Not all the links between food and culture have been savory. Blackboard comments in Havana railed against Cubans' meager diet. The comments were not censored, Miralda thinks, because officials were too busy running the biennial. In Caracas, he said he was censored. Officials asked him to remove items from his museum exhibit, products like pasta and milk bearing pro-Chavez slogans.

"I showed some of the official products of Chavez. And they thought we were making a joke of that," Miralda says. He agreed to remove the products, but they'll be in the catalog for the complete "Tastes/Sabores."

One response to “Miami Art Space Feeds the Soul”

  1. hogar dulce hogar says:

    Thank you for writing this blog and keeping me up to date on what is going on in Miami. You make everything sound so vividly, I feel I was there as well. Keep up your art centric soul. Eugenia Vargas Pereira

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