ArtCentric

Miami Artists Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt Featured at Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art

I have been wanting to blog about Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardtfor some time now, and I am so glad I can do it now. They are a superb artist-duo working in Miami, and I treasure the memories I have of getting to know them during the time I worked for The Miami Herald. You can see their work through Sept. 4 in the group show "Site Specific: Explorations in Space, Vision and Sound" at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, of Nova Southeastern University, located at One East Las Olas Blvd in that city. For more info, call 954-525-5500 or seewww.moafl.org I believe you can also see some of their work in my Summer Critic's Choice at www.artcircuits.com

In particular, I remember how Eric and I ran into them when we both went to Cuba in late 2000. I went there to cover the Havana Biennial for the Herald, and Eric went with me as a translator and also because we wanted to visit some of his relatives living there. We brought them a small suitcase packed with medicine.

As some readers may know, the sidewalks and streets in Old Havana are not exactly as smooth as glass, and soon after we had all arrived, Rosario turned her ankle. Eric was able, as I recall, to find a bandage to wrap it up and suggested some stragegies for Rosario to use so that she would not have to spend her time there hobbling around in intense pain. Actually, I saw so many more people I knew from Miami on that trip to Havana!

I am such an incurable packrat, and I have tons of objects saved from my time at the paper, even though I have already donated a lot to theVasari Project at the Main Library downtown, just across the plaza fromMiami Art Museum.

As I am writing this, I am looking at my ID card for that assignment: It says "Participante, Bienal De La Habana 2000, Elisa Turner, USA." I'm also looking at a yellowing 11/19/2000 edition of Granma, the notoriously propaganda-filled newspaper in Cuba. As I recall, when my Herald editor at the time, Kevin B, wanted me to take this trip, he had me come into the Herald offices and speak to the Latin American editor, Juan Tamayo, about going on assignment to Havana. Juan, I remember, told me in no uncertain terms that Herald reporters were not allowed in Cuba; as a result my own editor suggested that I just go undercover and "use my best judgment."

Um, and what would that be?? I loved my job, but I had no wish to risk a stay in Cuban prisons! So of course we went legally with a university group that I knew was going from Florida's west coast because I had just profiled one of their members for ARTnews. My story about this assignment for the Herald was published later, in January 2001. I am EXTREMELY grateful for the opportunity to have done this, and for the other international assignments I would later take. Nothing will ever change that!!

(I don't plan to be blogging for about ten days or two weeks because I do need a break; readers can read some of my past blog posts if they wish. There are quite a few since I have been blogging since 2009. See the blog archive. I'm really having a blast with my blog, but I do need to take a break, and that's why this one is posted earlier in the week than usual.)

First things first: More visual arts news in Miami Let's hear it for those caring, entreprenurial artists nurtured by Miami's New World School of the Arts! (You can read more about their groundbreaking exhibit, "Young Blood: So Fresh" at Flagler Arts Space in my previous blog post re Carlos Alfonzo.) They're presenting "Art Crushes Cancer: A Benefit at Flagler Arts Space," on Saturday, Aug. 6 from 6:30 to 10:30 pm at 172 W. Flagler Street. It's a silent auction, hosted by artist Ana Fernandez, with all proceeds to benefit The Jim Hunter Memorial Scholarship fund and American Cancer Society. For more info seehttp://www.flaglerartsspace.com

Ok, maybe this is not exactly visual arts news, but it is a very cool event re blogging happening at my fave bookstore, Books & Books, so here's the scoop: On Sat. Aug. 6 at 5 pm at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave, Coral Gables, you can hear, via video from Cuba, widely acclaimed Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez read from her new book, Havana Real: One Woman's Fight to Tell the Truth, as well as other folks in Miami discussing her considerable contributions to journalism accomplished despite political oppression as she lives and works with her family in Havana. Call 305-442-4408 for more info.

Here are some more shows I hope I will get to see: "Sandra Ramos's 90 Miles: Living in the Vortex," opening Aug 13 from 7:30 to 10 pm at Dot Fiftyone, 51 NW 36th St, Wynwood Arts District. For more info call 305-573-9994 or see http://www.dotfiftyone.com/ It's up through Sept. 16. Curated by Janet Batet, this exhibit primarily consists of a 32-foot installation evoking a symbolic bridge between Havana and Miami. It's made up of 12 photos of the Straits of Florida taken by internationally known artist Sandra Ramos from an airplane during her trip from Havana to Miami in May 2011. Photos are displayed in lightboxes, allowing visitors to walk on the actual images. This experience seems meant to suggest that it is possible to overcome over 50 years of anguish dividing the the two cities. The second part of this ambitious project by Sandra Ramos will be shown in Havana during the Havana Biennial in March 2012.

Also in Wynwood, I hope to see "Summer Time Blues" at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, 2247 NW 1st Place, on view Aug. 3-Sept. 5. They'll be a Second Saturday opening Aug. 13 from 7:30 to 9:30. For more info call 305-448-8976 or see http://www.snitzer.com/ Such a clever idea for a show! In the time of our own summer "blues," during which Miamians battle heat & humidity not to mention a possible hurricane or two, this show takes a look at how artists are inspired by various shades of blue, nodding also to how art of the musical Blues and Picasso's Blue Period drew inspiration from hardships. The artists all sound intriguing: Alice Aycock, Zack Balber (a very smart young artist I met when I lectured several years ago for a day in an art criticism course taught by Mark Coetzee at NWSA--quite sure that we're going to see some very impressive art from Zack one day!!), Loriel Beltran, Timothy Buwalda, Sean Dack, Jacin Giordano, Luis Gispert, Gavin Perry, Bert Rodriguez, Diego Singh, Michael Vasquez.

In the Design District, hope I will get to see "The Family of Man," byGeorge Sanchez-Calderon, a site-specific installation in the Project Room of the De La Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space, 23 NE 41 Street, opening 7-10 pm Aug. 13. I've watched George develop for years as an artist, and I'm very curious to see what he's doing now. His show is up through Oct. 8. Also that night you can see three projects created by artists during the summer workshop series at this art space (sounds like such a great idea!). For more info, call 305-576-6112 or seehttp://www.delacruzcollection.org/

Here is my profile of Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt from The Miami Herald in May of 2001.

HOUSING PROJECTS by Elisa Turner

For Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt, there's an art to capturing a child's appetite for wonder. And this is the very sort of art that feeds the communal soul of a city bloated with traffic and sprawl.

These two South Florida artists have a talent for offering wonderful, traffic-stopping surprises. In April they completed a capacious living room that appears to have landed magically on the corner of Northwest 40th Street and North Miami Avenue.

It's their most recent Design District mural, one in a series commissioned by developer Craig Robins. A tour de force completed on the side of a vacant building, it's called, well, "The Living Room."

The effort, Behar announces excitedly, is all about "trying to bring attention to the fact that ultimately we are alive."

Marquardt, his wife as well as his collaborator, gently reigns in his focus.

"Surprise," she prods him.

"We're trying to be surprised," he continues, "like when we were kids, and to look at a place like it's the very first time."

GRANDLY SURREAL

A paradoxical piece that features an out-of-doors interior, "The Living Room" beckons to passersby with a sleekly modern sofa of fuschia cushions and a pair of white reading lamps. Its backdrop is a 42-foot-high wall aswirl with 300 pink-and-orange flowers, painted and interlaced like vintage wallpaper. In tropical hues reminiscent of hibiscus hedges, ripening mangoes and coral reefs, the wallflowers frame a 10-foot-high window framed by gauzy white curtains. Through the window is a glorious view of clouds, sky, even a bird roosting on a telephone wire.

Exposed to the sky and street, the mural welcomes a world of imaginative possibilities. It's a kind of larger-than-life, virtual version of Surrealist Rene Magritte's famously dream-like paintings of clouds. And with its proportions both human-scale and huge, the room casts a delightful spell. For a wonderful second, you feel like a child entering a gigantic doll house.

"It's not easy to make a curtain this big, it's almost 40 feet long," explains Marquardt. "But we wanted to have it homey, open to the street. The idea is to have an open home spread around the [Design] District."

Another room in that home is two blocks away. That mural, "The Salon," graces the front of the Buick Building at 3841 NE Second Ave. and presents a grand pair of oval portraits, like old-fashioned family cameos, that also look both mythic and strange.

One is of Mackandal, a rebel slave from Haitian folklore who escaped the French by morphing into such creatures as the yellow and black butterfly arising from his shoulders in the portrait.

His companion is La Malinche, the native Mexican bride of Hernando Cortes.

She's portrayed as a New World Madonna cradling a lizard and regarding her complex past, present and future with a trio of eyes.

"She's also one of us, in the process of trying to invent ourselves in a new place," says Behar, finding in both portraits a mirror of Miamians who moved here from so many other places and pasts to reconstruct their identities.

On the other side of the Buick Building, visible from Northeast 39th Street and Federal Highway as well as from Interstate I-95 is "The Bedroom," another colorful pair of murals.

One shows a man sleeping under a sky-blue blanket, another a view of his dreams in which his good side slugs it out with his bad side in a profoundly human match between boxers costumed as devil and angel.

"When you say devil in English, it has a diabolical meaning. But when you say it in Spanish, it means more like a trickster," Behar says. "In Latin American culture, at least in Argentina, if one doesn't have a little bit of the diablo, then one has something wrong, one becomes very dry, very boring."

IMAGERY

Dry is something this Argentine-born husband-and-wife team are not, asserts Vincent Scully, the eminent architectural historian now teaching at the University of Miami.

"What they are doing is very unusual, full of life, and witty," he says. "It's wonderful art for Miami because it draws on South American imagery, but it comes into its own in a jangled urban landscape that goes from high-rises to villages."

The willowy, soft-spoken Marquardt and the shorter, vivacious Behar have been a couple since they were 18 and studying art and architecture in the Argentine resort city of Mar del Plata, where Marquardt ran a puppet theater. In the 1970s, they participated in protests against Argentina's military dictatorship, even hiding a printing press in their studio. They knew many who were killed or disappeared.

Marquardt's 24-year-old sister was shot dead in the street, and her brother was jailed for five years. Only after he was released did they leave the country, arriving in New York in 1982. They attended the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies for a year, then settled in Miami where Marquardt began to paint and Behar took a job teaching architecture at UM.

"I think that period had an effect on our work," Marquardt, 46, says of those dark years in Argentina. "When the dictatorship came we were critical, we tried to act in our way to stop it."

Their public work here--a vivid fusion of art and architecture, like the red four-story "M" resembling a giant alphabet block at the Miami Riverwalk Metrorail station--is also, they say, a critique of the status quo.

"We try to resist that tendency of the city to forget about the public spaces of the streets," Marquardt says, "to just leave the street for the cars."

With this tendency, bemoans Behar, 47, "we are preventing the possibility of meeting with each other. The contemporary city is about private space and comfort, it's not about public space and beauty."

Their critique is laced with nods to the radical acts of Gordon Matta-Clark who, in the 1970s, carved vast holes in abandoned buildings in New York ghettos, documenting his opened-up architecture with photographs that became emblems of his belief that most urban housing blocked a sense of community.

Other sources are the Baroque plazas in Rome that made Marquardt feel as if she'd entered "big rooms open to the sky."

REAL ENHANCEMENT

Closer to home, their painted walls play on the tradition of hand-painted signage in nearby Little Haiti, where goods such as papayas, fish and hair gel are illustrated in flourishing detail on storefronts.

These examples show how the two are "very cosmopolitan and yet they apply that knowledge to very local situations," says Miami Art Museum senior curator Peter Boswell, who met the artists when he was the fine arts director at the American Academy in Rome.

Their murals create "a very livable space, and people really respond to it," he adds. "There are big stretches in Miami-Dade County that are really quite ugly because no one has taken the care to make them look better. What they've done is a real enhancement."

[Blogger's Note: Too bad that now, in 2011, when I've last seen Roberto and Rosario's remarkable "Living Room" mural in the Design District, it looks nothing like it did when I wrote this story. Also, I want readers to know that I worked very hard to make my foreword to the book Miami Contemporary Artists by Paul Clemence and Julie Davidow as accurate and error-free as possible although I wrote it when I was still working hard for the Herald and was also quite confused, stressed and anxious in my brain-injured way about, um, shall we say, some irregularities there. So I sincerely regret that I did not discuss the remarkable contributions made by COCA, the Center of Contemporary Art (1981-1996) in North Miami, under Lou Anne Colodny's dynamic leadership, as documented in a letter Lou Anne wrote in November 17, 2007, to Julie and Paul. Also, on page 11 of my foreword, in the second paragraph of the second column on the page, I mistakenly write that Cheryl Hartup curated a show at MAM with Rosario and Roberto. It was NOT Cheryl. It was Peter Boswell.]

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