MIAMI: Central Marketplace for Modernist Cuban Art / Fall 2012

Nurtured by sunlight from this city’s warm smile, the Modernist Cuban art market flourishes in Miami.  Consider how abundant artworks redolent with Cuban-born talent converge in Miami and South Florida public art, galleries, museums, private collections.“Since Art Basel Miami Beach came here, Cuban art has become a new, interesting frontier for collectors,” says Janda Wetherington of PanAmericanArtProjects in Miami’s Wynwood.  “I see a lot of interest in Cuban abstract art from the early 1950s to early 1970s, including paintings by Guido Llinas.“Unquestionably, Miami is the center of Cuban art,” says Miami veteran dealer Ramon Cernuda of Cernuda Arte.   “The collector base of the city is impressive,” he adds, noting its increased commitment to art historic quality.  “By the late 1960s we started seeing some families who had income to buy art.  A South Florida museum is now planning an exhibit of Amelia Peláez.  It’s a very serious project,” Cernuda says.  He’s positive that to obtain loans for this exhibition, the museum will not have to look for many major artworks beyond local private collections.

A woman ahead of her time, Amelia Peláez (1895-1968) was a pioneer.  Peláez, with Wifredo Lam and Carlos Enríquez, belongs to a significant group of artists who began the modernist Cuban art movement in the 1920s. Often called Vanguardia painters, they were born around the turn of the 20th Century and witnessed political turmoil engulfing Cuba as it sought to become a sovereign nation. They were pivotal members of a Cuban generation defining its identity.

Most Vanguardia painters studied in Europe before returning to Cuba to paint some of their most renowned works. They fused Modernist styles of such European masters as Matisse and Cézanne with imagery reflecting their homeland’s architectural and Afro-Caribbean cultural traditions, adding generous dollops of brilliant color and jazzy linear rhythms.  Old World Modernist movements such as constructivism and surrealism became part of this unique New World art historical mix.

Miami’s central role as a market for Cuban art reflects the financial and social growth of the city’s Cuban American community, says Alejandro Anreus, art history and Latin American studies professor of New Jersey’s William Paterson University.  Recently Anreus delivered packed lectures at Cernuda Arte on second generation Cuban modernists Mariano Rodríguez and René Portocarrero.

 

Miami is a must-see marketplace for Cuban art, he adds, thanks to “the work of curators and art historians and galleries.” Their combined efforts demonstrate that “Cuban modernist art is part of the larger story of modernism in the Western Hemisphere.”  Moreover, Latin American art, Anreus explains, “is no longer viewed as a step-child but as an integral part of modernism.”

 

A new wave of Cuban modernist artists currently catches attention with curators and collectors, dealers and auction houses.   They’re best known for geometric abstractions, exploring hard-edge, clearly defined or “concrete” forms. Generally, these artists do not exult in so-called “hot tropical colors” often pervading paintings by Peláez and Portocarrero.  “The concrete artists from the 1950s were totally forgotten,” says Cernuda, “until a recent museum exhibition in Madrid, called ‘Cold America.’ That movement has really taken off.  It is now being collected at the national level.”

Presented at Madrid’s Juan March Foundation in 2011, “Cold America” tells the story of Latin American geometric abstraction from 1934 to 1973. It brings together some 300 artworks by over 60 artists from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Uruguay, Venezuela.  They took cues from artists like Mondrian and Alexander Calder to refashion their own take on this elegant, pared-down aesthetic.  Representing Cuba in this show:  Sandu Darie, also women Lolo Soldevilla, Carmen Herrera.

Several years ago, Herrera was the focus of a superb exhibit in Miami. Once shamefully overlooked, art by both Herrera and Soldevilla gains impressive cachet. “We bought a painting by Soldevilla about four years ago for about $1,000. We now have one going to market at auction with an estimate of $20,000 to $25,000. It will probably sell at the high end,” says Cernuda.  Compared to five years ago, the demand for her art now, he says, is “enormous.

So it goes in the Miami marketplace for Cuban art.  New discoveries, prices, exhibits are ever imminent.  Second generation modernists Mariano and Mario Carreño make waves at auction.  Like Peláez, Carlos Enríquez is overdue for a major exhibition, Anreus says.

Cuba excels in the visual arts. “We can no longer go by conventional boundaries of conventional geography,” Anreus adds.  “Cuban art can be made in Miami, Cuba,  Mexico City, Madrid—anywhere there is a Cuban making art, it is Cuban art.”

Lolo Soldevilla, Construccion, 1956, Madera, 24 x 34 in. Courtesy of Maxoly / Latin Art Core. Modernist paintings by Cuban-born Lolo Soldevilla increase in art historic value thanks to recent, pioneering exhibit on geometric abstraction in Latin America. ET

Cundo Bermudez, Ways of Performing, 2006. Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County/Ziff Ballet Opera House. Courtesy of Miami-Dade County Public Art Collection. Cuban Modernist painter Cundo Bermudez, especially revered for his work in the 1940s and 1950s, created a spectacular public art work for Miami.ET

René Portocarrero, Vista de La Ciudad de La Habana, (View of the City of Havana), 1970, mixed media on heavy paper laid down on board, 19 ¾ x 26 in. Courtesy of Cernuda Arte. Cuban modernist painter René Portocarrero brought a tropical sense of the baroque to his dense portraits of Havana, replete with his signature cathedral domes and spires. ET

Guido Llinas, Pintura Roja, 1961, Oil on canvas, 55.50 x 58.75 inches. Courtesy of PanAmerican Art Projects. Guido Llinas earned acclaim in the early 1950s in Cuba for his adventurous take on Abstract Expressionism before leaving the island to live and work in Paris.ET





Miami Artist Sebastian Spreng Amazing Multi-Tasker

I started this blog entry in Sept. 9, 2011, and actually now today is December 20, 2011.Sebastian Spreng is not only an accomplished artist but an accomplished music critic as well--I believe I even saw his byline on the Knight Arts Blog. Very pleased that I could review his show atKelley Roy gallery in Miami for the Sept. 2011 issue of ARTnews. So more about Sebastian soon in this blog post. . . . I have been so busy with writing gigs that actually pay, plus of course with teaching at Miami Dade College, that I just have not had the time to sit down and blog.
As of course everyone in Miami's art community knows, Baselmania is quite exhausting and takes a toll!! Very nice that this year I was hired to give Miami Art Museum docents (now, THERE's a story in what is happening with that museum's name!!) a 45-min tour of blue-chip art at Art Basel Miami Beach this year. It went well, though I must say I was a bit nervous about planning and executing it because I have never done this before. Still, it was nice to make some $$ at the fair this year with the knowledge I had used to earn a living at The Miami Herald for so long. Many Many Thanks to my BFF Rosie Gordon-Wallace for making that gig possible!!!
First things first: More visual arts news in Miami
I missed soo many things this year at Basel Miami. Here is info about just two events I wish I had been able to attend. 1) The Daily Breakfast on Thurs. Dec. 1 at CIFO during which Miralda was featured in a Kreemart program called "Digestible NEWS." I must say that Miralda is surely one of the most charming men on the face of the earth, plus quite a terrific artist. Miralda and I go WAY BACK. For more info about Miralda, pls check my blog archive to see my July 2010 post, "Miralda and Ishmaelita Meet in Miami." 2) "On the Edge of Light"at Maor Gallery, 3030 NE Second Ave, ph. 305-573-9995, www.maormiami.org Tina Spiro, whose painting "Aurora Amada" is featured on the post card announcement, emails me from Jamaica that she was quite pleased with the attention that this group show received during Basel week. (Also in the show: Janet Slom, Fernando Calzadilla, Paul Stoppi, Yasmin Spiro, Prof. Hans Evers, and selected sculpture students of DASH, Design & Architecture Senior High in Miami; curated by Arthur Dunkelman and Tina Spiro) Among the visitors: curator Elvis Fuentes of El Museo de Barrioin New York. Very glad that this show will be on view through Jan. 31, 2012. Also note the upcoming Chanukah celebration Wed. Dec. 21 at this gallery from 7:30 t0 9:30 pm. At this event, you are invited to collaborate in building a Menorah with recycled materials to honor art, light, and unity. What's NOT to like about that??!!
Now, a few words about Miami NOW, AFTER Basel: Look for exhibition of drawings by Ramon Carulla, on view through Jan. 15, at the West Art Gallery, Miami Dade College, West Campus, 3800 NW 115 Ave., Doral, FL. So nice to hear from Ramon again! I have followed his impressive work for years. He emails me this tip about seeing the show: "When you arrive you must check with the Security Guard to get the gallery open."
Adalberto Delgado, another terrific artist I've known for years, emails me that his Little Havana exhibition space, 6th Street Container (www.6thstreetcontainer.com ) recently had its first anniversary of doing a show every month, alternating between older artists and younger ones without representation. Also that it has been mentioned in more than half a dozen publications, including, he says, "my old alma mater," The Miami Herald. This LiHa space is, he notes, an "out of pocket endeavor;" however, HURRAH for Adalberto, because he adds, "It has been very hard work but worth the effort!"
On my calendar for sure: "Miami Dade Community College 1970s Faculty Exhibition" at Bridge Red Studios / Project Space, 12425 NE 13th Ave, #5, North Miami, now through Jan. 29, 2012. Hope I get to catch the free and open to the public Sunday brunch pre-closing reception from noon to 4 pm on Jan. 8. If you miss that, call 305-978-4856 for an appt or email Kristen Thiele atkt@letter16.com This promises to be a fascinating look into the Miami art scene in the 1970s, when very talented artists were working and teaching here--there was, of course, no Basel hoopla and hype to create an infrastucture of galleries to exhibit and sell their work, and of course Miami museums were not really interested in what the artists here were doing. As Robert Thiele told me once for the Herald about those pre-Basel days, he and other artists here "were doing our work but not aiming at a larger audience, when museums. . . .generally had a hands-off policy in terms of the homegrown product." Artists whose work is presented in this exciting historical look back at Bridge Red Studios / Project Space: Duane Hanson, Robert Thiele, Shirley Henderson, Jim Couper, Elmer Craig, David Gossoff, Charles Hashim, Michael Klezmer, John Kokko, Salvatore LaRosa, Mark Lynch, Peter McWhorter, Ron Mitchell, Gary Monroe.
Look for "Fly Over" by totally fab artist Teresa Diehl, now through Jan. 14, at Praxis International Art, 2219 NW 2nd Ave, Miami; ph 305-573-2900 or www.praxis-art.com ; for more info contact Julian Navarro at wynwood@praxix-art.com Teresa was born in Lebanon, grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, and now lives and works in Miami. She's shown all over the map, including Mexico and the Czech Republic.
News from another totally fab artist: William Cordova recently emailed me that he received an exceptionally terrific award.Way to go William! Why am I NOT surprised! He is one of 25 to receive the 2011 Painters and Sculptors grants in the amount of $25,000 each from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. For more info, see www.joanmitchellfoundation.org
Today I am going to blog about Sebastian Spreng. This is my March 1995 Miami Herald profile about Sebastian Spreng.
WRITING AND PAINTING ABOUT CHAMBER MUSIC: ARGENTINE ARTIST ONLY BOUND BY WHEELCHAIR by Elisa Turner
In this porous city, swirling with the accents and customs of many cultures, Sebastian Spreng seems especially at home: a man with a porous imagination who moves freely among the worlds of music, painting and language, multicultural in a way most of us never dream of becoming. "Chamber Music," Spreng's show of oil paintings through April 5 [remember, dear readers, that this was in 1995] at the Americas Collection in Coral Gables [he is now represented by Kelley Roy Gallery in Wynwood, 50 NE 29th Street, www.kelleyroygallery.com ], is a splendid example of that rich confluence. His work features atmospheric landscapes with fabulous gardens seen from a distance and shimmering with expanses of water in which a solitary swimmer often floats. They speak of interior worlds where the imagination roams free.
Spreng, who has been confined to a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 14, acknowledges that these swimmers are references to the free movement that eludes him except in the water. But, he is quick to add, the landscapes are meant to be poetic metaphors.
"I paint my interior landscapes. By coincidence, [they are] landscapes I'm living now," he says, referring to Miami's tropical luxuriance and his attraction to its "strange, oneiric" summer nights. "It's like what I have inside."
Even though his work is at times more sweet than compelling, Spreng wields a restrained vocabulary with great sensitivity. And the pieces are, indeed, analogous to the chamber music of the exhibition's title: intimate and subtle with finely etched repetitions and variations.
The parallels highlight Spreng's wide-ranging knowledge of classical music. A native of Buenos Aires who moved to Miami in the late 1980s, Spreng, 38, is the Miami correspondent for the glossy magazine Clasica, published in Buenos Aires by Radio Clasica, S. A. (Florida Philharmonic fans may be already familiar with his paintings, which appear on five of the orchestra's nine playbills this season.)
Even the catalog for the show begins with a poem from James Joyce's youthfully romantic collection, Chamber Music. The opening lines of the first poem--"Strings in the earth and air / Make music sweet"--inspired American composer Samuel Barber's 1935 song, whose title is taken from that line; it was one of many songs Barber set to lyric poetry during his career.
"They are exquisite pieces of music," Spreng says. Making a reference to the lovely, bittersweet quality of the 1935 song, as he does in this show, was a way of putting together music, painting, and literature.
It's a synthesis Spreng deals with daily, spending some eight hours listening to classical music while painting. And, of course, there is his work for Clasica, which includes interviewing visiting musicians such as violinist Pinchas Zucherman and soprano Barbara Hendricks. "It's fascinating," he says of these interviews. "You are in contact with another world. When you by chance mention that you are an artist, that you paint, the whole thing is much more relaxed. I'm not trying to do a critique but to have an interchange of ideas." What's equally fascinating is the way music and water have shaped Spreng's own artistic sensibility. He recalls visiting Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires' turn-of-the-century opera house, as a high schooler.
"We toured the bowels of the theater. It was like Phantom of the Opera," he says. "The orchestra was 10 meters above us, playing Wagner, and the music was like water, falling over us, as if you could touch it.
"My love of music started there," he says. "It was so important in cultivating a sensibility."
If his feelings for music developed during high school, Spreng's longing for marine vistas began much earlier, during his childhood in the Santa Fe province. "I was always fascinated by the ocean, always," he says. "In Argentina I lived in the middle of an ocean of wheat, the pampas." As a child, he drew and painted obsessively, making maps of imaginary countries. There was much time for these solitary pursuits since Spreng had had trouble walking from the age of 3. For years it was thought he had cancer or tuberculosis; it wasn't until he was 14 that the MD diagnosis was made.
Only when pressed will he talk about his disability--and then he recounts, in a thin, tense voice, a harrowing tale of a narrow escape from Argentine police during the turbulent 1970s.
Spreng prefers to talk about his newest work, a group of nine 24-inch-by-24-inch paintings commissioned by Metro-Dade's Art in Public Places program. The works, to be unveiled this fall, will hang in the Stephen P. Clark Government Center as a memorial to George Armitage, a local advocate for the disabled who died in 1991 at the age of 66.
"There will be three levels of three paintings to form a puzzle--like a big painting because I cannot paint big," Spreng says of his serial composition. "This disadvantage gives me an advantage. I try to see my whole life like this. . . .The lower levels are like webs, labyrinths, jails. The figure inside is very dark. In the upper level, you have this magnificent ocean." In the ocean Spreng will paint a swimmer, a reference to the one activity in which he himself can move freely.
He's not concerned that his work will hang in this specific context. "Everybody has some kind of handicap," he says, adding that the series is really about "the path from darkness to light." Vivian Rodriguez, executive director of Art in Public Places, agrees. The commissioned works, she says, will make a poetic statement about "dealing with universal disabilities, whether they are physical or from being an imperfect human being."





Miami Art Critic Makes Final Trip to Herald Newsroom

So now I am making my 5oth blog post. It is precisely 6:19 am on a dark Saturday morning as I start this. My house is quiet and empty. I am alone here with my dogs, my thoughts and my memories. Looking at my notebook from the excellent memoir-writing workshop I took with Greg Bottoms in early May 2011 at Florida Center for the Literary Arts at Miami Dade College , now part of The Center @ MDC, I begin to blog.

Today, I thought I would blog about the day I made my final trip to the newsroom of The Miami Herald. It seems to make sense, now that the Herald building has been sold. In about two years it will be gone from the face of Miami, and I suppose all that will be left of the newsroom that was once there (although I'm told it will reappear some place else in Miami) are the memories people have of that place where so many people once worked so very hard and told so many, many stories in the service of prize-winning print journalism--or for that matter, reviewed so many art exhibits and profiled so many artists and other art world denizens. (Actually, that is an expression I always wanted to use in my Herald copy, but don't think I ever did. But now, with my blog, who is stopping me??)

First things first: More visual arts news in Miami

My artcentric buddy George Sanchez Calderon has just emailed me about this promising exhibition: "Daniel Newman Puente/Texas Flickers" at Tomorrowland, 1368 N. Miami Ave, Sept. 18 to Oct. 8; opening reception is Sept. 18, 8 pm to midnight; for more info email tomorrowlandmiamiii@gmail.com

Hey George, thanks a bunch for keeping me in the loop. That very smart, very busy Arthur Dunkleman is one exceptional curator! (Oh, Arthur, why did I never get to profile you for the Herald when I had the chance??!! And, yes, George, it would have been lots of fun, I am quite sure, to profile you also. There are, however, some people in Miami that I am absolutely thrilled that now I will NEVER even have to THINK about profiling!!!...If you are reading this, you know who you are.) Arthur tells me about this reception: "On the Edge of Light: Preview" is Thurs. Sept. 22, 6 to 8 pm at Maor Gallery, 3030 NE 2nd Ave., Miami, with artist's talk and presentation at 6:30 pm and at 7 pm L'Chaim toast welcoming the Jewish new year 5772 by guest of honor Stewart Merkin. Then at 7:15 there's a performance by Fernando Calzadilla. RSVP info@maormiami.org Look for these artists in this exhibit curated by Arthur the Extraordinaire: Tina Spiro, Fernando Calzadilla, Paul Stoppi, Janet Slom, Yasmin Spiro. "On the Edge of Light" will take place during Miami Art Week and Art Basel Miami Beach 2011. For more info see www.MaorMiami.org

Note this 9/12/2011 news flash from the very helpful Cuban Art News service. So glad I get their emails too! Jose Bedia is having a retrospective at the Fowler Museum at the University of California's Los Angeles campus. See www.fowler.ucla.edu Show is "Transcultural Pilgrim: Three Decades of Work by Jose Bedia." Also "Fowler in Focus: Bedia Selects" puts on public view more than 30 seldom-displayed objects in the Fowler collection from Central Africa. You can see them through Jan. 8, 2012. Cuban Art News service is a fab project from the Farber Foundation, started by one of my fab artcentric friends and collector, Howard Farber and his wife. See www.cubanartnews.com So glad I got to meet him too when I worked for the Herald, and it is so nice that now that I now longer work for the Herald we keep in touch via email.

This just in from another fab email buddy from my Herald days: Gean Moreno. He sent me his September [NAME] Newsletter: Look for the launch party/fundraiser at Gallery Diet www.gallerydiet.com on Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 7 pm; gallery address is 174 NW 23rd St. in Wynwood. Among the artists [NAME] is working with this year: Hernan Bas, Bhakti Baxter, Christy Gast, Bert Rodriguez. They'll be at the New York Book Fair at the end of this month. Most of [NAME] publications are at this site http://www.namepublications.org/multiples.html

Congrats to NWSA! New World School of the Arts celebrates its 25th anniversary! A highlight from its email newsletter: NWSA's art history curriculum is now becoming much more impressive thanks to this cool collaboration with the Bass Museum of Art (I remember when I used to give NWSA tons of art books that publishers fairly inundated with me at the Herald--those were "review copies" that of course there was never space for me to cover in the newspaper. Wonder what is happening to them now....but I just love it that this is NOT MY PROB anymore!) . Now there's a one-year art history seminar for every first year student in NWSA's Visual Arts College Program. As of this month, 40 students will come to the Bass once a week for a two-hour course taught by Dr. Adrienne von Lates , Director of Education at the Bass.

Mario Algaze is having a show at Throckmorton Gallery , 145 E. 57th St., 3rd floor, in New York City. Opening reception is Thurs., Nov. 10, from 6 to 8 pm. "Mario Algaze: Forty Years" presents four decades of his truly stunning and perceptive photography in the Caribbean and Latin America. Note that his art is collected by many museums, including Houston Museum of Fine Art, Norton Simon Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art. So glad that I recently saw his gorgeous photographs at Dina Mitrani Gallery in Wynwood. There's a book to accompany his New York gallery show: Mario Algaze: Portfolio, published in 2010, price is $125.

Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art aka MOCA announces its many programs for the fall. Note "Contemporary Art Boot Camp," a lecture series by MOCA curators and art professionals, which covers key figures, themes and trends in contemporary art. Jillian Hernandez, Moca's Outreach Coordinator and PhD candidate in Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, will present "(Re)thinking Sex Through Contemporary Art: The Politics of Scandal, Pleasure and Disappointment." (Can't WE ALL relate to those issues??!!) This two-part lecture series, presented Oct. 19 and Nov. 16, will draw from queer theory and interdisciplinary sexuality studies to examine the way contemporary art affects the way we think about sex. "Contemporary Art Boot Camp" is $10 for members and $15 for non-members. MOCA is located at 770 NE 125th St., North Miami. For more info, call 305-893-6211 or see www.mocanomi.org

Emilio Sanchez is celebrated in a new monograph and current exhibit at Bronx Museum of the Arts. Sanchez (1921-1999) is a Cuban-born American artist well worth celebrating. Try your hardest not to miss this presentation of Hard Light: The Work of Emilio Sanchez and book signing with author Rafael Diazcasas and editor Ann Koll happening in Miami at my totally fave bookstore ( Mitchell Kaplan: whatever would Miami do without you??) Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave, Coral Gables on Wed., Oct. 5 at 8 pm. For more info, call 305-442-4408 or see www.booksandbooks.com Also see www.emiliosanchezfoundation.org Note also that "Urban Archives: Emilio Sanchez in the Bronx" is on view through Jan. 2, 2012 at Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse at 165th St., Bronx, NY. For more info, call 718-681-6000 or see www.bronxmuseum.org

For sure don't miss the grand opening of South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center on Oct. 1 and 2, 10950 SW 211 St., Cutler Bay. For tkt info call 786-573-5300 or see www.smdac.org This $51 million multi-disciplinary performing arts center sounds extremely exciting and I for one cannot wait to see it!

Rogelio Lopez Marin (aka Gory) is showing "Selected Photographs, 1985-1994" at Farside Gallery, 1305 Galloway Rd. (87th Ave.) in Miami Sept. 21-Oct. 28. Opening reception is Sat. Sept. 24, from 7 to 9 pm. This show can be seen by appt on weekdays, 11 am to 5 pm. The totally terrific and totally fab Farside Gallery is elegantly and graciously sponsored by Mosquera Orthodontics.

Also this just in from another fab artcentric friend, David Rohn. He tells me about the opening reception for "David Rohn: Small, Medium, Large" at 7-11 pm Sept. 23, 2011 at Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art, 158 NW 91 St, in Miami. At the opening you will see his "installation-cum-performance." He explained it in much more interesting detail than I have time to go into in my blog, unfortunately. Carol Jazzar has a very cool gallery in Miami Shores, but David, dahlink, I could not see the address on your email! Maybe it was my fault, and I missed it. Anyway, I think you are so clever and so interesting and so amusing that I googled the address and website for my blog. See www.cjazzart.com (After all that, hope I got it right! If not, readers can always post a comment on my blog with corrections and clarifications.)

Well, it is about 8:06 am on Sunday, Sept. 18 and I am getting really bleary-eyed. I have been blogging off and on since yesterday morning. I am getting too tired to count how many hours I have been doing this, so I am just going to stop and double-check my facts for the umpteenth time. Would, however, like to add that Robert Huff and Barbara Young and I had a totally fab and fascinating evening at Art and Culture Center of Hollywood yesterday when we heard Shamin M. Momin deliver the inaugural lecture for the center's very cool Hot Topics Discussion series. She is such a charming and smart curator. No wonder she has accomplished so much! She even remembered meeting me several years ago at a fall barbeque party at the home of Debra and Dennis Scholl. Finally, I guess at about 8:48 am on Sunday, Sept. 18, I am ready to publish this blog entry. Also ready for some real breakfast and another cup of coffee!!

I am typing here what I wrote by hand during my final and very productive "free writing" session in that memoir-writing workshop in May 2011. I have revised it somewhat--maybe you know how writers are, we always want to do something extra to our copy...

 

Miami Art Critic Makes Final Trip to Herald Newsroom by Elisa Turner

I had often dreamed about the day I would go back, almost the way I have dreamed about returning to the actual yellow brick building where I graduated from high school in 1970 in Shelbyville, Illinois. In my dreams, I can hear the clatter of lockers slamming shut and feel how tense I became when I could not get my stubborn combination lock on the locker to open. Shelbyville High School is very different now. Because of the school's declining student population, a kindergarten now occupies the place where there was once a huge study hall during my freshman year. It was always packed to capacity then.

So would the Herald newsroom be very different when I went back? I wanted to see if the charming and riveting photos documenting Miami's upstart and colorful past would still be displayed prominently along a corridor in the newsroom connecting the Metro section to the Sports section.

Would there be the odd, sweet black-and-white photograph of a little Micosukee girl standing on an alligator? Maybe I would finally have time to see if there was a date on that photo. Would there be the famous shot of the Cuban rafters, their mouths wide open in anguished cries, their faces dripping with sweat and tears, their arms reaching out for help that might not come or grabbing flimsy inner tubes in desperation as they bounced along in the crystalline blue waves of the merciless Florida Straits?

Would there still be the three TV monitors hanging from the ceiling, the colorful talking heads looming over the backs of print journalists ever mindful of how the 24-hour cycle of breaking news was forever changing their business, diminishing their livelihood?

Would I see if the glass-windowed conference room, with its spectacular picture postcard view of MacArthur Causeway arching over Biscayne Bay, was still named, as I recalled, the Knight Conference Room? I remember stitting at the head of the conference table inside that room, outlining my plans for how the Herald could cover the first Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002.

I never found out the answers to these questions on the day in 2009 I made my last walk through The Miami Herald newsroom. I was too focused on accomplishing my mission. Yet questions like these still haunt my dreams and disturb my sleep.

"I used to work here," I say firmly to the guard inside the entrance to The Miami Herald building at One Herald Plaza. It is a gray, muggy midsummer morning in Miami. This is my final visit to the Herald building. I hand him my photo ID as I am about to walk through the metal detector. I place my purse on the conveyor belt for hand-held packages.

The guard looks skeptically at my photo ID, which says Miami Herald, INDEPENDENT, ELISA TURNER, FEATURES CONTRACTOR. He turns it over in his calloused hands.

"They didn't ask for this back?" he grunts. My heart leaps to my throat. After all the legal effort that has been expended for me to get to this point, I am absolutely not going to turn in my Herald ID to a guard who has no idea about how long and hard I have worked for this newspaper.

"No, I still have my ID," I say in a firm, even tone of voice. I reach for my ID back. I tell him the name of the woman with whom I have an appointment that day. "She's expecting me, " I say.

And with that, I briskly walk through the metal detector, retrieve my purse from the conveyor belt, and press my ID card on the metal plate next to the glass security door at the inner entrance to the Herald lobby on the ground floor. The door opens immediately and I walk through. I walk quickly to the elevator, step inside, and I push the elevator button for the fifth floor for the last time.

When the elevator door opens on the fifth floor where the newsroom is located, I hardly recognize this lobby. It gleams with a new, clean coat of off-white paint. I don't recall seeing that day the framed Pulitzer awards or the famous page one headlines from the past.

My walk through the newsroom to the library is eerie. It gives me the creeps. Ceiling lights are dim or non-existent. Rows of desks are empty. Computer screens are black, rows and rows of them. They look like death warmed over. No phones are ringing. I see hardly a soul. A ghostly pall hangs over this place that once hummed with hectic activity. I am shocked to realize I barely recognize the newsroom as I walk the about five-minute trip it takes to reach the Herald library. It actually makes my skin crawl. A knot in my stomach tightens.

I shove these feelings out of my mind. "Stay calm," I tell myself. "Be focused and clear. You have a mission." Yes, I do. I own the copyright to all my work for The Miami Herald for 21 years. I am there, I remind myself, to get my goddamn stuff back. It is mine, and I want it.

Nevertheless, the place feels like a morgue. Death hangs in the air. As usual, the air-conditioning is uncomfortably high, only adding to the creepy, gloomy, deadening atmosphere of the place, so silent and virtually empty.

At last I reach the library. The woman I am there to meet smiles and shows me a desk where I can accomplish my task. She shows me how to use the Herald's library computers so I can download all my stories for The Miami Herald onto my own flashdrive. I am not totally sure what year I began writing for the paper although I know I stopped in 2007. We determine that my first story was in 1986. I start the process of downloading it all on my five-gigabyte flashdrive.

That day I bring two flashdrives with me. I do the downloading twice on two separate flashdrives, just to make sure nothing is lost, that I will never lose access to this part of my life again.

Seeing all the titles with my byline intact, year by year, is comforting. (I was so hurt to realize that my byline had been "disappeared" from my stories archived on the Herald website, but I am sort of getting over that, or basically getting used to the fact that this hurt will never completely go away.) It's also something of a shock to see my stories flash by so quickly, as I click on them each to be downloaded on my flashdrives. They flicker past on one computer "page" after another. It is almost like seeing my life pass before my eyes. I am reminded of people and events I wrote about so long ago that I had forgotten them until this moment.

There is no time to read, to pick and choose. Now that I am there, I want it all. Everything. All my "data," as Ana, my personal computer "techie," calls it. She carefully prepped me for this moment.

I am determined not to be distracted by nostalgia or sentiment today.

The whole process takes, I think, about two hours. Or maybe less. Or maybe a little more. I honestly am not sure. I am sure that it was an utterly surreal experience.

After I complete my task, I suppose I should feel elated. But I don't. I feel quietly relieved but also drained and flat, almost a kind of gray to match the heavy gray clouds hanging over Miami that humid summer day.

Then I walk back to the newsroom and stop to chat briefly with my two dear friends, Kathy and Margaria, who are working in the cold and lonely Features department. They are happy to see me, knowing why I am there that day. I notice that the two window offices in that department are closed and dark. The offices look as if no one has used them for quite some time. That is where the editors who ran the Features department, including my last editor who called me "too artcentric," used to sit.

I make my way quickly to the elevator. I can't wait to leave this gloomy place. Inside the elevator, I push the button for the ground floor. When the elevator opens, I head for the doors to leave the building. As I step outside and breathe in the hot, muggy air, I don't look back.

Then I walk to my car, leave the almost empty Herald parking lot, and drive home. I am exhausted. Every now and then as I drive, I cast a quick look over at my purse, which I have placed securely on the passenger seat next to me. Inside, I know, are those two five-gigabyte flashdrives with all my "data, " next to my Herald photo ID.

"Fuck The Miami Herald," I think.

 





Miami Art Collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl Presented at Bass Museum of Art

Thought I would blog today about one of Miami's remarkable art collections, that of Debra and Dennis Scholl. "Vanishing Points: Paint and Paintings from the Debra and Dennis Scholl Collection" is now on view at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach through Oct. 30. For more info, see www.bassmuseum.org One of the particularly informative features about the Bass website for this show is that you can find a transcript there in which Knight Curatorial Fellow Kristin Korolowicz interviews Gean Moreno, the Miami-based writer and artist who guest-curated this exhibit.
First things first: More visual arts news in Miami
Art and Culture Center of Hollywood announces its Hot Topics Discussion Series, beginning Sept. 17 with a talk by Shamin M. Momin. She is director, curator, and co-founder of Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND). Momin is a former contemporary curator at Whitney Museum of American Art and co-curated the 2008 and 2009 Whitney Biennial exhibitions. This is the first of five lectures by leading figures in the contemporary visual arts world. They will address current trends and the vital role the arts play in communities. Each lecture includes a reception for guests and time for Q&A. Reception for Momin starts at 5 pm. Her lecture starts at 6 pm. Location is Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison Street, Hollywood, FL. Cost is $10 for non-members and $5 for members, students, teachers, and seniors with ID. There's a fab roster of future speakers for this series. For more info, see www.artandculturecenter.org
Note also that for the first time in its 30 plus year history, the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood is presenting winners of the South Florida Cultural Consortium. Exhibit for the 2011 winners of the 23rd Annual South Florida Cultural Consortium Visual and Media Arts Fellowship Awards runs Sept. 10 to Oct. 16. Opening reception is Sept. 9, 6-9 pm, with free admission and music by DJ Le Spam. Miami-Dade County artists in this exhibit are Tony Chirinos, Aymee Cruzalegui, Cristina Lei Rodriguez, Martin Oppel, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, Asser Saint-Val. Other winners are from Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, and Monroe counties.
Formed in 1985, the Consortium shares resources among counties in South Florida. Funding comes in part from the National Endowment for the Arts and various Florida government agencies. Check the Center's website for list of prestigious regional and national arts experts who chose this year's winners.
Two cool events on one night: At Farside Gallery , 1305 Galloway Road (SW 87th Ave.), at 7 pm Sept 15, Ana Albertina Delgado invites you to an informal tour of the the exhibit "Ana Albertina Delgado: Selected Drawings." At Art @ Work, 1245 Galloway Road (SW 87th Ave.), ph 305-264-3355, at 7:30 pm on Sept. 15, Ernesto Oroza invites you to an informal tour and discussion of his exhibit "Enemigo Provisional." Here's another show I hope to catch: "SET: Tom Schmitt, Odalis Valdivieso, Kerry Ware" at Bridge Red Studios / Project Space, 12425 NE 13th Ave., North Miami. Too bad I was just too pooped to get to the opening reception Sept. 4 from 7-10 pm, because the last time I was there I saw so many fab people I used to write about all the time!! (Yes, I started this blog around Thurs., Sept. 1, but I am actually finishing it on the morning of Labor Day.) I'm hoping to make the closing brunch Sunday Oct. 23 noon to 4 pm. Before that brunch, if you want to see the show call 305-978-4856 to make an appt. Also I'm looking forward to this one: "Crushed Candy" at David Castillo Gallery in Wynwood. It's David's 6th anniversary exhibition with art by Jonathan Ehrenburg, Shara Hughes, Meredith James, and the TM Sisters (Tasha and Monica Lopez de Victoria). Anniversaries, his press release notes, present an opportunity for "remembrance and revelry." (I've been thinking the same thing, as my next blog post will be my 50th blog post!! As we say in that tiny Midwestern town where I grew up, whodathunkit??!!!! Maybe that will call for TWO white chocolate martinis!!!) "Crushed Candy" at David Castillo Gallery, 2234 NW 2nd Ave., runs Sept. 8 to Oct. 1. Reception is 6-8 pm Sept. 8. For more info, call 305-573-8110 or see www.davidcastillogallery.com
Many thanks to my fab artcentric friend Mary Malm (we don't even want to THINK about how long we have known each other!) for emailing me about "Mary Malm: Bathers" and "Kristen Thiele: Paintings," both running Sept. 9-30 at Edge Zones Art Center, 47 NE 25th St. in Wynwood. Preview to meet the artists is 7-9 pm Sept. 8. Note also that Amable Lopez Melendez, chief curator of Museum of Modern Art in Santo Domingo will speak 7-10 pm Sept. 22 at Edge Zones Art Center. See www.edgezones.org
News from another fab artist Jean Chiang: Wish I had energy to put in all the info she sent me, but I just don't. She is in a group show, "The Sincerity Project, at Studio 18, 1101 Poinciana Drive, Pembroke Pines, ph. 954-961-6067. Look in that show for her wood panel painting, "The Meandering Yellow River." As of Oct. 17, she'll be back from upstate New York and will start teaching at Little Haiti Cultural Center.
Congrats to ArtCenter/South Florida ( www.artcentersf.org ) artists W. Andre Allen, Babette Herschberger, Alfonso Corona. Their works will be showcased by Celebrity Cruise Lines on the labels of three special wine and champagne vintages. ArtCenter/South Florida instructorsLeslie LaCombe and Armando Droulers are currently teaching in the Mediterranean on board Celebrity's newest luxury ship, Silhouette. For more info about this, seewww.CelebrityCruises.com , then go to section on Company Information and click on News; see May 9, 2011 press release.
And on the subject of Miami art collections featured in museum exhibits, note also that "Thirty Americans," organized by the Rubell Family Collection of Miami can be seen in Washington, DC at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, www.corcoran.org from Oct. 1 to Feb. 12, 2012. This is a most enlightening exhibit about contemporary African American artists. I was especially glad I got to review it for ARTnews magazine. In my March 2009 review, I wrote that I thought this exhibit "offers a reminder that even as the discussion of race [in this country] has moved beyond clear-cut terms of black and white, ghosts from the past remain." Among those artists I mentioned in my review: Lorna Simpson, Robert Colescott, Carrie Mae Weems, Renee Green, Wangechi Mutu, Xaviera Simmons, Kara Walker, Purvis Young.
I had hoped to find in my personal archive of my Miami Herald stories my specific profile of art collectors Debra and Dennis Scholl, but I could not. (Probably just as well, since my plan for a book based on my Herald stories appears to have all the market value of a typewriter!!) However, I think this May 2003 article, which includes a review of a South Florida museum show based on their collection, will nevertheless be quite interesting for my blog post this week.
In Living Color by Elisa Turner
This month two shows to the north entice us back to the lovely but loaded pleasures of childhood. There's "Imperfect Innocence" at the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, with photographs of risky role-playing from the Miami Beach collectors Dennis and Debra Scholl. [Really too bad for contemporary art lovers that the PBICA in Lake Worth, directed by Michael Rush, is no more. I always looked forward to the chance to chat with Michael, after I had made that long drive up north to Palm Beach County from Miami. He is so smart, and I always learned so much from the terrific shows he curated! I miss his presence here a lot.] Then there's the gaudy carousel of color that is "My Reality: Contemporary Art and the Culture of Japanese Animation" at the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach.
At the Norton, you'll see a mix of paintings, sculpture, video and installations populated with comic book characters pretty in pink, and pretty frightful in pink and purple. The art owes much to such heroes and heroines who fight battles on a galactic scale and dazzle with balletic leaps. Their wide-eyes gazes speak of both childish sweetness and sinister control.
As children born in the wake of a nuclear holocaust and raised in shope-till-you-drop prosperity, such sharacters are the girls, guys and cyborgs of comic books the Japanese call manga, and ofanime, Japan's animated films based on such larger-than-life characters.
Since the 1980s, anime stars like Astro Boy and Sailor Moon have powered their way onto American television. It was only a matter of time before artists in the East and West would bound onto the manga and anime fan wagons.
Still, "My Reality" suggests that it's often easier to talk about than to master convincing exports and imports of an aesthetic shaped by Japanese comics. In this exhibit, artists of Japan and Korea tend to be more successful than those in the United States. That disparity would not surprise one young Korean-born Miami artist, whose video and drawings are also saturated with the bright, narrative allure of manga and anime.
"I don't think enough people appreciate it. American superheroes are very muscular, but most of the superheroes in Asia have a feminine quality. They are very beautiful and delicate," says Jiae Hwang, a college junior at New World School of the Arts. "It's like they are doing a dance. Then they shoot this laser and there's this flowing, delicate movement. A lot of people copy images ofmanga because it's cute, but it's more than cute." [Really terrific to run into Jiae earlier this year when I was touring the facilities of LegalArt. Not at all surprised that she won a residency there. Her impressive and persevering career is surely yet one more testimony to the impressive track record of NWSA!]
GREAT ESCAPE
Certainly manga-made fantasy and escapism is written all over "My Reality."
The minute you enter the show, for instance, you could be forgiven if you thought that the bankrupt FAO Schwartz--in a delusional move to relive its former glory--had not only decided to take up residence in an art museum, but had also commissioned Jeff Koons to create giant inflatable rabbits as a catchy twist on Schwartz's signature, oversized stuffed animals.
Instead, the exhibit's first gallery is bathed in shocking pink light and dominated by the towering, toothy grins of a pair of big pink rabbit ballons by Momoyo Torimitsu. The rabbits make up a facile piece, "Somehow I Don't Feel Comfortable."
Comfort is definitely not Torimitsu's strong suit, and her art also probes anime's freakish, futuristic fusion of human and machine. In a booth at Art Basel Miami Beach last year, her mechanical mannequin of a man in a dull corporate suit jerkily crawling on the floor to get ahead was wacky and disturbing.
The atmosphere of zany, over-the-top toy store plays no small part in this show. This makes things all the more lively when the funny business fades and the more ominous but lavishly crafted quality of these play things prevails.
That darker strain slithers beneath cute colors and wide-eyed playfulness in a smooth-as-porcelain painting like Mika Kato's "Sunrise," in which a broken blood vessel stains a girl's sweet but fixed stare, and in Kenji Yanobe's perky miniature cars--or are they puppy cyborgs?--outfitted with Fisher Price-ish lights and Geiger counters.
Inka Essenhigh, an American who really understands this kind of art, made one of the most challenging, nearly abstract, pieces in the show. Like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat falling and flying, she is a painter who evokes both the apocalyptic and the angelic.
'INNOCENCE'
"Imperfect Innocence" is a bitingly apt title for most of this PBICA show.
Something like the Japanese anime-inspired art at the Norton, many of the photographs here spring from a childish innocence interrupted or one drifting away. That's not to say that collectors Debra and Dennis Scholl have chosen work weighted with nostalgia, and cuteness isn't a part of this often discomforting art. Instead the couple, since 1992, have striven to acquire photography--and now film, video and some installation art--that reveals the most adventurous forms of visual expression.
They experimented with ways photography could reflect a cinematic preoccupation with role-playing tinged by feminist transformations of good girls. And, like Gregory Crewdson, many artists loved to manipulate the artifice of tableaux slyly modeled after film sets.
Timely themes in contemporary photography weave smartly through this show. Many works have to do with the body, beguiled or beleaguered. In an anime-influenced video by Mariko Mori, she's a blissfully ethereal princess, reigning over a mind-numbing, futuristic fantasy in pink and silver. Then there are delicate portraits of girls on the cusp of maturity by Rineke Dijkstra and especially Hellen van Meene--whose gauzily dressed girls with self-inflicted bruises and bitten-down pink nails seem to say that what they really want is more time to grow up.
Anna Gaskell's hypnotic film "Untitled (floater)" wonderfully sets the stage for such sharp imperfections. It shows a girl floating in a pool of turquoise water. She could be a dead body or swimmer--and then it's clear she is alive, treading water, tilting her head back farther and farther.
As the camera comes closer, the top of her head fills the screen. Briefly, it offers the startling sight of a baby's head crowning, on the verge of birth. Then her head swings back farther so that all we see is a red mouth. At last it opens onto a kind of rabbit hole, a frighteningly dark chasm inside as her young self vanishes from sight.





Miami Art Museum Mourns 9/11 with Joel Meyerowitz Photos

It's hard to believe that 9/11 was actually 10 years ago, but that is obviously the case. I was still writing for the Herald and my children were 14 and 16, still in middle school and high school. Now they are 24 and 26! And of course I am not writing for the Herald anymore, but blogging about what I used to do and art events currently happening in Miami. Today my topic is Joel Meyerowitz and 9/11.
I think it's great that Miami Art Museum is presenting "Joel Meyerowitz - Aftermath" in its Focus Gallery, through Nov. 6. You can see 24 of his recently donated photographs in that gallery. His book, Aftermath: World Trade Center Archives, was reissued this year in a special 10th anniversary edition. There'll be a public lecture at 6:30 pm Sept. 8 at MAM on this exhibit. Lecture is "What Remains," given by noted author and photography critic Vicki Goldberg, whose writing I have always admired. For more info, see www.miamiartmuseum.org
Since we are thinking about 9/11 and artists, I'd like to pay homage to the late artist Michael Richards, who died that day in his studio at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in the World Trade Center. At the moment I am looking at the catalogue for the traveling exhibit, "Passages: Contemporary Art in Transition," organized by The Studio Museum in Harlem, which included art by Michael, who was such a talented, generous-hearted artist, another of the many, many people I feel lucky to have known during my time writing for the Herald. In the fall of 2000, this exhibit came to MAM; as I see I noted then on my checklist for the show, Michael worked in a residency for the ArtCenter/South Florida for four-month stints during the years 1997 through 2000. A particular work in that show, I remember, struck me then as prescient in a chilling way, even though it was created in response to an appalling chapter of racial discrimination in our armed forces. I remember that the first time I saw this 1999 resin and steel sculpture was at Ambrosino Gallery in North Miami. It is "Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian," and shows a Tuskegee airman bombarded with dagger-like air planes, recalling the physical torment of St. Sebastian--but also, of course, Michael's tragic death.
On this 10th anniversary of 9/11, I think it is truly inspiring that LMCC (shorthand for Lower Manhattan Cultural Council) and its partners are presenting a series of programs aiming to explore how the arts can can indeed involve communities in an endless variety of ways to safeguard vital memories as well as cultivate dreams for change. As a result, communities may one day devise ways for taking action that can surely transform such dreams into reality. For more info about the admirable "InSite" LMCC program, see http://Insite.LMCC.net or google Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, then click on its Home page.
First things first: More visual arts news in Miami Today is a great opportunity to highlight residency programs in Miami for artists. Note that the deadline to apply for LegalArt Local Residency is Sept. 1. Learn more about this exceedingly special opportunity to live and work in a professional development residency in downtown Miami by checking out
www.legalartmiami.org/residency or email residency@legalartmiami.org I visited the facilities earlier this year, and I must say I was impressed. Note also that the ArtCenter/South Florida has extended its deadline to Sept. 15 to apply for its juried residency program. For more info about the many benefits of this program and to find out how to apply, seewww.artcentersf.org Click on "Opportunities" when you get to that site. Interested artists can also contact Director of Exhibitions Kitty Bowe Hearty at kbhearty@artcentersf.org or call her at 305-674-8278, ext 208.
Creative folks may also want to mark their calendars for "Gene Hackman: Installation and Performance by Timothy Stanley and P. Scott Cunningham," from Aug. 22 to Sept. 30 at BasFisherInvitational , 180 NE 39th St, Suite 210. There's a Second Saturday reception 7-10 pm on Sept. 10, with performances daily at 5 pm. Check out how an intriguing writer's residency project is temporarily housed at BasFisherInvitational by visitingwww.basfisherinvitational.com
Many thanks to my talented MDC-Kendall colleague Tony Chirinos for sending me info about this event: Artcentric folks should for sure mark their calendars for "Pannaroma - Miami, " a distinctive group show featuring photographers--including Lee Friedlander, Tony Chirinos, Stephen Hilger, Gilles Peress, Raghubir Singh--who all used the Pannaroma 1 x 3 camera. This camera was designed by distinguished photographer Thomas Roma (a two-time Guggenheim fellow, author, Director of Photography and Professor of Art at Columbia University) at the request of famed photographer Lee Friedlander. It will be on view Sept. 1 to Oct. 29 at the gallery in the Martin and Pat Fine Center for the Arts of Miami Dade College Kendall Campus, 11011 SW 104th St.; opening reception is 6-9 pm Sept. 1. For more info call 305-237-7700 or call Tony Chirinos, Associate Professor of Photography, MDC-Kendall, at 305-237-2281 or email curators Tony Chirinos and Stephen Hilger atpannaroma.show@gmail.com This traveling show was first seen at UNO-St. Claude Gallery in New Orleans. Don't forget to keep checking the website started by my treasured artcentric friend Rosie Gordon-Wallace for special opportunities at www.diasporavibevirtualgallery.com Also, check out my September Critic's Choice at www.artcircuits.com
This just in: "Karen Rifas: Strung Out" can be seen at Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, 3550 N. Miami Ave. in Wynwood, from Sept. 10 to Oct. 29. I'm really looking forward to seeing this one, as I have followed Karen Rifasfor years and I think she's exceptionally talented. Although many of us know the amazing work she has done for years by stitching dried oak leaves together (yes, that is what she does as an artist!), this show will present transparent forms made with colored cords to explore her long-standing fascination with geometric patterns. Don't miss the opening night dance performance at 8 pm on Sept. 10. Dancers, under the direction of Dale Andree of New World School of the Arts, will move within structures created by Rifas. For more info call Bernice Steinbaum Gallery at 305-573-2700 or visit www.bernicesteinbaumgallery.com
And kudos to Carlos Betancourt! "Of Kenya and Candles," his 480" long and 94" high wallpaper mural will be shown for the first time at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center in San Antonio, Texas from Sept. 1 to Nov. 6. Wish I could be there for the opening! Find out more about the exhibit "Carlos Betancourt: Archaic Substance" at www.bluestarart.org Maybe someday it will come to Miami??
Here's my Miami Herald story about Joel Meyerowitz from September 2006.
HIS SMALL IMAGES ADD UP TO LARGER PICTURE by Elisa Turner
On Sept. 11, 2001, Joel Meyerowitz was taking photos of a seaside town on Cape Cod, where he has photographed for years. After learning with the rest of the world that the World Trade Center Towers had been attacked, he rushed back to his Greenwich Village apartment. From Sept. 23, 2001 to June 21, 2002, he photographed the exhausting work of recovery and debris removal at ground zero.
During those months, he says he shot around 8,500 photographs. His new book, Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive (Phaidon, $75), features 400.
Books & Books hosts "Ground Zero Through the Artist's Lens: An Evening with Joel Meyerowitz," at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Photography collector Martin Z. Margulies, who owns several of Meyerowitz's works, will conduct an onstage conversation with Meyerowitz.
"I've seen his work for a long time," says Margulies. "It's classic street photography. He was one of the pioneers in color photography."
GETTING ACCESS
Getting access to the smoldering site was tough. Right after the attacks, the site was cordoned off with yellow tape as a crime scene. Photographers were banned. After navigating red tape and appealing to the Museum of the City of New York and city officials, Meyerowitz landed his worker's badge to enter ground zero with his camera. He was allowed to move freely about the site.
To his surprise, as he recounts in his book, workers were already taking pictures with digital cameras. For his part, he wanted access to the site not to make art but to record history.
"I was taking pictures for those who didn't have access to the site," he writes in his book. The pictures, he hoped, would help New Yorkers or anyone else "to grieve, or simply to try to understand what had happened to our city." The World Trade Center Archive he started soon after he had access to the site is now in the permanent collection of the Museum of the City of New York. The archive has traveled throughout the country.
As he explains in a phone call from his home on Cape Cod, "I wasn't projecting on the event an artistic intention that would involve my ego. I was able to use the tactics I normally use as a street photographer. I did not feel like I had enough of a point of view from an artist's perspective to make a comment on the event. The best I could do was to go in and see what it looks like."
For nine months he saw what the site looked like, as the somber, grueling process of recovering human remains and artifacts morphed into debris removal.
MASSIVE WRECKAGE
The wreckage was so massive, so awesome, he says that no one thing a single individual could make could come close to describing what it was like.
Looking at the photographs in his book, you are continually pushed from minute manifestations of this tragedy to its monumental scope. You see steel girders dangling like strings, escalators leading nowhere, workers in hard hats amid plumes of smoke, and lights of city skyscrapers as they ring the gaping hole of ground zero at night. On nearly every page there's commentary by Meyerowitz about the work at ground zero as it continued day by day.
His book records tiny, strange coincidences unearthed in the layers of wreckage. There was the time when police Lt. John Ryan found his Police Academy graduation picture. There is the sooty, mangled steel to which scorching heat had fused a Bible. The battered Bible, he writes, was open to Matthew 5:38, the verse that begins "An eye for an eye."
Another photograph shows at least two floors of an office that seem to have been pillaged by a tornado. Ceilings have crashed among file cabinets, desks and computers. His comments on the scene are terse. The sound of creaking steel, a reminder that many parts of ground zero were wildly unstable, made him abruptly exit this corner of mayhem. He recalls how these particular office ruins were "a kind of contemporary Pompeii."
RELICS OF TRAGEDY
As he speaks of his days and months documenting the aftermath of 9/11, he remembers how he often came across odd relics of tragedy that had as much mystery and power as art in a museum. One was a three-foot pile of debris, from telephone cards to slats of Venetian blinds, stacked in an office corner covered with concrete dust that had hardened from rains falling on the decimated towers.
It looked like, he says, "conceptual art that people do all the time today, but this was the real thing. This was made not by a person but by the force of the event. It memorialized the event--all the randomness, color and violence--phenomenally."
IF YOU GO What: Books & Books presents "Ground Zero Through the Artist's Lens: An Evening with Joel Meyerowitz," a slide show by photographer Joel Meyerowitz about his book Aftermath, followed by a conversation with collector Martin Z. Margulies. Where: Lincoln Theatre, 541 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach When: 7:30 pm Thursday Cost: Free
[Blogger's Note: Still getting the hang of doing this blog. Please note that in my previous post re Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt, I gave an incorrect date for the closing of a very fab show featuring photography and other work by Sandra Ramos at Dot Fiftyone Gallery in Wynwood. It closes Sept. 6. For sure don't miss this one. If I have given any incorrect info in this post, my apologies. You are welcome to post a comment with corrections and other insights helpful to readers.]





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.]





Miami Gallery Cernuda Arte Sells Work by Carlos Alfonzo

As many readers may remember, the richly talented, Cuban-born and Miami-based artist Carlos Alfonzo tragically died just as his career was moving forward into a much-deserved national, and surely international, realm. I think it is terrific that a very well-established and respected gallery here is selling his work because I trust this means he is continuing to find the audience and respect he deserves. I feel honored to have a "news peg" to blog about Carlos today.

Cernuda Arte, at 3155 Ponce de Leon Blvd. in Coral Gables, announces that in July 2011 it has sold work by Carlos Alfonzo, among other artists of course. See http://www.cernudaarte.com/ or call 305-461-1050. When you get to that site, click on tab that says Recent Arrivals / Departures, then scroll down, and you will see an image of the work. It's such an informative website that you can also click to see more images by Carlos.

As I type this blog today, I am looking at a postcard Carlos sent me in Feb. 1990. On the back it has a note explaining that he is sending me slides (does anyone remember those??!!) of his recent work. On the front is a black and white photograph of Carlos standing in front of an iconic Cuban landmark in Tampa. It is a 1989 photograph, copyrighted by Carlos and taken by his late partner Carlos Artigas. This is the title of the photograph: "Pilgrimage to Jose Marti Memorial, Ybor City, Tampa."

I recall going to see the exquisite exhibit of Carlos' work at the Freedom Tower, an exhibit coinciding with Art Basel Miami Beach in 2007. I was actually relieved that I would not be covering that show for The Miami Herald because the video of Carlos talking about his work was more than I could bear. When I walked into the room with his video I immediately burst into tears and had to leave. Just hearing his voice brought back so many sad memories. He was such a passionately vivid, memorable artist and person.

First things first: More visual arts news in Miami "Young Blood: So Fresh" opens Aug. 13, 7-10, and is up through Sept. 3 at Flagler Arts Space, 172 W. Flagler St., very near Miami Art Museum. How apt that this show, celebrating the 25th anniversary of New World School of the Arts, is presented at a new downtown exhibition space founded by a group of NWSA alumni in Miami. (I just adore that kind of self-starter initiative!!) For more info see http://www.youngbloodnwsa.wordpress.com/ or emailyoungbloodnwsa@gmail.com In this exhibit, curated by artist and NWSA grad Danae Tarragona, you will find work by 21 artists, all NWSA grads. I am especially excited that Asser Saint-Val is included because I was extremely impressed with his work when I made a studio visit to his home and studio in Miami about a year ago. Plus he was a terrific member of a panel I organized this past spring for Arts & Letters Day at Miami Dade College, Kendall campus. For more info about Asser, seehttp://www.assersaintval.com/

Here's info about another show I hope to catch: At WDNA Jazz Gallery, 2921 Coral Way through Aug. 27, you can see paintings by BuyungaKialeuka, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to Miami when he was 6. Many thanks to my friend Maggie Pelleya, general manager of WDNA, the radio station known for serious jazz, for letting me know about this intriguing exhibit. See http://www.wdna.org/or call 305-662-8889.

Congrats to Claire Jeanine Satin, who took part in a terrific program on artists' books last spring at Books & Books (my totally fave bookstore in Miami!!). She tells me she has been invited to create an installation for the "Accidental Book" exhibition at the Center for the Book Arts in San Francisco in January.

This just in from artist Sheila Elias, who has posted comments on my blog in the past (thanks, Sheila!!): She tells me about her new series "Myths and Legends," about drawing and layering complex ideas by using current digital technology. See http://www.sheilaelias.com/

Attention emerging and mid-career artists (actually, I have never been quite sure what "emerging" really means in this context. . .um, didVincent van Gogh emerge from the grave??): Bakehouse Art Complex, 561 NW 32nd St in Wynwood, annouces that the deadline to apply for the BAC Juried Artist Studio Program is Sept. 1, 2011. There are indeed many benefits to working there--the BAC has improved A LOT since I was writing for the Herald. For more info call 305-576-2828 or emailinfo@bacfl.org . Also see http://www.bacfl.org/ , then click on tab that says Opportunities.

Congrats to Joshua Levine, an alum of the Miami art scene now working in California, who always keeps me posted on the creative and innovative things he's doing. (Thanks a bunch, Josh!!) He tells me he's part of a group show, "Chain Letter," at Shoshona Wayne Gallery, located at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, CA. For more info about the always interesting Josh Levine (also you will get to see his adorable hairstyle!!) see http://www.copyright1972.com/

And kudos again to the indefatigable Charo Oquet, leader of Edge Zones Art Center in Wynwood (see my previous blog post about her). She tells me about "High Voltage," a student-created multi-media site-specific installation at the Working Working Classroom in Albuquerque, New Mexico!! See http://www.workingclassroom.org/ as well ashttp://www.edgezones.org/ ; for this site click on tab that says HIGH VOLTAGE. Charo, you are so totally high voltage!!

Here is my Carlos Alfonzo review from The Miami Herald in December 1997.

ALFONZO EXHIBIT A MOVING TRIBUTE TO TALENT CUT SHORT by Elisa Turner

The last time I spoke to South Florida artist Carlos Alfonzo, bombs were exploding.

It was the evening of Jan. 16, 1991, the start of the Gulf War, and my television screen was consumed with scenes of horrific conflagration.

Alfonzo telephoned to tell me that his paintings would be included in the 1991 Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, which would open in April. It was a great coup, especially for an artist who has been working seriously in this country only since 1982. I remember trying to balance that moment of intensely conflicting emotions--joy for an artist whose talent I believed deserved such recognition, and shock at the destruction I'd been witnessing.

That explosive experience of death and joy seems like an epiphany now, prophetic of the arc Alfonzo's career was was already taking. Although I traveled to see his accomplished, brooding paintings in the biennial, Alfonzo did not. He died that Feb. 19 at South Miami Hospital. At age 40, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, brought on by AIDS.

With far greater impact than I ever imagined, the Miami Art Museum presents Alfonzo's work in a superbly installed exhibit. "Triumph of the Spirit: Carlos Alfonzo, A Survey 1975-1991" opened Thursday and runs through March 8. It is guest-curated by Olga Viso, assistant curator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., where the show will travel in June.

This show has been long awaited by many in South Florida who knew Alfonzo, watched his art flourish and grieved at his early death. As a tribute to Alfonzo's remarkable art and his swift rise to national notice, it's the culmination of more than two years of exhaustive research conducted by Viso and the MAM staff, including curatorial assistant Amy Rosenblum. "Triumph of the Spirit" brings together 71 works, chiefly paintings with a handful of drawings and sculpture.

POWER OF PAINTINGS

The exhibit is also an immensely moving witness to the power of the painted image. It shows how Alfonzo, who was born in Cuba in 1950 and arrived in Miami in 1980 as a Mariel refugee, shaped a unique vocabulary. His best paintings gleam and clash with emblems of desire, sacrifice, death and spiritual change.

The tumult of his imagery is fabulously hectic, in which symbols continually overlap and fuse.

There are tongues and telephones oppressively pierced with daggers, and flashing eyes that become transformed into swollen tears and phalluses. There are jittery coffee cups in which cartoonish signs for a delectable aroma blossom, with amused irony, into more fat, juicy teardrops.

Alfonzo once wrote that in his art, "tears are a symbol of exile," but his work surely leaps beyond personal experience into a universal arena of shocking passion and loss.

"I think he was incredibly brave in his devotion to painting," Viso says. "He could deal with emotional and passionate themes and the work never became over-sentimentalized."

And, like the artist whom she never met, she bristles against stamping his art too hard with the label "Latin American." "He matured as an artist in the U.S. looking at work by artists from all over the world," she says. "Jackson Pollock is equally important as any of the Cuban masters in his development."

MENTAL ENERGY CITED

Michael Auping, chief curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, who met Alfonzo in Miami and included his work in a 1988 group show of emerging artists in New York, also recalls the painter's impressive gift for international style and synthesis.

"What sets Carlos apart is the incredible mental energy that he put into his paintings," he says.

"They were physically layered with images and they were layered in terms of content.

Now cultural diversity has become a cliched term, but in the 1980s Carlos was making a fusion of Cuban and American culture that was not cliched. It made his work sometimes beautiful, sometimes potent, sometimes very angry. It all melted together into a kind of erotic violence."

That dynamism seeped into his studio visits with the artist, Auping says. A visit with Alfonzo was like drinking "six cups of coffee. . .I've always thought of him as a shooting star. He started to shine really bright and he just burned up."

In the paintings at MAM, geometric cubes burst with radiant lines of light. They evoke both searing moments of intense pleasure and insight, as well as the artist's formal skills for weaving an intricate composition together with dashing lines.

Crosses are also a constant, sometimes flowing into knives, melding into imagery associated with Roman Catholicism and with the Afro-Cuban cult of Santeria. Both contain rituals, symbols and beliefs that fascinated Alfonzo during his years growing up in Cuba.

Especially as his talent matured in the United States, he proceeded to mine the dramatic, seductive potential of these loaded images by thrusting them into ever more flashing and whirling compositions.

In the mid to late 1980s, his taste for rich, alluring metaphor led him to study the Tarot cards of Rosicrucianism, a mystic philosophy dating to 17th Century Europe. It's a belief system, as Viso explains in her catalogue essay, that's designed to lead devotees to a transcendent state of consciousness, spurred by contemplating ancient Tarot symbols and imagining them animated in space.

In one of his last works, the 1990 "Told," a scythe-like shape, similar to the Tarot card of death, appears sucked into the spiraling, overlapped shapes of a skull and kneeling figure.

TWO FIRSTS

This exhibit is the first traveling museum show that MAM has organized under director Suzanne Delehanty, who joined MAM in January 1995, and is also the first career survey of Alfonzo. Certainly in recent years this is the most ambitious effort MAM has initiated.

Delehanty finds real significance in Alfonzo's art and the community he worked in. "I think [Carlos'] presence here parallels Miami's development as a creative community and acted as a catalyst in that development," Delehanty says. "Alfonzo really gives Miami a mirror of itself: energy, a respect for solid training and a sense of adventure."

Says Cesar Trasobares, a close friend of Alfonzo and a fellow artist, "I think the show is a testament to the strength of the work and is a major coup for MAM."

The show charts the development of his imagery, beginning with examples of his tightly compressed, calligraphic ink drawings from the 1970s, made in Cuba. It shows the aggressive, colorful pace of his evolving style in Miami, in which Viso and critic Dan Cameron, in his catalogue essay, find links to the flamboyant, free-wheeling approach of 1980s Neo-Expressionism. Yet this was a style that became so packed with "fireworks," as Alfonzo himself once called his bravura way with paint, that it risked falling into self-parody. Instead, his art evolved in a new direction in his last year of life.

The show concludes with Alfonzo's moving "black paintings" of the late 1990s.

They are marked by the presence of a figure that seems both supplicant and fetus, radiant and mournful, one transformed by the premonition of death and the promise of yet more changes.

Coursing through all the changes are Alfonzo's fluid, fluctuating brushstrokes. They switch back and forth from our fondest dreams to our most fearsome nightmares. This is art you can't forget.





Miami Gallery Cernuda Arte Sells Work by Carlos Alfonzo

As many readers may remember, the richly talented, Cuban-born and Miami-based artist Carlos Alfonzo tragically died just as his career was moving forward into a much-deserved national, and surely international, realm. I think it is terrific that a very well-established and respected gallery here is selling his work because I trust this means he is continuing to find the audience and respect he deserves. I feel honored to have a "news peg" to blog about Carlos today.

Cernuda Arte, at 3155 Ponce de Leon Blvd. in Coral Gables, announces that in July 2011 it has sold work by Carlos Alfonzo, among other artists of course. See http://www.cernudaarte.com/ or call 305-461-1050. When you get to that site, click on tab that says Recent Arrivals / Departures, then scroll down, and you will see an image of the work. It's such an informative website that you can also click to see more images by Carlos.

As I type this blog today, I am looking at a postcard Carlos sent me in Feb. 1990. On the back it has a note explaining that he is sending me slides (does anyone remember those??!!) of his recent work. On the front is a black and white photograph of Carlos standing in front of an iconic Cuban landmark in Tampa. It is a 1989 photograph, copyrighted by Carlos and taken by his late partner Carlos Artigas. This is the title of the photograph: "Pilgrimage to Jose Marti Memorial, Ybor City, Tampa."

I recall going to see the exquisite exhibit of Carlos' work at the Freedom Tower, an exhibit coinciding with Art Basel Miami Beach in 2007. I was actually relieved that I would not be covering that show for The Miami Herald because the video of Carlos talking about his work was more than I could bear. When I walked into the room with his video I immediately burst into tears and had to leave. Just hearing his voice brought back so many sad memories. He was such a passionately vivid, memorable artist and person.

First things first: More visual arts news in Miami "Young Blood: So Fresh" opens Aug. 13, 7-10, and is up through Sept. 3 at Flagler Arts Space, 172 W. Flagler St., very near Miami Art Museum. How apt that this show, celebrating the 25th anniversary of New World School of the Arts, is presented at a new downtown exhibition space founded by a group of NWSA alumni in Miami. (I just adore that kind of self-starter initiative!!) For more info see http://www.youngbloodnwsa.wordpress.com/ or emailyoungbloodnwsa@gmail.com In this exhibit, curated by artist and NWSA grad Danae Tarragona, you will find work by 21 artists, all NWSA grads. I am especially excited that Asser Saint-Val is included because I was extremely impressed with his work when I made a studio visit to his home and studio in Miami about a year ago. Plus he was a terrific member of a panel I organized this past spring for Arts & Letters Day at Miami Dade College, Kendall campus. For more info about Asser, seehttp://www.assersaintval.com/

Here's info about another show I hope to catch: At WDNA Jazz Gallery, 2921 Coral Way through Aug. 27, you can see paintings by BuyungaKialeuka, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to Miami when he was 6. Many thanks to my friend Maggie Pelleya, general manager of WDNA, the radio station known for serious jazz, for letting me know about this intriguing exhibit. See http://www.wdna.org/or call 305-662-8889.

Congrats to Claire Jeanine Satin, who took part in a terrific program on artists' books last spring at Books & Books (my totally fave bookstore in Miami!!). She tells me she has been invited to create an installation for the "Accidental Book" exhibition at the Center for the Book Arts in San Francisco in January.

This just in from artist Sheila Elias, who has posted comments on my blog in the past (thanks, Sheila!!): She tells me about her new series "Myths and Legends," about drawing and layering complex ideas by using current digital technology. See http://www.sheilaelias.com/

Attention emerging and mid-career artists (actually, I have never been quite sure what "emerging" really means in this context. . .um, didVincent van Gogh emerge from the grave??): Bakehouse Art Complex, 561 NW 32nd St in Wynwood, annouces that the deadline to apply for the BAC Juried Artist Studio Program is Sept. 1, 2011. There are indeed many benefits to working there--the BAC has improved A LOT since I was writing for the Herald. For more info call 305-576-2828 or emailinfo@bacfl.org . Also see http://www.bacfl.org/ , then click on tab that says Opportunities.

Congrats to Joshua Levine, an alum of the Miami art scene now working in California, who always keeps me posted on the creative and innovative things he's doing. (Thanks a bunch, Josh!!) He tells me he's part of a group show, "Chain Letter," at Shoshona Wayne Gallery, located at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, CA. For more info about the always interesting Josh Levine (also you will get to see his adorable hairstyle!!) see http://www.copyright1972.com/

And kudos again to the indefatigable Charo Oquet, leader of Edge Zones Art Center in Wynwood (see my previous blog post about her). She tells me about "High Voltage," a student-created multi-media site-specific installation at the Working Working Classroom in Albuquerque, New Mexico!! See http://www.workingclassroom.org/ as well ashttp://www.edgezones.org/ ; for this site click on tab that says HIGH VOLTAGE. Charo, you are so totally high voltage!!

Here is my Carlos Alfonzo review from The Miami Herald in December 1997.


ALFONZO EXHIBIT A MOVING TRIBUTE TO TALENT CUT SHORT by Elisa Turner

The last time I spoke to South Florida artist Carlos Alfonzo, bombs were exploding.

It was the evening of Jan. 16, 1991, the start of the Gulf War, and my television screen was consumed with scenes of horrific conflagration.

Alfonzo telephoned to tell me that his paintings would be included in the 1991 Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, which would open in April. It was a great coup, especially for an artist who has been working seriously in this country only since 1982. I remember trying to balance that moment of intensely conflicting emotions--joy for an artist whose talent I believed deserved such recognition, and shock at the destruction I'd been witnessing.

That explosive experience of death and joy seems like an epiphany now, prophetic of the arc Alfonzo's career was was already taking. Although I traveled to see his accomplished, brooding paintings in the biennial, Alfonzo did not. He died that Feb. 19 at South Miami Hospital. At age 40, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, brought on by AIDS.

With far greater impact than I ever imagined, the Miami Art Museum presents Alfonzo's work in a superbly installed exhibit. "Triumph of the Spirit: Carlos Alfonzo, A Survey 1975-1991" opened Thursday and runs through March 8. It is guest-curated by Olga Viso, assistant curator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., where the show will travel in June.

This show has been long awaited by many in South Florida who knew Alfonzo, watched his art flourish and grieved at his early death. As a tribute to Alfonzo's remarkable art and his swift rise to national notice, it's the culmination of more than two years of exhaustive research conducted by Viso and the MAM staff, including curatorial assistant Amy Rosenblum. "Triumph of the Spirit" brings together 71 works, chiefly paintings with a handful of drawings and sculpture.

POWER OF PAINTINGS

The exhibit is also an immensely moving witness to the power of the painted image. It shows how Alfonzo, who was born in Cuba in 1950 and arrived in Miami in 1980 as a Mariel refugee, shaped a unique vocabulary. His best paintings gleam and clash with emblems of desire, sacrifice, death and spiritual change.

The tumult of his imagery is fabulously hectic, in which symbols continually overlap and fuse.

There are tongues and telephones oppressively pierced with daggers, and flashing eyes that become transformed into swollen tears and phalluses. There are jittery coffee cups in which cartoonish signs for a delectable aroma blossom, with amused irony, into more fat, juicy teardrops.

Alfonzo once wrote that in his art, "tears are a symbol of exile," but his work surely leaps beyond personal experience into a universal arena of shocking passion and loss.

"I think he was incredibly brave in his devotion to painting," Viso says. "He could deal with emotional and passionate themes and the work never became over-sentimentalized."

And, like the artist whom she never met, she bristles against stamping his art too hard with the label "Latin American." "He matured as an artist in the U.S. looking at work by artists from all over the world," she says. "Jackson Pollock is equally important as any of the Cuban masters in his development."

MENTAL ENERGY CITED

Michael Auping, chief curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, who met Alfonzo in Miami and included his work in a 1988 group show of emerging artists in New York, also recalls the painter's impressive gift for international style and synthesis.

"What sets Carlos apart is the incredible mental energy that he put into his paintings," he says.

"They were physically layered with images and they were layered in terms of content.

Now cultural diversity has become a cliched term, but in the 1980s Carlos was making a fusion of Cuban and American culture that was not cliched. It made his work sometimes beautiful, sometimes potent, sometimes very angry. It all melted together into a kind of erotic violence."

That dynamism seeped into his studio visits with the artist, Auping says. A visit with Alfonzo was like drinking "six cups of coffee. . .I've always thought of him as a shooting star. He started to shine really bright and he just burned up."

In the paintings at MAM, geometric cubes burst with radiant lines of light. They evoke both searing moments of intense pleasure and insight, as well as the artist's formal skills for weaving an intricate composition together with dashing lines.

Crosses are also a constant, sometimes flowing into knives, melding into imagery associated with Roman Catholicism and with the Afro-Cuban cult of Santeria. Both contain rituals, symbols and beliefs that fascinated Alfonzo during his years growing up in Cuba.

Especially as his talent matured in the United States, he proceeded to mine the dramatic, seductive potential of these loaded images by thrusting them into ever more flashing and whirling compositions.

In the mid to late 1980s, his taste for rich, alluring metaphor led him to study the Tarot cards of Rosicrucianism, a mystic philosophy dating to 17th Century Europe. It's a belief system, as Viso explains in her catalogue essay, that's designed to lead devotees to a transcendent state of consciousness, spurred by contemplating ancient Tarot symbols and imagining them animated in space.

In one of his last works, the 1990 "Told," a scythe-like shape, similar to the Tarot card of death, appears sucked into the spiraling, overlapped shapes of a skull and kneeling figure.

TWO FIRSTS

This exhibit is the first traveling museum show that MAM has organized under director Suzanne Delehanty, who joined MAM in January 1995, and is also the first career survey of Alfonzo. Certainly in recent years this is the most ambitious effort MAM has initiated.

Delehanty finds real significance in Alfonzo's art and the community he worked in. "I think [Carlos'] presence here parallels Miami's development as a creative community and acted as a catalyst in that development," Delehanty says. "Alfonzo really gives Miami a mirror of itself: energy, a respect for solid training and a sense of adventure."

Says Cesar Trasobares, a close friend of Alfonzo and a fellow artist, "I think the show is a testament to the strength of the work and is a major coup for MAM."

The show charts the development of his imagery, beginning with examples of his tightly compressed, calligraphic ink drawings from the 1970s, made in Cuba. It shows the aggressive, colorful pace of his evolving style in Miami, in which Viso and critic Dan Cameron, in his catalogue essay, find links to the flamboyant, free-wheeling approach of 1980s Neo-Expressionism. Yet this was a style that became so packed with "fireworks," as Alfonzo himself once called his bravura way with paint, that it risked falling into self-parody. Instead, his art evolved in a new direction in his last year of life.

The show concludes with Alfonzo's moving "black paintings" of the late 1990s.

They are marked by the presence of a figure that seems both supplicant and fetus, radiant and mournful, one transformed by the premonition of death and the promise of yet more changes.

Coursing through all the changes are Alfonzo's fluid, fluctuating brushstrokes. They switch back and forth from our fondest dreams to our most fearsome nightmares. This is art you can't forget.





Miami Gallery Cernuda Arte Sells Work by Carlos Alfonzo

As many readers may remember, the richly talented, Cuban-born and Miami-based artist Carlos Alfonzo tragically died just as his career was moving forward into a much-deserved national, and surely international, realm. I think it is terrific that a very well-established and respected gallery here is selling his work because I trust this means he is continuing to find the audience and respect he deserves. I feel honored to have a "news peg" to blog about Carlos today.

Cernuda Arte, at 3155 Ponce de Leon Blvd. in Coral Gables, announces that in July 2011 it has sold work by Carlos Alfonzo, among other artists of course. See http://www.cernudaarte.com/ or call 305-461-1050. When you get to that site, click on tab that says Recent Arrivals / Departures, then scroll down, and you will see an image of the work. It's such an informative website that you can also click to see more images by Carlos.

As I type this blog today, I am looking at a postcard Carlos sent me in Feb. 1990. On the back it has a note explaining that he is sending me slides (does anyone remember those??!!) of his recent work. On the front is a black and white photograph of Carlos standing in front of an iconic Cuban landmark in Tampa. It is a 1989 photograph, copyrighted by Carlos and taken by his late partner Carlos Artigas. This is the title of the photograph: "Pilgrimage to Jose Marti Memorial, Ybor City, Tampa."

I recall going to see the exquisite exhibit of Carlos' work at the Freedom Tower, an exhibit coinciding with Art Basel Miami Beach in 2007. I was actually relieved that I would not be covering that show for The Miami Herald because the video of Carlos talking about his work was more than I could bear. When I walked into the room with his video I immediately burst into tears and had to leave. Just hearing his voice brought back so many sad memories. He was such a passionately vivid, memorable artist and person.

First things first: More visual arts news in Miami "Young Blood: So Fresh" opens Aug. 13, 7-10, and is up through Sept. 3 at Flagler Arts Space, 172 W. Flagler St., very near Miami Art Museum. How apt that this show, celebrating the 25th anniversary of New World School of the Arts, is presented at a new downtown exhibition space founded by a group of NWSA alumni in Miami. (I just adore that kind of self-starter initiative!!) For more info see http://www.youngbloodnwsa.wordpress.com/ or emailyoungbloodnwsa@gmail.com In this exhibit, curated by artist and NWSA grad Danae Tarragona, you will find work by 21 artists, all NWSA grads. I am especially excited that Asser Saint-Val is included because I was extremely impressed with his work when I made a studio visit to his home and studio in Miami about a year ago. Plus he was a terrific member of a panel I organized this past spring for Arts & Letters Day at Miami Dade College, Kendall campus. For more info about Asser, seehttp://www.assersaintval.com/

Here's info about another show I hope to catch: At WDNA Jazz Gallery, 2921 Coral Way through Aug. 27, you can see paintings by BuyungaKialeuka, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to Miami when he was 6. Many thanks to my friend Maggie Pelleya, general manager of WDNA, the radio station known for serious jazz, for letting me know about this intriguing exhibit. See http://www.wdna.org/or call 305-662-8889.

Congrats to Claire Jeanine Satin, who took part in a terrific program on artists' books last spring at Books & Books (my totally fave bookstore in Miami!!). She tells me she has been invited to create an installation for the "Accidental Book" exhibition at the Center for the Book Arts in San Francisco in January.

This just in from artist Sheila Elias, who has posted comments on my blog in the past (thanks, Sheila!!): She tells me about her new series "Myths and Legends," about drawing and layering complex ideas by using current digital technology. See http://www.sheilaelias.com/

Attention emerging and mid-career artists (actually, I have never been quite sure what "emerging" really means in this context. . .um, didVincent van Gogh emerge from the grave??): Bakehouse Art Complex, 561 NW 32nd St in Wynwood, annouces that the deadline to apply for the BAC Juried Artist Studio Program is Sept. 1, 2011. There are indeed many benefits to working there--the BAC has improved A LOT since I was writing for the Herald. For more info call 305-576-2828 or emailinfo@bacfl.org . Also see http://www.bacfl.org/ , then click on tab that says Opportunities.

Congrats to Joshua Levine, an alum of the Miami art scene now working in California, who always keeps me posted on the creative and innovative things he's doing. (Thanks a bunch, Josh!!) He tells me he's part of a group show, "Chain Letter," at Shoshona Wayne Gallery, located at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, CA. For more info about the always interesting Josh Levine (also you will get to see his adorable hairstyle!!) see http://www.copyright1972.com/

And kudos again to the indefatigable Charo Oquet, leader of Edge Zones Art Center in Wynwood (see my previous blog post about her). She tells me about "High Voltage," a student-created multi-media site-specific installation at the Working Working Classroom in Albuquerque, New Mexico!! See http://www.workingclassroom.org/ as well ashttp://www.edgezones.org/ ; for this site click on tab that says HIGH VOLTAGE. Charo, you are so totally high voltage!!

Here is my Carlos Alfonzo review from The Miami Herald in December 1997.


ALFONZO EXHIBIT A MOVING TRIBUTE TO TALENT CUT SHORT by Elisa Turner

The last time I spoke to South Florida artist Carlos Alfonzo, bombs were exploding.

It was the evening of Jan. 16, 1991, the start of the Gulf War, and my television screen was consumed with scenes of horrific conflagration.

Alfonzo telephoned to tell me that his paintings would be included in the 1991 Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, which would open in April. It was a great coup, especially for an artist who has been working seriously in this country only since 1982. I remember trying to balance that moment of intensely conflicting emotions--joy for an artist whose talent I believed deserved such recognition, and shock at the destruction I'd been witnessing.

That explosive experience of death and joy seems like an epiphany now, prophetic of the arc Alfonzo's career was was already taking. Although I traveled to see his accomplished, brooding paintings in the biennial, Alfonzo did not. He died that Feb. 19 at South Miami Hospital. At age 40, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, brought on by AIDS.

With far greater impact than I ever imagined, the Miami Art Museum presents Alfonzo's work in a superbly installed exhibit. "Triumph of the Spirit: Carlos Alfonzo, A Survey 1975-1991" opened Thursday and runs through March 8. It is guest-curated by Olga Viso, assistant curator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., where the show will travel in June.

This show has been long awaited by many in South Florida who knew Alfonzo, watched his art flourish and grieved at his early death. As a tribute to Alfonzo's remarkable art and his swift rise to national notice, it's the culmination of more than two years of exhaustive research conducted by Viso and the MAM staff, including curatorial assistant Amy Rosenblum. "Triumph of the Spirit" brings together 71 works, chiefly paintings with a handful of drawings and sculpture.

POWER OF PAINTINGS

The exhibit is also an immensely moving witness to the power of the painted image. It shows how Alfonzo, who was born in Cuba in 1950 and arrived in Miami in 1980 as a Mariel refugee, shaped a unique vocabulary. His best paintings gleam and clash with emblems of desire, sacrifice, death and spiritual change.

The tumult of his imagery is fabulously hectic, in which symbols continually overlap and fuse.

There are tongues and telephones oppressively pierced with daggers, and flashing eyes that become transformed into swollen tears and phalluses. There are jittery coffee cups in which cartoonish signs for a delectable aroma blossom, with amused irony, into more fat, juicy teardrops.

Alfonzo once wrote that in his art, "tears are a symbol of exile," but his work surely leaps beyond personal experience into a universal arena of shocking passion and loss.

"I think he was incredibly brave in his devotion to painting," Viso says. "He could deal with emotional and passionate themes and the work never became over-sentimentalized."

And, like the artist whom she never met, she bristles against stamping his art too hard with the label "Latin American." "He matured as an artist in the U.S. looking at work by artists from all over the world," she says. "Jackson Pollock is equally important as any of the Cuban masters in his development."

MENTAL ENERGY CITED

Michael Auping, chief curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, who met Alfonzo in Miami and included his work in a 1988 group show of emerging artists in New York, also recalls the painter's impressive gift for international style and synthesis.

"What sets Carlos apart is the incredible mental energy that he put into his paintings," he says.

"They were physically layered with images and they were layered in terms of content.

Now cultural diversity has become a cliched term, but in the 1980s Carlos was making a fusion of Cuban and American culture that was not cliched. It made his work sometimes beautiful, sometimes potent, sometimes very angry. It all melted together into a kind of erotic violence."

That dynamism seeped into his studio visits with the artist, Auping says. A visit with Alfonzo was like drinking "six cups of coffee. . .I've always thought of him as a shooting star. He started to shine really bright and he just burned up."

In the paintings at MAM, geometric cubes burst with radiant lines of light. They evoke both searing moments of intense pleasure and insight, as well as the artist's formal skills for weaving an intricate composition together with dashing lines.

Crosses are also a constant, sometimes flowing into knives, melding into imagery associated with Roman Catholicism and with the Afro-Cuban cult of Santeria. Both contain rituals, symbols and beliefs that fascinated Alfonzo during his years growing up in Cuba.

Especially as his talent matured in the United States, he proceeded to mine the dramatic, seductive potential of these loaded images by thrusting them into ever more flashing and whirling compositions.

In the mid to late 1980s, his taste for rich, alluring metaphor led him to study the Tarot cards of Rosicrucianism, a mystic philosophy dating to 17th Century Europe. It's a belief system, as Viso explains in her catalogue essay, that's designed to lead devotees to a transcendent state of consciousness, spurred by contemplating ancient Tarot symbols and imagining them animated in space.

In one of his last works, the 1990 "Told," a scythe-like shape, similar to the Tarot card of death, appears sucked into the spiraling, overlapped shapes of a skull and kneeling figure.

TWO FIRSTS

This exhibit is the first traveling museum show that MAM has organized under director Suzanne Delehanty, who joined MAM in January 1995, and is also the first career survey of Alfonzo. Certainly in recent years this is the most ambitious effort MAM has initiated.

Delehanty finds real significance in Alfonzo's art and the community he worked in. "I think [Carlos'] presence here parallels Miami's development as a creative community and acted as a catalyst in that development," Delehanty says. "Alfonzo really gives Miami a mirror of itself: energy, a respect for solid training and a sense of adventure."

Says Cesar Trasobares, a close friend of Alfonzo and a fellow artist, "I think the show is a testament to the strength of the work and is a major coup for MAM."

The show charts the development of his imagery, beginning with examples of his tightly compressed, calligraphic ink drawings from the 1970s, made in Cuba. It shows the aggressive, colorful pace of his evolving style in Miami, in which Viso and critic Dan Cameron, in his catalogue essay, find links to the flamboyant, free-wheeling approach of 1980s Neo-Expressionism. Yet this was a style that became so packed with "fireworks," as Alfonzo himself once called his bravura way with paint, that it risked falling into self-parody. Instead, his art evolved in a new direction in his last year of life.

The show concludes with Alfonzo's moving "black paintings" of the late 1990s.

They are marked by the presence of a figure that seems both supplicant and fetus, radiant and mournful, one transformed by the premonition of death and the promise of yet more changes.

Coursing through all the changes are Alfonzo's fluid, fluctuating brushstrokes. They switch back and forth from our fondest dreams to our most fearsome nightmares. This is art you can't forget.





Miami Artist Charo Oquet Leads Edge Zones Art Center in Wynwood

Friday July 15, 2011
Artist Charo Oquet and I go way back, and I am delighted that I can blog about her today. I have always admired her artistic perseverance and entrepreneurial creativity in this town, particularly for the way she has led Edge Zones Art Center, enhancing opportunities for artists to network with curators and artists outside of Miami. I think it is truly terrific that she is, I believe, the first Miami-based artist in recent memory to become a member of ArtTable because she has accomplished so much as an arts activist. She has so many talents and so much energy to bring to Miami!

So I'd like to encourage readers today to see the promising "Food, Home, Love" exhibit at Edge Zones Art Center, 47 NE 25th St., Miami, before it closes at the end of July. I understand that now the show is open by appointment. For more info, call 305-303-8852 or e-mailedgezones@me.com or check http://www.edgezones.org/. There are a number of terrific artists who have contributed art to this show, including Charo herself, which is why I am posting my Miami Herald profile of her on my blog today.

First Things First: More visual arts news in Miami Miami Dade Collegeand The Cintas Foundation announce the start of the annual competition for the 2011-2012 Cintas Foundation Fellowship in the visual arts, administered by the Cintas Fellowship Program at MDC. (Also see my 6/26/2011 blog post, "Miami Dade College Entrusted with Cintas Cuban Art Collection. Let's hope that there will soon be positive action taken on behalf of artists concerned that their art in the collection is missing.) Thanks to this recently announced partnership, various events are planned to nurture creative endeavors in music composition and creative writing, in addition to the visual arts, for artists of Cuban descent living outside of Cuba. For info about applying for this competition, seehttp://www.cintasfoundation.org/ There's a special exhibit for finalists in the visual arts competition planned to open Oct. 27 at the Freedom Tower; the winner will receive $10,000 and the opportunity to pursue a creative project outlined in their application to the competition. For more info about this MDC program, see 7/11/2011 College News story athttp://www.mdc.edu/

Miami Dade College and Miami Art Museum are also combining resources to promote a more lively arts scene here, and I think that's great. Note that a video installation by Rivane Neuenschwander, "Quarta-Feira de Cinzas/Epilogue" (Ash Wednesday/Epilogue) is on view through Aug. 7 at MDC InterAmerican Campus, 627 SW 27th Ave.; 305-237-6000 orhttp://www.mdc.edu/ This video installation coincides with "Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other" now at Miami Art Museum through Oct. 16. It's a very cool, challenging show. When I went to the media preview, I was charmed by most of the work, and scribbled notes as if I were still writing for the newspaper. Can't put them all in my blog! But after seeing her colorful, irridescent installation cascading with seemingly endless fabric ribbons printed with "found" wishes, I made a note about this ribbon; it seems especially poignant for Miami. This purple ribbon was printed with the affecting desire, "I wish to speak English the very best." For more info about this exhibit, seehttp://www.miamiartmuseum.org/

On my way to the Miami Art Museum, I stopped at the Main Library of Miami Dade Public Library System, just across the plaza from MAM. I wanted to see the exquisite Ed Ruscha mural in the rotunda, and then I discovered this fascinating show: "Enter Los Nineties," up through Sept. 13, celebrating this library system's 40th anniversary. Most of it is in the second-floor gallery, and it is really worth a look. This is a show that seems flush with DIY printed material created in Miami shortly before the Digital Revolution would consume our every waking and sleeping moment. There's so much cleverness to see and discover, and I was quite impressed that so many of my very dear artcentric friends for years have contributed to this. I'm going to name just a few--Marilyn Gottlieb-Roberts, Cesar Trasobares, Barbara Young, and Kevin Arrow.

I want to give a major shout-out to my very dear artcentric friend Rosie Gordon-Wallace of Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator. She tells me about Diaspora Vibe's new look: Diapora Vibe Virtual Gallery, and also that exceptionally talented artist Jean Chiang has won a Fulbright Scholarship. Congrats, Rosie and Jean!! Seewww.diasporavibevirtualgallery.com

Other shows I hope to see before they close: "Absenteeism-Magnus Sigurdson," up through Aug. 27, at Dimensions Variable, 171 NE 38th Street in Miami Design District. See www.dimensionsvariable.net and "Made in the U.S.A" at MANO Fine Art Project Space, 4225 SW 75 Avenue, which takes part in the Bird Road Art Walk on the third Saturday of each month. See www.manofineart.com I'm especially partial to this area because another artcentric friend, Ray Azcuy, has shown his intriguing art there.

This upcoming opening should be cool: "Marlene, Marlene, Same Name Two Different Artists," with video by Marlene Lopez and photography byMarlene de Lazaro, at 6th Street Container, located at 1155 (rear) SW 6th Street, Little Havana. Opens July 22, 7-10 pm, up through Aug. 12; gallery hours are Monday-Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Info: call 786-587-5279 or email 6thstreetcontainer@gmail.com

Whew! A lot of information today!! If I got any info wrong, pls post a comment on this blog entry with the correct info. That reminds me--especially I want to thank Maureen for taking the time to post such detailed, interesting comments on my previous blog entry re Vik Muniz and Miami Art Museum. And I recently learned that MAM has posted that blog entry on its Facebook page. How cool is that??

Here is my Miami Herald story about Charo Oquet from September of 1999

SOULFUL JOURNEY LEADS TO GALLERY by Elisa Turner

It took a long time to get to the party that night in early September. The sky was stained an angry indigo, lashed with the rain of hurricane season in Miami. On the way, artist Charo Oquet had to pass through water-logged crossroads, and she had quite a few bundles to carry.

But when she finally arrived, dressed in pink and draped in beads, Oquet was ready to celebrate.

There were cakes to eat, music to make. It had, after all, taken her more than 10 years to get there, perhaps most of her lifetime.

Hers was a far-reaching pilgrimage, spanning the Pacific and Atlantic, stretching all the way from lush New Zealand forests moist with geothermal steam to sun-bright sugar cane fields in the Dominican Republic. It took Oquet on a roundabout trek from little girls' fancy dress shops to Goodwill stores before the trip ended at the altars of Ambrosino Gallery in Miami.

It was a sojourn, she later reflected, that seemed destined to reach Miami. And the night it did, the night of Oquet's opening at Ambrosino, a cavernous space in an alley of auto-body shops, the altars glistened. The gallery's spotlights, which have shone on a variety of contemporary works from austere curls of intravenous tubing by Donald Lipski to sleek, oversize tools by Florencio Gelabert, now illuminated a dazzling crush of crepe-paper streamers and torrents of silk and satin heavy with fringe, sequins and dolls. Her syncretic art is stitched together the bright allure of birthday pinatas, Roman Catholic icons and Dominican vodou parades through sugar cane.

"I've been charged to know more about my own culture, so this has really been a journey," Oquet, 47, said a few days after the opening night of her show, "Kingdoms of Our World." Wearing a simple linen shirt and khaki skirt, her tousled auburn-tinged hair signifying a busy woman, she settled down on a sofa in a gallery corner to talk not only about her newest work, but about her evolution as an artist.

It's a career set within the typically fluid landscape of modern Caribbean life. When she was 10, she and her upper-class family fled the Dominican Republic in the wake of dictator Rafael Trujillo's assassination in 1961. Everyone including her father, a military officer who took part in the coup, confronted a more humble existence in Bayonne, N.J. "My mother didn't even know how to cook anything," Oquet remembers, "and she had to clean other people's houses."

KEPT IN TOUCH

Summer trips and a stint at art school back home kept Oquet close enough to her roots, but it was travel halfway around the world that pushed her face-to-face with her Afro-Caribbean heritage--usually glossed over in Oquet's Roman Catholic upbringing. During the 1980s, before settling briefly in a Dominican neighborhood of Manhattan's Upper West Side, she spent five years in New Zealand with her husband at the time, a filmmaker with whom she later had two children--Jack, now 8, and Gabrielle, 12. It was a productive period, good for painting, but something was missing.

"When I was in New Zealand, I was the only Dominican there that I knew of. . . .It's very Anglo, kidney pie," she says. "There was a total absence of black culture. Somehow, that part of me came out really needy. I would go to Santo Domingo, and I would bring back images, like the Mami Watta, a water spirit worshipped throughout central and west Africa.

It was an auspicious and telling choice. The Mami Watta turns out to have a passport even more heavily stamped than Oquet's. Some images show a mermaid that recalls the figurehead on early European ships sailing to Africa. In others, she's a powerful tamer of water snakes--an image traced to a 19th Century German circus poster, which also made its way to Africa via sailors, according to Henry Drewal, an African art history professor at the University of Wisconsin. And as traders traveled between Bombay and the west African country of Togo, the Mami Watta picked up multiple arms and a resemblance to Hindu spirits.

In the New World, her way with snakes became saintly. Dominicans call her Santa Marta la Dominadora (the dominating one) or Santa Marta Africana.

She brings wealth to her worshippers, but the price for such success is childlessness.

Though Oquet knew little about the Mami Watta then, she was enthralled by her strength. "She had this wild hair, and is just dominating that snake."

THE SNAKE-TAMER

She painted the snake-tamer many times, and her career blossomed. Later a friend pointed out that Oquet's paintings recalled African carvings of the mermaid spirit, and to this day Oquet marvels at how during those years doctors repeatedly told her she was sterile. Her children arrived and put her art on hold, Oquet says, only after she put away those paintings and the little Mami Watta chromolithograph from a Dominican market.

Mami Watta resurfaces in "Kingdoms of the World," in an altar that displays not only her chromolithograph, framed in sequins like a vodou flag, but in a chubby doll with a tiny mermaid stuck to her chest. The doll is swathed in plastic and silken green snakes, radiating multiple mismatched plastic arms.

Such free-wheeling adaptations of this globe-trotting water spirit have caught Drewal's admiration. He notes that Mami Watta has inspired countless altars in Africa--beautiful and orderly profusions of flowers, perfume and color, which are also, he says, "artistic creations." Oquet's work will be part of a show he's curating on the arts of Mami Watta.

A SPIRITUAL WORLD

In town when "Beads, Body and Soul: Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe," which he co-curated, opened this summer at the Miami Art Museum, Drewal visited Oquet's studio, filled with the nearly completed altars. He was struck by their extravagant presence.

"I felt like I was moving into a spiritual land, a kind of sacred forest of cloth, with streamers, dolls and photographs. The richness of the materials created a very intense, spiritual feeling. She is drawing on many kinds of sources, as she connects with Haitian Vodou and African beliefs and practices in the Dominican Republic and with her own background," he says. "I think that's the richness. . . . She's kind of a diviner in her own way."

In Oquet's show, there are dolls everywhere--Barbie and Ken, black and white Cabbage Patch dolls, even Spiderman. One doll is attached to the black hose of scuba gear, in quirky homage to water spirits. While the artist brings a distinctive take to her materials, Drewal points out that dolls are ubiquitous sacred icons in the African diaspora, where they became veiled versions of African carvings, thus seen as nonthreatening by colonial masters.

Several altars rise upward in swirling layers of bright fabrics and ornaments--reminiscent of the Haitian Vodou "poto mitan," a sacred pole said to link the worlds of spirits and mortals. Drewal compares another altar with long flaps of brilliantly beaded cloth to a Yoruba Egungun costume, with its lengths of cloth in rich patterns that whirl when worn in a ceremonial dance, evoking a powerful spiritual presence.

There are many lavish streams of fabric here, beginning with the dusky blue drapes that surround the clustered altars, requiring visitors to find a way inside. Once in, one finds a scene part carnival parade and part sacred space, with a pinata's explosion of toys thrown in for good measure.

You'll see divinely dressed altars sparkling with riotous detail, one circled with offerings of food and drink. There are jingle bells, frou-frou pink tutus, a fiery red Santeria robe, a recycled blue ball gown the color of medieval stained glass from House of Lanvin in Paris.

FLEA MARKET FINDS

Many of the altars are dressed in clothing and toys scoured from Miami flea markets and Goodwill stores. These are the "places where everybody else finds stuff they send to Haiti and the Dominican Republic," Oquet says.

They are often old gifts and rite-of-passage party dresses bound for new uses and places, giving her work a sense of gaudy celebration and magical transformation.

The whole place is spangled with a constellation of star-shaped paper bows, like the bows adorning musicians and marchers in Gaga processions, the Easter-time celebrations in the Dominican Republic that sprang from Haitian Vodou and African Kongo religious rites.

Oquet first learned about the Gaga groups when she met Robert Farris Thompson, Yale scholar and influential historian of African and African-American art, who has written a short essay about her new work. They met 10 years ago in a museum in the Dominican Republic, where he was with students watching a documentary about their vivid rituals and music performed deep within sugar cane fields.

She was fascinated and wanted to see them for herself.

"I had to find my way there," she says. "Since I'm a Dominican bourgeoisie, going to the sugar cane fields by myself was not something I could do. I was frozen by the fear of how to get there. Maybe if I was a foreigner, I would have just taken a taxi."

Almost seven years later, she found her way. Since then, she's taken many photographs of the groups performing their whirling dances, wearing glittering hats and costumes streaming with bright scarves. She's shown her photographs at Espanola Way Art Center in Miami Beach, sometimes accompanied by Dominican Vodou-styled flags she has helped students make at Allapattah Middle and Elementary Schools during the Dominican Youth Arts Festival.

Not everyone liked the photographs. She explains: "I got a phone message that said, 'You'd better not be saying this about Dominicans. We don't do Vodou. I'm going to break your windows.'"

It was a sentiment that did not surprise Oquet, but it is one she finds sadly out-of-synch with what has made Miami such a special destination for her.

"When I lived in the Dominican Republic, I never knew about Haitian culture, Cuban culture," she reflects. "I never went to either country. But living in Miami makes you want to discover all those Caribbean and South American countries and get the bigger picture of your own culture. It's all right here."

POSTED BY ELISA TURNER AT 7:26 AM 0 COMMENTS





Miami Area Museum Salutes Freedom-Fighter Artist Gordon Parks

Friday July 1st.,2011

And that museum would be the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, currently showing "From A to Z: Great Photographs from the Norton Collection," now through Oct. 16. One of those exceptional photographs is by the late, legendary Gordon Parks (1912-2006). I consider myself especially lucky to get to meet and interview him for The Miami Herald in 1999. (For more info about the very terrific Norton Museum of Art and this particular show, see http://www.norton.org/ )

An eloquent warrior and photojournalist in this country's 20th Century battles for freedom of speech and civil rights, Gordon Parks is the perfect topic for this post during our July 4th holiday.

But first things first...I do want to say that when I finished last week's post, "Miami Dade College Entrusted with Cintas Cuban Art Collection" for 6/26/2011, it was rather late at night. I went to bed tired and a bit sad, feeling like a pale ghost of my former Miami Herald self, also convinced actually that I am totally nuts for still looking back at the past this way. I was so energized to wake up the next morning to find that there was already an appreciative comment on my blog! (Not that I am one of those insecure folks always desperate for approval, but now that this Ishmaelita is cast into the wilderness of free-lance journalism on the Internet, a comment like this is nice now and then.)

And meanwhile, after I made that post, I have been continuing to hear from artists who are concerned about their artworks that have been lost by the Cintas Foundation. I have been encouraging them to post comments on that 6/26/2011 blog post so maybe these troubling issues can at least start to be resolved.

So, for my readers, here are some artcentric events I am looking forward to in the coming days:

I hope to catch "Ernesto Oroza: Videos and Photographs" from 7 to 9 pm July 16 at Art @ Work Gallery, 1245 SW 87th Ave, Miami. (For more information about Ernesto Oroza, check my 4/2/2011 post, "Miami's Historical Vizcaya Museums & Gardens Now Hosts Contemporary Art.") Kudos to that very fab art collector and orthodontist Dr. Arturo Mosquera (as well as his wonderful wife Liza Mosquera) for providing Art @ Work Gallery events for artists and Miami's art community! (For more info about the Magnificent Dr. M, see my 2/26/2011 blog post, "Miami Art Bites in Orthodontist Office.")

Though I am not much for watching television, this does sound cool: On WBPT Channel 2 at 7:30 pm on July 7, there's a 27-minute special show re the Knights Art Challenge and its winners, including Kathleen Hudspeth of Turn-Based Press. For more info, see the 6/23 blog post by Valerie Nahamad Schimel on the Knight Arts Blog. (You'll find a link to that blog on the right-hand side of my blog, underneath my blog archive.) Kathleen's name especially caught my eye since last week I was so delighted to run into her husband and terrific artist Adler Guerrier in the Publix parking lot! I really do missing seeing my artcentric buddies, so it was fab to see him again!

And let's give a shout-out to Dina Mitrani Gallery for extending her fab show of photographs by Colleen Plumb through August 20. Her photographs were part of my June 2011 Critic's Choice forhttp://www.artcircuits.com/ How terrific that this talented Chicago-based photographer received a rave on 6/21/2011 at TIME.com for her new monograph Animals Are Outside Today from Radius Books, available at Dina Mitrani's gallery, 2620 NW 2nd Ave in Miami's Wynwood Art District. See http://www.dinamitranigallery.com/ andhttp://www.colleenplumb.com/

Mark your calendar for Second Saturday Gallery Walk at the de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space, 23 NE 41 Street, Miami. On July 9 from 7 to 10 pm there will be a free performance and radio broadcast by Nicolas Lobo & Terence Hannum, also closing reception for "Kevin Arrow: Amor Infinitus." (For more info about my terrific artcentric friend Kevin, see my 4/22/11 post, "Miami Artist Kevin Arrow Featured at de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space.) See alsohttp://www.delacruzcollection.org/

I must say I was quite pleased to learn that Terence Hannum has exhibited at the Richard Peeler Center at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. Fancy that!! DePauw is my alma mater, also where my sister, my son, and my beloved late nephew attended. Plus my husband and numerous members of his family graduated from from there...I always say that Eric, even though he was born and bred in Miami, is actually one-half Midwestern and one-half Cuban. And guess what--when I went there, the Richard Peeler Center did not exist, but Richard Peeler himself did--he was a ceramacist and a revered art prof. When I was a student there I even bought a charming tea pot that he made and inscribed with his signature at the bottom. I still have it now in my Miami kitchen! What a coincidence!!

Well, as they say, enough about me.

Here's my story about Gordon Parks from The Miami Herald, November 1999. What a remarkable, remarkable man.

HIS WEAPON AGAINST POVERTY, RACISM WAS A $7.50 CAMERA

His manner is more affable than angry now. Call it a generous charm, though one spiked with steely determination.

And he's a natty dresser to boot, telling stories while decked out in a navy blazer. An ivory handkerchief that nearly matches his white mustache is tucked with saucy style into his breastpocket.

But outrage lingers in Gordon Parks' low, raspy voice--a voice that wavers at time in deference to the tolls and triumphs of his 87 years.

It was outrage that inspired and informed a remarkable career as a photographer, writer, composer and filmmaker--a career so important and prolific, thousands of his photos and manuscripts now rest in the Library of Congress. A career so remarkable that it was launched with a second-hand camera purchased in a pawn shop 61 years ago but is now being honored in "Half Past Autumn: The Art of Gordon Parks," a traveling retrospective of his photographs, films, and music that opened last week at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.

But back then, back where it all started, Gordon Parks simply remembers being angry; so angry, he stomped out of a department store when clerks couldn't--or wouldn't--come up with a single coat his size. The time was 1942 and the place was Washington, D.C., recalls Parks. It was his first trip to the capital and he'd just arrived from Chicago, where he'd been photographing South Side slums and high-fashion women, the kinds of desperate and beautiful subjects that would capture his lyrical imagination and laser-sharp social conscience for decades to come.

As a shopper on the mean streets of Washington, he was on a "very strange assignment," he tells his audience, a group of reporters on hand to preview the retrospective. Parks' assignment came from Roy Stryker, director of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), an agency President Roosevelt had set up to help poor farmers. To muster support for these efforts, Stryker hired photographers like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange to call attention to the farmers' plight--and the photographers responded with landmark images of Depression-era inequities.

Parks first saw the photos in a magazine left on the North Coast Limited, where he was working as a railroad waiter. It was a job he'd gotten after a gig playing a piano in a brothel.

The stark, tragic images excited him so much that he soon found himself in a Seattle pawn shop looking for a camera. Then he found Richard Wright's Twelve Million Black Voices, an attack on bigotry illustrated with FSA photos. Wright's book became his Bible and the camera unleashed his powerful voice.

It was, he allows, "not much of a camera, but for $7.50, I had purchased a weapon I hoped to use against a warped past and an uncertain future."

His weapon had gotten him work in Chicago, and a fellowship with the FSA he so admired. And now, before Stryker sent Parks out and about in the United States--to destinations that included Daytona Beach--he was sent out to experience Washington.

"Put your camera on the shelf," Parks says Stryker told him that day. "Go to Julius Garfinkel's department store and buy yourself a topcoat, and there across the street is a restaurant. Go in there and get some lunch, and catty-corner across the street is a theater...come back and give me a report on what you thought of that picture."

But the picture to see and report on, he would soon learn, wasn't the movie playing at the theater. It was the one playing in the hearts and minds of men.

At Julius Garfinkel's, for example, nobody even tried to find a coat that would fit a black man, Parks remembers.

"So, in disgust, I stretched my little black body out on this white chaise lounge and said, 'Go get the manager.'" When the manager dithered about how busy the store was during war time, Parks snapped, "Well, there's nobody on this floor but me. I wouldn't take that coat if you gave it to me."

At the restaurant, he says a waiter approached him with this reproach, "Don't you know Negroes can't eat in this place? If you want to eat, you have to go around back..."

Still, that was even better than Parks did at the movie house.

"I didn't even get into the theater," he remembers.

It was the pivotal moment of his career--and a pivotal moment in the long, unsteady history of race relations in the United States--for it inspired the high-powered images of poverty that became Parks' trademark.

"He was always looking at things that needed to be looked at," says University of Miami communications professor Michael Carlebach. "Things that were right there in front of us, but that nobody had paid attention to."

"American Gothic," among his most famous photographs, depicts Washington, D.C. charwoman Ella Watson standing with mop and broom in front of a huge American flag. [This iconic image was part of my Critic's Choice for June 2011 for http://www.artcircuits.com/ ] She gives us an uncompromising gaze, the tools of her dead-end trade lining up with Old Glory's stripes.

"For its time, it was an image that talked about racism in this country in a way no other picture did," says Philip Brookman, curator of photography and media arts at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which organized the Parks exhibit. "Here's a woman working for the U.S. government, posed exactly like the American farmer in [Grant] Wood's "American Gothic." The farmer is considered to be an icon of everything good in American culture, and yet the black woman is an ambiguous image, with the feeling of people being exploited."

Coming from Chicago, where Wood's famous 1930 painting of the pitchfork-wielding couple hangs in the city's Art Institute, Park acknowledges that Wood's painting was a "mild influence" on his image.

"But actually," he adds by phone from his Manhattan apartment, "it was an indictment of America. I tried to do something that would show my anger...I had no idea it would turn out to be so popular."

The popularity, however, would come later. At first the photo was considered too provocative to be shown.

"Well, you got the idea all right," Parks remembers an approving Stryker saying when he saw the picture. "But you're going to get us all fired."

So the photo was hidden away. "Years later," recalls Parks, "I was on a plane from New York to Hollywood and there it was, "American Gothic," in The Washington Post. When I got back to New York I jumped straight on the shuttle to Washington and went down to the Library of Congress and got my picture."

In Hollywood, he blazed more new ground. The man whose silky shots of Parisian haute couture for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue made him the first black photographer at Conde Nast, whose 1952 move to Life made him that magazine's first black staff photographer, became the first black director to produce and direct a major feature film with his 1969 movieThe Learning Tree--a film that takes its title from Parks' 1963 novel based on his boyhood in Fort Scott, Kansas.

The main character "is like other boys, no matter what the color or place or time...Bruised by [the world], he learns from it nonetheless. The film remains a lyrical and eloquent statement on the black experience in America," writes film historian Donald Bogle.

Two years later, Parks released the critically acclaimed detective movieShaft, a film that helped launch a decade-long run of successful films by black directors.

As he talks, he looks back on a life so dramatic it, too, could have been scripted in Hollywood. (In fact, HBO will air a documentary on Parks' life next year.)

There was the time in 1961, for example, when he traveled to the mountainside slums of Rio de Janeiro. This was, he wrote later, "dead center in the worst poverty I have ever encountered." There he photographed Flavio da Silva, an asthmatic 12-year-old caring for seven younger siblings who became the subject of one of his most famous Lifestories. Readers were so moved they sent in more than $30,000 to bring Flavio to the United States for medical treatment and to buy the da Silva family a new home.

As the civil rights movement gathered steam, Parks spent time with the black Muslims in New York and the Black Panthers in Berkeley. He photographed their leaders for Life, striving to balance journalistic integrity with his sympathy for what he called "the heart of black fury sweeping the country."

Parks himself was moved when an initially skeptical Malcolm X asked him to be his daughter's godfather.

In Park's storied life of peaks and valleys, he fell in love with the art and beauty of Paris, buried his parents in a still-segregated cemetery in Kansas, and met and photographed princes and paupers, as well as Alexander Calder, Ingrid Bergman, Richard Wright and Muhammad Ali.

Now divorced--he was married three times--Parks has raised four children, losing his eldest, the filmmaker Gordon Parks Jr., in a plane crash in 1979. He is a grandfather and great-grandfather several times over.

"My family is mixed up with all kinds of races," he says. "I'm part Cherokee, part black. Jewish people have married into my family. One of my wives was Chinese, two great-grandchildren are part Swedish. It's a grand mixture."

Known to friends as an enthusiastic cook and tennis player, Parks continues his literary life. He's at work on his 17th book, a novel based on the rags-to-riches life of English 19th Century landscape painter J.M.W. Turner--whose "absolutely smashingly beautiful" watercolors have influenced Parks' latest dreamy abstractions.

"I deserve a little time to myself to look at the beauty in the world, after those years of looking at poverty and discrimination," says this Renaissance Man, whose days still include time for playing the piano.

"The most important thing is that I find poetry in everything I do."

POSTED BY ELISA TURNER AT 6:35 AM 0 COMMENTS





Miami Art Museum Collects Brazilian-born Artist Vik Muniz

Friday July 8, 2011

It is indeed swimmingly delicious to have access to my own content, and to be able to drive my blog in the direction I choose. I very much appreciate this unusual opportunity!

There were so many years when the tyrannical pressure exerted by constant newspaper deadlines, not to mention the fact that I never quite got used to the sometimes quite wack-o things that not exactly artcentrically-sensitive editors would do to my copy drove my already anxiety-driven days...I must say it is a blessed relief to know that part of my life in Miami is over forever, and I NEVER forget how lucky I am to be typing this blog right this minute.

Of course, how and why I have access to my own content leads to a rather painful backstory, but I don't want to go there today or ever again. That part of my life is OVER!!

Today I want to say how thrilled I am to have received an email comment about my previous blog entry on Gordon Parks, pointing out insightful connections between the impassioned activism of Parks and Vik Muniz. So even though I had always thought this blog post today would be about other artists, I have decided to blog about Vik Muniz.

The Miami Art Museum owns a number of exciting works by Vik Muniz. Additionally, very soon the museum will display one of those: "Cloud Cloud, Miami (Pictures of Clouds)," from 2006. When you read the first Miami Herald I have typed on my blog today, you can learn about how that work was created. I think it is very synergistic of MAM that it will soon present a solo show by another Brazilian artist, Rivane Neuenschwander; her show runs from July 17 to Oct. 16. For more info, see www.miamiartmuseum.org

I also want to say CONGRATS to Mark Handforth, who has lived and worked here for a number of years. This just in...The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is presenting the "MCA Chicago Plaza Project," from July 9 to Oct. 10. It will feature four of Mark Handforth's dynamic sculptures inspired by the urban language of the city. For more info, see www.mcachicago.org

In my 6/26/2011 blog post, "Miami Dade College Entrusted with Cintas Cuban Art Collection," I mentioned the returning veteran from the war in Iraq, with whom I had worked at the College Prep Writing Lab of Miami Dade College, Kendall campus. I remain quite impressed by his perseverance and bravery, and think I was remiss by not mentioning how much I admired him when he told me he had taken part in events to help other veterans deal with the frightening consequences of PTSD.

Additionally, I want to give a major shout-out to all my artcentric friends who have taken action to show their support of this amazing project, The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation. For more info about this project, see www.childrensmovementflorida.org

Also, here are two shows in Wynwood I hope to see before they close because they include such terrific artists and suggest such clever ideas:

"Food, Home, Love" at Edge Zones Art Center, 47 NE 25th St., Miamiwww.edgezones.org In particular, I hope to see work by Harumi Abe, Carlos Alves, Duane Brant, Pip Brant, Charo Oquet, David Rohn, Kristen Thiele, Pedro Vizcaino, Michelle Weinberg, and Barbara Young.

"Home: Dream Home" at Praxis International Art, 2219 NW 2nd Ave., Miamiwww.praxis-art.com Here are just some of the artists whose work I hope to see: Loriel Beltran, Teresa Diehl, Natasha aka Nat Duwin (you can also see more of her work as part of my Summer Critic's Choice atwww.artcircuits.com ), Guerra de la Paz, Michael Loveland, Ernesto Oroza, Gavin Perry, Bert Rodriguez, David Rohn, Kristen Thiele, Mette Tommerup, and Kyle Trowbridge.

Here's my Miami Herald story re Vik Muniz from February of 2006.

IT'S A BIRD! IT'S A PLANE! NO, IT'S ART!

This weekend, no matter what the weather forecast says, there will be an extraordinary cloud in the sky over Miami (not like the ones on Saturday, don't worry).

Traced in the air by a professional skywriter in a former military plane, this "cloud"--a perfect, childlike drawing--will appear several times in the skies over Miami between today and Monday. Each time--between 10 a.m. and noon, even possibly in the early afternoon--the mock cloud will last about 10 minutes before it floats away. Best places to catch a glimpse: Near downtown and from Miami Beach.

This drifting drawing--"Cloud Cloud" by Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz--is artwork both public and ephemeral, produced by the Miami Art Museum, on the occasion of the museum's show about Muniz that opens Friday and runs through May 28.

Wispy trails of skywriting are just one of the more unusual materials that this well-known contemporary artist has used in his eccentric, amusing, and thoughtful art that has been admired since the late 1980s in shows in Brazil, Spain, and Ireland, as well as in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Muniz, 43, has also made drawings, which he then photographs, with chocolate syrup, sugar, ketchup, and even Cheese Doodles. His show at MAM will include more than 100 works. Many are his photographs of his easy-to-recognize but fleeting drawings with materials rarely recognized as art materials.

"I like working with things that change over time," explains Muniz in a phone interview from Rio de Janeiro, where he keeps a studio, in addition to one in Brooklyn. "It becomes something you can wonder about. It recovers the magic of drawing."
Not all his experiments with eccentric materials have worked. He says that attempts to draw with M&M candies and snow failed miserably.

But drawing via skywriting has been a grand success. "Clouds are like vessels for meaning. Who has not looked at a cloud and seen a shape in it?" Muniz asks.

"Cloud Cloud" was first produced in New York in 2001 by Creative Time, a nonprofit organization that presents public art in New York. "It was one of our greatest crowd pleasers. The response was nothing less than astounding," says Anne Pasternak, president of Creative Time.

"We got children's drawings, poetry, paintings, and just tons of fan mail because people loved it so much. It was one of those moments that makes living in a city so special. People had never thought about the sky as a place for art. Some people saw a heart, people saw whatever they wanted," says Pasternak.

"In a city where you don't tend to look up, people who chanced to look up were rewarded with this magical sight," says Lorie Mertes, the MAM curator who's overseeing the Miami edition of this skywriting project.

"When you think about the absurdity of it...you can see someone in the act of drawing," Mertes adds. "It's an amazingly public way of seeing something that's normally private. There's a great sense of humor about it. You think, 'That's not so unusual to see the shape of a cloud in the sky,' and then you go, 'Wait a minute!' and then you smile."

Mertes hopes weather will allow professional skywriter Wayne Mansfield to make flights for drawing "Cloud Cloud" over Miami twice a day on each of the four days. "He draws a very specific shape Vik has envisioned. With each flight he draws approximately four times," she says.

To folks scanning Miami skies this week, "Cloud Cloud" will show Muniz making art of the double-take. "He works with very familiar images and somehow makes them strange," says Peter Boswell, who curated "Vik Muniz: Reflex" for MAM. This strangeness is part of what makes the artist's work amusing, but sliced with a thoughtful and critical edge.

"You do a double-take and realize it is not what you thought it was," he says. "It makes people think about what they are looking at. It deals with the manipulation of images."

Here's my review re Vik Muniz, from The Miami Herald from March in 2006. (In this version, I wrote my own sub-heads, because there apparently were none when it was first published. Not sure why--guess it is just one of those many, many things I will never understand, so I may as well just give up trying to figure them out, and continue to count my blessings EVERY DAY.)

A DAB OF MISCHIEF AND TRICKERY

When the tide washed away his favorite book, the one that Vik Muniz found at a garage sale in the early 1980s in Chicago and then left behind at the beach, he found his true calling as an artist.

It was not a calling to create new images, as Claude Monet had done with his famous Impressionist painting of light-dappled and delectably blurry water lilies. It was to copy them--as Muniz did years later when he cut up scores of magazines to evoke a green-blue semblance of Monet's abundantly familiar art historical icon. Then he photographed it, making the photograph his own creative version of his uniquely hand-crafted copy.

That creative version is "Water Lillies, After Monet (Pictures of Magazines)." It's one of more than 100 works now at the Miami Art Museum in "Vik Muniz: Reflex," a truly memorable show of Muniz's unusually familiar art.

These "copies"--call them creative versions--come in series based on the materials that Muniz uses. This quixotic artist delights in experimenting with oddball materials like chocolate syrup, diamonds, dust, and dirt--substances that can exist beyond their shelf life as photographs of themselves.

His self-portrait is part of the same series to which "Water Lillies, After Monet" belongs. It's composed of hundreds of circles punched out from magazine pages and then photographed, making the scale of the materials difficult to judge. The punched-out circles photographed in Muniz's "Self Portrait (Pictures of Magazines)" do look abnormally large, but it's impossible to tell for sure from the image itself.

DOUBLE-TAKE DIAMONDS

Muniz is fascinated with the way our minds make sense of images, both their shape and scale, and he has hit upon a way to make distinctive, deceptive art from that universal and magical process called perception.

In "Elizabeth Taylor (Pictures of Diamonds)," his photograph of his drawing in diamonds of the movie legend only seems to sparkle with diamonds as big as the Ritz. They owe their big sparkle to the big distortions of scale that photography makes possible. Muniz actually executed this drawing with diamonds the size of pinheads.

That special find from the garage sale, that book of photographs that he left behind on the beach in 1987, cracked open the door to his career as an artist. It was only when he had lost the book that the door opened wide.

That book was The Best of 'Life,' a compendium of well-known photographs by Life magazine photographers. If you belong to certain generations, you can probably picture in your mind many of them--like Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous image of the sailor passionately kissing a nurse when news came that World War II was over, or the one of little John-John saluting the funeral procession for his assassinated father, President John F. Kennedy.

MAKING MISCHIEF

As an immigrant far from his native Brazil, Muniz says the photographs in that book became like "family" to him, and he grew inordinately fond of them. When they were gone, he tried to recreate them in drawings. But his drawings were sketchy and incomplete. Like all memories, his memory of The Best of 'Life' was not picture-perfect, and neither were his drawings.

But, in a burst of mischief, he decided to photograph his drawings in soft-focus. To his amusement, when his photographs of these "memory drawings" were exhibited in a gallery, people thought they were poorly reproduced historical photographs. Exhibited as part of the Muniz show at MAM, these blurry black and white photographed drawings do seem to be historical relics. After a fashion, they are.

Muniz recounts this career-altering encounter with The Best of 'Life' inReflex: A Vik Muniz Primer (Aperture, $39.95). This book stands as the catalogue for "Vik Muniz: Reflex," a traveling exhibit organized by MAM and curated by Peter Boswell.

Muniz's Life magazine "memory drawing" photographs come early in his show. They resemble one-line jokes--once you understand the trick the artist has played, part of their appeal is diminished.

Far more resonant images come later in the exhibit, particularly as the artist finds a way to make his appetite for oddball materials amplify the meaning of the image he is portraying. His art becomes more than a clever game of mischief-making double-takes--although for this artist, certainly mischief and medium are part of the message. At his best, Muniz loves to deflate pretensions cloaking art history.

He does just that in his amusing photograph of his rendering in gooey, dripping chocolate syrup of Hans Namuth's famous photograph of Jackson Pollock executing his legendary "drip" paintings.

CHILDISH MEMORIES

More resonant work begins with the artist's 1996 "Sugar Children" series, such as Valicia Bathes in "Sunday Clothes (Sugar Children)" at MAM. These are photographs of drawings in sugar that Muniz made on black paper, working from snapshots he took of children he met during a 1995 vacation on St. Kitts. He also met the children's parents. He was haunted by the way the parents, who labored long hours for low pay at grueling jobs on the island's sugar plantations, seemed perennially tired. bereft of the youthful, vivacious charm he found so beguiling in the children of St. Kitts.

"I owe my career to those children," Muniz writes in Reflex. His photographs of his drawings in sugar capture images in typically fleeting materials, but this time the unusual material speaks more directly to the image--to the complex history and story to which these sweet young faces belong.

With his "Sugar Children" series, Muniz begins working more often with children, creating images that don't merely startle the viewer with his puckish penchant for the elaborately devised double-take.

Sometimes he has worked with the photographic memory of a famous child, one who is forever associated with a girl in a story legendary for her own magical, distorting changes in size. The child is Alice Liddell, for whom Lewis Carroll wrote his classic Alice in Wonderland. Muniz has photographed his drawing of Alice in a daunting clutter of colorful plastic toys in "Portrait of Alice Liddell, after Lewis Carroll (Rebus)." In his "Toy Soldier (Monads)," the plastic clutter of toys for playing war, including little soldiers, makes the double-take that his work launches both funny and uncomfortable.

His trickster portraits of iconic works in art history, like paintings by Monet and Gaugin, are fabulously clever, but they don't pack the punch that "Angelica (Aftermath)" does. The "Aftermath" series is one he did of homeless children in Sao Paulo. It's a series that makes you think about the deplorable state of these urban orphans, but it is not all preachy and political.

After much coaxing, Muniz photographed the children in poses they chose from an art history book. They are shown in grayish-white negative images, surrounded by the trash and confetti swept up from the streets after the city's Carnival celebration.

How telling that the children seem like eerie mirages, faint memories of masterpieces, and far less substantial than street garbage.

POSTED BY ELISA TURNER AT 8:05 AM 4 COMMENTS





Miami Dade College Entrusted with Cintas Cuban Art Collection

How appropriate that the Cuban art collection of the Cintas Foundation can now be seen at the Freedom Tower of Miami Dade College! It should be an exceptional marriage of distinctive art and architecture because both are laden with so much history entwined with Miami.

As MDC President Dr. Eduardo J. Padron recently announced, this collection is on extended loan to the college. For more info, check the June 20, 2011 story on website http://www.mdc.edu/ As you will see from my Miami Herald story posted below, the Cintas Foundation collection is a unique resource honoring the cultural patrimony of Cuba. It encompasses nearly 300 artworks by more than 200 artists of Cuban descent.

I am very much looking forward to seeing how this collection, which unfortunately has not always received the care and respect it deserves, evolves in its new home in Miami.

Also, I must say that I am extremely touched that my very dear artcentric friend, Onajide Shabaka, posted my recent blog entry, "Miami Art Critic Elisa Turner Wakes Up," on his blog on Mother's Day. Thanks a bunch, Jide!! See May 8, 2011 MAEX Art Blog by Onajide Shabaka athttp://www.miamiartexchange.com/

I hope readers will take note of Mark Diamond's comment on Onajide's post. Mark Diamond points out how many returning veterans of the war in Iraq have suffered traumatic brain injuries as a result of being near IED blasts.

As a tutor for the MDC College Prep Writing Lab at the Kendall campus, I recently worked with such a veteran who had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Once I learned that we both were still learning how to cope with the ongoing consequences of this dreadful experience, I think we bonded immediately. We talked about the frustrations of having problems with our short-term memory and the fact that we suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic-stress syndrome), which never really goes completely away, no matter how "recovered" we may look. This means always learning how to deal with the frightening, intensely real dreams and flashbacks that accompany PTSD.

Yes, I realize that combat experiences can be far worse than a car crash, but the lingering mental and emotional scars are surely somewhat similar for survivors, and I felt honored to work with this veteran.

Today, I'd also like to underscore praise for Diaspora Vibe Gallery and Locust Projects, two significant organizations in Miami's cultural community. (I mention them both in my foreword to the book Miami Contemporary Artists by Paul Clemence and Julie Davidow. I remember when Diaspora Vibe Gallery and Locust Projects began, and it's great to see them receive national recognition for their years of exceptionally hard work.) They are among the 61 participants of The Warhol Initiative, an initiative designed to strengthen small and mid-sized artist-centered organizations across the country. These organizations have received cash grants of approximately $125,000 as well as professional opportunities to cultivate their leadership and networking abilities. Seewww.warholfoundation.org/grant/initiative.html

And this just in...Rosemarie Chiarlone, one of Miami's many talented artists I have known for years, will be showing work in "The Un(Framed) Photograph" at the Center for the Book Arts in New York, from July 6 to September 10, 2o11. Congrats, Rosemarie!!

I hope readers will check my Summer Critic's Choice (for both July and August) soon at http://www.artcircuits.com/ This summer I especially hope to catch "Noise Field" at Dorsch Gallery, 151 NW 24th Street in Wynwood, before it closes July 9--not only because this group show sounds intriguing, but also because it includes work by another talented Miami artist I have known for some time, Odalis Valdivieso.

I have learned that the Frida Kahlo Festival in Miami that I blogged about last week has been postponed till November of this year. Oh, well. It seemed like such a good idea to cheer up our hot, hazy days in the summer.
Here is my Miami Herald story, from July 4, 2004, on the Cintas Collection:

HOPE AND GLORY

As a title, "Hope and Glory" is more than a catchy and self-congratulatory hook for an art exhibit showcasing winners of fellowships awarded in the name of a late Cuban sugar baron and philanthropist.

"Hope and Glory: The Enduring Legacy of Oscar B. Cintas," now at Miami Art Central, is a hope-inducing first for the Cintas Foundation. Until now, the foundation has never created an exhibit like this one, presenting art by the finalists for its annual fellowship grant of $10,000 as well as work by past winners.

This year's finalists were Cuban-American artists Luis Gispert, Magda Fernandez, Gabriel Martinez, Eduardo de Soignie, and Juana Valdes.

This year's winner is Luis Gispert, already a rising young star in the art world. Gispert's striking photographs of cheerleaders adorned in hip-hop glitz and posed like buoyant Baroque angels were a widely reproduced element of the Whitney Museum of American Art's Biennial in 2002. His art was also featured in MAC's inaugural exhibit, which opened last December.

Gispert gets a capacious area to display his work, photography and sculpture that make witty use of pop cuture in general and hip-hop music in particular. Gispert shows how fetish-y, street-wise symbols can modify and enliven mainstream style. His "Untitled (Laundry)," a photograph of cheerleader clothes hanging out to dry and buoyant against a real sky (unlike his previous angelic figures), is a sly metaphor for the artful sampling and cultural masquerade that is the heart of his art.

The current show at MAC also presents art by more than 20 past Cintas fellows, among them Miami-based Mario Bencomo, George Sanchez-Calderon, Mirta Gomez and Eduardo del Valle, Cesar Trasobares, Maria Martinez-Canas, and Maria Brito, who's represented by her recent oil-painted wood construction of a fragmented self, "Blessing."

But the show betrays hasty organization and some disappointing choices. Why not affecting photographs of Cuba that photographers Mario Algaze and Abelardo Morrell, represented here by earlier images, made during recent visits to the island? And the exhibit should be better documented, with at least a small catalog outlining the finalists' work.

Still, "Hope and Glory" bears much hope and a bid for more glory. It suggests that the New York-based foundation, established shortly after the death of Cuban arts patron, ambassador, and businessman Oscar B. Cintas in 1957, wants a more visible profile.

The step has the potential to garner more exposure for the visual artists who become Cintas fellows, and it could also open the quality of the selection process to wider discussion and support. A Cintas brochure published for this occasion notes that the foundation is seeking donors to help set up endowed grants in the visual arts, photography, sculpture, architecture, music, and literature, and for lifetime achievement awards.

Since 1963, the Cintas Foundation has awarded more than 300 fellowships and grants to Cuban artists in various disciplines who live and work in exile. Not open to performing artists, the grants have been given to creative writers, composers, architects, filmmakers, and visual artists. Artists must either have been born in Cuba or be the child or grandchild of a Cuban citizen.

According to Cintas Foundation director Manuel Gonzalez, plans are underway to make the exhibit of fellowship finalists an annual affair. This could involve, he said, shows that alternate between Miami Art Central and El Museo del Barrio in New York.

"Finally what we realized is that, although it did cost a little money, there's no comparison [with past fellowships] to what the artists gained with this show," said Gonzalez. "A lot of them sold a lot of work, and curators can see the work. All the artists felt like winners."

There have been few exhibits linked to the Cintas Foundation. Cintas fellows include established artists like Jose Bedia, Teresita Fernandez, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Jorge Pardo, Ernesto Pujol and Andres Serrano, and more artists with much less art world fame, as well as two embarrassing omissions. According to the Cintas brochure, no grants have gone to Ana Mendieta, honored with a traveling show opening this week at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, or to pioneer abstract painter Guido Llinas.

There were shows of work by Cintas fellows in 1977 and 1987 at the Miami-Dade Public Library and a show in 1993 of photography at the Frost Museum at Florida International University (then known as the Art Museum at FIU).

In 1989, the museum acquired on long-term loan the Cintas Fellows Collection, which developed as a result of the foundation asking fellows to give it work produced during their fellowship. Now some of the show's glory is tempered by the fact that the foundation's record-keeping, especially when the collection was housed before 1993 in a New York warehouse, was faulty, and a number of works--including those by Lydia Rubio--has disappeared, said FIU curator Elizabeth Cerejido.

In a show like this, there's a head-spinning variety of art. Trying to make it mesh must have been a nightmare for co-curators Gonzalez and Celso Gonzalez-Fall, both New York-based Cintas directors.

You'll encounter Magda Fernandez's conceptual installations, with a coiled garden hose emitting drops of fake water in blobby forms textured like blue Astro Turf. Her work skewers the forced camraderie and isolationism of genteel gated communities, and though despite its perceptive politics, the work itself is visually tiresome.

Contrast her strident art with the oil paintings by the show's elder statesmen, Cundo Bermudez, Agustin Fernandez, and Jose Mijares. All born before 1930, they developed in pre-Castro Cuba.

Adopting the gem-bright colors of tropical sunshine streaming through stained glass windows, Bermudez and Mijares are known for rhythmically structured compositions of figures in ornate, stylized dress, all ripe with island abundance. "Portrait of a Headless Lady" (1978) by the youngest of these three, Fernandez, is typical of his grimmer work that's both dark and sensual, with body parts imprisoned by a labyrinth of metallic shapes.

Still, this is not a show that's completely exiled coherence, and this painting has been thoughtfully hung near Pablo Cano's sculpture, "Truth," of a saintly, grandly armored female. It's constructed with his deft ability to model delicate facial features and find bodily grace among clunky recycled aluminum cans, nodding to Duchamp's ready-mades and an exile's need to remake new life in new places.

Photography yields one of the most coherent elements of this show. Elegant fragments of the body are spotlighted in Serrano's triptych of ejaculation. There's also fine work by Martinez-Canas, Gomez and del Valle, Algaze and Morrell--fine enough to outshine the pretentious installations of Fernandez and Martinez, whose candlelit homage to talisman-wearing skater Michelle Kwan doesn't live up to its conceptual potential. Also weak are paintings by de Soignie, another finalist, of poorly digested Afro-Cuban symbols.

Most interesting among the finalists who didn't win are the photographs and installations by Juana Valdes, especially her installation of a flowing white dress suspended from the ceiling. It's stitched together with fish hooks and fish nets. Dangerous to touch, it's part airy shroud and bridal gown.

Blurry sounds of voices emanate from a tiny speaker inside this piece, like static on a boater's radio, relaying messages that can't be deciphered. The body as a vital receptacle for mystery, a carrier for essential journeys that are dangerous and hard to understand, is a subtle, hopeful theme here.

It asserts itself in such varied pieces as Trasobares' fraying, skeletal sculptures crafted from dollar bills, in Pardo's radiant sculpture of multiple cellular forms that build upon Charles Eames' body-friendly furniture of the 1950s, and in Valdes' bristling gown, a light twin to Cano's similarly resourceful and metallic maiden.

Also at MAC: "Point of View: An Anthology of the Moving Image," organized by New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art, is a highly selective anthology of video and film from 2003. There's something to be said about the title of this show, too. It's off-putting--the show doesn't have the broad historical perspective you'd expect from the title. But that aside, a contemporary art lover could do a lot worse than spending the hour or so it takes to see all of these works by 11 artists. They show the moving image as a shifting creature celebrating hybrid shapes gleaned from all sorts of visual precedents.

There's the moving image in the guise of a politically correct documentary blended with vertiginous effects from Alfred Hitchcock, in "El Gringo" by Francis Alys, about a stranger in a Mexican village surrounded by threatening dogs. Isaac Julien's distorted views of a Caribbean paradise are wonderful to contemplate, hallucinogenic and kaleidoscopic. Other highlights are the calligraphic cartoons of William Kentridge and the woodsy, mirror-flashing theatrics of Joan Jonas.

Also included here are Gary Hill, Pierre Huyghe, Paul McCarthy, Anri Sala, David Claerbout, Pipilotti Rist, and Douglas Gordon.

[Blogger's note: I REALLY miss the great shows and creative programming offered by Miami Art Central. Maybe at the time it was just too ambitious for us...]
POSTED BY ELISA TURNER on July 1st AT 12:19 PM 1 COMMENTS





Miami Celebrates Frida Kahlo

Yes, it's that time of year for Fridamania, and I want to be sure my readers know about the Frida Kahlo Festival in Miami on June 24 and July 1.

Mark your calendars for two enticing evenings of cultural and culinary surprises at Cube/Kitchen Loft, 5101 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach. On June 24 at 7 pm, hear lecture on Frida Kahlo, "A Tormented Brush," presented by art historian Armando Droulers and then, at 8 pm, savor a dinner created by Chef Diego Texera based on Frida Kahlo's recipes, plus there will be live music. Cost is $69 per person. On July 1 at 8 pm, there will be more Mexican tastings created by Texera, with performances of music from the time of Frida Kahlo. Cost is also $69 per person. RSVP by calling 305-866-6900 or email rsvp@cubemiami.net For more info, seehttp://www.cubemiami.net/ While you are there, you can also see an exhibit of photographs of Frida Kahlo by Leo Matiz, an artist I highlighted for my June Critic's Choice at www.artcircuits.com (Surely there are other Frida-centric events happening in Miami. Readers can post more info about them by making comments on this blog entry.)

I'd also like to urge readers to check out this promising exhibit: "Annie Blazejack and Geddes Levenson: The Twelve Days of Painting" at Flagler Arts Space, 172 West Flagler St. It's up till the beginning of July. Seehttp://www.flaglerartsspace.com/

Here's another: videos by Maria Lino in "All About Water" at 6th Street Container, 1155 (rear) SW 6th Street, Little Havana. Seehttp://www.6thstreetcontainer.com/ For info about the closing reception, probably the best time to see Maria's videos, try contacting Director Maria Amores at maria@6thstreetcontainer.com or Chief Curator Adalberto Delgado at adal@6thstreetcontainer.com Or perhaps if they have a chance they can post that info in a comment on this blog entry.

I've been away from Miami for several weeks, visiting friends and family in the Midwest, especially in my hometown of Shelbyville, Illinois. I just love to go back and visit. It's quite beautiful in the summertime. I have so many wonderful friends there from my high school, and I can check up on my email on computers in the charming 1905 Andrew Carnegie public library, where I checked out tons of books when I was growing up.

Now there's a lake in this small town (pop. around 5,000, when everyone's at home, as my dad always says) built by the Army Corps of Engineers, but that was not completed until after I went to college. But in all those many years since I have left high school, the lake has been a considerable source of tourism and revenue for the area. Seehttp://www.lakeshelbyville.com/

So, now, in honor of Frida, here's my story about her from The Miami Herald, July 25, 2004.

FRIDAMANIA UNLEASHED
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Frida Kahlo's death at age 47 in Mexico, a milestone that has ratcheted the country's highly charged cult of Fridamania--one of Mexico's best-known exports--into overdrive.

"Frida is all over Mexico," says South Florida artist Carlos Betancourt, who in May made his fourth visit to Kahlo's home, the Blue House, in the Mexico City suburb of Coyoacan. "Frida is Mexico."

Kahlo's face already has launched millions of reproductions on such low-brow items as cigarette holders and mouse pads. In Mexican markets, T-shirts printed with her haughty uni-browed visage share top billing with T-shirts celebrating national heroes like Pancho Villa. Her fame has extended so far around the globe that a website devoted to rock music in Korea reports the existence of a "bluesy" rock band in that country named "Frida Kahlo."

Now a handful of new exhibitions of Kahlo's art in Mexico and several books about her famously interconnected life and art debut this summer and fall. They show that five decades after her death--and more than two decades after Hayden Herrera's biography of the artist appeared, fueling her rapid rise to popularity in the multicultural mind-set of the 1980's--it's clear that Kahlo's art and life still make for a volatile mix, more popular than ever.

Although death did not become her as rapidly as it did for Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, Kahlo has a brilliant second life ahead of her as an iconic cult heroine for years to come, it would seem. Yet some art historians versed in the ways of Latin American art don't think all the Frida hype does justice to her singular, and for many years unsung, artistic innovations.

"I think the sensational aspects of her physical suffering and her suffering over Diego Rivera has been exaggerated," says Carol Damian, art history professor at Florida International University.

Damian especially admires the way Kahlo revisited the 19th Century Mexican tradition of retablo paintings so common on household altars. These folk paintings on wood or tin give thanks for misfortunes averted with cursive text and intimate narratives.

Yet Kahlo embellished this convention with her own spectacularly morose and magical brand of surrealism. Think of an ironic painting like her "Self-Portraits with Cropped Hair," painted at a low point in her relationship with Diego Rivera. It is notable for its cursive text and homespun tableau, but also for its acid yellows, cross-dressing identity, and for the funereal, languishing swirls of sliced-off hair. It is not a picture of thanks.

"There's a lot of history in her painting," Damian says. "This idea of suffering was very Mexican. She's coming from a very rich background."

For some, the background remains nearly as vivid as the artist's celebrity.

"When you go to any market in Mexico and you see the folk art," recalls Betancourt, "and when you see the drama in these retablos [folkloric religious artworks] in the churches, you see Frida all over."

FAMILY BOOST

On the 50th anniversary of her death, drama of her celebrity is getting a controversial boost from a family member. Isolda Pinedo Kahlo, the artist's 75-year-old neice, has written one of the new books, Frida Intime(Intimate Frida), which has been jointly published in Colombia and Argentina. In it, Pinedo Kahlo contends that the famed muralist and philanderer Diego Rivera helped his pain-wracked, crippled and suicidal wife die shortly before dawn on July 13, 1954, after she'd lain for hours in a partly comatose state brought on by heavy doses of painkillers.

But Isolda's claim has been challenged by Rivera's grandson, Juan Colonel, the Mexican website http://www.cronica.com.mx/ reported earlier this month. And Isolda Kahlo also has been criticized for using this 50th anniversary to profit from her aunt's name. This July she has also launched "Frida S.A.," a line of sunglasses, necklaces, and pashmina shawls inspired by the artist's signature flair for folkloric fashion, priced at $100 and up.

Memories of Kahlo's death have also brought new liveliness to the Blue House, home to the Frida Kahlo Museum, which attracts some 300,000 visitors a year. The museum, filled with Frida's artworks and her fabulous collection of Mexican artifacts, is located in the legendary lapis lazuli-colored home where she grew up. It's also where she lived and loved, suffered and painted from the late 1930s until her death from pneumonia.

This past May the results of more than $100,000 worth of repairs and restoration work to the Blue House were unveiled, and the Frida Kahlo Museum opened one of the largest exhibits of her work ever, showcasing 46 paintings, many of them her fiercely iconic self-portraits that bristle with not only her powerful charisma but also with monkeys, blood-red ribbons and her treasured symbols of pre-Columbian Mexico.

Still, all the hype surrounding the familiar Frida facts of glamour and gore--she was a lifelong cripple after being impaled on an iron rod in a horrific trolley car accident, she was the miscarrying and bisexual wife of Diego Rivera, and she was a flamboyant stylist who adored native Mexican jewelry, artifacts, and costumes like Tehuana dresses--can make it harder to take into account the elaborate legacy she's left for several generations of younger artists.

STRONG INFLUENCE

One such younger artist who comes to mind is the late Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta (1948-1985), subject of a solo show now at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art and coming to the Miami Art Museum next year.

"Ana Mendieta was very impressed by Kahlo's work and always went to her home when she was in Mexico," says Latin American art historian and curator Julia P. Herzberg, who's based in New York and has written a catalog essay for the Mendieta exhibit.

"I would say probably that Mendieta was impacted by the way in which Frida Kahlo created narratives through her autobiography, how she used almost exclusively her self-image, which Mendieta did in a very different way. Mendieta didn't use her face, as Kahlo did--she used the silhouette of her body," adds Herzberg. "I'm not saying it was Frida who gave her that idea, but I think this is a legacy Frida left."

In the well-known photographs from her "Silueta Series," Mendieta left imprints of her body in earth and rock, often inspired by the ovoid fertility forms from the indigenous Taino peoples of Cuba.

Another Latin American artist whose work carries links to Kahlo's legacy is contemporary Cuban photographer Marta Maria Perez Bravo. Her black and white self-portraits often show a tableau in which her body is being transformed into a fetishized object evocative of Cuban history and Afro-Cuban rituals.

"All three artists are using the body to find their roots and identity," Damian says of Kahlo, Mendieta, and Perez Bravo. "All of them have an identity that directly connects them to the land."

"The idea of self-portraiture has a very long history," points out Museum of Contemporary Art director Bonnie Clearwater, who published a book in 1993 on Mendieta's photography and rock carvings in Cuba. "Think of Rembrandt and van Gogh, who used themselves as subjects. The distinction is that women are taking charge of their own bodies, rather than being the subject of a painting by a male artist."

But it's not too far-fetched to see traces of Kahlo's precedent-setting self-portraits resurfacing in a considerable spectrum of contemporary artists, both male and female, from photographer Cindy Sherman's cinematic personas in her famous series of self-portraits to Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura's posturing self-portraits inserted into his reproductions of famous paintings by European and North American artists such as Goya and Kahlo herself.

LOCAL ECHOES

Among artists in South Florida, it's also possible to see Kahlo echoes lingering in a variety of work by both men and women. Damian says Kahlo's adaptation of retablos resurfaces in the paintings of Mexican-born artist Alekxey Sabido, a resident of the ArtCenter/South Florida. "He has a genuine sensitivity to the whole history of Mexican art," she says about Sabido's dedicatory altars to both the Virgin of Guadaloupe and to Kahlo.

Maritza Molina, a performance artist and photographer who's exhibited here at both The House and Leonard Tachmes Gallery, has made allusions to Ana Mendieta's "Siueta Series" in one of her own self-portraits.

Both Kahlo and Mendieta have long fascinated Betancourt. His large-scale photographs of himself are layered with hand-written text and lavished with imagery, from flowers to ashes, that convey a flamboyant sense of personal history and his own roots in Caribbean culture.

"There are so many artists that I think work indirectly inspired by Frida Kahlo," Betancourt says. "I love her cursive writing. This is someone telling her art story through herself and, of course, so am I. "

While so much of Frida's art and celebrity is entwined with the history of a life colored deeply by both passion and pain, the pain has led to a heritage that's passionately proactive, Herzberg says.

"It's clear that Frida gave a face to pain, to suffering, and she gave a face to death from her own vantage point, using her own body in portraits. I mean, when did we see miscarriage in art? So through a woman's body, albeit hers, I think she really took on and assumed a new identity.

"She asserted the role of female as agent, the body as agent. The notion that you can take on any identity opened up new ways of thinking about how you could portray your body, and what fictions you could assume," Herzberg says. "And that became a really key element for future artists."

POSTED BY ELISA TURNER AT 3:57 AM 1 COMMENTS





It has been yet another lively time for artcentric folks in Miami.

Even though summer is fast approaching, there is so much to do that it leaves me breathless!

Where to begin? First I want to say that I can’t wait to see “Sight Specific: Explorations in Space, Vision and Sound” at the Museum of Art in FortLauderdale. So glad it is up through Sept 14 2011, which means that I have plenty of time to see it. For sure I want to highlight more than one of the super-duper artists in this show for my monthly Critic’s Choice for the fab Art Circuits website. In May for my Critic’s Choice I have highlighted “Cluster F***” by Gavin Perry from this exhibit.

That’s why I have posted “Profiles in Collecting,” my combined profile of Gavin Perry and Beatriz Monteavaro from April 2002 for The Miami Herald, on my blog post for today below.

I happen to like not only Gavin Perry’s art but his title for this work…as some people know, who also know that I am not by nature a foul-mouthed person, my slogan for myself at this point in my newspaper-lessartcentric career is “Don’t f*** with me.”

Also I would like to say that we had a fascinating ArtTable meeting at Books & Books in May regarding artists from all over the world, in addition to Miami of course, who have worked with fabric and textiles, moderated by my predecessor at the Knight Ridder-owned Miami Herald, art critic and art historian Helen Kohen. That was our last ArtTable meeting at Books & Books until September 2011.

We need to take the summer off to plan for our upcoming third year of developing panel discussions for Miami’s increasingly lively and sophisticated artcentric community.

As we will announce later via email to the over 300 email recipients regarding our ArtTable meetings for members and guests, we have planned a “retreat” for ArtTable members, and for those whose membership application is pending, on Thursday, July 21. It will be a light potluck supper at my home—sorry, everyone, if you thought we had the $$ to go to a retreat on a Caribbean island!!

We are absolutely thrilled that Susan Galler, president of the Miami-based Galler Group LLC, has offered to guide us through this crucial process of formulating our goals for the future. She has considerable experience in advising an impressive range of nonprofit organizations in a host of ways, as you will see from her website www.gallergroup.com

She is one of the many fascinating people I have gotten to know in my post-Herald life. I see from my notes that I met her during an Arts for Learning breakfast back in February 2009.

Now back to Miami’s immediate artcentric scene. Anyone at Miami International Airport on Saturday May 14 will not want to miss this special event, which I learned about at the May ArtTable meeting. At 2 pm on May 14 at the South Terminal Meeter & Greeter lobby, 3rd floor, you can hear the 90-piece ensemble of the Miami Symphony Orchestra perform, as part of their “Music in Unsuspected Spaces” community concert series. At the Miami airport!! As I live and breathe!!

Also opening on May 14 is “Let’s Play,” yet another site-specific installation. This one is by Argentine-born artist Adrian Sonni, who, as I understand from the press release, transformed an abandoned Wynwoodbuilding into a 20 x 40 ft boom-box during Art Basel 2010. How clever…wish I had seen that! Now you can see more of Sonni’s creativity at work during an opening reception 7 to 11 pm on May 14 at Primary Projects, Atrium Building, 4141 NE Second Ave, Suite 104, Miami Design District. For more info see www.primaryflight.com

Mark you calendars for “Dialogues with Duchamp,” a sure-to-be-engaging discussion of the art and life of pivotal 20th Century artist Marcel Duchamp, with art critic Adriana Herrera and art historian ArmandoDroulers, at 6 pm on May 26 at Miami Biennale, 2751 North Miami Avenue, Miami. It’s free and open to the public, but you do need to RSVP by May 24 to to info@MiamiBiennale.org or call 305-576-2914.

POSTED BY ELISA TURNER AT 9:56 AM 0 COMMENTS





Miami Artist Gavin Perry in Lively Show at Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Art

[Blogger's Note: We have been again dealing with tech issues. This post was intended to be part of the earlier post from today, meant to follow the text comprising the post titled "It has been another lively time for artcentric folks in Miami." As we know, sometimes life doesn't go as planned. So readers who want the full impact of this post should read the previous post before they read this one. Clearly, I REALLY am a digital dinosaur! So why ANYONE would think I would have the audacity to blog about the future of journalism is NUTS!!]

Here is my profile of Gavin Perry and Beatriz Monteavaro from The Miami Herald, April 2002.

PROFILES IN COLLECTING

Collecting art and other things is among the most consuming of passions. Even making art doesn't make you immune from such obsessions--from Rembrandt to Matta to Matta to Warhol, artists themselves have frequently been struck with the curse of the collector.

"Possession Obsession: Objects from Andy Warhol's Personal Collection," a new exhibit at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, showcases the artist's wide-ranging taste, from folk art to costume jewelry to cookie jars. It's a particularly daunting example of how an artist's prized possessions can guide us to insights about sources and ideas within his or her work.

In South Florida, artists who have gathered distinctive collections include Cuban-born Jose Bedia, whose home resembles a museum gallery showcasing a rich assortment of African and Native American masks, carvings, and dozens of other artifacts. On one wall is an African mask once owned by Latin American master Wifredo Lam; the mask's stark profile often appears in Bedia's figurative drawings which spring from Afro-Cuban religious rituals.

Other area collctions are more quirky, blurring the line between artful artifacts and emblems of popular culture. Bruce Helander's surreal collages, for example, owe much to his stash of vintage sheet music and Bakelite radios. And a barely thirty-something artist couple, Beatriz Monteavaro and Gavin Perry, are amassing a vivid collection of toys--chiefly action figures and miniature low-rider cars--that has shaped their adventurous art.

Collecting "builds your repertoire, the visual language that you are using to build your work. You pull a part from there, you pull a part from here," says Perry, standing in his ArtCenter/South Florida studio next to a table of some 70 gem-bright toy cars awash in lurid pinks, purples, and shades of green the color of Astro Turf.

"I'm really trying to find cars that fit that California mode rather than a Detroit mentality," Perry says. "It's not about how a car goes, but how it looks."

Picking up a bronze and gold model of a 1969 Impala, he says he's intrigued by the aesthetics of what's "predominantly a ghetto culture, or more an urban subversive culture now being marketed to suburban kids."

Many of Perry's models sport the down-to-earth profiles of Chicano low-rider cars and feature "chop tops"--roofs lowered for a more streamlined effect. A gaudy model Chevelle boasts a hot pink interior and a black body that dazzles with pink, silver, and aqua glitter.

"This is insane. You'd think this is only found on a Matchbox car, but no, they actually make paint like that," Perry says, producing one of several books on customized auto bodies he culls for techniques on how to produce the "fetish finish" gleam of his abstract paintings, which are layered with the sheen of auto-body paint and the meticulously lean trails of color pinstriping.

In a stroke of off-hand poetry, the book identifies the paint as a "rainbow metallic flake base."

Perry's canvases have become shinier this year, thanks to an industrial-strength paint gun. And those paintings' garish glow has caught the eye of Montreal dealer Fabrice Marcolini, who saw them at Art Miami in January.

"What hit us most about his work is that it walks this dangerous path," says the Artcore gallery's Marcolini, who will show Perry's art next fall or spring. "It translates something that is kitsch into something that is fresh. That takes talent."

HERO WORSHIP

Monteavaro's burgeoning collection of plastic super-hero and -heroine action figures has also influenced her art. Her interest in the figures began during her childhood in Hialeah, where she was the youngest of four children. She devised solitary games about battling good and bad guys, preferring even the scant ranks of female superheroes such as Wonder Woman to "eternally boring" pink tea sets and Barbies.

"The only fun thing I remember girls ever played was Charlie's Angels," she says. "Even today in toy stores the boys' section is full of color, with intricate robots. The girls' section is all pink and purple, and the most exciting thing you'll find is a Barbie that tans. There's no action."

Teased for playing with boys' toys in the second grade, she admits that "I stopped playing with them too early, which is why I think I collect them now--it's like taking back part of my childhood."

Even early on, there was an urge to manipulate these pop culture artifacts, though the 7-year-old Betty, as friends call her, wouldn't have put it that way. These days she freely modifies her collection by customizing figures for her deliberately cheesy videos about bested muscle-bound villains and her surprisingly elegant drawings, examples of which are on view at North Miami's Ambrosino Gallery through Tuesday.

While the video has a funny, grainy crudeness that makes us look twice at cheap designs that are less familiar than we'd expect, her drawings are the real stars of the show. Her adapted characters bristle with crisply composed details.

Collecting is "a way to make your work your work, and not a generic overview of everybody else's," says Monteavaro, wearing a Wonder Woman T-shirt and standing in her ArtCenter/South Florida studio, where squads of action figures cluster in neat rows on industrial shelving, like crowds of stars and extras come to life from old comic books and corny cartoons.

There's a clutch of lizards shaped like bloated, mutant pickles that she identifies as "Godzilla and his family of villains and friends." There's a pack of Disney witches gleaned from fast-food lunches, a tiny doll of Gene Hackman in Lex Luther's purple tights, and Flash Gordon with sidekicks.

TIARA AND BOOTS

Nearby, a vintage Wonder Woman picked up from e-Bay is clad in a golden tiara and red boots. Sandals would have been the historically correct gear, Monteavaro explains, though she approves of the error as it jibes with the kind of license she takes with plots and protagonists.

"I don't really think sandals are for superheroes," she says. "It seems to me like her feet would hurt."

Museum of Contemporary Art director Bonnie Clearwater, who included Monteavaro's work in "Making Art in Miami: Travels in Hyperreality" in late 2000, believes the artist's alterations give her work a maturing edge.

"She alters the figures so that they take on new characters, not just what some toy company has determined, and she animates them the way a child would so that they can act out stories of good and evil," Clearwater says. "But she makes us question our own beliefs."

In her solo show at Ambrosino, Clearwater says, "the story lines have interesting parables for today, and I think her draftsmanship is quite astonishing. There's a considerable strength and maturity."

With recent shows at galleries in Geneva, Chicago, and Madrid, Monteavaro's career is moving forward. Still, she and Perry must find work here doing installation jobs for museums, and she also teaches classes at the ArtCenter to make ends meet.

In a way, Monteavaro's collection has become more than simply a source of ideas for art, but also for the artist's personal experience. As a result, this assortment of action figures offers both artistic and personal subsenance.

"I think a lot of things are parallel to superhero and Star Wars stories," Monteavaro says. "There's the hero that goes through the struggle, and nine times out of ten they come out winning. This isn't just myth, it's life--we are our own heroes, we go through struggles, and we either wither away or keep going."





Miami Art Critic Elisa Turner Wakes Up

No journalist EVER wants to become part of the story she is covering.

But as readers will see with the story I am posting on my blog today, there is really no way that I could not become part of this one. And I never, ever forget how lucky I am to be typing my blog right this minute.

To write the story that you see below, I had to face many challenges--and some I am still living with today, including the post-traumatic-stress-syndrome that accompanies a brain injury. PTSD never really goes away--as I have painfully discovered, you just learn various strategies for compensating for its presence in your life.

After all that, it was quite traumatic to be called "too artcentric" for the Herald after the very terrific publisher, whose support helped me accomplish so much at The Miami Herald, left the newspaper to lead the charge for setting in motion quite impressive initiatives for the rapidly evolving future of journalism, now that so many newspapers are in such tragic disarray.

But first things first. Artcentrically, I want to say it is very fab that the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison Street in Hollywood, has an opening reception tonight, April 29, from 6 to 9 pm for its "Fifth All-Media Juried Biennial." For more info see www.ArtandCultureCenter.org or call 954-921-3273.

This show will be up through June 5, and there are many quite talented artists in it, including Maria Font, highlighted in my May Critic's Choice for Art Circuits. See www.artcircuits.com But here are just a FEW others: Loriel Beltran, Julie Davidow, Felice Grodin, Susan Lee-Chun, Kerry Phillips, David Rohn. I am hoping I will be able to highlight at least one for my June Critic's Choice.

Another impressive event on Miami's artcentric horizon: "New Methods," a three-day symposium at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which will be "examining the practices of contemporary arts organizations providing essential educational and professional development to local artistic communities in Latin America," as the postcard I received at my home from MOCA says...still addressed to Elisa Turner, Miami Herald-Art Critic. It is May 4 - May 6. For info see wwww.mocanomi.org or call 305-893-6211.

I am so sorry that I will miss this, esp since the symposium concludes with a lecture by Dr. George Yudice, Professor of Modern Languages and Literature at the University of Miami. George offered me a very generous honorarium when I spoke to his UM class in 2010, and he has been to at least one of our ArtTable meetings. It was really a terrific class. They asked lively questions and applauded when I finished speaking.

I will miss it because I am taking a Memoir Writing Workshop May 4 - May 6, with the Writer's Institute of the Florida Center for the Literary Arts at Miami Dade College. As a journalist, I have to say I miss writing A LOT. I still have lots to say, and I am the kind of person who needs a BIG project to keep my mind stimulated, esp now that my newspaper days are over for good. Of course, I realize I am starting on a long and uncertain journey. I hope my readers will wish me LOTS of luck!!!

As every journalist knows, there is always a backstory. So today I am posting the backstory to the poem I posted on my blog last week. Via email, I have received very touching remarks about that poem.

Because I have made so many artcentric friends in Miami after this story was published on the front page of The Miami Herald, I thought it might be especially enlightening for them--for instance, Karla F and Jerome S, and, I believe, the fab mother-daughter duo of Emma G and Susan G. I also know that my terrific senior pastor Laurie H came to Miami after this was published, so she also might also find it interesting.

I really cannot say enough about how wonderful Coral Gables Congregational Church is for all of this community. Their music program is outstanding. See www.coralgablescongregational.org

And, because I always believe in giving credit where credit is due, I want to give a major shout-out to Associate Pastor Guillermo Marquez-Sterling. I will never, ever forget how he singled Eric and me out for a welcome from the pulpit when we came together to church for the first time after our dreadful accident.

This is my award-winning front page story for The Miami Herald, published April 18, 2005.

RECOVERING LIFE, SELF AFTER COMA

It was the water's spray that nudged me back, its warmth on my skin tugging me from the stupor that has robbed me of sensation, of my self, of everything. Though still only half awake, I realized I was sitting on a chair in a shower and that my close friend Iliana Garcia was washing my hair.

But the bathroom tile, a drab beige I never would have chosen, did not make any sense. Where was I? Why was Iliana washing my hair? I will never forget the weirdness of waking up this way. Then my dim awareness melted away, and I got very sleepy again.

Back on the morning of Aug. 20, my family and I were driving through heavy rain to take my son, Grant Smith, to begin his freshman year at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. We were on Interstate 70 near Terre Haute when a Corvette whirling across the slick median slammed into our rented minivan. The impact sent us spinning twice into a tractor trailer before we slid to a crumpled stop on the roadside.

My daughter, Margaret, hair full of broken glass, was cut on her right eyelid. My husband Eric Smith would be deaf in one ear for a few days. Grant suffered a lacerated spleen and ended up slumped in Margaret's lap, blood dripping from his bitten tongue. Riding in the front passenger seat, I was knocked into a deep state of unconsciousness that left me struggling to breathe.

NO BROKEN BONES

I had no broken bones and no obvious wounds except a few leg bruises, but my brain had been so badly jolted that the right frontal lobe had hemorrhaged, and there was bleeding in a few other places. A doctor likened the trauma to "shaken baby syndrome."

In her anxious phone calls to relatives, my mother-in-law Gerry Smith refused to utter the dreadful, hopeless word "coma," but there is no synonym for the state of utter blankness that engulfed me for those first three days. I could not respond to the simplest commands: "Squeeze my hand." Nothing. "Wiggle your toes." Nothing.

I had grown up in Shelbyville, Ill., about 90 miles from the accident scene, and as friends and relatives gathered at Terre Haute Regional Hospital, I became the surprising centerpiece of a strange family reunion. Only one person was missing: me.

NO RECOLLECTION

Sometimes, I'm told, I lay with one unfocused eye open. I remember nothing of this period. If I were to walk into that intensive-care unit today, I would not recognize it. Nor would I recognize the doctors and nurses who treated me there.

Still, because I didn't have a lot of bleeding or swelling, my prognosis was said to be relatively good.

On Aug. 28, my husband, a family-medicine physician, arranged to have me airlifted back home, to Baptist Hospital. I don't remember much about the grimness that followed. Ten days after the crash, my hospital chart characterized me, with what now seems gloomy frankness, as "significantly stuporous to comatose."

At Baptist, instinctively struggling back into the world, I was often agitated, a good sign. I constantly jerked myself upright, and friends stayed with me in shifts to keep me from yanking out my feeding tube. One night Eric even climbed into bed with me to try to calm me enough so that I could rest. I lay quietly for about five minutes and then began to stir. None of this I remember.

I woke up in the shower about 15 days after the accident. I had been moved from Baptist's intensive-care to a regular hospital room. By this time I was able to hold brief conversations, but my voice was faint, flat.

A friend told me that after he heard a National Public Radio segment about an idiot savant who could recite the alphabet backward, he visited me and asked me to say my ABCs. I did it but looked puzzled when he asked me to say the alphabet backward. The next time he visited, with a doctor in the room, he asked me to recite it again. "Forwards or backwards?" I asked.

I don't remember making this little joke, a spark of cleverness I treasure now, and there were other glimmers of improvement I don't remember.

"You had small victories all the time," Eric says. Margaret and Gerry were encouraged when I asked for something on which to write, only to watch me scribble across the page and then across the bedsheet.

When Eric showed me newspaper headlines and asked if I could read them, I always said no. Then one day, pushing my wheelchair, he pointed to a sign over the door: "Neuropsychology," mumbled my small, flat voice. What a funny first word.

As my grogginess started to clear, I actually had to remember who I was.

"Oh, I'm this person," I actually remember thinking in a flicker of consciousness.

About the time I could swallow pureed meals, I started speech, physical and occupational therapy, but I was too sleepy at first to make much progress. My handwriting resembled a jumble of gray threads. My disobedient hand could not guide the pencil. It was shockingly hard to write my name.

FEELING PUZZLED

This did not make me particularly angry or frustrated. Just puzzled. When I finally understood what had happened to us in the wreck, I absorbed the news as casually as someone listening to a radio traffic report: Oh? I was hurt in a wreck? I could accept the fact, but I could not quite connect it to me.

At first, I didn't even know I was in a hospital. I was just in a strange place. Even the concept "What am I doing here?" was too advanced for me. Within the peculiar logic of what was now my world, I don't remember being particularly frustrated by how slow and hard everything was.

I just found everything puzzling. Why can't I tie my sneakers, I thought as the blue laces sifted like straw through my fingers. When a social worker asked me if my house had stairs, I couldn't remember my home. Instead, the image that floated into my mind was of a white living room with hardwood floors, my childhood house years before my parents installed carpeting.

By the time I was discharged from the hospital on Sept. 23, I could read, tie my shoes and write my name. But my speech was slow, my stiff voice unfamiliar, and I couldn't laugh or scream. A glass of water felt heavy. When I tried to apply lipstick, I drew a clownish line of Healthy Lips pink across my cheek. The wooden pegs that seemed to be my fingers could barely type the most simple email message. Driving was forbidden.

LOTS OF PATIENCE, REST

I needed--I still need--a lot of patience and sleep. [This is still the case, even now. I know I am blessed to look as if all this had never happened, but as most of us have learned by now, there is a vast gap between appearance and reality. I HAVE to take a daily nap. Sometime just about every afternoon, I can actually feel my brain slowing down and shutting off, as if it is saying, "OK, Elisa, that is all the work you are going to get out of me now. Go to bed. Do NOT even THINK of driving." Of course, I have made huge strides, and I never lose hope that more improvement is possible. On days that begin with tons of rest, my stamina is greater than usual. But perhaps there are some things that just won't come back, just as my job as art critic at the Knight-Ridder-owned Miami Herald won't come back either, because KR-owned newspapers don't exist anymore.]

I had to relearn how to walk up steps, even how to walk in low-heeled sandals. [I even had to teach myself how to type again.] I was shocked to find that reading and walking at the same time made me lose my balance and lurch like a drunk. And I was so tired. Even now I have daily bouts of bone-crushing fatigue. I can sense when the gray, mushy weariness is coming, as if watching thunderstorms sweeping in from the Everglades.

After I came home from the hospital, I continued with out-patient therapy. I walked around the lake at Baptist and did exercises to improve my balance. I learned how to swallow coffee again, and therapists plied me with puzzles to perk up my sluggish fine-motor skills.

On Dec. 15, I took a driver's test offered a Baptist for patients recovering from brain trauma and was cleared to drive again.

Today, finally, my life is edging back toward the familiar. My doctor tells me most likely I will have a full recovery although it may take two years. I still haven't regained some 20 pounds I lost, and most food still tastes kind of blah. [Actually that's still pretty much true, except for desserts!] But I type. I'm writing about art for The Herald again. My signature seems a bit wobbly, but it looks almost as if it did before.

I still have some double vision when I look down--to climb stairs, for example. Because one of my optic nerves was damaged, my maverick left eye does not always follow up-down movements in sync with the right. Its pupil is a little smaller than normal, and for a long time the eyelid drooped, especially when I was tired. [This is still the case to although only people who know me really well, including Eric, can spot this outward sign of my increasing exhaustion. They understand then that it is time for me to sleep VERY soon.]

SPEECH THERAPY

I've recently gone back to speech therapy to strengthen my voice. I haven't completely regained my sense of balance, so I am leery of riding a bike. [Still true today, but what is that to complain about? I NEVER ONCE forget that I could be dead or drooling in a wheelchair, and that my totally terrific family could be dead too. Yes, I know it often seems as if the McClatchy-owned Miami Herald is on life-support, but there is nothing I can do about that. It is a sad state of affairs, no question. But back to my award-winning story from 2005.]

These days, I shiver when I hear a siren and cringe when I see news reports of a bad accident. But today, my family and I all feel blessed to be well and walking. Two months ago Eric and I flew to Indianapolis. We rented a car and visited Grant at DePauw. His lacerated spleen has healed. I didn't want to commit a mom's cardinal sin of embarrassing her grown son by crying over him, but it was touching to see him happy and settled.

Almost eight months after I had begun the trip to see my son start college, I was so lucky to finish the journey.





Spring 2010

LATIN AMERICAN ART: FROM GHETTO TO GLOBAL STAGEADIOS, GHETTO! LATIN AMERICAN ART IS FINALLY A PRIME-TIME PLAYER IN THE BRAVE NEW DIGITAL WORLD.

“We have passed through some kind of threshold culturally in which artists of Latin America or Latin origins are no longer reduced to as much homogenizing,” says Olga Viso, director of Walker Art Center, via e-mail. “More complex and nuanced interpretations…now seem to have more mainstream appeal.” But, she adds, “it feels like it has been a brutally long haul and that there is still a long way to go despite recent progress.

” The boldness of Latin American art was once crammed into a ghetto-like niche where people babbled about “art of the fantastic.” It was a North American and Euro-centric place. Art historians thought gringos knew best.

“This prejudiced and limited understanding of the art of the region wipes out most of the diverse and complex art production in the continent since the beginning of the 20th Century, including abstract geometry and conceptual art,” says Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, chief curator of Museum of Latin American Art , via e-mail.

Gringos missed symbols animating grids in forward-minded Constructivist paintings of Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949). Born in Uruguay, he fused pre-Columbian art with major 20th Century forms: a brilliant synthesis of Old and New Worlds. In Miami ’s Wynwood Arts District, find his painting at Sammer Gallery. You can also see his art in “Constructive Spirit: Abstract Art in South and North America, 1920s -50s,” now at the Newark Museum. Though a recessionary sea change shrinks world economies and transforms journalism, pioneering artists and curators offer new perspectives. Latin American artists, curators, and scholars reveal diverse ways to interact with the 21st Century global stage.

Miami has a front-row seat to this performance. “America has become the first universal nation on this planet,” Robert Farris Thompson, noted scholar on the African diaspora, once told me. “Particularly in Miami. Miami is teaching the world what it will be like to live in the 21st Century.

”He cited diversity in art by José Bedia, one of Miami ’s famed artists. “Bedia’s right at the forefront of contemporary art and culture…José is teaching us how to move into this multi-ethnic situation. He is at the very least trilingual.

”Miami is more than the multilingual city vexing to the rest of the country for its flow of immigrants and proximity to troubled Caribbean, Central and South American countries . This is true despite corrupt politics—hence sly jokes about the city’s “Cuban mafia”—and vulnerable location during hurricane season.

This cultural mix—with vibrant ties to Latin America as well as the Caribbean —has much to show the world. Miami ’s cultural connections, in a word, rock!

“If you look at exhibitions that have dealt with Latin American artists, it’s as if the Caribbean is not part of Latin America,” says Elizabeth Cerejido, artist and curator from Miami who’s seen art in Cuba and Haiti. “We don’t hear a lot about artists who are coming out of Santo Domingo or Haiti, or even Jamaica. Or how the Caribbean affects countries in Latin America.” The Caribbean has often been ignored by art history, just as Latin America was. In Miami , their cultures converge.

In 2009, Cerejido left her home in Little Haiti for Texas. Now assistant curator of Latino and Latin American art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, she told me, “I will be working very closely with Mari Carmen Ramírez, who has single-handedly built the Latin American collection there.” Ramírez has long defied those limiting, “fantastic” views of Latin American art.

In so many ways, the global promise of Latin American art can be clearly seen in Miami.

Miami Art Museum presents “Carlos Cruz Diéz: The Embodied Experience of Color.” Put together by MAM adjunct curator Rina Carvajal, the exhibition looks at Cruz Diéz with new eyes. At long last, this exhibit concentrates on the artist’s early experimentations with color and sensory environments. It highlights his contributions to interactive concerns so vital to artists today. One of Venezuela’s most revered artists, Cruz Diéz has long lived in Paris, and is best known in Europe and Latin America for his pioneering art in the 1960s and 1970s.

A curator for the São Paulo Biennial, Carvajal says, “I think we are in a very different moment.” In this game-changing moment, Latin American artists now show their work everywhere, part of a broad, international art network.

Will Miami soon play a much grander role in that network? Don’t hold your breath. Missed opportunities litter our landscape.

Joaquín Torres García, Ancora, llave y objetos, Oil on cardboard, 1935, 29.5 x 20.4 in. Courtesy of Sammer Gallery.
Wifrido LamElizabeth Cerejido, From the Standing Guard Series: Letting Go, 2008, color transparency on light box; 6’ x 3’. Courtesy of Bernice Steinbaum Gallery

Wifrido Lam
Carlos Cruz Diéz Cromosaturación (Chromosaturation), 1965-2008 Three chromo-cubicles Site-specific environment (Florescent lights with blue, red and green filters) Courtesy of Americas Society Gallery, New York. Photo by: Arturo Sanchez

 





Winter 2010

MIAMI CURATORS SPARKLE THIS SEASON

CREATIVE CURATORS THRIVE IN MIAMI. THEY CREATE A COMPELLING THEME AND STORY TO PIQUE THE...

...interest of people looking at an art exhibit in a museum, gallery, private collection, or art fair. Creative curators thrive in Miami. They create a compelling theme and story to pique the interest of people looking at an art exhibit in a museum, gallery, private collection, or art fair. They select art and artists to illustrate related aspects of that story, in all its intriguing variety. Smart curators find stories to tell with art and imagery that linger in our minds.

By looking at exciting exhibits developed by Miami curators, we see it’s the season for culture to sparkle like stars on clear Miami nights. “We wanted to know who we were and how do we relate to each other,” reflects independent curator and artist Gean Moreno. He thinks exhibitions, especially those curated by Rene Morales and Ruba Katrib, answered those questions. “Now we want to know: how do we stand together in a globalized world?”

In Miami, Moreno investigates the local community and world at large, noting how they intermingle. There’s a grandly “glocal” spectrum of talent here. For Dennis and Debra Scholl collection, at World Class Boxing in Wynwood Arts District, he’s curated “Drawn and Quartered.” It offers an engaging look at photographs from this collection. Reflecting an international focus, artists range from Thomas Demand to Cindy Sherman.

Moreno draws inspiration from talent in Miami, as well as New York, Bogota, and London. For the MIA Art Fair www.mia-artfair.com he’s curated “Improvised Architectures,” placing Miami at the evolving nexus of an expanding art world network. No other city is as widely represented in his show as Miami. It includes artists Christy Gast, Adler Guerrier, Nicholas Lobo, Ernesto Oroza, and Viking Funeral. Caribbean culture, re-invented in Miami, is a rising global star: Oroza hails from Cuba and Guerrier from Haiti.

Miami curators create opportunities to shine online. Anthony Spinello of Spinello Gallery www.spinellogallery.com curates “Littlest Sister,” the smallest art fair in town, www.littlestsister.com, emphasizing Miami. Ilana Vardy curates “Arts for a Better World” www.artsforabetterworld.com . Both website and Wynwood Arts District exhibit, this project resolves to make a difference in our digital age. Vardy’s show unites artists from across the Americas, Europe and Africa, and includes painting, photography, sculpture, and video.

Yes, ‘tis the season for Wynwood Arts District to sparkle, especially for its private collections. Katherine Hinds curates shows for Margulies Collection at the Warehouse www.margulieswarehouse.com. Highlights: “Africa: Photography and Video,” with over 250 works, and “Michelangelo Pistoletto: Broken Mirror Paintings.”

ease the luster. At Alejandra von Hartz Gallerywww.alejandravonhartz.net, von Hartz presents “New Paradigmes: Marta Chilindrón,” art inspired by geometry and games, and “Colagens: Henrique Oliveira,” paintings inspired by his work at the 29th Sao Paulo Biennial in 2010. Von Hartz challenges old-hat assumptions regarding Latin American art by placing sculptural, abstract work within a global context. Then there’s Nina Johnson of Gallery Diet www.gallerydiet.com . She’s curating a show of paintings, also sumi ink drawings, by Nathlie Provosty. See www.nathalieprovosty.com.

This season, curatorial energy transforms Museum of Contemporary Artwww.mocanomi.org.

Consider “Bruce Weber: Haiti/Little Haiti,” part of the museum’s vaunted Knight Exhibition Series, curated by Bonnie Clearwater. Timely and tumultuous, it offers about 75 photographs of Miami’s Haitian community by Bruce Weber, recording immigration struggles. Though Weber’s famous for fashion shoots for Vogue, he’s earned cred as a street photographer. Also for MOCA, Ruba Katrib curates “Open Process,” featuring young Miami artists Autumn Casey, Domingo Castillo, Jessica Laurel Arias, and Tatiana Varhan.

At Bass Museum of Art www.bassmuseum.org, Silvia Karman Cubina curates “Fabric Workshop: Selections from the Collection,” bringing to Miami textures from the unique Philadelphia museum.

Curators here develop shows beyond Miami. Indeed, creative thinking from the “Magic City” could rock the world. Arthur Dunkelman, curator for Jay I. Kislak Foundation www.kislakfoundation.org, puts together “Enchantress: Emma, Lady Hamilton” for Grolier Club in New York. Culled from Jean Kislak collection, it shows how a beautiful woman played a pioneering role in English history. Independent curator Tami Katz-Freiman plans show for Nivi Alroy for 4th Fresh Paint Contemporary Art Fair in Tel Aviv www.freshpaint.co.il.

In this shining season for Miami curators, the crowning moment: independent curator Rina Carvajal belonged to the curatorial team for the 29th Sao Paulo Biennial. Presenting work by 159 artists from several countries, the exhibit suggests how art spurs thinking about our time and place in history. We cannot ignore vital connections between art and politics.

The Biennial’s haunting title: “There is always a cup of sea to sail in,” from Brazilian poet Jorge de Lima. In Miami, there are always new curatorial perspectives to salute.

 





Miami Artist Kevin Arrow Featured at de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space

All in all, it has been a quite terrific artcentric week in Miami, as we are blessed with gorgeous blue skies that to my irreversibly artcentric eyes are della Robbia blue.

Sunday night, on April 20, Eric and I went to the very fab opening at Bridge Red Studios / Project Space in North Miami, where I saw many wonderful "art buddies" from my old life as Miami Herald art critic.

Especially was glad to see terrific art by Barbara Neijna. Since I can't write about her for the paper any more, I am thrilled that I can include her work in the current show there in my May Critic's Choice for www.artcircuits.com Also it was great to see art by the exceptionally talented Robert Chambers and William Cordova in that exhibit.

And it was extra, extra fab to see William. I can't remember when I have seen him last! We gave each other a great big hug! We have been emailing recently, and I have told him about our fascinating ArtTable meetings. I am thrilled to learn that he hopes to come to our next one at Books & Books on May 10.

Then, on April 22, which is Good Friday and Earth Day, I feel so lucky that I was able to attend a most inspiring inter-faith breakfast at the home of the totally fab senior pastor, Laurie Hafner, for my always terrific church, Coral Gables Congregational Church.

That church has helped me through soooo much. Laurie and I are both daughters of the Midwest, and we both LOVE to speak our minds!

In honor of that church and the current O, Miami poetry festival, I thought I would start my blog today with poem I contributed to a booklet the church published for its congregation during Lent in 2009.

Lenten Devotional, inspired by Psalms 22:14-15

My skin was dead. My mind a prisoner
Stuck in a black hole of nothingness.
Sweet water blessed me back to this world.
Like liquid velvet it caressed the dead skin on my arm.
The steady, warm, soft spray of a morning shower
Tugged me out of the black hole.

A coma had captured my mind, killing
My skin and all sensations,
Brought on in a flash by a car accident that almost
Killed my beloved family.
A morning shower revived
The desert in my skin, kissing me back to the slow,
Sleepy path for a second chance.

My skin had been dead for days, it could send no
Sensory messages to my brain.
Simple messages I took for granted:
The wet kiss of water, the warm shine of sunlight,
The taste of coffee on my tongue.
Nothing came through.

The gift for shaping words with my tongue
Or sentences in my mind belonged
To another richly textured world,
Alive with sensations, still far beyond my reach.

Wet kisses of water and love brought me back.
They taught me to honor the gift of every minute in
Every day until we say
Good-bye to this life forever.

And so, in honor of the richness possible in every minute in every day, plus the richly talented group of artists now gracing Miami, I can actually write, as the TV journalists are always saying, "This just in..." !!

Just now I received this email press release announcing: "Prestigious West Prize for Contemporary Art Awarded to Billie Grace Lynn. Miami Artist to Use Prize for Cross-Country Ride with her Electric Mad Cow Motorcycle." For more info, see www.westcollection.org

Today I especially want to highlight the talents of Kevin Arrow. I also want to include his art in my May Critic's Choice.

I think it is quite fab that "Kevin Arrow: Amor Infinitus" is at the de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space, 23 NE 41 St. in Miami through July 9. According to the handsomely printed flyer that Rosa gave me when I visited there recently, for this show, "Kevin Arrow has appropriated a group of 35 mm slides to create a site-specific installation based on the travels of a mysterious couple." For more info, see http://www.delacruzcollection.org/

This brought to mind the time I wrote about Kevin and his quite remarkable slide collection for The Miami Herald in October 2003. So nice of Kevin to email me the year when I wrote about that! Knowing the year made it sooo much easier for me to find it in my own personal archive of all that I have written for The Miami Herald.

So I am blogging about Kevin today.

BRINGING ELECTRONIC ART TO LIGHT

Leaning over a light box in his studio, where finicky grade-school-era film projectors share space with 1940s Life magazines and thousands of old slides and photo transparencies gleaned from garage and going-out-of-business sales, Kevin Arrow lays strips of gray plastic film in fanciful patterns across photographs of boring office equipment.

He fits together bits of dirt-gray film on bone-gray film. They form a mosaic for the colorblind--or maybe a craftsy collage appealing to only the most geeky and demented of office cubicle hermits.

And yet this small photo collage stands out as inspired and anachronistic wit, especially when compared to the far more technologically advanced videos and laptop-powered installations that surround it in "Plugged In: New and Electronic Art," a new show at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood. Arrow's piece even slyly reminds us of the obsolescence that awaits technology spotlighted in "Plugged In."

Though South Florida museums have presented riveting shows by national and internationally known artists pushing the limits of video, DVD, and other electronic media, this exhibit is one of too few to take an extended look at the diverse talent here in this field.

The ambitious "Plugged In" focuses on mostly South Florida artists who haven't always gotten the attention they merit--like Michael Betancourt, Dimitry Said Chamy, Edward Bobb, and Elizabeth Hall. It also includes "Dynamic Ribbon Device" by Chicago-based artist Siebren Versteeg, which uses an Internet connection to meld live news feed with a video mimicking the Coke logo.

Better known for his experimental music, Bobb has choreographed "Gesture No. 4 (Multiple Peady)." In this cartoon, an impish troupe of plant and phallic forms cavort to electronic sounds, generated in part by thousands of simple drawings he sketched with his fingertips on a mouse pad.

One of the largest pieces in the show, Hall's chimerical video installation shows a woman who seems part bride and part extra-terrestial ephemera, breaking into a prismatic strata of frantic computer graphics. An emblem of information overload, it shimmers in a room swathed in pink tulle.

There's also a faux boardroom displaying a satiric motivational video skewering the art market and late-night infomercials. It's by a sassy group of anonymous, chiefly twenty-something South Florida performance artists who call themselves MSG--or "Multi-national Sales Group," explains one of the group's members, who calls himself Kenneth Cohen, but lets slip he also goes by Jorge.

ANACHRONISMS

And then there's the experimentally anachronistic Arrow.

"I think of myself as using old media for early 21st Century art," Arrow muses in his garage studio in Miami Beach, holding a well-read copy of the book New Media in Late 20th Century Art.

"Kevin is the antithesis of everything else in the show I was interested in, in the ideas of technology and how technology brings new tools to artists," explains Samatha Salzinger, the curator of "Plugged In."

But from the day in last February when she began visiting studios to find art for this show, Salzinger wanted to include Arrow.

"There's something so retro and intelligent and thoughtful about what he's doing," she says.

It's also a quixotic ode to 1950s TV Land that may suggest a bridge to more hectic and hi-tech pieces in the show.

"When I started curating I didn't realize how unapproachable art can be to some people," says Salzinger, an artist with a MFA from Yale. "Video is hands-down the most difficult for people to understand. I think it's because it's so much a part of our everyday life. Everyone watches TV. We think of this media as entertainment, and yet a lot of video art has no narrative--you can't watch it like TV. You have to be more open. A lot of the pieces are abstract, about evoking emotion."

There's no real story in Arrow's animated collage either, except what you project.

It shows a dated hulk of photo lab machinery originally captured in a photo transparency with all the yawn-inducing sterility of a trade show catalog, but now draped in mystery. In this altered picture, fat vines curl up walls and latch onto machinery controls. Slick and weird, these collaged vines recall the people-crunching flora in the fantasy flick Jumanji.

The plastic strips are actually 1950s relics, used to make early animation. When you look at them through a rotating plastic Polaroid filter Arrow has rigged up for a vintage film projector in his piece for "Plugged In," the strips make this boxy machine gyrate with eye-popping stripes. Projected by a beam of light on the wall, this image becomes a crazy optical delight on the cheap.

Think of a time machine whirring manically in an old cartoon.

Accompanied by a spoofy text claiming the piece involves declassified FBI documents, Arrow's work is called "Untitled (Hell)." It takes a cue from the machine's brand name of Hell, which is also German for "light," but doesn't totally avoid hints of a fiery apocalypse fueled by runaway technology.

Says Arrow, "I just love creating these small intricate things that you can project on a large scale with light."

UNDERGROUND QUALITY

He's not alone. Others in the show have wrought a flickering network of intricate details that unfold over time, like Chamy's dream sequence of pillows bathed in blue rainfall, but they are fashioned electronically on a computer screen with pixels rather than on a light box with hand-cut slivers of plastic.

Betancourt's films are a mercurial flow of mesmerizing geometric designs. They're built up with a complex process that plays glitches deep inside computers against the technology for recording outer space phenomena like sun flares. One work unfurls lush abstractions, another reinvents a travelogue of India.

Hall also works with glitches to push the language of video. And as a well-traveled curator who has staged innovative one-night festivals of video and electronic art around town, she maintains a website for fostering new art at http://www.experimentalshow.org/

Such work could be more visible in South Florida, says Hall. She'd like to see artists here have affordable access to the kind of costly technology that video and electronic work requires, like facilities in Boston and New York charging a fraction of some of Miami's rates of $1,000 a day.

But the underground quality of this art is also a plus. When there aren't a lot of commercial galleries bent on showing and selling high-resolution videos and DVDs, she said, it's easier to avoid highly polished paths.

"The good think about Miami is that there is a lot of freedom to experiment," she explains, "and not to conform to what a gallery would want."

[Blogger's Note: Although generally this artcentric week in Miami has been quite rewarding in many ways, I do have to say that this brain-injured and most definitely-not-dead-yet free-lance art critic and journalist is quite distressed and annoyed to ruminate about a recent phone conversation. During that phone conversation, as she recalls, she was encouraged to consider blogging about her ideas regarding the future of journalism. "Well, I never," as one of my fave characters in 1950s TV Land used to say. Who on earth would want to hear what this digital dinosaur, as I often call myself, has to say about THAT?? Doing this blog takes quite enough of my limited physical resources, thank you very much.]





Miami Art Gallery Presents Linda Kohen Solo Show

Recently my current publisher Liana Perez and I paid a visit to an exquisite show at The Americas Collection in Coral Gables--which, as those of us living here know, is basically part of Greater Miami.

This solo show is part of an impressive international effort to highlight the work of Linda Kohen--a remarkably talented painter I did not know about at all! The show will be on view through most or all of April at The Americas Collection, 214 Andalusia Avenue, Coral Gables. Phone is 305-446-5578 or see http://www.americascollection.com/

As we chatted with the gallery's art director Velia Larcinese, I learned that there may still be some paintings on view in May. I am for sure hoping that is the case because I would very much like to consider the art of Linda Kohen for my May Critic's Choice for http://www.artcircuits.com/

We talked about how the radiantly minimalist still life paintings by Kohen, who was born in Italy and has lived and worked in Uruguay for years, recall the quietly elegant paintings of Italian painter Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964). You can also see echoes of Morandi in some of her more figurative paintings from the 1980s. They often verge on abstraction in intriguing ways.

This show at The Americas Collection is part of a series taking place this spring at galleries in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, and Montevideo. It is very exciting that Miami is on the map for this group of exhibitions highlighting an accomplished Latin American artist who should be far better known than she is, despite all her years of hard work. I understand from a thoughtful essay by Carlos M. Luis in a gallery publication that Linda Kohen's artistic career spans 60 years.

We also spoke about how Kohen's situation somewhat recalls that of Carmen Herrera, who did not receive substantial, international recognition as an artist until late in life.

This conversation put me in the frame of mind to recall the time I reviewed a truly eye-opening exhibit of paintings by Carmen Herrera for The Miami Herald in November 2005, so that will be the focus of my blog post this week.

THE SIGHTS OF SILENCE

Her infatuation with squares and such came with a high price: silence.

Today, at 93, Cuban-born abstract painter Carmen Herrera has a career that stretches back to the late 1940s in Paris, but today she's virtually unknown except to a rarefied group of art world cognoscenti that includes the curatorial staff at El Museo del Barrio and New York Times critics.

For all the attention that Latin American artists have enjoyed the past 15 years or so, with the flowering of Fridamania and significant shows like the watershed exhibit "Latin American Artists of the 20th Century" in 1993 at New York's Museum of Modern Art, mention Carmen Herrera's name to many reasonably well-informed folks, and you'll be met with silence.

Herrera did not make it into the MOMA show.

"I went to New York and saw her work about 10 months ago, and I couldn't understand why someone of this caliber wasn't better known," says Miami Art Central director Rina Carvajal, who curated what's billed as Herrera's first major retrospective, "The Forms of Silence: Carmen Herrera, Abstract Works, 1948-1987," now at MAC.

[At this point, I want to comment on how Rina was present at our April 2011 ArtTable meeting for members and guests, and did such a gracious job of translating for panelist Ernesto Oroza. Of course, Ernesto can express himself quite well in English, but the fact that he became truly animated when he spoke in Spanish with Rina translating added a whole new dimension to that stimulating evening. See my 4/8/2011 blog post, "Miami Artist Robert Chambers Featured at Books & Books Talk."]

Since the late 1990s, Herrera has exhibited sporadically at a handful of galleries and venues in New York, Toronto, Paris, and Havana. In 1998, her black-and-white paintings were favorably reviewed at New York's El Museo del Barrio.

The artist's vibrantly ordered abstract paintings were also included in "Outside Cuba," the 1987 exhibit that traveled to Miami after opening at the Jane Vorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, and in the 1988 "Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920-1970" that opened at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

But since then, there's been almost a virtual silence, something Carvajal hopes will change with the MAC exhibit. She says she has recently fielded inquiries about Herrera from London's Tate Gallery, England's prime showcase for contemporary art.

MAC'S MISSIONS

Carvajal, who joined MAC in July 2004 as its executive director and chief curator, sees this show as part of a larger effort.

"Our mission," she says of MAC, "is to do international art from everywhere, but being in Miami it's also time to do Latin American artists that need acknowledgement."

The second part of that mission dovetails with Carvajal's career, which includes positions as a curatorial fellow at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and a three-year stint as adjunct curator for the 1998 Sao Paulo Bienal.

"I have fought a lot for Latin American artists [to be shown in] a much larger scope in international art," she says. For the catalogue of the 1993 landmark MOMA show, she wrote an essay about Venezuelan painter Armando Reveron, considered an early 20th Century advocate of the spare forms of Modernism.

But even with that important exhibit, she says,"there were stereotypes still, even though you could see the richness of these artists. There was an expectation of what Latin American artists could paint. They had to be colorful, they had to be figurative."

In an 11-minute documentary about Herrera's life and career that MAC prepared in the artist's downtown New York loft and neighborhood in August, a white-haired, arthritic, but gamely persistent and quietly eloquent Herrera talks about making art in the post-war years when stereotypical expectations about Latin American artists were especially dominant. The documentary begins as the artist, who has lived in New York since 1952, recalls being visited years ago by a prominent art dealer who gave the artist this blunt message: I can't represent you because you are a woman and you are Latin American.

This unnamed art dealer nevertheless admitted, Herrera recalls, " 'You are a wonderful painter. You can paint circles around the artists I have in this gallery.' "

Surprisingly enough, in the documentary Herrera does not come across as bitter.

She actually says that she welcomed the years of ensuing silence, because she always wanted "absolute silence, absolute quiet" while painting, and her art does project a cool, meditative state that's far from the emotional, gestural blizzard of dripped paint in works by Jackson Pollock or in the Pop art cleverness of Andy Warhol, two of the many mostly male artists who reaped noisy art world success in New York while she quietly painted away.

Her paintings at MAC invite comparisons to the geometrically shaped, boldly colored canvases of Ellsworth Kelly and to the high-contrast, vibrating style of Op Art. Her 1998 exhibit of the geometrical, optically charged black-and-white paintings, like "Verticals" and "Untitled" (both from 1952) at El Museo del Barrio was an education to many.

Art historian Juan Martinez, who teaches at Florida International University, admits that he first learned of her work from that show back in 1998. In the closing reception for this exhibit on Nov. 13, he will discuss abstraction in Cuban art in the middle years of the 20th Century. In researching his book Cuban Art and National Vanguardia Painters, 1927-1950 (University Press of Florida, $45), he says he found no mention of Herrera among the many catalogues and gallery announcements he reviewed.

Born in Havana in 1915, Herrera was trained at the school of architecture at the University of Havana. The angular joints and open spaces of architecture are clearly part of her vision of abstraction, which quietly contrasts a sense of place that moves forward with one that recedes, but she also cites the painter and pioneering Modernist Amelia Pelaez as an important influence.

LIVED IN PARIS

From 1949 to 1952, she lived and worked in Paris--curiously during the same period that Kelly was in Paris. Annually she showed in Paris in the Salon des Realities Nouvelles, considered the most important venue for reintroducing abstract art to an audience badly shaken by the horrors of World War II.

Paris was the busy place where, she says in the MAC documentary, "I found my way in painting."

There she encountered a book about luminous squares in the abstract painting of Josef Albers, the German-born artist who was one of the first of the influential Bauhaus artists to emigrate to the United States in the wake of the Nazis.

After the squares of Paris and Albers, there was the silence of New York.

The show begins with Herrera's more crowded and hectic (at least by her standards) paintings of the late '40s and early '50s, presumably produced while she was in Paris. These are the slightly off-balance compositions in mostly bright colors, in which elongated triangles spear circular forms that could be riffs on Pelaez's signature bowls of fruit. The works often flirt with the appearance of symmetry but actually give asymmetry a dynamic and destabilizing charge.

Paintings produced during her New York years are cleaner, sharper, and more spare. Spare and geometric abstract art can quickly turn arid, if formal relationships of line, space, and color are not precisely modulated, and not every work here creates a lasting visual charge.

Her paintings look deceptively simple and quick to digest, such as the 1974 "Untitled," in which two slightly irregular shapes stand side by side, but you see that their position in space--in which one is moving forward and one is receding--is not at all clear. This ambiguity gives the painting its subtle strength, leaving simmering questions.

Herrera's paintings resist an easy summation. In her 1956 "Untitled (Blue with White Stripe)," a slightly-bent line charges horizontally just above the center of a blue field, slicing the painting halfway in an off-kilter fashion.

Contemplate these quietly off-balance paintings at your own risk--but whatever you do, contemplate them.

[Blogger's Note: We regret the lack of paragraph breaks in my previous blog post, and believe we have fixed that technical glitch. I hope my readers will be patient with us. Also wanted to add that I have just returned from lunch with my husband Eric, who was reading The Miami Herald's extensive coverage of the Bay of Pigs Invasion on April 17, 1961. He told me that he recalls walking into the kitchen of his home in Miami and watching his Cuban grandmother listening to radio news about the invasion. Then he asked me if I remember hearing about it when I was growing up in Shelbyville, Illinois, and I said, "No," but that I did remember hearing about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Come to think of it, that was probably the first time I ever heard of Cuba!]





Miami Artist Robert Chambers Featured in Books & Books Talk

It has been a glorious April weekend in Miami, when the glowing balmy weather is so pleasant that you hardly notice how late afternoon sunshine starts to betray the slightest trace of summer's relentless sizzle and sting. My artcentric weekend began early. On Thursday night I witnessed an affecting performance by Teresa Pereda at Alejandra Von Hartz Gallery, in conjunction with her exhibit "Earth, The Rite of Restitution." Too bad I don't have the time or energy right now to write about how this memorable exhibit has resulted from various journeys through the Americas.


Friday brought a charming lunch at Lemoni cafe in the Design District, where I had a chance to chat with artcentric friends I have known for ages. Tonight during Saturday's gallery walk Eric and I savored lively exhibits at Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Dotfiftyone Gallery, and Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts, where we saw once again the accomplished Argentine artist Graciela Sacco. Friday night we had been invited to an absolutely splendid dinner party and spent much more time with Graciela. It was such a treat for me to meet this artist in person at last. We spoke about her work in Venice, which involved installing numerous photographic images of eyes throughout this fabled city during a Biennale I had covered for the Herald.


Tonight I want to tell my readers about the upcoming April ArtTable meeting for Members and Guests, on "Designing Artists in Miami: How They Make a Difference." It's Tuesday, April 12 at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables. Networking starts at 5:45 p.m. Panel discussion starts at 6:30 p.m. Those attending receive a 10% discount on food and drink. RSVP to artcircuits@artcircuits.com Of course, it is free and open to the public. As moderator, artist and designer Michelle Weinberg has assembled a dynamite panel. Miami-Dade public art maven Brandi Reddick will tell us about Robert Chambers' new installation of lighting and sculpture for South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center. Other panelists are globe-trotting design expert Thais Fontenelle, product designer Laz Ojalde, and artist and designer Ernesto Oroza. (For more info about Ernesto Oroza, see my previous blog post, or see my April Critic's Choice at www.artcircuits.com).


Knowing that I am going to hear in detail about a new public art work by the absolutely remarkable Robert Chambers, I recall the time I profiled him for The Miami Herald in September 2002. So here is that story again. SCULPTING A MOVEMENT The bone-white flamingo with the red eyes isn't barking, and a man standing outside John Martin's pub wants Robert Chambers to get its bark back. And Chambers, a Miami-based artist known for richly peculiar sculpture that melds science, art, and sound, is only too happy to oblige. So as rush hour clogs Coral Gables' Miracle Mile, Chambers pulls a raft of tools from his black backpack and within minutes, the flamingo has not only gotten his bark back, but also the flash of its beady eyeballs. "I put a microwave sensor in it, so when you get close a tiny laser disc plays back the sound of two attack dogs barking, and the eyes glow an angry red," Chambers explains. "It gets a big jump from everybody." Even the bird's color--or rather, its lack of color--draws attention. "The flamingo came to me white, and I gave it back white," he continues. "It's like the anti-flamingo. They said, 'you forgot to do anything with it.'" While Chambers' anti-flamingo is an eccentric breed apart from the more colorfully predictable plastic birds around town, bringing things to life with unpredictable flair is the artist's maverick M.O. He has not only constructed art from unlikely materials such as hair gel, he has also been an unusually generous catalyst on the local art scene. Last year he curated two attention-getting shows, emphasizing the distinctive work of young and youngish Miami-based artists at The House and Bass Museum of Art. This month he has orchestrated several shows to raise awareness--and money--for SAVE Dade, an organization urging a "no" vote on the Sept. 10 referendum to remove the phrase "sexual orientation" from Miami-Dade County's Human Rights Ordinance. The shows will take place at Fredric Snitzer and Bernice Steinbaum galleries, at the home of Eugenia Vargas, and will include a performance in the newly minted El Solar Arts House in Coral Gables. "I like to create a happening that creates awareness either of artists or a cause," Chambers says. And this cause, he says, "reminds us that everyone's human rights can be threatened. People in the arts have always been at the forefront of alerting people about human rights." Adds Daniel Arsham, who grew up in South Florida and is now an art student in New York: "It's kind of our job. The arts community is a place where there's more openness." Arsham is among the 200 artists, including Paul Stoppi, Vickie Pierre, and Naomi Fisher contributing works to the "NO-Show," which opens Tuesday at Fredric Snitzer Gallery. On that night, all sales of the moderately priced--nothing over $500--artwork will benefit SAVE Dade. "Obviously, this issue is critical," Snitzer says. "It's good that we are having a stake in this campaign and saying, 'no, this can't fly.'


" Vargas came to mind because, in the past few years, she has organized a lively series of "Home Shows," in which artists have installed works in her home. Besides, Chambers says, "if you don't have your human rights it's like not having a home"--which inspired the name of the "NO-Home Show," a one-night event on Sept. 9 at Vargas' home that will include art by Pablo Cano, Maria Brito, and David Rohn. OUTSIDE THE BOX Momentum among artists to support SAVE Dade started nearly two years ago, but really raced forward this summer as election day neared.


Chambers exchanged so many e-mails and calls with artists that, by late August, the memory card in his cell phone reached its limit. Such rallying en masse is "something artists should do," insists Vargas. "I really think the Miami arts community is impassive; artists are kind of removed if anything is political." With a slight smile, Arsham describes the variety of events as adding up to, "a normal Robert affair. He thinks completely differently from anyone else who organizes things." The Miami household in which Chambers grew up in the 1960s seems to have been one that nurtured out-of-the-box thinking. Chambers' great-grandmother was a pioneering midwife on a farm near the Oregon coast while his father, Edward L. Chambers, taught biology at the University of Miami. Now professor emeritus at UM, his research there included fertilizing sea urchin eggs.


He's also the author of the classic textbook,The Living Cell. No surprise, then, that the artist's mother, Elenora S. Chambers, is an abstract painter whose lilting canvasses have sometimes resembled interlacing cellular forms. While his father would be conducting research in the Marquesas or on the Massachusetts coast, Chambers remembers how his mother brought along huge rolls of canvas that she tacked up to work on. "My parents led exciting lives," Chambers says. "They were always traveling. They went everywhere, from Cuba to remote areas in France, and my father traveled around Tunisia. Some trips I went along with them, and my mother just loved the diversity of all these places and meeting new people. " "That's how she met my father. She was discussing existentialism with several scientists, and she caught my father's ear and eye in Portland, Oregon." TWIN PASSIONS So it was natural that art and science would become passions for the couple's son. His parents frequently took him to art museums, and he also developed a talent for making horrific messes in his father's lab, stopping up sinks to create floods. At home, a family heirloom, a charming 19th Century wind-up bird that chirped arias from La Boheme, was one of many objects Chambers relentlessly took apart and reassembled. A burly man with a loping gait, black hair that explodes into ringlets in the summer humidity, and the demeanor of an intelligently manic Peter Pan, Chambers celebrated his 44th birthday in August on his great-grandmother's farm with his wife and fellow artist Mette Tommerup. "I wish I was stuck at 24," he says. "Then my brain would be matching my body." Not that the considerable variety of his art--which has been featured in solo shows at the Miami Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, as well as in galleries in New York, London, and Rome--ever suggests sluggishness. Instead, it tweaks the machine-like sculpture of Jean Tinguely with bravura invention and humor.


Over his career, he has moved from noise-making pieces made of cast-off industrial parts scavenged from Miami River junk yards to installations oozing with fluorescent chemicals once used to trace water pollutants and reconfigured to suggest bubbling abstract paintings run amok. Many pieces invite watchful observation or participation, such as the silkily inflating and deflating "Capes" in MOCA's permanent collection or the luminous "Ballship," a vast fiberglass globe that echoes and distorts ambient sounds, transforming viewers' speech into unearthly music.


"He's very inventive in doing things with different materials," Jeanette Ingberman, co-director of Exit Art, a non-profit venue in Manhattan, says of Chambers. "We did a show called 'Danger,' which suited him because a lot of his pieces imply danger." Chambers' piece featured "a huge kind of rotating blade that was quite difficult to turn and made an excruciating noise," Ingberman remembers. "As dangerous as it seemed, it was also quite inviting to use. He's created wonderful machines, and many of them are participatory, so he's creating in his art a situation that you can get involved in just as he does with his curatorial work." "Not every artist is as generous as a person," she continues, noting that Chambers has frequently recommended artists for Exit Art shows. "Not only does he come up with ideas for the shows, but he comes out with a truck to pick up the artwork." CREATING BY CURATING With his free-wheeling curatorial projects, including one planned to coincide with December's Art Basel Miami Beach, Chambers is moving into a new phase, an extension of the interactive style he adopted while teaching art from 1993-98 at the University of Miami. Then he took students to New York and introduced them to artists and other contacts he developed while doing graduate work and teaching at New York University in the late 1980s and early '90s.


"I always made sure my students would stay with artists and curators all throughout New York and New Jersey," he says. "We would spread out all over the place, and then we would meet together at a deli on Second Avenue. I was always mixing it up so the faculty regarded me nervously." Now operating in a less institutional framework, Chambers is generating an infectious energy that has been embraced by young artists here such as Jason Ferguson, Christian Curiel, and Brandon Opalka, who call themselves "FeCuOp." At Chambers' insistence, FeCuOp developed the "NO to Discrimination" banner, another work in the SAVE Dade campaign, now hanging outside Bernice Steinbaum Gallery. "Robert is a little frazzled sometimes," Ferguson says, "but he's really pushed us and helped us get our bearings. He's like a mad scientist." Mad scientist. Impassioned maverick. Those are just some of the names he's been called by bemused friends and associates. "He's a total original," adds Miami Art Museum director Suzanne Delehanty. "It is always an inspiration to be around him."





Miami’s Historical Vizcaya Museum & Gardens Now Hosts Contemporary Art

Earlier this year I had a delightful lunch at Vizcaya with my artcentric friends Flaminia, Susan, and Holly who work there. I think I mentioned the time I thought I had actually seen a "mass quince" happening there, to my utter astonishment, when Eric and I had been boating on the bay near Vizcaya!

During that lunch, we all talked about Vizcaya's exciting Contemporary Arts Project, and what's planned there for 2011 through 2012.

Right now you can see "Archetype Vizcaya" by Ernesto Oroza, who received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2007 for his remarkable skills merging the visual arts, design, and architecture. ("Archetype Vizcaya" is also featured in my April Critic's Choice for http://www.artcircuits.com/) A native of Cuba, he now lives in Miami. I recalled from an earlier chat with Ernesto in his Wynwood studio that I had actually seen a work of design that he helped create when I went to Cuba for The Miami Herald.

Now that I can check my own personal archive of all my work for the Herald, I see that I wrote about that work in my January 2001 story, "A New Picture," an account of my trip to Havana published in the Sunday paper. Discussing an example of the ingenious variety of materials artists worked with in Cuba, I noted, "the Havana design team known as Cabinete Ordo Amoris has sculpted a baroque pink lamp from tubes used to inseminate cows." Ernesto once worked with that design team.

It's quite exciting that Miami can now benefit from his talents and insights. He's agreed to take part in our upcoming April panel discussion on art and design for ArtTable members and guests. This is an impressive panel that artist and designer Michelle Weinberg has assembled, and I am very much looking forward to it!

Vizcaya's highly promising Contemporary Arts Project will also showcase artworks and performances by Naomi Fisher (whose work can now be seen at the Rubell Family Collection in Wynwood) later this year, and in 2012 work by Francesco Simeti and Josiah McElheny. Sponsors include the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as well as the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council.

Our lunch took me back to the time I wrote for The Miami Herald about this exciting project at Vizcaya in its pilot phase, so I decided to blog about that this week. Here's my story, with a few updates added, about Anna Gaskell at Vizcaya in March 2007.

ART IN THE GARDEN

Anna Gaskell's three-minute film loop, set in Vizcaya, is brief but beautiful. Birds chirp on a fall day as the viewer seems to stroll through the historic gardens, with surprising new details emerging as the film loops again and again.

You find it by walking into a darkened, second-story room in the Vizcaya mansion. "Still Life" is installed with three screens to show differing views of three women walking around a spiraling patch of formal greenery, up and down stairs, past a jewel-like reflecting pool in the lush Renaissance-styled French and Italian gardens of Vizcaya. Sometimes the women, nearly always seen from the back, almost meet themselves going and coming.

The multiple views take on an unexpected, topsy-turvy perspective--on one screen straight forward, on another sideways and on a third, upside down. Just as the film ends, for the briefest of seconds, the three women appear to merge into one long-haired, nameless heroine.

The dark-haired women are shown from the back, or from the side. You never see a full view of a face. Although it would have been physically impossible to make the film with a single woman, the eerie effect is that you watch one woman contemplating various episodes or selves in a single life.

A story begins to emerge, a relatively plotless meditation on discovering more about one's identity and surroundings through memory. Gaskell likes the way the visual arts can be shaped to tell a story. She takes inspiration from the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, the classic children's book A Wrinkle in Time, and memories of her own backyard in Iowa when she was growing up. It had an openness, she recalls, free "of the restrictions you have every day as a child."

In "Still Life," you see the story of how one woman, perhaps in her late 20s or mid-30s, carves out time to ruminate and reflect. The garden paths become a fertile metaphor for the labyrinthine cycles of memory.

"I've always liked this phrase, 'a turn in the garden.' I think the lonely escape of walking in the garden is pretty decadent," the New York-based Gaskell says. "You're rarely doing that these days." Gaskell came to Miami in November with a film crew that shot "Still Life" in two days.

"Still Life" is the first of three contemporary visual art projects planned for Vizcaya through early 2008. (The first work in Vizcaya's contemporary art program was "Organic Pipes," an installation by sound artist Gustavo Matomoros that opened in November.) Future contemporary art projects will feature Miami-based Cristina Lei Rodriguez [you can also see an example of her current work at the Art & Culture Center of Hollywood in my April Critic's Choice at http://www.artcircuits.com/] and Catherine Sullivan, who lives and works in Chicago.

Focused on art of the day, these projects may seem to clash with the historic setting. Showing contemporary art at Vizcaya is an idea that goes back to when the Renaissance-styled estate was built by industrialist James Deering from 1914 to 1916.

"The primary purpose is to re-establish Vizcaya as a place of creative exchange harkening back to its origins," says Joel M. Hoffman, executive director of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Artists and artisans from the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean came to help carve Vizcaya from mangrove swamps. Some were associated with a classical tradition. Others were considered avant-garde at the time.

Showing contemporary art at Vizcaya is a new way to attract visitors, especially those who think they've already seen all there is at the museum and gardens. It's a strategy adopted by other historic museums. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston shows works by contemporary artists in residence. It also offers online exhibits.

Says Hoffman, "We are not alone at looking at ways to juxtapose the historic and contemporary. In a community that's so evolving and contemporary, in the context of Art Basel, it seems to make sense."

Artists chosen to create work for Vizcaya are recommended by an advisory committee of five local and national art professionals. They are Westen Charles of Locust Projects, Hoffman, Mary Luft of Tigertail Productions, Mercedes Quiroga of New World School of the Arts, and Hamza Walker of the Renaissance Society in Chicago.





Miami Artist Maria Martinez-Canas Honored at Arteamericas Fair

"This fair has really come a long way," I remarked to an exceptionally veteran Miami dealer as I strolled the aisles of Arteamericas art fair yesterday at Miami Beach Convention Center. He smiled knowingly at me and gave an enthusiastic thumb's up.

Yesterday was a rather quick visit at the end of the afternoon. I hope to return on Sunday. (During the afternoons of this Saturday and Sunday is an excellent series of Art Talks. Don't forget that the fair lasts through Monday, March 28. Doors open at noon.)

I visited the fair with my very dear artcentric friend and current publisher, Liana Perez. We were on our way to see Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People in "Last Meadow," part of the Cultura Del Lobo Performance Series of Miami Dade College.

Although I certainly do not have the time to think and write about all that I saw at the fair, I was particularly impressed by these curated exhibits: "New Work Miami" for Miami Art Museum; "Centroamerica: Civismo y violencia," curated by Janet Batet and Clara Asitasaran; "West Encounters East" at Booth 5o1; and "Tracing Their Roots: The Three Marias, Works by Maria Brito, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons and Maria Martinez-Canas," curated by Jorge Hilker Santis, curator and head of collection research for Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale.

His was an exquisitely succinct look at how these three exceptionally talented artists have portrayed their Cuban roots in their distinctively accomplished art.

It brought to mind The Miami Herald review I wrote about the solo show he curated for one of these Marias several years ago, so I thought I would post that on my blog today.

(For more insight into Maria Brito, see my 2/13/2011 blog post, "Miami Artist Maria Brito Honored by Frost Art Museum." Regrettably, I don't think I ever got to write a substantial review of art by Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons although I do recall encountering her work on one of my trips to Venice.)

Here is what I wrote for The Miami Herald in May 2002. (I see from the copy in my own personal archive that my review ran at that time on a Wednesday--I am sure that I was disappointed that it did not make the Sunday paper. How ironic, now that this review will be on the Internet!)

IDENTITY CRISIS

An eerie specter of a woman dominated one corner of "Maria Martinez-Canas: A Retrospective," now at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. Glimpsed in the murk of a black-and-white video, she sloshes in a tub, wearing only what appear to be dozens of plastic masks, piled one atop the other.

In a dreamy sequence, the woman pulls off one mask after another. Yet what should be a process of revelation becomes more concealing. We see her body floundering in water and hear her voice in Spanish, but the camera never focuses on her face.

The video is a remarkably prescient self-portrait of Martinez-Canas in 1984, when the Miami-based artist was 24 and a graduate student at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Titled "Un Problema de identidad" (A Problem of Identity), it exposes a tense process of watery flux, a peculiar conundrum in which naked flesh on view within a claustrophobic, womb-like space remains a damp mystery.

In this retrospective, the video provides a striking encapsulation of the exciting work Martinez-Canas would produce over the next two decades, during which she would win numerous national and international honors. The video foretells her tightly composed photomontages, with glimpses of vulnerable bodies set amid fluid designs evocative of islands, as well as geometric enclosures inspired by maps of colonial Cuba, maps she studied in Spain in 1986 on a Fubright-Hays grant.

She has gone on from those early days to establish herself as a nationally prominent photographic artist whose work resides in the permanent collections of such museums as New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the International Center of Photography, as well as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Martinez-Canas, the student, was not unique in exploring the nebulous fate of mercurial self-portraits, and one could argue that this video is a self-conscious effort from an MFA candidate. Formally, however, it's much more than an obligatory rehash of topical, identity-conscious art by the likes of Cindy Sherman and Ana Mendieta.

And Martinez-Canas was grappling with her own feelings of being uprooted. Born the youngest of three daughters in Cuba in 1960, she was barely three months old when her family fled Fidel Castro's regime for Miami before eventually settling in Puerto Rico. It was there that the artist was raised, learning of her homeland from an art-laced pastiche of family memories.

LATIN CULTURE

"She likes to say that she is a Cuban-born, Puerto Rico-raised American citizen," says her father Jose Martinez-Canas, a Coral Gables art dealer. "I think she really loved hearing the old stories of Cuba. And she grew up, like all my kids, surrounded by Latin American culture. We had writers and musicians in our home. Our friends were artists."

When his daughter moved to Miami in 1986, those memories stayed vivid. In her Bakehouse studio, she kept a snapshot of herself as a chubby-cheeked 8-year-old at a San Juan restaurant
with her family and Cuban painter Cundo Bermudez.

It was also at the age of 8, her father remembers, that his youngest daughter began begging to use his Nikon or her mother's old Rolleiflex. Then her parents gave her a Polaroid Swinger, which she used to shoot things such as colonial archways and patterns in the barks of trees.

"She wanted us to go every weekend to photograph in Old San Juan or at El Dorado Beach," he says. "She had a sense of form from the very beginning."

A formalist spirit with sensuous imagery and echoes of an exile's fragmented past still mingles in her work. Nearly four years ago, while remodeling the studio in her Little Havana home, she temporarily set up shop in a former cigar factory on Calle Ocho amid boxes of dried tobacco leaves that had been left behind--the smell of which brought back memories of a cigar-smoking grandfather.

PHOTOGRAMS

Along with sprays of bougainvillea and other plants, the tobacco leaves became subjects for a stunning new series of semi-abstract photograms, produced without a lens by shining light on plants scattered across photo-sensitive paper the color of lapis lazuli.

"There was something magical and incredible about the whole process," remembers Martinez-Canas, a petite woman with an intense gaze and tightly-curled black hair.

Such combinations in Martinez-Canas' work have long intrigued Andy Grundberg, a Washington-based independent critic and curator who chose the artist's 1991 work "Quince Sellos Cubanos" (Fifteen Cuban Stamps) for "Points of Entry," a nationally traveling 1995 show exploring art and identity.

This stamp series presents intricate collage-like photographs that arise from a singular technical process and riff on paintings by artists such as Amelia Pelaez and other scenes featured on Cuban stamps. As telling documents of travel and cultural icons, the stamps, Martinez-Canas said then, "became an essential element in coming closer to my Cubanness."

What's amazing in her art, Grundberg explains, "is that she combines this experimental attitude with the medium of photography, and at the same time the content is really personal, speaking to her cultural experience and to issues of dislocation. I'd put her in a league with Lorna Simpson and Carrie Mae Weems in the sense that she uses photography to evoke the complexities of personal experience."

PHOTOS, VIDEOS

Only five examples from the stamp series made it into the Fort Lauderdale retrospective, but curator Jorge Hilker Santis has included more than 100 works, chiefly photographs and a few videos. It's a dazzling overview, from 1980 to the present, that includes the photographs she used in building her largest image to date, "Anos Continuous" (Continuous Years), a 10-foot -square wall of sand-blasted glass for Concourse D at Miami International Airport.

In some ways, this 1995 public commission, with majestic layering of maps and landmarks for travelers on real and imaginary journeys, marked a glorious artistic cul-de-sac. Soon after, she realized she needed to move on.

"I felt very tired about the work," she says. "I felt it was time for me to drop anything that had to do with Cuba because, if not, I would start repeating myself. My work was about so much more than the issue of Cuba."

So she became more spontaneous, producing, for example, the unique plant-leaf photograms.

"In a way, I am allowing myself to fail and not thinking so much about what is going to happen," she says. "Chance is very much there."

That year Martinez-Canas also nursed a close friend until his death from a long illness. It was a profound experience that led her to make work memorializing life's transience, such as the eerie, exquisite "Flight (Hospital Bed)" on linen. In this photo, a ghostly, blurred figure--actually the artist--struggles to rise from a quilt-like pattern of botanical prints.

A RENEWAL

"The last few years have been some of the most exciting," she says. And the energy she felt early in her career, when she was making imagery patterned after maps of colonial Cuba, has returned.

One highlight came last September when she and other artists included in "Arte Latino: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum" were invited to meet First Lady Laura Bush and Martha Sahagun, wife of Mexican President Vicente Fox, at a reception in Chicago, where the traveling show was on view.

"For Latino artists to be there was an honor, it was a validation," she says. The prospect of chatting with Laura Bush, however, was unnerving.

"I was shaking," Martinez-Canas remembers. But their conversation in English and Spanish went smoothly.

"She understands Spanish. They made you feel very comfortable," Martinez-Canas says.

"Some of us have grown up in this country, we feel very American, but we have come from different parts. It was an experience I will never forget."





In Miami, Cuban Art Collector Howard Farber on Arteamericas Panel

This is quite the season for art fair panels on art collecting!

I am blogging on Friday night this weekend. That's earlier than I usually post my weekly blog entry because tomorrow morning my husband Eric and I are heading out for Naples from Miami. We are taking our canoe with us--it will be a long weekend for us with boating AND art!

I am taking part in a program for Art Naples Saturday afternoon, March 19. It's called "Passion of Collecting." I'll interview Naples art collector Robert Edwards on ways to begin collecting and what a seasoned collector looks for in possible additions to his collection.

There's quite a range of programs lined up for this fair this weekend, with talks on Latin American art and the upcoming Miami Biennale. I'm impressed by the variety and the quality of Miami people who are participating! For more info, check www.artfairnaples.com/program.html

In Miami next weekend at the Arteamericas art fair, there are more panels of interest to novice and seasoned art collectors. I'm especially hoping to catch "Private Collectors and Public Collections" on Sunday, March 27 at 3 pm in Hall D at Miami Beach Convention Center.

It will be moderated by my talented friend, Julia P. Herzberg, Ph. D., adjunct curator for the Frost Museum of Florida International University. Here are the panelists:

Dr. Marvin Sackner, of the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, who'll address the Latin American presence in concrete and visual poetry.

Howard Farber, of the Fundacion Cuba Avant-Garde, speaking on Cuban contemporary art.

Ricardo Viera, who'll speak about selections from the Lehigh University Teaching Collection.

Jose Luis Falcon, who will discuss "Selections from the Latin American Collection, Art Forum, Harvard University."

Knowing that Howard Farber will participate in this panel brings to mind the time I interviewed Howard in his Miami Beach apartment for The Miami Herald. We had such a wonderful conversation! As I was ready to leave, he gave me an autographed copy of "Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection."

So I thought that tonight I would revisit that afternoon by posting my Herald profile of him, from June 2007.

Actually, what I'm posting here is the story I filed for the Herald, not the one that was actually published. A few interesting details were cut in the published version, as happens so often in newspapers. Now I no longer have to roll my eyes when I see what finally makes it to the printed page of the Herald!

THE EYE OF THE COLLECTOR

The first and last time Cuban contemporary art collector Howard Farber set foot in Cuba was 2001. It was an odd introduction to the island.

While stepping off the plane in Havana, he and his wife Patricia lugged shopping bags full of foot powder from a Walgreens in Manhattan. Patricia, a New York City patron of the ballet, had picked out much-needed supplies for the foot-sore ballet dancers of Cuba.

Although since the 1960s Farber has first collected American modernist art and then contemporary art from China, he insisted to Patricia: "No art. I am not buying any art. I am totally involved in Chinese art."

For good measure, he added, "My brain can't handle another collection."

His brain changed. [Um, do I know about how changes in the brain can change your life!!]

Farber is a hard-core art collector and a natural-born raconteur. As he tells this story, he's sitting at the dining table in his Miami Beach apartment, where he and Patricia live part-time.

He's looking through the bilingual catalogue for "Cuba Avante-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection," which is now at the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida in Gainesville. It's there until September, and then it travels to more museums.

The adventurous art he found on the island has sparked the curiosity of many a hard-core collector. Farber wondered how this contemporary art came not only to exist but thrive. It was attracting droves of art collectors from the Americas and Europe.

The Farbers went to Havana for a tour of Cuban art and architecture organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They toured the art school Instituto Superior de Arte, known as ISA. A mantra at the time was that ISA students have no materials; ISA students are turning out amazing art.

Six months after his visit to Cuba, a museum professional in Cuba e-mailed him to ask about his contemporary Chinese art collection.

"I was fascinated because it was the first time I've ever received an e-mail from Havana," he recalls. Through that person, whose name he says he can't divulge, Farber's quest to collect Cuban art began.

"In another life I must have been either an art critic or an art historian because to me, the history of art is as important as the artwork itself," Farber confesses. A trim man of medium height, he says he hates public speaking, but in the quiet of his Miami Beach apartment, furnished with a stylish simplicity that looks almost Asian, he enthusiastically talks on and on about art.

With each of his collections of American, Chinese, and Cuban art, he notes, "I feel like I have an eye for art but I have had a lot of help. Someone has to train you."

In each case, he found advisors. To learn more about Cuban art, he trolled the Internet, consulted people in Havana, and lunched with Holly Block, who wrote the book Art Cuba: The New Generation. It came out the year that Farber took his only trip to Havana.

Another critical book in his quest to collect Cuban art is New Art of Cuba that Luis Camnitzer wrote in 1994. Farber calls it his bible. He keeps copies of the Camnitzer book at home in Miami Beach and New York.

"I go on vacation and I take it with me," he insists. "I could read it fifty times."

Farber used a strategy that served him well in his American and Chinese collections: identify the group show that captured a pivotal moment in the art he pursued. For Cuban contemporary art, it was "Volumen I," which opened January 14, 1981 in the Centro de Arte Internacional in Havana.

Camnitzer writes in his book that this show "has come to symbolize the emergence of the new art in Cuba for artists and critics alike," and he asserts that the show had a historical impact on Cuban art in the 20th Century.

Its impact seems to continue in the 21st Century. Five of the artists in that historical show are now in the Farber show at University of Florida. They include three who frequently exhibit in South Florida: Jose Bedia, Tomas Sanchez, and Ruben Torres Llorca.

A second strategy Farber used was to seek out the artists themselves. Some were in Cuba. Others were in Miami, Canada, Spain, France, and Australia. He contacted them to ask where he could find the artwork that they thought was the best example of their art.

He was inspired by what Ry Cooder did to bring attention to Cuban musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club.

"What he did was amazing," Farber says. "What I did was try to find the artists, find their great works, try to collect them, and put them in a show to have these works seen for the first time in many cases." Through what he calls "nefarious" methods, one painting after another reached him in New York.

"It was usually rolled up and dirty because it had been sitting for years either in a basement or attic," he recalls. After he had it cleaned and stretched, he recalls, "there before me was a miraculous work."

Carlos Estevez, now in Miami, was in Paris when Farber e-mailed him. He gained from one of Farber's artistic search-and-rescue missions. In the catalogue (but not in the show) is "Across the Universe" by Estevez. It's a large sculpture that weighs over 200 pounds and shows a Christ-like man with a candle and huge wings.

"He saved that work," says Estevez. When he saw it again, he became emotional. Estevez had not seen the sculpture since leaving Cuba in 2003. In Havana, he put it in his studio window so that people walking on the street could see it. It made such a strong impression that sometimes they screamed at it.

Farber is impressed by the deep friendships among Cuban artists.

"I never met a group of artists so dedicated to other artists," he says. In Miami, as he saw in February at the opening reception for Carlos Gonzalez at Chelsea Galleria in Wynwood, "they are all out for support," he marvels.

"Some are more successful than others. But they all have a history together. The original dirt on their feet is from Cuba."

Tina Spiro of Chelsea Galleria remembers Farber from that night. He was observant, charming, and curious. Farber doesn't strike her as a collector who likes art as a status symbol. Says Spiro, "He has a personality that is in synch with art. He's in touch with what he's looking at."

She's also witnessed the support network among Cuban artists. Jose Bedia, Gory, and Gustavo Acosta showed up to get Gonzalez's sculpture ready for the show.

"That's a pretty heavy duty installation crew," Spiro notes. "They've been friends for many years. It wasn't an easy road for any of them."

Those intense ties to each other and to making art strike a resonnant chord with Farber.

His collecting, he insists, is "only about the art. I know that in Florida people really get bent out of shape with the history of Cuban art." His voice rises.

"People have to realize that not everybody that has the ability to collect Cuban art is involved in politics! It has to be said, and I'm not afraid to say it."





Miami Artist Blossoms at Venice Biennale

As our art community ponders the wealth of growing artistic talent distinguishing Miami, I want to remind my readers of contributions that Eugenia Vargas Pereira made to our burgeoning art scene when we were so lucky to have her living and working here in Miami.

I was especially touched that Eugenia made a comment on my post last week of 3/6, "Miami Art Space Feeds the Soul." I'm assuming that she commented from her native Chile, where she moved after she left Miami.

Not only did Eugenia represent Chile, while she was living in Miami, at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003, but beginning in 1999 she staged a series of remarkable "Home Shows," by allowing artists intermittently to take over her one-story home near Miami Shores. She gave them free rein to convert nearly every room into an impromptu gallery for showing all kinds of work, including sculpture, photography, installation art, video, and painting.

You can read more about that inspiring initiative on page 14 of my foreword to the book Miami Contemporary Artists by Paul Clemence and Julie Davidow. Also in that book, look on pages 232-233 to see more about Eugenia herself.

She eloquently reminds us,"Miami is unique because the city is constantly redefining itself, reinventing itself, and growing. Being an artist in Miami has allowed me to be part of that growth and those changes."

I count myself fortunate to have covered Eugenia's exhibit in Venice for The Miami Herald, at a time when print journalism as we used to know it still mattered.

When I read the lively discussion that Dennis Scholl began last week on 3/4 on the Knight Arts Blog (you'll find a link to that blog on my blog) about our many exceptional artistic talents, I know of course that not every artist's name could be mentioned, but I do think it is important to pay homage to the contributions that Eugenia made when she was here, and to recognize her significant accomplishments.

So here's the story I wrote in June 2003 for the Herald when Eugenia brought her art to the Biennale.

SLICE OF LATIN AMERICAN SPIRIT SPICES UP JADED VENICE CROWD

For one sultry week this month, a little bit of old Santiago, Chile, met up with a bit of old Venice. This unlikely date transpired within a new performance piece by Miami-based Eugenia Vargas. Nostalgia mingled with a poignant take on the cutting-edge, and an almost childish glee cut through jaded looks from crowds inspecting Vargas' work and others by Latin American artists during the crush of opening events at the 50th Venice Biennale.

Vargas' performance piece--and her compelling suite of related photographs about toy dolls and horses--are part of "An Archipelago of Images," a series of solo shows by artists from nine Latin American countries, organized by the Italian-Latin American Institute in Rome and overseen by curator Irma Arestizabal.

The exhibits are presented in the renovated Convent of Santi Cosma and Damiano on the Venetian island of Giudecce, about a twenty-minute boat trip from the heart of Venice in San Marco Piazza.

The artist's performance unfolded in the convent's courtyard, on a lawn that's slightly gone to seed. She'd arranged for Chilean street photographer Luis Maldonado to come to Venice with his prized 19th Century European pinhole camera and his photographer's prop of a quaintly crafted wooden horse on which his subjects--traditionally children with their families--playfully mount.

As he has done for years in Santiago's main plaza, Maldonado snapped pictures of smiling subjects sitting on the toy horse. This time, however, their backdrop was not a real cityscape. It was a large banner reproducing a turn-of-the-century painting of strollers along a picturesque Venetian waterfront; the painting was by Chilean artist Juan Molina, who was trained by a conservative Italian painter transplanted to Chile.

The setting drew "100 percent" more curiosity and excitement than Maldonado receives in Santiago, he says, where he's usually ignored by city residents and only tourists ask for portraits.

PRADA POSING

"Brilliant!" laughed one young British woman in Venice as she posed provocatively on horseback. For the photo she was surrounded by a bevy of fashionista girlfriends, a group clad in flirty lace dresses and red chiffon scarves who called themselves the "Prada-Meinhoff Gang."

The spectacle intrigued observers like Mirta Demare, a Rotterdam art dealer who grew up in Argentina. Photographers like Maldonado, she said, are part of Latin America's cultural iconography.

"When I was a girl there were photographers like him in our parks, but now they are gone," she says. She liked the way his work intersected with Vargas' photographs inside, with their tension between the real and the fake, between the sense of sweetness and loss that informs their carefully staged versions of childhood memories.

The work is "a very funny kind of fake," she says. "It's a fairy tale in a modern box."

Other pieces in the show ranged in quality, with bland paintings by Rosella Matamoros from Costa Rica, but among the strong works was a starkly landscaped video by Charly Nijensohn of Argentina and a room of floating webs of starfish by Maria Fernanda Cardoso of Colombia, another beautiful example of her work's focus on mortality.

PROTESTS

Despite the strength of some of the works in "Archipelago of Images," they remain part of a troubling aspect for the representation of Latin American art in the Biennale. At the Biennale in 2001, artists chosen for exhibits organized by the Italian-Latin American Institute staged a protest at the opening, vociferously complaining that their shows were too far away--at least an hour away in Treviso--for anyone to see.

This time around, Venezuelan artist Pedro Morales was shut out of his country's pavilion in the Biennale's main venue of the Giardini, a hilly park on the eastern tip of Venice--when the Venezuelan government censored his work at the last minute because they felt it criticized the current regime. Morales came to Venice anyway and staged a protest as well.

Although she says it's a "sin" for Venezuela to squander such resources, Arestizabal says the protests don't cast a shadow on the representation of Latin American art and points to the diversity of work by artists from the region showcased throughout the Biennale.

Still, the protests are "emblematic of the enmeshment of art and politics in Latin America," says Victor Zamudio-Taylor, a curator who focuses on Latin American art and is involved with the newly established exhibition space Miami Art Central. "As long as art institutions are linked to political regimes they are not going to have an autonomous status."

The protests are part of larger problems for some who would like to see changes in the way this region is represented. They argue that grouping such diverse artists as the institute does is counter-productive. "Asia isn't treated as a lump sum of countries, so why should Latin America be treated this way?" says curator Silvia Karman Cubina, who moved to Miami last year from Puerto Rico and directs the Moore Space in the Design District.

"If you look at the artists [the institute] has featured over a period of time, 90 percent would not have been considered established or up-and-coming," says Zamudio-Taylor, who thinks an emphasis on national representation may be obsolete. "I think if you have a show on contemporary Latin American art, put together with maybe three curators and with a theme, it would have more impact."





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."





Miami Art Bites in Orthodontist Office

Only in Miami can you find art by an internationally admired artist in an absolutely exceptional orthodonist office! That office, of course, would belong to the absolutely exceptional art collector Dr. Arturo Mosquera.

Mark your calendar for the third opening reception of "Lingua," an exhibit by Miralda, who lives in Miami and Barcelona, and whose gastronomically adventurous art was celebrated by a recent museum retrospective in Madrid. This free, special event takes place 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 4 at the Art @ Work Gallery, 1245 Galloway Road (87th Avenue) in Miami. For more info, call 305-264-3120. It's sponsored by Centro Cultural Espanol and FoodCulturaMuseum and is open to the public; the exhibit is on view through April 24, weekdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If you have not been to an Art @ Work opening reception, you are in for a memorable treat. If you have, then you know what friendly, engaging, and lively events these openings are. I always meet treasured artcentric friends when I go!

Arturo Mosquera, as I learned when I wrote about him for The Miami Herald in June 2003, believes he was born with a passion to collect.

Here is more of what I learned then about this remarkable man, who with his wife Liza continues to play a pivotal role in Miami's expanding cultural community:

Growing up in the western province of Pinar del Rio in Cuba, Mosquera amassed stacks of Marvel Comics and baseball cards. In Coral Gables, his collection of Latin American art extends to every corner of his family's home--from floor to ceiling.

A commanding portrait by Arnaldo Roche Rabell, as densely textured as a rain forest, dominates the wall of a small study, while the hip-hop flavored sculpture of Luis Gispert graces the living room. Cardboard cut-outs by Pedro Vizcaino dart like bloodied planes in battle across the ceiling of yet another room.

The Mosqueras' modern, 1960s Gables home--with sleek touches Frank Lloyd Wright might admire--generously mirrors some of the most interesting art that's been made by artists with ties to South Florida in the past decade or so. At least, that is, when some of the 400 paintings, sculpture, video, and drawings are not on loan to South Florida museums or to institutions in Venezuela and Brazil.

Art is a passion for Mosquera, who arrived in Miami in 1962 when he was 9. But few collectors have chosen to live and work with works of art in the way that he and his wife Liza Mosquera have done.

Their art blurs links between home and office, and this has nothing to do with telecommuting.

For the past two and a half years, Arturo has invited South Florida artists to make a changing series of installations and exhibits in the Miami office where he practices orthodontics and where Liza has worked as office manager. In the modestly-scaled waiting room, patients can alternate from flipping through well-worn Sports Illusrated magazines to taking in a novel series of contemporary art.

Many of the concise exhibits are by artists with works in the Mosqueras' expansive collection at home, which ranges from sculpture by Maria Brito and Florencio Gelabert, intricately constructed with reflections on exile, to poetic drawings by Jorge Pantoja and glistening Caribbean altar pieces by Charo Oquet.

Currently at the office there's a video documenting Carolina Sardi as she welds an ambitious group of painted steel reliefs fashioned to suggest suitases and natural treasures on sandy beaches. The works are part of her Miami-Dade Art in Public Places commission for terminals at the Port of Miami, called "The Journey: Water Project and Suitcase Project." There's also a group of several related, brightly-colored metallic forms by Sardi hanging on the office walls.

"It's wonderful," Arturo says about the changing shows in his office. "You get to see all the kids asking the most marvelous questions about the works. Some of the parents come by and ask questions, too."

FAMILY INSPIRATION

The impetus to work with art, he says, goes back to pleasures he recalls as a kid watching his uncle, an artist in Cuba, paint tropical landscapes. This pleasure is something Arturo has always wanted to share with his patients.

Leaning back in the slimmed-down arm chairs common to orthodontists' offices, with mouths gaping as braces and retainers are fitted, patients don't have to close their eyes or stare at bland walls and posters as they wait for the work to end. Instead, they can follow the intriguing choreography of lines in the black-and-white, mixed-media composition by Odalis Valdivieso, in which a woman's body gently levitates above a sharp-edged fray.

Arturo is not merely hoping to take his patients' minds off their mouths, but also to turn this uniquely captive audience on to a vivid range of art.

His patients have been able to contemplate, for instance, delicately shaded drawings of imaginary architecture and instruments by Glexis Novoa.

Yet some paintings have turned out to be too aggressive for parents of young children, says Liza, remembering their concerned responses to Ana Albertina Delgado's sensual imagery of female figures, which often balance attributes of angel and streetwalker.

"They found it disturbing," she explains.

But as Greg Gordillo, a 22-year-old student at the Kendall campus of Miami Dade College, lifted himself out of an examining chair after his appointment ended, he turned around to see more paintings that he hadn't been able to view from his chair.

Says Gordillo, "I don't think there's art that you can't like. It's all art. It's just not your taste."

While recent conversations with patients and parents don't suggest that the exhibits here have prompted more folks to sample the offerings at South Florida museums and galleries--which the Mosqueras themselves frequent--mixing art and orthodontics has proven to be an eye-opening experience for both audience and artist.

"I like art. For me it's always interesting when he brings in a new artist--it's not the usual paintings of flower arrangements or portraits," says Lourdes Montejo, who works in her family's construction business and has been bringing her children to the office for the past five years.

Her daughter Natalie, 14, draws and paints in school and likes to discuss the changing exhibits, says Montejo, though son Matthew, 10, is less attracted to the art than to the flashing video game that's also a fixture of Mosquera's waiting room.

"But you know," continues Montejo, "if you want to get them interested in art, you have to start young."

One project she remembers in particular went on view last July. This was "Absence," a series of photographs and video by Elizabeth Cerejido, which was inspired by the recent death of the artist's father and by her mother's decline into the dementia of Alzheimer's.

Cerejido's exhibit also fascinated Roni Feinstein, a South Florida-based writer for the magazine Art in America, who's not a patient but is invited to receptions Mosquera holds for artists when a new show goes on view.

"I thought this piece was extraordinary. It worked well in such an intimate space," Feinstein says.

For Cerejido, Arturo's studio visit before her show prompted her to embark on a whole new body of intensely personal work, which she'll present next March at Bernice Steinbaum Gallery along with work by more widely-exhibited Cuban photographers Magdalena Campos Pons and Carlos Garaicoa.

NEW DIRECTION

The new direction transpired after Cerejido saw the collector's enthusiasm for a video she'd never intended to exhibit: It showed her mother sitting in a chair only to stand up in confusion a few seconds later in a motion she repeated restlessly after Cerejido's father died.

"I realized that I have some material here that I should be tapping. It's really been an eye-opener for me.

"For me, the show was very rewarding," the artist adds. "He treats it seriously. He really is reaching out to a whole group of people who might not be exposed to art that is remotely challenging. It's a perfect set-up because they are waiting and looking at something that's not Monet posters or nice little seascapes."





Miami Art Collectors Cricket and Marty Taplin Support Culture at Sagamore Hotel

What would Miami be like without collectors who take risks to support the city's creative talent? I don't even want to think about how lackluster Miami would be--all sun 'n' fun, and no culture. Those folks from Basel would have never wanted to come here!

Cricket and Marty Taplin are among the dynamic collectors who make this city tick. During this past Art Basel Miami Beach, they hosted yet another fab brunch at the Sagamore Hotel on South Beach with spectacular art to see, as well as an absolutely exquisite dance performance. I recall how I have seen art there by Pablo Cano, Robert Chambers, and Jen Stark, to name just a few artists. Now I understand they are hosting an art talk for Francie Bishop Good, whose exhibit at David Castillo Gallery in Wynwood is one of several I have included for my February Critic's Choice on the cool website http://www.artcircuits.com/

Here's what I wrote about this dynamic duo for The Miami Herald in July 2002...

ROOM SERVICE

They agonized over the lobby most of all. Not a single artwork collectors Marty and Cricket Taplin hung next to the registration desk at the Sagamore, their recently renovated South Beach hotel, looked right.

When they taped up photocopies of a dozen implacable portraits by one of Germany's brightest art stars, the construction workers putting finishing touches on the lobby complained that the pictures resembled mug shots.

"It was great work," Marty says, but, continues Cricket, "It had no punch." In the end, finding the right punch turned out to be a picnic--or more accurately, a few hundred picnickers lounging on velvet green stretches of a crisply landscaped park in Paris. The Taplins eventually decided this picnic en masse, captured in four large panels by Italian photojournalist-turned-artist Massimo Vitali, was the piece that should hang next to the registration desk.

In fact, as soon as the couple saw Vitali's picnic while strolling the aisles of last year's Art Basel fair in Switzerland, they knew it was a must-have photograph. And buying it became a pivotal moment in their thinking about the Sagamore, which they've furnished with stunning examples of contemporary art.

"That was the zinger," remembers Cricket. It brought their choices for the hotel, she explains, "to another level. We could only go up, not down, after that."

Though Vitali's subjects are caught unposed and not always from flattering angles, his large-scale works captivate with radiant, painterly streams of color and fascinating, sometimes strange, voyeuristic glimpses. Certainly his wide-roaming eye for unguarded leisure suits a place such as South Beach, where the goal is to see and be seen.

Open since February to guests as well as people off the street just curious about art, the 93-suite Sagamore, at 1671 Collins Ave., actually made its debut in December, hosting a bevy of international collectors, dealers, museum professionals, and artists at a Sunday brunch. The event, staged by the Taplins, collector Martin Z. Margulies, and several Miami-Dade County museums, was one of several events that took place in lieu of the postponed Art Basel Miami Beach.

ANXIOUS MOMENTS

Seven months later, on a July morning more cloudy than clear, the Taplins, who have a habit of finishing each other's sentences, are speaking about their collecting over coffee in the casual, high-end comfort of the Sagamore's library.

There were risks to this venture, they say, and anxious moments. And there were concerns about protecting the valuable art, now bolted into place. But accidents still happen, such as when an installer recently dropped the monitor for Jason Rhoades' video installation.

Dressed in a summery linen shirt and sky-blue pants, Marty is not shy about confessing that his taste in art is more mainstream than his wife's. As a real estate developer and attorney running his first hotel, he says that "in the back of my mind I was thinking that maybe we were overshooting the market, that this was a little bit too sophisticated, because this is cutting edge."

That's why he looked for some unvarnished feedback.

"I was hanging out in the lobby looking at people's expressions and [rap mogul] P. Diddy checked in with a group of his people," he offers. "I said to them, 'I just want to be honest with you--tell me the truth, is this too much?'

"P. Diddy's reply, " he says, "was, 'Man, this hotel is in a zone by its own.'"

'AN ART HOTEL'

Andrew Mark, a New York engineer, was also taken with the Sagamore's collection and its library. He collects photography, and though he says, "no one will ever accuse me of knowing much of anything about art, it is an art hotel, one that, to my taste, provides as much beauty as the hotel provides wonderfully warm, exciting accommodations."

The raves are comforting, the Taplins says, because the idea of turning their hotel into an exhibition space almost didn't happen.

"We never really knew until the white tile was down that we were going to have an art gallery [in the hotel]," explains Cricket, who curates the Sagamore collection. "But you know, it evolved."

In that evolution, guided in part by historical architect Alan T. Shulman and conceptual designer Patrick Kennedy, the library's humble origins as a galley kitchen have been completely submerged by its chic, minimalist decor. A series of brooding, moss-shrouded landscape photos by Olafur Eliasson occupy one corner. Wicker chairs are pushed up next to a marble table nearly as long as a fashion show's runway and dozens of art books are stacked invitingly on shelves nearby.

There are tomes on Andy Warhol, Walker Evans, and Graciela Iturbide, publications on Miami artists, and a paperback with the guaranteed-not-to-intimidate title of Instant Art History from Cave Art to Pop Art.

ROOM TO READ

And in another novel touch, the library is larger than the bar.

"I love how they've left a lot of material around for people to read," says Dahlia Morgan, director of the Art Museum at Florida International University. "A lot of the general public doesn't go to museums, and I think this would be a very encouraging way for people to live with art.

"When people walk in the door they know they're in a very different public space. [The Taplins] could have just gone the way of buying knock-offs, but they worked very hard to buy serious work by a lot of younger artists."

Presiding over the phone booth on the first floor, for example, is a miniature wardrobe of frilly frocks and broad-shouldered suits. With the precision of a couture seamstress and more than a dash of feminist irony, sculptor Donna Rosenthal has created these party duds from the pages of romance novels, now all yellowed and crisp from layers of shellac.

The title each outfit bears--not to mention the romance writers' breathless phrases that float in and out of your consciousness as you place a phone call--might be lifted from hotel trysts or bar chatter.

"He said he'd always hug me," says one dress. "She said she'd never cheat on me," says one suit.

BUILT IN 1948

The Sagamore was built in 1948 by Albert Anis, and though its angular modern lines seem less playful than the nearby Art Deco hotels, the artfully renovated building embraces the legacy of those earlier architectural landmarks, says William Cary, design and preservation director at Miami Beach's planning department.

"Many Art Deco hotels had beautiful murals and a high attention to art," he says. "When Marty and Cricket had the fire in their heart to bring their own personal art collection to the Sagamore, it added a wonderful layer of richness to what Miami Beach has to offer. It's truly a unique historic hotel and a special gift to the public and hotel guests."

The Taplins' art collecting goes back to 1988 and their days as newlyweds, when they asked Margulies to help them choose art for their home. Like many novice collectors, they took notes from a seasoned veteran of the international art circuits--in this case, Margulies.

"You spend time with someone who knows so much, and he really brings you along," says Cricket, who made the rounds of 30 New York galleries with Margulies in a single day.

"It's exhausting," she laughs. "I just listen and absorb. He's my mentor."

Now, it seems, part of Cricket's task as the Sagamore's curator is to bring her husband along. Toward that end, she gave him an extremely red-lipped self-portrait by Israeli photographer Hilla Lulu Lin, who ominously masked the rest of her face in tight white cotton.

"I wanted to put it in our house," she says of the anniversary gift, "and he didn't want it."

"You know what that's like?" he asks, over her laughter. "It's like a cowboy buying his wife a saddle for his wedding."

So Lin's riveting photograph, commissioned by Israel's major art journal, now hangs in the Sagamore lobby above a table of delectable green apples. The combination is tempting and a bit terrifying.

"But it works in South Beach," says Cricket. "It's got that sex appeal. It's a little edgy."

WORK IN PROGRESS

The Sagamore is still a work in progress nearly six months after opening, and more changes and artworks are on the way. Till Freiwald's lifelike watercolor portraits will be moved from the bar to face a haunting corridor of sculptural heads by Christine Borland, small pieces that provoke big questions about links between art and science.

In December, the hotel plans to show vintage photographs by Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Walker Evans, and perhaps sooner a spicy new piece by Tracey Rose, who took part in last year's Venice Biennial.

Marty hasn't seen Rose's new photograph, so Cricket hands him a photocopy of it, showing a young woman astride a red fire engine.

"I'm a more conservative person," he sighs. "She's a lot of steps ahead."

"He's not as rigid as he used to be," counters his wife. "And now that we have the hotel, he sees that there are many personalities, younger people, and he can get with it quicker. I suppose I was always interested in art, but I didn't know how to express it. Could I sit and draw? No, but I always admire people that do. So this is my canvas."





Miami Artist Maria Brito Honored by Frost Art Museum

February is the shortest month of the year, but this February is truly a bonanza month for artcentric folks in Miami!

Not only have we had a fab ArtTable meeting at Books & Books on February 8, but for the first time we can look forward to a second such gathering in one month.

ArtTable members and guests, mark your calendars for this event: 11 a.m. Saturday, February 19 at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum of Florida International University.

It's on the occasion of a wonderful show there by Maria Brito, as well as the publication of an award-winning book about her by FIU professor Juan Martinez. Juan and Maria will discuss her exhibit, "As of 24/03/07," at the Frost on February 19, during this 11 a.m. gathering for ArtTable members and guests. Light refreshments will be served. There'll also be a book signing of the book Maria Brito. To RSVP or get more information, call 305-348-2890 or visit www.thefrostfiu.edu

Carol Damian, the Frost's dynamic director and chief curator, agreed to make this ArtTable event happen. I'm not surprised by her energy and resourcefulness. Tonight I'm going to see "A Visual Journey Through Art & Music," performed by the Miami Symphony Orchestra, and based on a text by Carol Damian. It will be at the acclaimed New World Center on Miami Beach, so I think my husband and I are in for an outstanding evening! (For more information about Miami Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Eduardo Marturet, see www.themiso.org)

Renowned FIU Alumna Maria Brito at the Frost

I was so lucky to write about Maria Brito for the FIU Magazine that I want to share much of what I wrote with readers of my blog this morning. She is one of the many extraordinary people I got to know so well through my work on the visual arts beat for The Miami Herald.

Your first encounter with Maria Brito's show at the Frost Art Museum could be confusing. You may even wonder why it's there. If so, you'll please Brito, a rebel at heart who likes controversy. Celebrated Miami artist and FIU alumna, Brito traces her rebellious spirit to the long ago moment she concealed gold jewelry in clothes she wore on a Pedro Pan flight from Havana to Miami. Everyone knew that doing this risked terrible consequences, she recalls, but she couldn't leave the jewelry, a small bracelet still in her possession, behind.

Her longstanding aversion to doing what's predictable, as well as considerable talent, has led to "As of 24/03/07," Brito's mixed-media installation at the Frost. A small shrine--dedicated to a mysterious figure and recalling saints' altars--is an ominous part of this work. In ways not amenable to conventional religion, this shrine recalls Brito's conservative Catholic upbringing, especially for girls, in the Cuban community transplanted to Miami in the early 1960s.

Brito endows simple, familiar objects with disturbing symbolism: this installation evokes a modest scientific laboratory where human forms are created in a clandestine manner. "It has to do with social, ethical issues related to the manufacturing of human life," says Brito, intrigued by news reports about biological experimentation.

This will be the first solo exhibit at the Frost Art Museum for the FIU graduate, although her art has been in group shows at the previous museum space. The Frost also has sculpture by Brito in its permanent collection.

Brito's art has been shown in every major exhibition of Cuban American artists and in venues around the world: the Second Iberoamerican Biennial of Lima, Peru; the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seoul, South Korea; "Cuba Twentieth Century: Modernism and Syncretism" at the Centre d'Art Santa Monica in Barcelona, Spain; and in "The Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s," in New York City at various venues, including Studio Museum in Harlem. Her art was part of the traveling exhibit, "Arte Latino: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum."

Frost Art Museum director and chief curator Carol Damian has known Brito for more than 20 years. As a professor, Damian includes Brito in her art history courses, especially given her own interest in women artists. Brito is "an artist of great complexity that can be inspirational to my students," said Damian, "especially in South Florida with all her references to growing up here as a child of exile."

"Maria has long represented herself and her life experiences in multi-media works that combine ceramics, painting, sculpture, and installation in constructions that embody issues of loss, femininity, women's roles, and identity," Damian explains. "She has never wavered from her commitment to create works that are dense with serious personal symbolism and yet can be quite humorous."

In 2009, FIU art history professor Juan Martinez wrote the book Maria Brito, published by UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press of Los Angeles. A year later, at Book Expo America in New York City, his book was awarded "Best Arts Book--English" by Latino Book Awards.

This exquisitely illustrated volume about Brito belongs to the series "A Ver: Revisioning Art History," which explores contributions Latina and Latino artists have made to American and world art history. It highlights Brito's signature installations--mixed-media interior spaces imbued with symbolism and emotion--as well as her paintings and sculptures. "As Brito and her art have broken cultural, social and artistic barriers," Martinez writes, "they have made a notable contribution to the diversity and dynamism of contemporary art."

His book looks at Brito's artistic career in the context of recent Miami history, touching on how interest in Latin American culture increased significantly in the 1980s in the United States. This cultural shift, along with growing opportunities for women, coincided with her hard-working life as an art teacher, mother, and artist.

"For me, getting married and having a family was what I was supposed to do," Brito said. Still, she says, her father emphasized the importance of being educated so that she could support herself. "If you have a good education, no one can ever take that away from you," she recalls that her father would tell her. This was indeed a mantra for the close-knit Cuban-born family transplanted to Miami.

"I didn't know about the educational system here, but I knew that after finishing high school I could go to community college," she says, explaining that she attended what is now the north campus of Miami Dade College to study art. She eventually earned four degrees: a bachelor's in education from the University of Miami in 1969, a master's degree in education from FIU in 1976, a bachelor's of fine arts from FIU in 1977 and an MFA from UM in 1979.

"I had my children, but I just kept going to school," she said. "Honestly, I never thought I would be creative enough to become an artist."

Martinez notes how Cuban culture has transformed Miami since the early 1960s, when she came to the city along with thousands of other Cuban exiles. Miami was much smaller, with fewer opportunities for artists than exist today. Early on, Brito gained attention as a member of "The Miami Generation," several Cuban American artists featured at the Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture in Miami. She was the only woman included.

Brito's breathrough came in the 1980s, Martinez writes, "in the context of multiculturalism and the growing recognition of women artists."

Brito and some Cuban American artists of her generation are inspired by Renaissance and Baroque painting, Martinez said. Perhaps this is because Catholic imagery in this art is so familiar to these artists. "They were raised Cuban Catholic in a time that was very intense," he said. "But notice her relationship to Catholicism is complex. If you look at some of the mixed-media that deal with Catholicism, Catholicism is seen as kind of oppressive and overpowering."

These complex themes are present in Brito's installation at the Frost Art Museum. But don't look to Brito for interpretations of her shrine-as-laboratory. As viewers enter her single-room installation, she says, "I hope to leave them with more questions than answers, which is what I love to do with my work. I want to get people to think."





Miami ArtTable Members & Guests Meet February 8 at Books & Books

I am probably going to miss this wonderful ArtTable meeting--it will be the first I have missed since we started doing these in June 2009, thanks to the support of Miami's totally fab independent bookseller Mitchell Kaplan.

This meeting will be held February 8 at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables. As usual, we will have networking from 5:45 to 6:30 pm. Meeting starts at 6:30 pm. Panel discussion starts at 7 pm. Our events are free and open to the public. Books & Books is so kind to offer a 10% discount on food and drink to those who attend.

Today I am going to blog about all the great info that moderator Sandi-Jo Gordon shared with me. Her title for this panel:

"Artists' Books - Discovering Another World."

This is how she describes the panel:

"Artists' books as a distinct artform is relatively unknown to the general art-viewing public. The wide range of books and book-like objects encompass scrolls, fold-outs and loose items enclosed in a box, as well as 'pages' bound by sewing or gluing, to name only a few. Every medium imaginable has been used to create them. The one common denomiator is the hand of the artist, whether created as an an edition or a 'unique.'

The three women on our panel, all represented in such major collections as the Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, will show and discuss their individual and varied approaches to creating artists' books.

Panelists:

Rosemarie Chiarlone has been receiving grants, awards and fellowships since 1982, exhibiting widely for the last three decades. Her 'books' are often an outgrowth of the development of her installation and video work.

Claire Jeanine Satin is a book artist, sculptor and designer of public art installations. With five works in the Library of Congress, Claire is most known for her ongoing series of conceptual 'books' entitled 'Pentimento.'

Carol Todaro, recognized as both an artist and a poet, combines the two activities in her 'books' and her teaching. 'Floating World,' her solo installation of large-scale book works, was presented at the Miami Book Fair International.

Moderator is Sandi-Jo Gordon, creator, admirer and collector of artists' books."

Why why would I even dream of missing this remarkable meeting? I've signed up for a course in writing a memoir that the Florida Center for the Literary Arts at Miami Dade College, part of the college's School of Community Education, is offering on Tuesday nights.

I am hoping that anyone who attends this meeting this meeting, including of course the moderator and panelists, will want to post comments about it.





Miami Artcentric Books: Video Art by Michael Rush Tops the List

Just as I had started reading my February 2011 issue of ARTnews, I was delighted to come across some good news about Michael Rush. Michael is a superbly talented author and an excellent curator, someone I got to know when I worked for The Miami Herald and he was director of the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art in Lake Worth. He curated so many outstanding shows there, and I learned so much from writing about them.

Over the years we've had many wonderful chats. I recall running into him when I was on assignment for the paper in Venice. I've also seen him in Miami during Art Basel Miami Beach.

After his job in Lake Worth ended, Michael went on to become the director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. Talk about having your job "disappeared" right from under you! (Can this not-dead-yet art critic relate to that!) Now he has been named founding director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. Those Midwestern college students are extremely fortunate to have him in their midst.

Of course, I dashed off a congratulatory email to him, and was thrilled to learn in his reply that he is coming to Miami soon. I certainly hope we will have the opportunity to get together.

Reading about Michael made me think of his book Video Art that I wrote about for the Herald. So I printed out that review, along with several others I thought I would post today on my blog about about artcentric books. Thank goodness I have my own personal archive of all that I have written for the Herald! Maybe one day I can turn some of that material into a book as well...

Video Art, by Michael Rush.
Rush writes with extraordinary wit and clarity, bringing to bear his first-hand experience of making art beyond the mainstream. The 383 illustrations here go a long way to filling out this indispensable overview of an influential but less-than-40-year-old art form that notoriously eludes the printed page, and Rush gamely covers the still-morphing permutations of video, from digital to DVD, focusing on current artists like Matthew Barney, Pierre Hughye, and Tracey Moffatt.

Goya, by Robert Hughes.
No one can write about art with the blustery confidence and impeccable grasp of visual detail quite the way Robert Hughes can, even taking into account his bouts of dismissive arrogance. An ever-readable stylist, he makes Goya's experiences of late 18th Century and early 19th Century Spain and France almost cinematically vivid, leading us through the intricacies of court politics and the doldrums that impelled this monumental (and, by then, deaf) master to make his late, great, and gruesomely unforgettable "Black Paintings."

Michele Oka Doner: Natural Seduction, with foreword by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. and essays by Suzanne Ramljak, Morris Lapidus, and Arthur C. Danto.
The catchy title of this book, a survey of the career of Miami Beach native Michele Oka Doner, is more than a clever pairing of seduction and selection. It reminds us that Oka Doner is an artist gifted with an alluring sense of edit, shaping essential forms of nature into sensual environments for body and soul. Many of those environments have been public art, like her walkways at Miami International Airport. But others, like her unusual cast bark silver trays and bronze coral reef bracelets, devise a personal space with instruments both earthy and precious.

Imogen Cunningham, by Richard Lorenz, edited by Manfred Heitling.
Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) knew how to find the crystalline moment, the perfect blend of texture and form--as revealed in her luminous black and white photographs of magnolias, calla lilies, and seashells from the 1920s and 1930s. They're unbearably sexy and stately at the same time, and they surely taught Robert Mapplethorpe volumes about the art of arranging flowers. A colleague of better known photographers Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, Cunningham has not received their level of recognition, though she founded with them the f/64 group, trailblazers in the sharply focused aesthetics of modern photography. This monograph by Richard Lorenz should help overcome that oversight by charting her prolific career, with examples of her portraits, nudes, and sculptural tanks and towers of factories recalling more celebrated images by German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher.


Cuba on the Verge: An Island in Transition, edited by Terry McCoy, with an introduction by William Kennedy and an epilogue by Arthur Miller.
Cuba has generated so many books of photographs, with too many offering the cliche of Detroit relics hunkered against fetching, ornate ruins. The combination of images and text in this expansive volume is often striking for the sensitive, beautiful departures from such cliches. Abelardo Morrell returned to Cuba after many years to create his signature, surreal scenes with a camera obscura, while poetry and portraits by Carrie Mae Weems portray the island's Afro-Caribbean heritage with piercing immediacy.

From the Ground Up, by Eduardo del Valle and Mirta Gomez.
Maya heritage in the rural Yucatan prevails in these intelligent photographs documenting indigenous architecture, the modest forms of a hut that have been passed down for centuries. Del Valle and Gomez, photographers and professors at Florida International University, do more than document the evolving materials, from thatch to corrugated tin, by also capturing the huts as they pop up in local pop culture, from topiary to souvenir. This exquisite series of photographs is matched with trenchant essays by Sandra S. Phillips and Richard Rodriguez.

Extraordinary Interpretations: Florida's Self-Taught Artists, by Gary Monroe.
Gary Monroe has an eye for cultural resources that remain off the beaten path in this over-developed state, having written about the Highwaymen, a group of African-American landscape painters. Here Monroe records Homestead's bizarre complex of Coral Castle and well-known paintings by Purvis Young, but he also explores the quiet eloquence in such self-taught art as the "identity masks" of rusted tin and wood by Jerry Coker of Gainesville, or the dotted landscapes by Frank Ritchie, who lives in Ormond Beach and paints snow with curious precision.

The Design of Dissent, by Milton Glaser and Mirko Ilic, foreword by Tony Kushner.
This is a visually stunning collection of over 400 posters and other items from the 1960s to the present, but the main focus is work from the last several years. Opposition to the war in Iraq, gas guzzling, corporate greed, and the marginalization of women are prime topics. Legendary designer Milton Glaser closes out the book with these sobering comments. He says that dissenting designs do have an effect, even if the results aren't obvious: "I don't think it makes any difference whether you think it works or not. You have to do it." In a democracy, dissent is "the only hope we have."

Latin American Posters: Public Aesthetics and Mass Politics, edited by Russ Davidson.
This selection of some 100 political posters is based on the 10,000 strong poster collection developed by Sam L. Slick, a Spanish professor at University of Southern Mississippi. In 2001 University of New Mexico acquired the collection. This book gives a dynamic, historical overview of that collection, showing how posters played a role in reflecting and promoting opinions during times of political turmoil from the 1960s to the 1990s. In the 1960s, Pop art and new printing methods gave posters their bold punch; later art movements were reflected in this brash and populist medium.

Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture, by Michael Kammen.
Kammen explores the compelling stories of how envelope-pushing artists have defied the mind-numbing status quo and how they have been censored for their provocations. At times their defiance was more calculated than earnest. Many pages recount debates about public art and public funding. The furor over Richard Serra's "Tilted Arc" is a well-known chapter in the culture wars of the 1980s, but Pulitzer-prize winning historian Kammen puts that volatile event in the context of another art controversy from the 1840s, the size and design of the Washington Monument. Not everyone thought that an Egyptian obelisk was the right icon for a young democracy. Kammen shows how art controversies over notions like beauty and decency reveal fascinating aspects of social history. He makes the case that no matter how stressful conflicts are for the art world and general public, they provoke discussion and can be enlightening with the passage of time. His is a nuanced study that provides no easy answers. It does offer an important context for looking at ongoing issues of censorship and debates about the point of art.

Shall we start our own virtual book club in cyberspace? Why not?? I welcome readers to post comments about artcentric books they have read, or add to my comments about the books I have just discussed. I am quite sure that there is much more to be said about them!





Miami Book Clubs Turn Heads…To Art

I love getting together with people to talk about books. My daughter and I started a mother-daughter book club when she was in fourth grade, and it lasted until she graduated from high school. Now I am in another terrific book club with very smart women who love to read. We have such lively and interesting discussions.

Sometimes the books we choose are connected to the visual arts, such as The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. It is a novel recounting the story of an imagined writer who lived in Mexico for a time and got to know Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo very well. It also provides frightening details about the McCarthy era in American politics. This time period was not, shall we say, a golden era for journalism. One of my favorite quotes from the book: "Those news men could not make a thing true just by saying so. It's only living makes a life."

Now I'm hoping to attend the Miami Art Museum book club at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Avenue in Coral Gables, on this Tuesday, January 25, at 6:30 p.m. (To register for this book club, which meets every other month to discuss a wide range of books dealing with the visual arts in a variety of ways, contact education@miamiartmuseum.org or call 305-375-4073.)

The book under discussion this time is absolutely fascinating. I learned so much from it! The book is The Girl with the Gallery: Edith Gregor Halpert and the Making of the Modern Art Market by Lindsay Pollock (Public Affairs, 2006). I reviewed it for The Miami Herald in 2006 as part of my annual holiday art book suggestions for gifts. Here's what I wrote then:

The Girl with the Gallery: Edith Gregor Halpert and the Making of the Modern Art Market by Lindsay Pollock rescues the sassy, savvy art dealings of Edith Gregor Halpert from the mists of time. Alfred Stieglitz's early 20th Century contribution to American awareness of European Modernists like Matisse is legendary. But few knew much, if anything at all, about contributions to American art made by the younger Halpert.

Pollock's book came about after she read Halpert's archives at the Smithsonian and Diane Tepfer's dissertation about Halpert's innovative Downtown Gallery, which the stylish Russian immigrant opened in New York's Greenwich Village in 1926. Unlike Stieglitz, Halpert wanted art to be affordable to a large audience. She had a prescient eye for the artists of the day, especially for Stuart Davis, Charles Sheeler, and Jacob Lawrence.

She was passionately devoted to promoting and selling their work so that they could keep making art. She brought business acumen to her creative skills for nurturing a developing American art scene. She worked hard to get her artists museum sales and shows, at a time when museums weren't that interested in American artists.

Her style drew wealthy collectors to her Downtown Gallery, located far from the uptown galleries that sold costlier Eurpean art. One was Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, to whom she introduced folk art.

American artists and art consumed Halpert's life. Her prime dealings were in the 1930s and 1940s, sustaining art sales in the lean times of the Depression and World War II. But her skills were finite; she didn't forsee the success of Abstract Expressionism, and she thought Andy Warhol was vulgar. Plans to donate Halpert's art collection to a museum went awry.

Ailing and apart from the latest directions in art, she ran her gallery till dying in 1970. In 1973, her collection was sold at auction for over $3 million. Pollock reports that Halpert's collection could fetch over $100 million today--an artful irony, since in the 1930s she thought she might have to close up shop.

This book is a highly readable, bittersweet rediscovery of an art dealer who made a difference.

IF YOU READ ARTCENTRIC BOOKS: I would love it if readers of my blog post comments with suggestions of books they have read and want to recommend.





Miami Art Critic on Assignment in Naples

A few days ago I went to my mailbox and found the January 2011 issue of ARTnews. Was delighted to see, on pages 48-49, my News Spotlight profile of Myra Janco Daniels. She's the founding CEO of the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts and an absolutely dynamic woman to interview! Perhaps the most amazing interview of my career in journalism.

I have to say, looking back on our interview during Labor Day weekend in 2010, it was cool to be on assignment again. Of course, going to Naples, Florida is not quite like traveling on assignment to Venice, Italy or Basel, Switzerland or even Havana, Cuba--but this gig was a lot less work, and I did have the distinct pleasure of traveling with my super-duper husband.

Nevertheless, I do want to state very clearly that I am EXTREMELY grateful for those very fab opportunities to travel for the Knight Ridder-owned Miami Herald, thanks to the TERRIFIC publisher the newspaper had at the time. I am for sure confirming this regardless of what anyone may think or say. As we all know, nothing lasts forever, and I really don't have the energy to work to work as hard now as I did then.

I do have astonishing memories from those trips--including taste-testing my fave lemmony desserts in Venice, and having a totally charming dinner with Mark C one evening at an apartment on the Lido, not to mention all the art and architecture I got to see. Venice is my absolutely favorite city in the world!

Then there was the unforgettable time we visited my husband's relatives who still live in Havana, even though most of his Cuban relatives moved to Miami years ago. We brought them medicine. Their modest kitchen looked like the one in the old "Honeymooners" TV sitcom. We wanted to know: Why are you still in Cuba when so much of the family is in Miami? "Some of us have to stay in Cuba," was the reply, which haunts me still.

So back to Naples, Florida...

At an extraordinarily lively event at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts, security officer Frank Warren grinned and remarked to his indefatigable boss, "Mrs. Daniels, you don't seem to understand. If it wasn't for you, none of this would be here." Warren, a retired NASCAR driver, chuckles as he tells me this story. You could for sure call it a tribute from one hard-driving competitor to another.

Daniels is all smiles as she talks about her latest coup for the Patty & Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art. It's part of the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts (aka "the Phil"), a thriving cultural complex on Florida's west coast. In the fall of 2010, the museum unveiled its recent acquisition, "Dawn's Forest" (1986) by Louise Nevelson. It features geometric structures evoking a forest transformed by snow or moonlight. A painted plywood installation, it is considered Nevelson's largest and most intricate sculptural environment. In some places 30 feet long and 25 feet high, this artwork brings together 12 sculptures produced in the mid-1980s. Nevelson created "Dawn's Forest" for the Georgia-Pacific Center in Atlanta two years before her death.

"The Nevelson is a happening," asserts Daniels. Her excitement about this impressive acquisition is infectious. With a penchant for relating tales from a career distinguished by high-octane exploits, she recalls how, one Friday in early 2010, she learned that "Dawn's Forest" was going to be given to a museum outside Atlanta. The very next day she flew to Atlanta, arriving in a wheelchair because she had injured her foot. (I told you that the woman is indefatigable!) After meeting with agents for the sculpture's owners, Georgia-Pacific LLC and MetLife, she nailed down agreements for the gift, which were announced last May.

When she saw "Dawn's Forest" in its corporate location in Atlanta, she immediately envisioned how it would look in its new home in Naples. "I could imagine the forest," she says, in a slightly hushed tone of voice. "It could be where you see the clouds. I could picture it here." Today, "Dawn's Forest" utterly transforms the museum's glass-domed Figge Conservatory. "At night it is magnificent," Daniels adds.

"It's a coup--because Naples Museum of Art is not exactly a well-known museum--to bring art of this caliber to that part of Florida," says Carol Damian, director of Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum of Florida International University in Miami. "You just don't expect to see a work by Nevelson there," adds Damian. "My mother used to live in Naples. She would tell amazing stories about this woman who said she was going to bring culture to Naples, and Daniels did it."

Daniels tells her own stories about re-inventing sleepy Naples. In the early 1980s, she and her husband Draper Daniels were living in nearby Marco Island. After his death in 1983, she found a new passion as arts activist in Florida. First she plotted to build an orchestra, the "hub" of her vision, and then soon moved to Naples.

"I love my home, but I have to have my career. When you fly with an eagle, you can't go around with a titmouse," she says with characteristic and spirited bluntness. Draper Daniels was a legend in the advertising world, the model for the character Don Draper in the hit TV series "Mad Men." Together the couple shared extraordinary careers as ad executives in Chicago. "My Draper Daniels was a man of high principle, completely different from Don Draper. But they looked exactly alike," she says. "It still spooks me."

In the early 1980s, she was told that there was no audience for classical music in Naples. "People came here to fish, play tennis, and golf. They went to sleep by nine," she laughs. Though she had the means to travel easily to another city to attend concerts and museums, she wanted Naples to share her love of culture.

With $25,000 of her own money, she purchased TV commercials on a station targeted to stock investors. Using her advertising skills, she wrote a script for the ads, in which she invited the city's well-heeled community to be part of a new movement for the arts. "Together we can do it," she wrote. That line brought in $600,000, she recalls. It was just the beginning. In 1986, "the Phil" broke ground on prime real estate, and it opened debt-free a few years later.

Daniels says she has raised $400 million for the center, from both large and small donations. And, she adds, the center has found an audience of more than 10 million people for its programming, which includes not only the orchestra and fine art, but also ballet, comedy, and jazz.

The Naples Philharmonic Orchestra has accompanied such artists as Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and Denyce Graves. Meanwhile, the Naples Museum of Art, which opened in 2000, has a permanent collection of abstract works by American modernists, given by Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records. These works do indeed complement "Dawn's Forest," which also somehow seems at home with the museum's Mexican art. Visitors can see both the much-admired "Figura Blanca Desnuda" (White Nude, 1950), by Rufino Tamayo, and "Novia de Tehuantepec" (Bride of Tehuantepec, 1950), by Rosa Rolanda.

"We bought Rosa's work because she was never given credit," says Daniels, partial to women, like Louise Nevelson, not admired until late in life or after death.

Daniels applauds Nevelson's pioneering ambition. "I don't have her talent, but she had a passion. I have that passion," says Daniels, a self-confessed workaholic barely five feet tall in chic black business attire. Declining to give her age, she says she is "past retirement."

For her family, the arts were as vital as food on the table. Growing up shortly after the Depression in Gary, Indiana, she recalls taking the train to Chicago on Saturdays to visit the Art Institute with her mother and a friend. "We were about nine. We would take drawing classes. We thought it was risque because we had to draw nudes," she admits, giggling now at this recollection. Then they attended the children's program of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Her business acumen and civic spirit she credits to the example set by her grandmother Sophie Jancowitz, a Romanian immigrant who found success in real estate and who, on Sundays, tutored Gary's immigrant steel workers in English.

Indignantly, Daniels says one area collector dismissed the Naples Museum of Art as a "crackerbox." Ticking off future plans for "the Phil," she declares, with her trademark indefatigable spirit, "no one tells me something's impossible. All things are possible if you believe."





Miami Artcentric Gift Keeps on Giving

Immediately I was riveted by this story by Manny Fernandez in The New York Times: "Back From the Brink, an Art Student Loses Her Sight but Keeps Her Vision."

It told the harrowing, heart-stopping story of how an art student, Emilie Gossiaux, has made a miraculous recovery from a traumatic brain injury, which she experienced when a truck hit her while she was riding her bike to her internship at an art studio. Too much of this story sounded familiar to me, as I also suffered a brush with death during a car accident, when our car collided with a truck, and I was then plunged into the debilitating ordeal of surviving a traumatic brain injury.

I read this story on December 22, 2010. Soon after I received a related email message regarding an act of stunning coincidence and generosity:

Emilie Gossiaux was on her way to the Brooklyn art studio of Daniel Arsham, an extremely accomplished artist I've known for years from the time when he worked in Miami. I remember visiting his studio here when I profiled him for my Critic's Pick in the March 2007 ARTnews.

Daniel is raising funds to help Emilie begin her life anew. To do this, he is selling paintings from his series "Platonic Solid Constellations." All works are unique gouache on paper and are 8.5 x 11 inches. Each painting is $250 ("or more if you can," as he says in his email) If you want to purchase one or more of these paintings, please make your check out to E. Gossiaux and mail it to Emilie Gossiaux, c/o Daniel Arsham, 60 Box Street, Brooklyn, New York 11222.

I would describe this series as one of svelte, elegant compositions with exploding geometric forms. It may recall the 30-foot high sculpture that Daniel created for Merce Cunningham Dance Performances at Adrienne Arsht Center's Ziff Ballet Opera House in Miami. I believe you can see a photograph of that sculpture if you see today's post by Dennis Scholl on the Knight Arts Blog, which is linked to my blog.

This is indeed a Miami artcentric gift that keeps on giving. The example of Daniel's generosity and Emilie's perseverance is, in a way, an inspiring gift to all of us who want to make the coming year an improvement over 2010.

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