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09/20. Adrienne Arsht Center –

Durban Segnini 4

Manolo Vellojín, Relicario, 1981,Acrylic on linen with overlaid stripes, 23.6 x 23.6 in. (60 x 60 cm).Courtesy of Durban Segnini Gallery (3072 SW 38th Ave. Coral Gables)

Annual Directory 2011 – 2012

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Art Wynwood Art Fair / Art Circuits Special

Art Wynwood art fair is here

Art Circuits is ready to spread your information with an Special Newsletter showing the best booths, best projects of the fair

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deadline February 12

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Durban Segnini-CC-Dec 2012

Fernando de Szyszlo Ceremonia, 2005 Acrylic on canvas, 59 x 59 in. (50 x 150 cm). Courtesy Durban Segnini Gallery


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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 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 or 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, see

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 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

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 . Also see , 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

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 as well as ; 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.


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.


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."


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.


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 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 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 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 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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.]


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.


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Form Favors Function

Form Favors Function When lush color lures the eye to painting by George Bethea, flowers embracing his face inHuang Yan’s print. Don’t miss April choices. Visual riches shower us: Sunlit sidewalks in video by Dara Friedman, word-weaving fabric by Pip Brant, surreal flower in photo by Samantha Salzinger, installation by Ernesto Oroza reinventing Vizcaya functions. Look for lean construction by Frances Trombly and Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova laden with conceptual intrigue, public art by Robert Chambers dancing with light and architecture, painting by Raul Lozza distilling form, new view of sky and earth by Daniel Arsham and Christina Lei Rodriguez, functional form by Thomas Hirshhorn, wilderness story by Christy Gast. Elisa Turner

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 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

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

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.


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.


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."


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

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

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

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.


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.


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.


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 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

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 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.


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] 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!)


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.


"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.


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."


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.


"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

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 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.


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.


"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.


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.


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.


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.


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."


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.


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

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


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.


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.'"


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.


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.


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."


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

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

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.


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 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.

Miami Curators Sparkle Plenty This Season

Creative curators thrive in Miami. It's especially clear now that our delightfully pleasant (when it isn't chilly and rainy!) winter is here.

Miami curators can create a compelling theme and story to lure the curiosity of people looking at an art exhibit in a museum, gallery, private collection, or art fair. As curators, 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 long in our minds, perhaps like a wonderful dream or a favorite poem or song.

By looking at promising exhibits developed by Miami curators, we see that it's the season for culture to sparkle like stars on crystal-clear Miami nights, especially during our balmy winters when late summer's humid haziness has finally lifted.

"We wanted to know who we were and how do we relate to each other," reflects independent curator and artist Gean Moreno. He thinks that exhibitions, especially those curated by Rene Morales and Ruba Katrib, have answered those questions. "Now we want to know," he explains as he looks forward, "how do we stand together in a globalized world?"

In Miami, Moreno investigates the local community and the world at large, noting how they intermingle. There's a grandly "glocal" spectrum of talent in the city. 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 outstanding collection. Reflecting its international focus and sweep, artists in this exhibit range from Thomas Demand to Cindy Sherman.

Recently I had a special opportunity to appreciate our city's international focus, as well as the crystalline winter skies of Miami. This was when the city's skyline sparkled like so many outrageous jewels during a gorgeous December sunset, from the vantage point of a Miami Beach balcony overlooking downtown Miami. It was a truly breathtaking view. I was invited to gather there with several of my wonderful artcentric friends to celebrate the approval of a sure-to-be iconic public artwork for Miami Beach: "Lighthouse" by internationally famed artist Tobias Rehberger for South Pointe Park.

As many of us sipped Champagne and I downed a couple of White Russians, one of my very fave sweet cocktails, we applauded how our art community had come together to advocate for the approval of this superbly-sited public artwork. Yes, Miami is more than coming of age as an international city for internationally-known art and artists. I am hoping we can all gather again to celebrate when this project is completed next year.

As I looked out over the city, I noticed so many landmarks, especially the building for The Miami Herald, where I worked so hard for so many years. I could hardly read the name on the building though I could see its signage in blue lights twinkling faintly. But that all belongs to my past, and there is still so much to anticipate in Miami's future.

Then my eyes looked for another landmark, a real beacon for the future, that I am proud to play some small role in as this Miami institution plans for our city's future. I no longer work for the Herald; now I work for Miami Dade College. Of course I was looking for the historic Freedom Tower of MDC.

It was the venue for yet another sparkling curatorial effort this December in Miami: the smART exhibit, organized with impressive leadership by Host Committee Chair Solita Mishaan. This exhibit, with carefully chosen art for sale, and gala opening raised more than $5 million for student scholarships! I understand that this amount is historic and truly raises the bar for what can happen in our still young but ever-evolving city.

The smART exhibit brought together work by 86 artists from 8 countries in our hemisphere, and offered 131 artworks for sale. By contributing in this dazzling way to the American Dream Scholarship fund, these artful efforts from MDC will surely make our city sparkle for years to come!

More Miami News You Can Use for BaselMania

This was my first day of actual "baseling," as people often say, and did this Basel begin with a bang! It was a bang that ricocheted from Miami to Haiti and all through the Caribbean, then across the Atlantic riven by the blood, sweat, and tears of the Middle Passage, and then to Africa and back to Miami.

I'm talking about my visit to the must-see exhibit "Global Caribbean II: Caribbean Trilogy, Focus on the Greater Antilles" at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. There are absolutely riveting, knock-your-socks off artworks on view by Edouard Duval Carrie, Jose Bedia, and Jose Garcia-Cordero. The best of these can make your heart weep.

I'm also talking about a spectacular performance of excerpts from a new contemporary opera, "Makandal," produced by Harlem Stage of New York City. ( As Harlem Stage executive director Patricia Cruz explained before the performance I saw this morning at 11 am, what we saw was about a half-hour "collage" woven from the mighty collusion of visual arts, dance, music, and song. To some extent it was inspired by the continually astonishing art by Duval Carrie, who for years has given the rich visual art history of Haiti a special voice in contemporary art.

This collage of an opera-in-progress wove together the story of Makandal, an 18th Century Haitian revolutionary who led a failed slave revolt, with the story of 21st Century illegal immigrants from Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic embarking on a perilous boat trip to Puerto Rico to find a better life, to find the the right to live freely and with dignity.

Yet my summary here fails to capture the poetic richness and texture of this hauntingly memorable, operatic "collage." Sometimes the stage was veiled with three transparent scrims on which were projected a figure, drawn in ghostly white, suspended among stars amid a deep oceanic blue, perhaps a beautiful lost soul dreaming of the vast and frightening journey to freedom. Sometimes drums, then strings enhanced this story as it floated, then roiled, forward with dynamic spoken words, fluid dance, and gorgeous song.

Here are notes on those words that I scribbled in the dark. (I realize I may not be quoting them with perfect accuracy): "He came here against his desire to help tobacco and indigo grow...Even before the earthquake, every day is poverty...Makandal was free before he was free..." And then there was this spellbinding refrain, sung low, over and over: "The sea, she's greater than me."

When this performance was over, Patricia Cruz reminded us that this commissioned opera itself represents a long creative journey, one that is not yet finished, but has flourished thus far thanks to many supporters, including the Warhol Foundation.

"Makandal" is rooted in the continuing quest for freedom that defines the tumultuously rich and diverse culture of the Caribbean, something that continually shapes our daily lives in Miami. Seeing a performance like this reminded me once again, as she said, that art allows us to realize our connectedness, our essential humanity.

But blogging is so brief. I know I did not capture all the richness of this performance or exhibit. I invite others to continue the conversation about this wonderful event at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, including the many artcentric friends I saw there today, among them Mary L, William K, Tina S, and Lilia G. I look forward to posting your comments on my blog!

Miami News You Can Use for BaselMania

BaselMania by the Bay and Beyond in 2010

It's easy to feel bewitched, bothered, and bewildered by BaselMania. That's when Art Basel Miami Beach and many more art fairs and events (even exciting art auctions!) come to Miami Beach and across the bay to downtown Miami and the city's famed art neighborhoods of Wynwood and the Design District.

So much art, so many art fairs, so little time to see it all. What's a curious, engaged collector to do?

First of all, face the music. You can't do it all. Don't even try. One year a savvy collector admitted to me that it wasn't possible to see everything. As BaselMania grows, collectors learn to customize their experience, choosing art fairs and art events right for them.

Start with this simple strategy. Be true to your budget and your passion for art. Decide what you can afford that has lasting value to you. Only you know if the art that you want to live with is painting, drawing, photography, video, sculpture--or even objects of design, now that art and design may often merge for talented artists and museum curators.

Make a list of artists interesting to you or use my list and other Artcentric blog posts and columns as a reference. That's the evergreen beauty of the Art Circuits guide, in print and online so you can always find it.

In my former life as a newspaper art critic, I hated having to write top ten lists. Now I don't have to be limited by a silly numbers game. So here is a list of artists to look for during these days of BaselMania.

Renowned Artists

Allora & Calzadilla, Carlos Betancourt, Hernan Bas, Jose Bedia, Carol Brown, Maria Brito, Charles Burchfield, Tania Bruguera, Enrique Martinez Celaya, Robert Chambers, Lygia Clark, William N. Copley, Marlene Dumas, Michele Oka Doner, Teresita Fernandez, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Gunther Gerszo, Mary Heilman, John Henry, Robert Huff, Isaac Julien, Dorothea Lange, Ruben Torres Llorca, Louise Nevelson, Julie Mehretu, Jorge Pardo, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Jesus Raphael Soto, Miralda, Giorgio Morandi, Barbara Neijna, Glexis Novoa, Karen Rifas, Susan Rothenberg, Betye Saar, Fred Tomaselli, Robert Thiele, Joaquin Torres-Garcia

Rising Stars

Kevin Arrow, Luisa Basnuevo, Loriel Beltran, Christopher Carter, Elizabeth Cerejido, Susan Lee Chun, Paul Clemence, Tony Chirinos, William Cordova, George Sanchez Calderon, Jim Drain, Christy Gast, Julie Davidow, Ivan Toth Depena, Lalla Essaydi, Naomi Fisher, Fernanda Fragateiro, Carlos Garaicoa, Jaime Gili, Erman Gonzalez, Florencio Gelabert, Jiae Hwang, Geddes Levenson, Hung Liu, Wangechi Mutu, Beatriz Milhazes, Ernesto Oroza, Tatiana Parcero, Guerra de la Paz, Gavin Perry, Ralph Provisero, Lilly Reich, Robin Rhode, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, Tal Rickards, Asser Saint-Val, Samantha Salzinger, Andrea Sampaolo, Gabriel Sierra, Raqib Shaw, Hank Willis Thomas, Mickalene Thomas, Mette Tommerup, Frances Trombly, Bruce Weber, Wendy Wischer

Most of these artists you can find through Miami galleries, museums, institutions, or art fairs listed in the Art Circuits guide. That artwork by so many of these artists is connected to the Miami area is a clear sign of the increasing sophistication and international diversity of the artists congregating here. With so many art fairs converging on Miami, you're likely to find works by these artists in galleries at the fairs, perhaps leading you to other memorable artists you'd like to collect.

In this unsettling financial time, it can be especially critial to do much looking before buying. Develop a relationship with a reputable dealer you like and trust. You should feel comfortable talking with this dealer about the artist's career and museums that exhibit and collect the artwork. Ask if the artist has created any public art.

If you're curious about an artist's materials, ask. You should rarely feel pressured to buy something on the spot, especially when money is tight. You may find something to buy from this dealer after the fair ends. Finding the art you want to live with for a long time is almost like choosing a mate for life. If you wouldn't get married on the spot, why collect art that way?

If an artist's work is sold, ask if something else you can afford is available. Be open to work by another artist the dealer shows you. If you fall in love with art over your budget, consider negotiating payments in installments.

Remember that BaselMania isn't just about looking to buy. It offers art lovers the pure pleasure of looking. Pace yourself.

Exhibits at Bass Museum of Art, Bakehouse Art Complex, de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space, The Freedom Tower, Frost Art Museum, Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, Miami Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Rubell Family Collection, and World Class Boxing aren't to be missed by out-of-town art lovers. Be sure to find time to see artworks at the Sagamore Hotel on South Beach.

Miami residents can take a breather and see these outstanding private collections and museums--inspirations to curious collectors--after the fairs depart.

There's so much to do and see, that I know I haven't listed everything! I invite readers of this blog to post comments about special artists and events they want other readers to be sure not to miss. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Then, of course, there's the mega fair that started all the mania: Art Basel Miami Beach. Whether or not you buy at Basel, SEE THIS FAIR. It provides a unique snapshot of that mighty colossus called the art world.

Special Miami Memories for MDC

It was a sun-splashed afternoon on the Kendall campus of Miami Dade College. As I was leaving my shift at the College Prep Writing Lab on November 10, I had the privilege of encountering this ceremony: The dedication of "Big Red" and "Untitled" by Jean Ward, sculptures donated by Martin and Pat Fine.

This was truly an unexpectedly elegant affair on this busy commuter campus. Programs were printed for this event. Palms and a podium were arranged by the Martin and Pat Fine Center for the Arts. The Kendall Campus Brass Quintet played and the Kendall ROTC did a snappy, sharply focused "Presentation of Colors." At the beginning, Dr. Lourdes Oroza spoke about Martin and Pat Fine's enduring commitment to the visual arts and to this campus. She noted that many art students, when they graduate and leave the outstanding facilities of the Martin and Pat Fine Center for the Arts, often wish they could return and pursue a four-year degree on this campus.

John Adkins, Department Chairperson of Arts and Philosophy, spoke about how Jean Ward was among the artists who wanted to make a difference at Woodstock. I recall how he allowed, with some gentle humor, that of course many of the students at the ceremony might not be quite sure what Woodstock was.

Soon it was time for Martin and Pat Fine to speak. They told us about their long attachment to art and to MDC. Clearly, Martin was very touched by how MDC has for fifty years offered so many students and newcomers to Miami the chance to get an education and get started on making a life and living in this country.

Pat offered these memorable thoughts about Jean Ward: "She was a skinnny little thing, but she was a giant in her thoughts." And then she invited the students to come up with a name for "Untitled," because she thought that it deserved one to honor and continue the boldness of Jean Ward's memory.

With a warm smile, she offered this parting admonition to students: "Don't kick it, but touch it. It will become your friend."

Miami’s Storied Collectors & Collections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miami’s Living, Breathing Cuban Diaspora

This October's ArtTable panel discussion at Books & Books in Coral Gables was quite fascinating. What a trip down a treasure-filled memory lane!

Kudos to El Nuevo Herald art critic Adriana Herrera for putting together this panel on Miami's Cuban Diaspora and of course to the panelists themselves: collector Arturo Mosquera and artists George Sanchez Calderon, Ana Albertina Delgado, and Pedro Vizcaino. Scholar and Florida International University professor Juan Martinez did an inspired job of moderating. Of course, he had such knowledge to bring to this job!

I remember when he gave a talk at Cernuda Arte on Carlos Enriquez, one of my favorite artists. I brought Juan's terrific book to the lecture, Cuban Art and National Identity: The Vanguard Painters 1927-1950. He was so nice to autograph it for me then. "To my colleague and friend," Juan wrote.

It was a remarkable discussion. A special memory the discussion sparked: when I heard Arturo speak about his collection, I thought how I had recently been to the opening of the exhibit of his collection at Miami's Freedom Tower. I had been so touched to see there one of Carlos Alfonzo's haunting black paintings, painted near the end of his life. You could see a fetus form, redolent of life and death, curled up inside this beautiful abstraction.

I remember interviewing Carlos at the Bass Museum when these black paintings were exhibited, and then how sad I was when he died some months later.

It is quite wonderful now that there's a website devoted to this absolutely astonishing exhibit about Arturo's collection at the Freedom Tower gallery, part of the Miami Dade College Art Gallery System. Visit the website at

In the audience I saw many artcentric friends, including Robert Chambers and Mette Tommerup. Robert told me a bit about his new public art project. I wish I could describe it here as well as he did for me. Robert, perhaps you could post a comment on my blog telling us about it in more detail? Perhaps Brandi R of Miami's fab public art program could also chime in?

Also I saw Ileana Fuentes, now cultural consultant for the Cuban Museum in Coral Gables. I recall how she was a co-editor, along with my Miami Dade College colleague Ricardo Pau-Llosa, of the catalog for "Outside Cuba: Contemporary Cuban Visual Artists,"which opened at the Zimmerli Art Museum of Rutgers University in 1987. It traveled to several institutions, later coming to the Center for the Fine Arts (now called Miami Art Museum) in 1988. I remember meeting Ileana when she was working for the Cuban Museum in Little Havana, and had curated a show with, I believe, Cesar Trasobares, Pablo Cano, and Lydia Rubio, and of course many other Cuban artists working then in Miami.

Ileana had some exceedingly thoughtful comments to make that night. Again, I wish I had written them down more carefully. Ileana, perhaps you could recap some of those comments by posting a comment on my blog? And it would be wonderful if you could update us on the latest with the Cuban Museum in Coral Gables.

It is quite exciting to feel so much generously artcentric energy in Miami these days.

Still Falling Hard for Art in Miami

Last night was the gallery walk in Wynwood, plus my birthday, so it was a double treat! As I live and breathe, I am still quite nuts about this very special art community in Miami.

The evening began when Eric and I had a wonderful dinner at Fratelli Lyon in the Design District to celebrate. I had been there before, but he had not. My fave dessert wine coupled with the salad with arugula, melon, and candied figs was an absolute delight. Yes, I am guilty as charged of having an incurable sweet tooth.

On this balmy night in Miami, when the humidity had finally lifted, it was more apparent than ever to me that engaged, artcentric folks can take part in how Miami is a nexus for new ideas. I discovered new ideas that I woke up this morning still thinking about and wanted to rush to my desk to write this blog.

Our first stop was to see the show by Gean Moreno and Ernesto Oroza at Gallery Diet.

Outside the gallery was a small group of people laboring away at typewriters. Typewriters in this digital age! Did that bring back memories! Gean explained to me that this was a group in Miami who would write a poem for anyone for $5.00. Gean, perhaps you can post a comment on this blog to explain more about the group...

Inside Gallery Diet was a cluster of palms and quite intriguing artwork by Gean and Ernesto that seemed to mingle concepts about contemporary art and urban design. I picked up the the gallery's newsletter to read more about it and found the artists' essay, "Notes on the Pre-City." After reading this essay, I don't think I will ever look at plant nurseries, as I drive by them on the road in Miami, the same way. What does it mean to live in a place surrounded by mini-jungles and maxi-plant-manicure-centers?!

Across the street we stopped in at Artformz to wish Alette Simmons-Jimenez and her artist friends a wonderful trip to Valencia and Barcelona in Spain. Alette promised she'd tell me all about it when she comes back, and I can't wait to hear.

Eric and I made our way on to David Castillo Gallery, where I was so glad to catch Pepe Mar's show, with its own lavishly-colored mini jungles of sculpture, and then it was up the street to Alejandra von Hartz Gallery, where I was simply dazzled by the very fab color combinations in the show "Color Climate: Matthew Deleget / David E. Peterson." Alexandra explained to me how Deleget takes inspiration from the salsa musicians Fania All-Stars, and that each painting pays hommage to a specific musician. Since I was in a birthday party mood, I loved learning about this info.

Well, I realize that what I am writing now is not really "proper" art criticism, but that does not bother me....well, maybe not too much...

After all, to paraphrase Cyndi Lauper, birthday girls just want to have fun!

Falling Hard for Art in Miami: "The Wolf" Sets the Pace

Miami's captivating cultural chorus leads by example. Bravo for museums and galleries! They belong to exciting initiatives raising high the baton for the culturally curious. A symphony of sights, sounds, and ideas overtakes the city. As I live and breathe, Miami this fall is now a stimulating place for ideas to ferment in the outrageously varied cultural feast we find from South Beach to the streets of Little Havana to the city's western reaches near Florida International University.

It's like another education--even for those of us who have been there, done that with writing papers for college. These lively learning opportunities are free or cost just pennies compared to the cost of a college education. How can you resist?

Begin your fall with a bang by sprinting to see "Speed Limits" at the Wolfsonian-FIU. It's an astounding exhibit with so much to see and talk about that you'll want to plan a return trip. I'm already planning mine with my terrific ArtTable pals. This remarkably-designed show will make you actually feel the consequences of our ever-accelerating need for speed when drivers navigate extra-expressways constructed around the world. And it does more than that by helping us contemplate the currently contradictory desire to slow things down, to give our bodies a rest from fast food, life in the fast lane, and texting till we drop. No wonder "The Wolf" calls itself the museum of "thinkism." See

And while I'm thinking about it, I want to give a shout-out for the catalog "Speed Limits" for this exhibit. It's an impressive publication. It is edited by Jeffrey T. Schnapp, co-founder of the Stanford Humanities Lab and professor of French, Italian, and Comparative Literature at Stanford University. I've been diving into this catalog for about a week now. There's so much to discover, and I can't wait till I can find the time to spend more time reading it!

As a former scholar in comparative literature who adores the writing of Marcel Proust, I was delighted to encounter his essay "Motoring Days" on page 243. I'd love for readers of this blog to tell me about other essays I should be sure not to miss.

In the best spirt of comparative literature scholarship that I recall from my coffee-blasted grad school days, Schnapp has done an outstanding job of evoking the "zeitgeist"--or spirit of the time--for our currently time-obsessed moment.

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