Summertime in Miami is more than a scalding stroll on South Beach with glamazons and guys.

For years the city has sung a siren call to forward-minded folks with visionary smarts. Looking at the world, they ask, "Why not?" Even when naysayers shriek, "You can't do this because it's never been done!"

Over two decades ago Miami naysayers tried to block Christo and Jeanne-Claude from stretching 11 miles of pink fabric across Biscayne Bay to create the sparkling "Surrounded Islands." Thankfully those visionary artists didn't listen. Look at the legendary legacy they created for Miami in May 1983.

Recently I sat in the turquoise kitchen in the Little Haiti home of another visionary artist, the mercurial Miralda. We shared memories and laughs. It's been some time since our paths have crossed for his shows with Miami Art Museum and Centro Cultural Espanol. Once again the forward-minded CCE exhibits his art.

We spoke about his summer show in Madrid, with the Reina Sofia at the Palacio Velazquez in the graciously green Retiro Park. It starts with the first audacious public projects he created in Paris to startle the status quo. From the beginning, his art has involved festivals, processions, and performances.

It incorporates some of his most recent art: the "imaginary museum," as he calls the Food Cultura Museum, exhibited in Germany.

"Miami was the beginning of this project," he tells me. It's about trying to combine all the "wonderful diversity of Latino countries." Like so much of his art, this encourages people to notice how food infiltrates ways we interact with language and popular culture found in jokes, poetry, religion, magic. "Miami was the very beginning of the whole thing," he adds. "I really need to say Cesar Trasobares is part of that."

The fabulous fusion you find in Miami fascinates him. "I moved here because of this cross-cultural situation," says the Spanish-born artist. For him, Little Haiti is an endearing part of "the large urban fabric of Miami."

Like Christo and Jeanne-Claude, this internationally celebrated artist has made a mark on urban fabric throughout Miami and the world.

A much younger artist in Miami is starting to do the same, garnering attention on opposite sides of the globe. Look at paintings by Diego Singh, an Argentine-born artist. Find them at Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Wynwood and Tomio Kayama Gallery in Japan. They mix geometry with hints of human figures. Though many think abstraction and figurative forms are poles apart, Singh boldly mixes the two types of painting in a single canvas, signaling his highly original gifts with eye-popping colors.

Robert Chambers has long rewarded Miami with his forward-minded, original talents. He's used astonishing materials, from abandoned machine parts to a helicopter, to fashion absolutely riveting instllations that you can't forget. This summer he's making his mark on international waters--how very Miami of him! As Mariangela Capuzzo, artistic director for International Corporate Art in Miami, explains, his installation art "is one of the main features on board Eclipse, Celebrity Cruise's next ship." When you read this, it's probably sailing far from England.

At Miami Intenational Airport, lucky travelers explore the outstanding public art work "Foreverglades" by Barbara Neijna. Made over ten years, it was produced in elaborate facilities in four countries.

Walking through this vast artwork, you'll see how Neijna forges a spectacular fusion of form and color with glass, stone and photography. It's as unique as the Everglades, so near to our sprawling urban fabric. Like the book River of Grass by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, a visionary crusader for the Everglades whose words weave through this public art, "Foreverglades" is a poetic gem.

More gems that sparkle, even scald like Miami summers: retablos by Nicario Jimenez in University of Miami office of Steven Stein. Stein thinks Jimenez suffuses this Peruvian folk tradition with outrage in art by Spanish master Goya. Shaping tiny figures partly made with potatoes, Jimenez describes horrific human rights abuses by Shining Path guerrillas in his native Peru. Having witnessed these atrocities, he came to Florida in the early 1990s, adapting this tradition to evoke problems suffered by undocumented immigrants in this country. The UM Wesley Art and Sciences Gallery and museums around the country have shown these retablos, says Stein, adding that the Smithsonian Institution owns them.

When anti-democratic forces explode everywhere, from power grabs by Chavez in Venezuela to Internet woes for Google in China, why don't these Goya-esque retablos have a MUCH brighter pride of place here in Miami?

As a shrewd Miami Dade College student reminded me, you have to think.

Yes, I'm thinking, but am clueless about why our crusading summer smarts STILL do not shine brighter in Miami.

That tradition REALLY smarts.

3 thoughts on “Summer Smarts in Miami: Feel the Heat

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dear Elisa, reading your piece was a great opportunity for me to remember the special fabric of the art scene in Miami during the 90s… As you know next month i am back for few more years…See you soon Miami – here i come… Tami K.F.

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