Saturday, September 17, 2011

Miami Artist Sebastian Spreng Amazing Multi-Tasker

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

Miami Art Critic Makes Final Trip to Herald Newsroom

So now I am making my 5oth blog post. It is precisely 6:19 am on a dark Saturday morning as I start this. My house is quiet and empty. I am alone here with my dogs, my thoughts and my memories. Looking at my notebook from the excellent memoir-writing workshop I took with Greg Bottoms in early May 2011 at Florida Center for the Literary Arts at Miami Dade College , now part of The Center @ MDC, I begin to blog.
Today, I thought I would blog about the day I made my final trip to the newsroom of The Miami Herald. It seems to make sense, now that the Herald building has been sold. In about two years it will be gone from the face of Miami, and I suppose all that will be left of the newsroom that was once there (although I'm told it will reappear some place else in Miami) are the memories people have of that place where so many people once worked so very hard and told so many, many stories in the service of prize-winning print journalism--or for that matter, reviewed so many art exhibits and profiled so many artists and other art world denizens. (Actually, that is an expression I always wanted to use in my Herald copy, but don't think I ever did. But now, with my blog, who is stopping me??)
First things first: More visual arts news in Miami
My artcentric buddy George Sanchez Calderon has just emailed me about this promising exhibition: "Daniel Newman Puente/Texas Flickers" at Tomorrowland, 1368 N. Miami Ave, Sept. 18 to Oct. 8; opening reception is Sept. 18, 8 pm to midnight; for more info email
Hey George, thanks a bunch for keeping me in the loop. That very smart, very busy Arthur Dunkleman is one exceptional curator! (Oh, Arthur, why did I never get to profile you for the Herald when I had the chance??!! And, yes, George, it would have been lots of fun, I am quite sure, to profile you also. There are, however, some people in Miami that I am absolutely thrilled that now I will NEVER even have to THINK about profiling!!!...If you are reading this, you know who you are.) Arthur tells me about this reception: "On the Edge of Light: Preview" is Thurs. Sept. 22, 6 to 8 pm at Maor Gallery, 3030 NE 2nd Ave., Miami, with artist's talk and presentation at 6:30 pm and at 7 pm L'Chaim toast welcoming the Jewish new year 5772 by guest of honor Stewart Merkin. Then at 7:15 there's a performance by Fernando Calzadilla. RSVP Look for these artists in this exhibit curated by Arthur the Extraordinaire: Tina Spiro, Fernando Calzadilla, Paul Stoppi, Janet Slom, Yasmin Spiro. "On the Edge of Light" will take place during Miami Art Week and Art Basel Miami Beach 2011. For more info see
Note this 9/12/2011 news flash from the very helpful Cuban Art News service. So glad I get their emails too! Jose Bedia is having a retrospective at the Fowler Museum at the University of California's Los Angeles campus. See Show is "Transcultural Pilgrim: Three Decades of Work by Jose Bedia." Also "Fowler in Focus: Bedia Selects" puts on public view more than 30 seldom-displayed objects in the Fowler collection from Central Africa. You can see them through Jan. 8, 2012. Cuban Art News service is a fab project from the Farber Foundation, started by one of my fab artcentric friends and collector, Howard Farber and his wife. See So glad I got to meet him too when I worked for the Herald, and it is so nice that now that I now longer work for the Herald we keep in touch via email.
This just in from another fab email buddy from my Herald days: Gean Moreno. He sent me his September [NAME] Newsletter: Look for the launch party/fundraiser at Gallery Diet on Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 7 pm; gallery address is 174 NW 23rd St. in Wynwood. Among the artists [NAME] is working with this year: Hernan Bas, Bhakti Baxter, Christy Gast, Bert Rodriguez. They'll be at the New York Book Fair at the end of this month. Most of [NAME] publications are at this site
Congrats to NWSA! New World School of the Arts celebrates its 25th anniversary! A highlight from its email newsletter: NWSA's art history curriculum is now becoming much more impressive thanks to this cool collaboration with the Bass Museum of Art (I remember when I used to give NWSA tons of art books that publishers fairly inundated with me at the Herald--those were "review copies" that of course there was never space for me to cover in the newspaper. Wonder what is happening to them now....but I just love it that this is NOT MY PROB anymore!) . Now there's a one-year art history seminar for every first year student in NWSA's Visual Arts College Program. As of this month, 40 students will come to the Bass once a week for a two-hour course taught by Dr. Adrienne von Lates , Director of Education at the Bass.
Mario Algaze is having a show at Throckmorton Gallery , 145 E. 57th St., 3rd floor, in New York City. Opening reception is Thurs., Nov. 10, from 6 to 8 pm. "Mario Algaze: Forty Years" presents four decades of his truly stunning and perceptive photography in the Caribbean and Latin America. Note that his art is collected by many museums, including Houston Museum of Fine Art, Norton Simon Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art. So glad that I recently saw his gorgeous photographs at Dina Mitrani Gallery in Wynwood. There's a book to accompany his New York gallery show: Mario Algaze: Portfolio, published in 2010, price is $125.
Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art aka MOCA announces its many programs for the fall. Note "Contemporary Art Boot Camp," a lecture series by MOCA curators and art professionals, which covers key figures, themes and trends in contemporary art. Jillian Hernandez, Moca's Outreach Coordinator and PhD candidate in Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, will present "(Re)thinking Sex Through Contemporary Art: The Politics of Scandal, Pleasure and Disappointment." (Can't WE ALL relate to those issues??!!) This two-part lecture series, presented Oct. 19 and Nov. 16, will draw from queer theory and interdisciplinary sexuality studies to examine the way contemporary art affects the way we think about sex. "Contemporary Art Boot Camp" is $10 for members and $15 for non-members. MOCA is located at 770 NE 125th St., North Miami. For more info, call 305-893-6211 or see
Emilio Sanchez is celebrated in a new monograph and current exhibit at Bronx Museum of the Arts. Sanchez (1921-1999) is a Cuban-born American artist well worth celebrating. Try your hardest not to miss this presentation of Hard Light: The Work of Emilio Sanchez and book signing with author Rafael Diazcasas and editor Ann Koll happening in Miami at my totally fave bookstore ( Mitchell Kaplan: whatever would Miami do without you??) Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave, Coral Gables on Wed., Oct. 5 at 8 pm. For more info, call 305-442-4408 or see Also see Note also that "Urban Archives: Emilio Sanchez in the Bronx" is on view through Jan. 2, 2012 at Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse at 165th St., Bronx, NY. For more info, call 718-681-6000 or see
For sure don't miss the grand opening of South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center on Oct. 1 and 2, 10950 SW 211 St., Cutler Bay. For tkt info call 786-573-5300 or see This $15 million multi-disciplinary performing arts center sounds extremely exciting and I for one cannot wait to see it!
Rogelio Lopez Marin (aka Gory) is showing "Selected Photographs, 1985-1994" at Farside Gallery, 1305 Galloway Rd. (87th Ave.) in Miami Sept. 21-Oct. 28. Opening reception is Sat. Sept. 24, from 7 to 9 pm. This show can be seen by appt on weekdays, 11 am to 5 pm. The totally terrific and totally fab Farside Gallery is elegantly and graciously sponsored by Mosquera Orthodontics.
Also this just in from another fab artcentric friend, David Rohn. He tells me about the opening reception for "David Rohn: Small, Medium, Large" at 7-11 pm Sept. 23, 2011 at Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art, 158 NW 91 St, in Miami. At the opening you will see his "installation-cum-performance." He explained it in much more interesting detail than I have time to go into in my blog, unfortunately. Carol Jazzar has a very cool gallery in Miami Shores, but David, dahlink, I could not see the address on your email! Maybe it was my fault, and I missed it. Anyway, I think you are so clever and so interesting and so amusing that I googled the address and website for my blog. See (After all that, hope I got it right! If not, readers can always post a comment on my blog with corrections and clarifications.)
Well, it is about 8:06 am on Sunday, Sept. 18 and I am getting really bleary-eyed. I have been blogging off and on since yesterday morning. I am getting too tired to count how many hours I have been doing this, so I am just going to stop and double-check my facts for the umpteenth time. Would, however, like to add that Robert Huff and Barbara Young and I had a totally fab and fascinating evening at Art and Culture Center of Hollywood yesterday when we heard Shamin M. Momin deliver the inaugural lecture for the center's very cool Hot Topics Discussion series. She is such a charming and smart curator. No wonder she has accomplished so much! She even remembered meeting me several years ago at a fall barbeque party at the home of Debra and Dennis Scholl. Finally, I guess at about 8:48 am on Sunday, Sept. 18, I am ready to publish this blog entry. Also ready for some real breakfast and another cup of coffee!!
I am typing here what I wrote by hand during my final and very productive "free writing" session in that memoir-writing workshop in May 2011. I have revised it somewhat--maybe you know how writers are, we always want to do something extra to our copy...
Miami Art Critic Makes Final Trip to Herald Newsroom by Elisa Turner
I had often dreamed about the day I would go back, almost the way I have dreamed about returning to the actual yellow brick building where I graduated from high school in 1970 in Shelbyville, Illinois. In my dreams, I can hear the clatter of lockers slamming shut and feel how tense I became when I could not get my stubborn combination lock on the locker to open. Shelbyville High School is very different now. Because of the school's declining student population, a kindergarten now occupies the place where there was once a huge study hall during my freshman year. It was always packed to capacity then.
So would the Herald newsroom be very different when I went back? I wanted to see if the charming and riveting photos documenting Miami's upstart and colorful past would still be displayed prominently along a corridor in the newsroom connecting the Metro section to the Sports section.
Would there be the odd, sweet black-and-white photograph of a little Micosukee girl standing on an alligator? Maybe I would finally have time to see if there was a date on that photo. Would there be the famous shot of the Cuban rafters, their mouths wide open in anguished cries, their faces dripping with sweat and tears, their arms reaching out for help that might not come or grabbing flimsy inner tubes in desperation as they bounced along in the crystalline blue waves of the merciless Florida Straits?
Would there still be the three TV monitors hanging from the ceiling, the colorful talking heads looming over the backs of print journalists ever mindful of how the 24-hour cycle of breaking news was forever changing their business, diminishing their livelihood?
Would I see if the glass-windowed conference room, with its spectacular picture postcard view of MacArthur Causeway arching over Biscayne Bay, was still named, as I recalled, the Knight Conference Room? I remember stitting at the head of the conference table inside that room, outlining my plans for how the Herald could cover the first Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002.
I never found out the answers to these questions on the day in 2009 I made my last walk through The Miami Herald newsroom. I was too focused on accomplishing my mission. Yet questions like these still haunt my dreams and disturb my sleep.
"I used to work here," I say firmly to the guard inside the entrance to The Miami Herald building at One Herald Plaza. It is a gray, muggy midsummer morning in Miami. This is my final visit to the Herald building. I hand him my photo ID as I am about to walk through the metal detector. I place my purse on the conveyor belt for hand-held packages.
The guard looks skeptically at my photo ID, which says Miami Herald, INDEPENDENT, ELISA TURNER, FEATURES CONTRACTOR. He turns it over in his calloused hands.
"They didn't ask for this back?" he grunts. My heart leaps to my throat. After all the legal effort that has been expended for me to get to this point, I am absolutely not going to turn in my Herald ID to a guard who has no idea about how long and hard I have worked for this newspaper.
"No, I still have my ID," I say in a firm, even tone of voice. I reach for my ID back. I tell him the name of the woman with whom I have an appointment that day. "She's expecting me, " I say.
And with that, I briskly walk through the metal detector, retrieve my purse from the conveyor belt, and press my ID card on the metal plate next to the glass security door at the inner entrance to the Herald lobby on the ground floor. The door opens immediately and I walk through. I walk quickly to the elevator, step inside, and I push the elevator button for the fifth floor for the last time.
When the elevator door opens on the fifth floor where the newsroom is located, I hardly recognize this lobby. It gleams with a new, clean coat of off-white paint. I don't recall seeing that day the framed Pulitzer awards or the famous page one headlines from the past.
My walk through the newsroom to the library is eerie. It gives me the creeps. Ceiling lights are dim or non-existent. Rows of desks are empty. Computer screens are black, rows and rows of them. They look like death warmed over. No phones are ringing. I see hardly a soul. A ghostly pall hangs over this place that once hummed with hectic activity. I am shocked to realize I barely recognize the newsroom as I walk the about five-minute trip it takes to reach the Herald library. It actually makes my skin crawl. A knot in my stomach tightens.
I shove these feelings out of my mind. "Stay calm," I tell myself. "Be focused and clear. You have a mission." Yes, I do. I own the copyright to all my work for The Miami Herald for 21 years. I am there, I remind myself, to get my goddamn stuff back. It is mine, and I want it.
Nevertheless, the place feels like a morgue. Death hangs in the air. As usual, the air-conditioning is uncomfortably high, only adding to the creepy, gloomy, deadening atmosphere of the place, so silent and virtually empty.
At last I reach the library. The woman I am there to meet smiles and shows me a desk where I can accomplish my task. She shows me how to use the Herald's library computers so I can download all my stories for The Miami Herald onto my own flashdrive. I am not totally sure what year I began writing for the paper although I know I stopped in 2007. We determine that my first story was in 1986. I start the process of downloading it all on my five-gigabyte flashdrive.
That day I bring two flashdrives with me. I do the downloading twice on two separate flashdrives, just to make sure nothing is lost, that I will never lose access to this part of my life again.
Seeing all the titles with my byline intact, year by year, is comforting. (I was so hurt to realize that my byline had been "disappeared" from my stories archived on the Herald website, but I am sort of getting over that, or basically getting used to the fact that this hurt will never completely go away.) It's also something of a shock to see my stories flash by so quickly, as I click on them each to be downloaded on my flashdrives. They flicker past on one computer "page" after another. It is almost like seeing my life pass before my eyes. I am reminded of people and events I wrote about so long ago that I had forgotten them until this moment.
There is no time to read, to pick and choose. Now that I am there, I want it all. Everything. All my "data," as Ana, my personal computer "techie," calls it. She carefully prepped me for this moment.
I am determined not to be distracted by nostalgia or sentiment today.
The whole process takes, I think, about two hours. Or maybe less. Or maybe a little more. I honestly am not sure. I am sure that it was an utterly surreal experience.
After I complete my task, I suppose I should feel elated. But I don't. I feel quietly relieved but also drained and flat, almost a kind of gray to match the heavy gray clouds hanging over Miami that humid summer day.
Then I walk back to the newsroom and stop to chat briefly with my two dear friends, Kathy and Margaria, who are working in the cold and lonely Features department. They are happy to see me, knowing why I am there that day. I notice that the two window offices in that department are closed and dark. The offices look as if no one has used them for quite some time. That is where the editors who ran the Features department, including my last editor who called me "too artcentric," used to sit.
I make my way quickly to the elevator. I can't wait to leave this gloomy place. Inside the elevator, I push the button for the ground floor. When the elevator opens, I head for the doors to leave the building. As I step outside and breathe in the hot, muggy air, I don't look back.
Then I walk to my car, leave the almost empty Herald parking lot, and drive home. I am exhausted. Every now and then as I drive, I cast a quick look over at my purse, which I have placed securely on the passenger seat next to me. Inside, I know, are those two five-gigabyte flashdrives with all my "data, " next to my Herald photo ID.
"Fuck The Miami Herald," I think.

Friday, September 2, 2011

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

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

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Miami Art Museum Mourns 9/11 with Joel Meyerowitz Photos

It's hard to believe that 9/11 was actually 10 years ago, but that is obviously the case. I was still writing for the Herald and my children were 14 and 16, still in middle school and high school. Now they are 24 and 26! And of course I am not writing for the Herald anymore, but blogging about what I used to do and art events currently happening in Miami. Today my topic is Joel Meyerowitz and 9/11.
I think it's great that Miami Art Museum is presenting "Joel Meyerowitz - Aftermath" in its Focus Gallery, through Nov. 6. You can see 24 of his recently donated photographs in that gallery. His book, Aftermath: World Trade Center Archives, was reissued this year in a special 10th anniversary edition. There'll be a public lecture at 6:30 pm Sept. 8 at MAM on this exhibit. Lecture is "What Remains," given by noted author and photography critic Vicki Goldberg, whose writing I have always admired. For more info, see
Since we are thinking about 9/11 and artists, I'd like to pay homage to the late artist Michael Richards, who died that day in his studio at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in the World Trade Center. At the moment I am looking at the catalogue for the traveling exhibit, "Passages: Contemporary Art in Transition," organized by The Studio Museum in Harlem, which included art by Michael, who was such a talented, generous-hearted artist, another of the many, many people I feel lucky to have known during my time writing for the Herald. In the fall of 2000, this exhibit came to MAM; as I see I noted then on my checklist for the show, Michael worked in a residency for the ArtCenter/South Florida for four-month stints during the years 1997 through 2000. A particular work in that show, I remember, struck me then as prescient in a chilling way, even though it was created in response to an appalling chapter of racial discrimination in our armed forces. I remember that the first time I saw this 1999 resin and steel sculpture was at Ambrosino Gallery in North Miami. It is "Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian," and shows a Tuskegee airman bombarded with dagger-like air planes, recalling the physical torment of St. Sebastian--but also, of course, Michael's tragic death.
On this 10th anniversary of 9/11, I think it is truly inspiring that LMCC (shorthand for Lower Manhattan Cultural Council) and its partners are presenting a series of programs aiming to explore how the arts can can indeed involve communities in an endless variety of ways to safeguard vital memories as well as cultivate dreams for change. As a result, communities may one day devise ways for taking action that can surely transform such dreams into reality. For more info about the admirable "InSite" LMCC program, see or google Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, then click on its Home page.
First things first: More visual arts news in Miami Today is a great opportunity to highlight residency programs in Miami for artists. Note that the deadline to apply for LegalArt Local Residency is Sept. 1. Learn more about this exceedingly special opportunity to live and work in a professional development residency in downtown Miami by checking out or email I visited the facilities earlier this year, and I must say I was impressed. Note also that the ArtCenter/South Florida has extended its deadline to Sept. 15 to apply for its juried residency program. For more info about the many benefits of this program and to find out how to apply, see Click on "Opportunities" when you get to that site. Interested artists can also contact Director of Exhibitions Kitty Bowe Hearty at or call her at 305-674-8278, ext 208. Creative folks may also want to mark their calendars for "Gene Hackman: Installation and Performance by Timothy Stanley and P. Scott Cunningham," from Aug. 22 to Sept. 30 at BasFisherInvitational , 180 NE 39th St, Suite 210. There's a Second Saturday reception 7-10 pm on Sept. 10, with performances daily at 5 pm. Check out how an intriguing writer's residency project is temporarily housed at BasFisherInvitational by visiting
Many thanks to my talented MDC-Kendall colleague Tony Chirinos for sending me info about this event: Artcentric folks should for sure mark their calendars for "Pannaroma - Miami, " a distinctive group show featuring photographers--including Lee Friedlander, Tony Chirinos, Stephen Hilger, Gilles Peress, Raghubir Singh--who all used the Pannaroma 1 x 3 camera. This camera was designed by distinguished photographer Thomas Roma (a two-time Guggenheim fellow, author, Director of Photography and Professor of Art at Columbia University) at the request of famed photographer Lee Friedlander. It will be on view Sept. 1 to Oct. 29 at the gallery in the Martin and Pat Fine Center for the Arts of Miami Dade College Kendall Campus, 11011 SW 104th St.; opening reception is 6-9 pm Sept. 1. For more info call 305-237-7700 or call Tony Chirinos, Associate Professor of Photography, MDC-Kendall, at 305-237-2281 or email curators Tony Chirinos and Stephen Hilger at This traveling show was first seen at UNO-St. Claude Gallery in New Orleans. Don't forget to keep checking the website started by my treasured artcentric friend Rosie Gordon-Wallace for special opportunities at Also, check out my September Critic's Choice at
This just in: "Karen Rifas: Strung Out" can be seen at Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, 3550 N. Miami Ave. in Wynwood, from Sept. 10 to Oct. 29. I'm really looking forward to seeing this one, as I have followed Karen Rifas for years and I think she's exceptionally talented. Although many of us know the amazing work she has done for years by stitching dried oak leaves together (yes, that is what she does as an artist!), this show will present transparent forms made with colored cords to explore her long-standing fascination with geometric patterns. Don't miss the opening night dance performance at 8 pm on Sept. 10. Dancers, under the direction of Dale Andree of New World School of the Arts, will move within structures created by Rifas. For more info call Bernice Steinbaum Gallery at 305-573-2700 or visit
And kudos to Carlos Betancourt! "Of Kenya and Candles," his 480" long and 94" high wallpaper mural will be shown for the first time at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center in San Antonio, Texas from Sept. 1 to Nov. 6. Wish I could be there for the opening! Find out more about the exhibit "Carlos Betancourt: Archaic Substance" at Maybe someday it will come to Miami??
Here's my Miami Herald story about Joel Meyerowitz from September 2006.
On Sept. 11, 2011, Joel Meyerowitz was taking photos of a seaside town on Cape Cod, where he has photographed for years. After learning with the rest of the world that the World Trade Center Towers had been attacked, he rushed back to his Greenwich Village apartment. From Sept. 23, 2001 to June 21, 2002, he photographed the exhausting work of recovery and debris removal at ground zero.
During those months, he says he shot around 8,500 photographs. His new book, Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive (Phaidon, $75), features 400.
Books & Books hosts "Ground Zero Through the Artist's Lens: An Evening with Joel Meyerowitz," at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Photography collector Martin Z. Margulies, who owns several of Meyerowitz's works, will conduct an onstage conversation with Meyerowitz.
"I've seen his work for a long time," says Margulies. "It's classic street photography. He was one of the pioneers in color photography."
Getting access to the smoldering site was tough. Right after the attacks, the site was cordoned off with yellow tape as a crime scene. Photographers were banned. After navigating red tape and appealing to the Museum of the City of New York and city officials, Meyerowitz landed his worker's badge to enter ground zero with his camera. He was allowed to move freely about the site.
To his surprise, as he recounts in his book, workers were already taking pictures with digital cameras. For his part, he wanted access to the site not to make art but to record history.
"I was taking pictures for those who didn't have access to the site," he writes in his book. The pictures, he hoped, would help New Yorkers or anyone else "to grieve, or simply to try to understand what had happened to our city." The World Trade Center Archive he started soon after he had access to the site is now in the permanent collection of the Museum of the City of New York. The archive has traveled throughout the country.
As he explains in a phone call from his home on Cape Cod, "I wasn't projecting on the event an artistic intention that would involve my ego. I was able to use the tactics I normally use as a street photographer. I did not feel like I had enough of a point of view from an artist's perspective to make a comment on the event. The best I could do was to go in and see what it looks like."
For nine months he saw what the site looked like, as the somber, grueling process of recovering human remains and artifacts morphed into debris removal.
The wreckage was so massive, so awesome, he says that no one thing a single individual could make could come close to describing what it was like.
Looking at the photographs in his book, you are continually pushed from minute manifestations of this tragedy to its monumental scope. You see steel girders dangling like strings, escalators leading nowhere, workers in hard hats amid plumes of smoke, and lights of city skyscrapers as they ring the gaping hole of ground zero at night. On nearly every page there's commentary by Meyerowitz about the work at ground zero as it continued day by day.
His book records tiny, strange coincidences unearthed in the layers of wreckage. There was the time when police Lt. John Ryan found his Police Academy graduation picture. There is the sooty, mangled steel to which scorching heat had fused a Bible. The battered Bible, he writes, was open to Matthew 5:38, the verse that begins "An eye for an eye."
Another photograph shows at least two floors of an office that seem to have been pillaged by a tornado. Ceilings have crashed among file cabinets, desks and computers. His comments on the scene are terse. The sound of creaking steel, a reminder that many parts of ground zero were wildly unstable, made him abruptly exit this corner of mayhem. He recalls how these particular office ruins were "a kind of contemporary Pompeii."
As he speaks of his days and months documenting the aftermath of 9/11, he remembers how he often came across odd relics of tragedy that had as much mystery and power as art in a museum. One was a three-foot pile of debris, from telephone cards to slats of Venetian blinds, stacked in an office corner covered with concrete dust that had hardened from rains falling on the decimated towers.
It looked like, he says, "conceptual art that people do all the time today, but this was the real thing. This was made not by a person but by the force of the event. It memorialized the event--all the randomness, color and violence--phenomenally."
IF YOU GO What: Books & Books presents "Ground Zero Through the Artist's Lens: An Evening with Joel Meyerowitz," a slide show by photographer Joel Meyerowitz about his book Aftermath, followed by a conversation with collector Martin Z. Margulies. Where: Lincoln Theatre, 541 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach When: 7:30 pm Thursday Cost: Free
[Blogger's Note: Still getting the hang of doing this blog. Please note that in my previous post re Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt, I gave an incorrect date for the closing of a very fab show featuring photography and other work by Sandra Ramos at Dot Fiftyone Gallery in Wynwood. It closes Sept. 6. For sure don't miss this one. If I have given any incorrect info in this post, my apologies. You are welcome to post a comment with corrections and other insights helpful to readers.]

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

"Surprise," she prods him.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Miami Gallery Cernuda Arte Sells Work by Carlos Alfonzo

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

Cernuda Arte, at 3155 Ponce de Leon Blvd. in Coral Gables, announces that in July 2011 it has sold work by Carlos Alfonzo, among other artists of course. See 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 email 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 Buyunga Kialeuka, 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 or call 305-662-8889.

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

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

Attention emerging and mid-career artists (actually, I have never been quite sure what "emerging" really means in this context. . .um, did Vincent 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 email . 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.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Miami Artist Charo Oquet Leads Edge Zones Art Center in Wynwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

She was fascinated and wanted to see them for herself.

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

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

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

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

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