Monday, November 23, 2009

Public Art in Miami: Missing the Boat?

How is it that boring and derivative artwork by the alarmingly prolific Romero Britto and others clutter public spaces in Miami?

How is that artcentric cities in the Midwest like Chicago and Des Moines know how to invigorate urban spaces with an engaging mix of greenspace, art museums, architecture, and sculpture by noted contemporary artists?

Why is this not happening in Miami? It is exceptionally hard to understand, especially when we have spectacular public art in the collections of Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County. This paradoxical situation is even harder to understand when Art Basel Miami Beach and its satellite art fairs come to town. How can we truly think of our city as a significant art capital when, after these fairs depart, there is not enough civic awareness of these wonderful public art collections, and we still have too many uninspired public artworks cluttering our urban landscape?

This shortcoming is especially noticeable in the winter months, when Miami's already clogged expressways become even more hectic with visitors. Often they come here because they are charmed by our balmy winters. Yes, we are still the beguiling city by the bay "where summer spends the winter," as a tourist brochure once claimed.

Yet Miami is a city of rampant urban sprawl and suburbs so distant from downtown that they encroach on the Everglades. It's not uncommon to hear stories of alligators gobbling up small pets. Miami is a city aspiring to artful sophistication yet it tragically lacks intelligent urban design.

Why don't we have a network of pocket parks thoughtfully placed among the canyons of condos and office towers crowding downtown Miami? This would be a welcome use of greenspace for city dwellers, workers, and pedestrians. These pocket parks could be enriched by significant public art.

Downtown Miami should also be graced by a substantially artful public park, engaging and open to all. If this happens in the Midwest, why not in Miami?

I recently spoke with Dennis Leyva, Art & Entertainment Liasion for Miami Beach Tourism & Cultural Development, about the wonderful public art collections in Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County. We bemoaned the fact that all too often we see visitors to the Arsht Center downtown and travelers at Miami International Airport rush past astoundingly breathtaking works by Barbara Neijna and others. They are too busy trying to reach performances and planes on time to see the art.

But in their haste they miss one of the most memorable and ongoing performances in all of Miami--public art. "It's really an undervalued aspect of our community," says Leyva. He would like to see "more community outreach making people aware of what is around them. It's great public art."

A great idea would be to create a free application for iPhone and Blackberry with information about public art in Miami, with an interactive map like the Google one and a brief description of each artwork. The user, local or visiting, would download the application and have access to the information in a fast, friendly, and easy way. This could let more people learn about the art enlivening our streets, plazas, airport, and cruise terminals. The application could be promoted online and at the airport and cruise terminal.

A truly "killer app" in this case would be if specially-commissioned made-in-Miami music accompanied the information about public art--not to interfere, but to enhance. Perhaps music students at New World School of the Arts could assist?

We are fortunate that our city is graced by public art by contemporary artists like Roberto M. Behar and Rosario Marquardt, Michele Oka Doner, and Wendy Wischer. We also boast the art historical treasure of "Cheval Majeur" by Raymond Duchamp-Villon, on a plaza just steps from two museums and the Main Library.

Each one of these artists is clearly far more talented than the ubiquitous Britto. All the living artists I just mentioned have worked in Miami, a magnet for creativity. Artists like these should be supported with more public art commissions throughout the city. This is a lasting benefit for everyone who comes here to work and play.

These artists deserve more venues and funding for creating public art. Moreover, we must have sufficient funding to care for our outstanding public art, so that aging artwork doesn't decay. Then we all can share and enjoy Miami's artcentric wealth.

At last, we will be the art capital we have always wanted to be. We will not miss the boat on our own bonanza of public art.

Friday, November 6, 2009

When the Chips Are Down, Miami Plays a Dynamite Hand

Miami has always been a place alluring to folks who dare to dream on a grand scale and place equally grand bets that those dreams will come true. Think of America's Gilded Age titan, Henry Flagler, who slapped the lust for living large into Miami, once a muddy swamp at the turn of the 20th Century. Undaunted by huge challenges, he brought his Florida East Coast Railway to Miami in 1896, paving the way for countless visitors and riches to follow.

At the turn of the 21st Century, the heart of Miami is true to this spectacular tradition. Never mind the gloom and doom pervading the art world, with museums cutting budgets and staff and galleries closing everywhere you look. When the chips are down, leave it to Miami to play with a dynamite hand. As preparations around town gather speed for the arrival of Art Basel Miami Beach and its satellite art fairs, Miami art lovers and artcentric visitors can relish stunning offerings in their midst.

Stopping first in Miami is the traveling show "Guillermo Kuitca: Everything, Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980-2008." Co-organized by the Miami Art Museum and other institutions, it promises to be a remarkable survey of the multi-tasking talents for which this outstanding Argentine artist is known. Kuitca possesses a vibrant flair for melding music and mapmaking, theater and topography. Those of us in Miami merit a special treat: MAM is hosting "Guillermo Kuitca: Everything (else)" at Miami's Freedom Tower. This features his recent art inspired by Wagnerian opera and the dramatic fusion of light, space, and image.

An exquisite architectural landmark, the Freedom Tower offers more art this season with two shows providing incisive looks at the metaphorical and truth-telling powers of photography. "Tetralogy: Lies, Adaptation, Tracing and Duplicity as Identity" explores compelling photography recently created by María Martinez-Cañas. It is curated by Gean Moreno. As both artist and curator have long ties to Miami, the show reveals the city's deeply-rooted talents.

Then there's "Invasion 68 Prague." Documentary street photography by Josef Koudelka explores the historic 1968 week in Prague when Soviets crushed cries for freedom animating Czechoslavakia and the world. With images never seen before, this exhibit is co-produced by Aperture Foundation, Magnum Photos, and the Art Galleries of Miami Dade College. "We found that combining two different forms of photography from Miami and Europe becomes a very interesting mixture during Art Basel," says Jorge Gutierrez of Miami Dade College.

At the Bass Museum of Art is "Where Do We Go From Here? Selections from La Collección Jumex," drawn from the famed Eugenio Lopez Alonso collection in Mexico. Iconic images by Andy Warhol and Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss mingle with internationally-known contemporary art. Co-organized by the Bass with Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati, this show is a further example of how the Basel season in Miami becomes a dynamite hand for our city's artcentric natives and visitors. It is co-curated by Bass director Silvia Karman Cubiña. Of course, this much-anticipated show arrives here first.

But as superb art comes and goes from Miami museums in an era darkened by a historically battered economy, one exceptionally bright spot now gleams. This is the opening of the Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz Collection in the city's Design District. Three floors of richly varied art promise to lure art lovers and students long after art fairs depart. Special attention goes to artists with profound ties to Miami: Ana Mendieta and Félix Gonzalez-Torres. This collection, along with its library, is open to the public for free.

It has all the hallmarks of an outstanding community resource, especially in Miami where museums don't have space to show their permanent collections permanently. "I think people do like to look at a permanent collection," says Rosa de la Cruz. "I do not want to do shows. There's no curator here pushing any agenda. I think people are hungry to spend an afternoon looking at art just for the sake of looking at art," she adds. "It is going to make a difference in Miami."

Years pass, yet this is still the same eye-catching story: To make a difference sure to dazzle, people place spectacular bets on Miami.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Miami's Accelerating Caribbean Connections

Miami is becoming a hub for contemporary Caribbean art. The city is in a geographically perfect location for this role, especially when Art Basel Miami Beach and its satellite fairs come to town.

At a planning session for Miami ArtTable meetings at Books & Books in Coral Gables that I held this summer, we talked about having a program devoted to this community's accelerating Caribbean connections.

A number of contemporary artists working in Miami have strong ties not only to Cuba but also to islands throughout the Caribbean, and Caribbean artists exhibit increasingly lively contemporary art in Miami.

Think of the recently published book, Miami Contemporary Artists by Paul Clemence and Julie Davidow. This beautiful book features over 100 artists connected to the city's diverse art scene, with ties to the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Many artists in the book do possess a strong Caribbean connection. Can you believe it--artists in the book hail from Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic!

The match between Miami and the Caribbean is MUCH more than one of convenience. Consider parallels between the city and these nearby islands. DREADFUL tropical storms batter both places. Both are places of BEAUTY and BRUTALITY.

Miami's cultural identity is diverse and evolving. Crime and culture are front-page stories here. Located in rough and lovely waters, islands of the Caribbean are also diverse: hard to count and even harder to define. They number about 27 island nations. Major languages are English, Spanish, French, and Dutch. Others are uniquely Caribbean, like Creole in Haiti.

Don't forget that some of these languages are spoken DAILY on Miami streets. And there are more parallels of brutality and beauty. Look on Caribbean streets and you will see distressing reminders of crowded slave ships in the past and glamorous cruise ships in the present.

Another reason why Miami plays an increasingly important role as a cultural hub for the region is that it's difficult for contemporary Caribbean culture to flourish and grow in a central place. Some islands are vexingly remote. Multiple strands of Caribbean art mesh in Miami.

You can encounter exhibits in Miami by artists with ties to contemporary Caribbean art at art fairs, Chelsea Galleria , David Castillo Gallery, Diaspora Vibe Gallery, Edge Zones, Farside Gallery (for info and Yeelen Art Gallery

There are MORE places in Miami to find arresting artwork by artists with ties to the Caribbean.
I want Artcentric readers of my blog about the Caribbean to post ideas about these places by responding to this blog. And I want directors of the galleries and non-profit spaces I just listed to respond to this blog by posting exciting news about what they and their artists are doing!

OF COURSE contemporary artists with ties to the Caribbean can respond too!

The time is now, so let's get started! We all know that forces of the contemporary Caribbean are converging in Miami!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Now Is the Time to Clean up Wynwood!

Dear Diary,

Roseanne Barr was right when Johnny Carson ruled, and she's still right. Why is it that women so often clean up the messes that other people, especially men and kids, keep making??

Take the program called "Women in Wynwood," a terrific idea to clean up the not-terribly-tidy streets of Wynwood, recently proposed by Constance and Martin Margulies as well as by Thea Goldman, Rhonda Mitrani, and Nina Johnson of Gallery Diet. It involves hiring the homeless women of Lotus Shelter started by Constance Margulies, for sure a visionary philanthropist in Miami, to operate cleaning carts on the streets of Wynwood. Their initial idea has been to locate 15 women to raise $5,000 each or 30 women to raise $25,000. Each woman could be photographed by a talented photographer, and featured in a marketing campaign as one of the pioneering Women of Wynwood. What a bold idea!!

Why didn't someone think of this earlier? But, hey, I am NOT complaining! Let's count our blessings that at least a few artcentric folks are thinking about ways for Wynwood to clean up its act and be more user-friendly. A former Wynwood gallery director told me that, on Sunday mornings after gallery openings the night before, she often swept up piles of empty plastic cups tossed on the sidewalk near especially popular galleries. Why am I not surprised??

I recall how Roseanne Barr, before she had her own famous TV show, cracked HILARIOUS jokes on the Johnny Carson show about being "just a housewife." As I remember, she said she hated pushing a vacuum cleaner and thought someone should invent one that you could ride, similar to lawn mowers men ride on their mine-is-bigger-than-yours lawns. I also remember that she wondered why everyone in her family seemed to think her uterus was a homing device, because they all came to her looking for things they had lost.

Can I relate!!! For years when my head was stuffed to the max with newspaper deadlines and HEALTHY dinner recipes, I fielded questions about why favorite t-shirts were not washed yet, and where did those school books and must-have shoes hide? And why didn't I know and could I run to the mall and find new ones?? And would I mind picking up cookies and ice cream on the way because there's never anything fun to eat in the house?? Thank goodness those days are over, and my terrific husband and I have raised our kids into wonderful adults!!!

So how about this fab idea for the Women of Wynwood? I wonder who will be the first to step up to the plate (er, cart) to get things going? And will this visionary idea spark even more big ideas to make a difference for Miami's artcentric community?? Never mind that Sarah What's-Her-Name gave up her gig in Alaska. Once again we see that the REAL action is where the grrrlz are!!!

As Thea Goldman wrote in a June 2009 e-mail, "We forsee each cleaning cart being sponsored by various galleries eventually and this program funding itself in the future but it needs to be made tangible and real for Art Basel this year."

WOW!!! So what in the world is Miami waiting for? I want people to send me their ideas inspired by these audacious Women of Wynwood so I can post them on my new ArtCentric BLOG. Come to think of it, this reminds me of a famous verse by Spanish poet Antonio Machado I recently discovered in a school book in the never-totally-neat room of my adult son.
Machado wrote, "Wayfarer, there is no way, you make the way as you go."

Now is the time for Miami to make its own way to an improved Wynwood!! No more delays!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Collaboration among arts groups: Why not?

Memo to Miami museums, The Artsht Center, galleries and arts groups: Celebrate our cultural riches and collaborate with each other! Positive energy begets more positive energy! As grim economic news jolts us along a rocky road from bad to worse to bad again, bold artcentric types, including curator Hans Ulrich Obrist of the Serpentine Gallery in London, hold fast to the value of art. This determination leads them to foster collaboration among the visual and performing arts. For this year's Art Basel in Switzerland, Obrist, Philipe Parreno, and others helped create "Il Tempo del Postino" (Postman Time), hailed in the British press as "The world's first visual arts opera." We have all the talent and terrific ideas in Miami to be our own pioneers in this bold new age for collaboration among the visual and performing arts! How about it, Miami? Are you ready for the challenge? Send me your great ideas and I'll post them on this blog! Don't disappoint me. I have been writing about the amazing creative souls in this visual arts community for years, so I know those ideas are out there! It doesn't cost anything to share your ideas with the community! You never know who may read this and want to help make things happen!