Monday, December 27, 2010

Miami Artcentric Gift Keeps on Giving

Immediately I was riveted by this story by Manny Fernandez in The New York Times: "Back From the Brink, an Art Student Loses Her Sight but Keeps Her Vision."

It told the harrowing, heart-stopping story of how an art student, Emilie Gossiaux, has made a miraculous recovery from a traumatic brain injury, which she experienced when a truck hit her while she was riding her bike to her internship at an art studio. Too much of this story sounded familiar to me, as I also suffered a brush with death during a car accident, when our car collided with a truck, and I was then plunged into the debilitating ordeal of surviving a traumatic brain injury.

I read this story on December 22, 2010. Soon after I received a related email message regarding an act of stunning coincidence and generosity:

Emilie Gossiaux was on her way to the Brooklyn art studio of Daniel Arsham, an extremely accomplished artist I've known for years from the time when he worked in Miami. I remember visiting his studio here when I profiled him for my Critic's Pick in the March 2007 ARTnews.

Daniel is raising funds to help Emilie begin her life anew. To do this, he is selling paintings from his series "Platonic Solid Constellations." All works are unique gouache on paper and are 8.5 x 11 inches. Each painting is $250 ("or more if you can," as he says in his email) If you want to purchase one or more of these paintings, please make your check out to E. Gossiaux and mail it to Emilie Gossiaux, c/o Daniel Arsham, 60 Box Street, Brooklyn, New York 11222.

I would describe this series as one of svelte, elegant compositions with exploding geometric forms. It may recall the 30-foot high sculpture that Daniel created for Merce Cunningham Dance Performances at Adrienne Arsht Center's Ziff Ballet Opera House in Miami. I believe you can see a photograph of that sculpture if you see today's post by Dennis Scholl on the Knight Arts Blog, which is linked to my blog.

This is indeed a Miami artcentric gift that keeps on giving. The example of Daniel's generosity and Emilie's perseverance is, in a way, an inspiring gift to all of us who want to make the coming year an improvement over 2010.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Miami Curators Sparkle Plenty This Season

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

Miami curators can create a compelling theme and story to lure the curiosity of people looking at an art exhibit in a museum, gallery, private collection, or art fair. As curators, they select art and artists to illustrate related aspects of that story, in all its intriguing variety. Smart curators find stories to tell with art and imagery that linger long in our minds, perhaps like a wonderful dream or a favorite poem or song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 3, 2010

More Miami News You Can Use for BaselMania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Miami News You Can Use for BaselMania

BaselMania by the Bay and Beyond in 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renowned Artists

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

Rising Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Special Miami Memories for MDC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

Miami's Storied Collectors & Collections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Miami's Living, Breathing Cuban Diaspora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Still Falling Hard for Art in Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 1, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Miralda & Ishmaelita Meet in Miami

In his home in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood, the world-renowned artist Antoni Miralda and I sit down at a vintage yellow formica table in his charming turquoise kitchen. Colorful cookbooks are neatly stacked in a corner, like a small sculpture. There's a pink door open to the leafy backyard where an extra-rotund, extra-kitschy Big Boy sign rescued from a hamburger joint is holding court. Food in all its colorful flavors is clearly Miralda's artcentric medium.

Miralda and I go way back. We're there to talk about his show this summer with the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. But first we do some catching up and share some laughs. I explain a bit about how much The Miami Herald has changed since I reviewed his show at the Miami Art Museum for the Herald, and how I am no longer writing for the paper. I tell him how I've given myself this Herald nickname: Ishmaelita. He throws his head back, rolls his eyes, and laughs uproariously.

Then he rolls his brown eyes again, laughs some more, and tells me his nickname for this show with the Reina Sofia. "Well, you know," he says, "it is MM, Monster in Madrid." (The proper name is "De Gustibus Non Disputandum," meaning "There Is No Disputing about Tastes," and you can see it in Madrid through September 27 at the Palacio Velazquez, operated by the Reina Sofia, in the city's Retiro Park.) He admits that preparing for this survey of his art from the 1960s onward has been a daunting, even monstrous project.

"It's extremely complicated to put this together," he says. "It's sort of non-sense to try to make an exhibit of something that is totally ephemeral or was part of an experience." The Spanish-born artist, known simply as Miralda, has made a lasting career from creating such fleeting artworks as staging festivals and performances.

They all underscore the remarkably diverse elements embodied in food and cultural artifacts ranging from empty Coca Cola cans to Latino altars found in Miami and New York. "I am not interested to show in a vitrine how the pieces were," he says, comparing so much of his art from the past to relics or ex-votos, to "something that has been." Most definitely, Miralda does not want his show in Madrid to be "a completely death display with remains," he says. "I am interested in how to transmit the energy that was of that time--the 60s, the 70s, and especially perhaps the 80s, because there was so much work then."

The show includes his installation "Santa Comida," first shown in 1984 at the Museo del Barrio in New York. It then traveled to Miami Dade College in Miami, before making its way across the ocean to Barcelona. And then, along with art by Jose Bedia--another amazing artist now working in Miami--Miralda's "Santa Comida" was part of the landmark 1989 exhibit "Magicians of the Earth" in Paris. Imagine that artcentric trip from Miami Dade College to Barcelona to Paris!

This reminds me of the first time I saw Miralda's work in Miami. It was again at Miami Dade College. In a beautiful catalog I have brought for our interview, we look at a gorgeous color photo of the work I vaguely remember seeing years ago: the yards and yards of Miss Liberty's fuschia lingerie suspended from a giant hanger in the expansive atrium of the downtown campus of Miami Dade College.

He called this petticoat "La Santa Maria." Each blue brassiere cup was ornamented with a map of a continent--Europe and America. This was part of a fabulously audacious artwork, spanning continents and the years 1986 to 1992, called "Honeymoon Project." I seem to remember that the artist Pablo Cano offered to introduce me to Miralda, but I was so new to Miami, and did not quite understand the still unfolding scope of this magnificent project, that I foolishly declined. We laugh again.

But I digress--one of the great advantages to blogging! Back to Miralda's show in Madrid: For "Santa Comida," he tells me that all the altars will be on display. It should be an impressive sight. By drawing upon the extraordinarily rich cultures of Cuba and Brazil, this elaborate and colorful parade of altars illustrates the syncretism in Christian practices intertwined with the Yoruba culture of West Africa.

Also in Madrid is a piece that has never been shown. This is "Patriotic Banquet." Miralda first proposed creating this work for Documenta 5 in Kassel, Germany in the early 1970s. Soon afterwards he proposed it for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Why did it not happen at MOMA? He sighs, and then smiles with a slight sense of mischief. "Probably too complex, too risky, or too smelly or whatever. Food is forbidden at all the museums, you know," he answers. "Food is taboo." This provocative banquet, nixed ages ago by MOMA, features plates of rice, resembling flags of various powerful countries, that slowly rot under Plexiglas.

I say: "So what if they have never had rice at MOMA? That is their problem." Miralda laughs, and nods. "That is really their problem," he agrees.

We chat some more, and I add: "You were so far ahead of your time, and now the world is catching up with you. What do you think about that?"

"It happens in so many things that I was involved in," he reflects with surprise tinging his voice. "I don't understand why it is like this. Those things are always on the edge of the artworld, or completely don't have any recognition, but that's OK. I didn't do it for the recognition, but it's interesting how things go."

And with that, he snaps his fingers. Most certainly, as we both agree, there is no disputing tastes.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Beatriz Monteavaro: Miami's Wonder Woman

As a girl in Miami, Beatriz Monteavaro liked to make noise and watch women fight. She got her first drum set when she was 12. Countless drum rolls later, she has been keeping the beat with a Miami band called Beings. Around the age of 4--soon after her family settled in Miami after leaving Havana, Cuba, where she was born--Monteavaro became a fan of Wonder Woman TV shows.

During my visit to her studio in Miami's Wynwood Arts District earlier this year, I saw her collection of dozens of action figure toys, including Wonder Woman dolls. Why the early attraction to this woman warrior? "What wasn't there to like?" Monteavari reflected. "There was the cool super hero outfit, which was like the American flag. She would spin around and there would be explosions. She had powers. She was against the Nazis."

A multi-tasking artist known for her drawing, painting, sculpture, and video, as well as for her drumming, Monteavaro seems like a woman warrior herself. You could even call her Miami's Wonder Woman.

A ferocious dinosaur is tattooed on her shoulder blade. To create it, she describes collaborating with Mike Taylor, a tattoo artist in Miami. It covers an old tattoo resembling "The Scream" by Edvard Munch. Why the recent change? "The colors had bled out a little bit. It looked sloppy," Monteavaro explained.

Less interested in video these days, she has been focusing on her early fascination with TV and comic book characters who fight. Another inspiration has been Florida's Disney World. It was a popular vacation spot for Monteavaro's family when she was young. Smiling, she recalled how much she loved to enter fantasy worlds conjured by elaborate rides there. "I remember thinking on Mission to Mars that we were going to Mars. We had left the earth. I remember thinking I had seen ghosts in the Haunted Mansion," she said.

But now Monteavaro, 39, generally avoids the costly allure of theme park special effects. Yes, she retains a child-like fascination with scary stories, comic book warriors, and monsters including dinosaurs and Frankenstein. Lately, her ideas also derive from amateurish, home-made materials that produce chills and thrills. From Internet searches, she has discovered, as she explained to me, "this whole culture of people who make their own Halloween decorations and haunted houses." That's why recent sculpture, painting, and collaged drawings incorporate kitschy materials like latex masks, fake fur, and foam sprayed from a can.

More ideas spring from "The Mad Doctor of Blood Island," the 1969 horror movie classic. As Monteavaro went on to explain, "It's set in a Polynesian island and has this monster with disgusting skin--a really badly put together yet aesthetically pleasing monster." Such an outrageous paradox clearly delights this graduate of Tyler School of Art at Temple University.

She has shown her art in Miami and Paris. In Miami, Monteavaro is represented by Fredric Snitzer Gallery, where her art has usually been selling for between $500 and $10,000. More affordable is a recently published book of drawings from [NAME] Publications, "Quiet Village," at $15. True to its title, this book is indeed quietly charming and provocative.

Intrigued by doomed monsters, she roots for the underdog. "Quiet Village," sold with a CD by the band Beings, retells the story of Frankenstein. "It's kind of a pathetic creature, not a winner," Monteavaro said, a bit ruefully. "It has to find a way to survive, but ultimately doesn't, because it's an outsider."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Immigrants in Miami: Saying Hello to New Home

Perhaps it takes an artist to convey the emotional complexity of immigration. Immigration is a rancorous topic in political debates all across the map, especially given recent legislation in Arizona and ethnic violence in Kyrgystan. Eduardo del Valle and Mirta Gomez, widely-exhibited photographers in Miami who work as a team, are authors of the exquisite book, Witness Number 4 (published by The Joy of Giving Something in 2008, distributed by Nazraeli Press, 96 pages, 77 four-color images)

At once tender and tough, the book is informed by their departure from Cuba as youngsters in the 1960s. The two fled Castro's regime in Cuba to make a new life and career in the United States, as did other Cuban-born photographers of their generation in this book, Tony Mendoza and Abelardo Morell. The book belongs to the innovative "Witness" series of books produced by the Joy of Giving Something, Inc.

Del Valle and Gomez have framed their book with apt quotations from the first and last pages of a classic 1965 book in Cuban literature, View of Dawn in the Tropics by Guillermo Caberera Infante. With poetic prose, Infante recounts the history of Cuba, starting with the Spanish slaughtering of the island's indigenous population and continuing through the rise of Castro's dictatorship. In statements by the artists beginning their respective sections of this book, they write about resisting nostalgia and making creative new lives after leaving their homeland.

The photographs in the book, with each section reflecting a a distinct aesthetic, convey a wealth of imaginative ways one can move forward after the tumultuous experience of immigration. Returning over many years to photograph Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, del Valle and Gomez document how simple huts built by Maya descendants have changed, as urban growth significantly alters the once remote surroundings of these huts. As powerful visual metaphors, the huts suggest ways that immigrants evolve and change. In photographs capturing the point of view of his short-legged pet dog, Mendoza the adult evokes a child's distorted view of the world to parallel his childhood memories of Cuba. Morell's fascinating camera obscura photographs combine upside-down images of cities and countryside with right-side-up images of interior rooms. In the context of this truly exceptional book, all these remarkable photographs show how leaving home is a universally disorienting experience, but that it is possible to come to terms with the troubling past and move into a vibrant present.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Summer Smarts in Miami: Feel the Heat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That tradition REALLY smarts.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Latin American Art:From Ghetto to Global Stage

Adios, ghetto! Latin American art is finally a prime-time player in the Brave New Digital World.

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

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

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

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

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

He cited diversity in art by José Bedia, one of Miami ’s famed artists. “Bedia’s right at the forefront of contemporary art and culture…José is teaching us how to move into this multi-ethnic situation. He is at the very least trilingual.” Miami is more than the multilingual city vexing to the rest of the country for its flow of immigrants and proximity to troubled Caribbean, Central and South American countries . This is true despite corrupt politics—hence sly jokes about the city’s “Cuban mafia”—and vulnerable location during hurricane season.

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

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

The Caribbean has often been ignored by art history, just as Latin America was. In Miami , their cultures converge.

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

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

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

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

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