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 behind...you 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.