Sunday, June 26, 2011

Miami Dade College Entrusted with Cintas Cuban Art Collection

How appropriate that the Cuban art collection of the Cintas Foundation can now be seen at the Freedom Tower of Miami Dade College! It should be an exceptional marriage of distinctive art and architecture because both are laden with so much history entwined with Miami.

As MDC President Dr. Eduardo J. Padron recently announced, this collection is on extended loan to the college. For more info, check the June 20, 2011 story on website As you will see from my Miami Herald story posted below, the Cintas Foundation collection is a unique resource honoring the cultural patrimony of Cuba. It encompasses nearly 300 artworks by more than 200 artists of Cuban descent.

I am very much looking forward to seeing how this collection, which unfortunately has not always received the care and respect it deserves, evolves in its new home in Miami.

Also, I must say that I am extremely touched that my very dear artcentric friend, Onajide Shabaka, posted my recent blog entry, "Miami Art Critic Elisa Turner Wakes Up," on his blog on Mother's Day. Thanks a bunch, Jide!! See May 8, 2011 MAEX Art Blog by Onajide Shabaka at

I hope readers will take note of Mark Diamond's comment on Onajide's post. Mark Diamond points out how many returning veterans of the war in Iraq have suffered traumatic brain injuries as a result of being near IED blasts.

As a tutor for the MDC College Prep Writing Lab at the Kendall campus, I recently worked with such a veteran who had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Once I learned that we both were still learning how to cope with the ongoing consequences of this dreadful experience, I think we bonded immediately. We talked about the frustrations of having problems with our short-term memory and the fact that we suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic-stress syndrome), which never really goes completely away, no matter how "recovered" we may look. This means always learning how to deal with the frightening, intensely real dreams and flashbacks that accompany PTSD.

Yes, I realize that combat experiences can be far worse than a car crash, but the lingering mental and emotional scars are surely somewhat similar for survivors, and I felt honored to work with this veteran.

Today, I'd also like to underscore praise for Diaspora Vibe Gallery and Locust Projects, two significant organizations in Miami's cultural community. (I mention them both in my foreword to the book Miami Contemporary Artists by Paul Clemence and Julie Davidow. I remember when Diaspora Vibe Gallery and Locust Projects began, and it's great to see them receive national recognition for their years of exceptionally hard work.) They are among the 61 participants of The Warhol Initiative, an initiative designed to strengthen small and mid-sized artist-centered organizations across the country. These organizations have received cash grants of approximately $125,000 as well as professional opportunities to cultivate their leadership and networking abilities. See

And this just in...Rosemarie Chiarlone, one of Miami's many talented artists I have known for years, will be showing work in "The Un(Framed) Photograph" at the Center for the Book Arts in New York, from July 6 to September 10, 2o11. Congrats, Rosemarie!!

I hope readers will check my Summer Critic's Choice (for both July and August) soon at This summer I especially hope to catch "Noise Field" at Dorsch Gallery, 151 NW 24th Street in Wynwood, before it closes July 9--not only because this group show sounds intriguing, but also because it includes work by another talented Miami artist I have known for some time, Odalis Valdivieso.

I have learned that the Frida Kahlo Festival in Miami that I blogged about last week has been postponed till November of this year. Oh, well. It seemed like such a good idea to cheer up our hot, hazy days in the summer.

Here is my Miami Herald story, from July 4, 2004, on the Cintas Collection:


As a title, "Hope and Glory" is more than a catchy and self-congratulatory hook for an art exhibit showcasing winners of fellowships awarded in the name of a late Cuban sugar baron and philanthropist.

"Hope and Glory: The Enduring Legacy of Oscar B. Cintas," now at Miami Art Central, is a hope-inducing first for the Cintas Foundation. Until now, the foundation has never created an exhibit like this one, presenting art by the finalists for its annual fellowship grant of $10,000 as well as work by past winners.

This year's finalists were Cuban-American artists Luis Gispert, Magda Fernandez, Gabriel Martinez, Eduardo de Soignie, and Juana Valdes.

This year's winner is Luis Gispert, already a rising young star in the art world. Gispert's striking photographs of cheerleaders adorned in hip-hop glitz and posed like buoyant Baroque angels were a widely reproduced element of the Whitney Museum of American Art's Biennial in 2002. His art was also featured in MAC's inaugural exhibit, which opened last December.

Gispert gets a capacious area to display his work, photography and sculpture that make witty use of pop cuture in general and hip-hop music in particular. Gispert shows how fetish-y, street-wise symbols can modify and enliven mainstream style. His "Untitled (Laundry)," a photograph of cheerleader clothes hanging out to dry and buoyant against a real sky (unlike his previous angelic figures), is a sly metaphor for the artful sampling and cultural masquerade that is the heart of his art.

The current show at MAC also presents art by more than 20 past Cintas fellows, among them Miami-based Mario Bencomo, George Sanchez-Calderon, Mirta Gomez and Eduardo del Valle, Cesar Trasobares, Maria Martinez-Canas, and Maria Brito, who's represented by her recent oil-painted wood construction of a fragmented self, "Blessing."

But the show betrays hasty organization and some disappointing choices. Why not affecting photographs of Cuba that photographers Mario Algaze and Abelardo Morrell, represented here by earlier images, made during recent visits to the island? And the exhibit should be better documented, with at least a small catalog outlining the finalists' work.

Still, "Hope and Glory" bears much hope and a bid for more glory. It suggests that the New York-based foundation, established shortly after the death of Cuban arts patron, ambassador, and businessman Oscar B. Cintas in 1957, wants a more visible profile.

The step has the potential to garner more exposure for the visual artists who become Cintas fellows, and it could also open the quality of the selection process to wider discussion and support. A Cintas brochure published for this occasion notes that the foundation is seeking donors to help set up endowed grants in the visual arts, photography, sculpture, architecture, music, and literature, and for lifetime achievement awards.

Since 1963, the Cintas Foundation has awarded more than 300 fellowships and grants to Cuban artists in various disciplines who live and work in exile. Not open to performing artists, the grants have been given to creative writers, composers, architects, filmmakers, and visual artists. Artists must either have been born in Cuba or be the child or grandchild of a Cuban citizen.

According to Cintas Foundation director Manuel Gonzalez, plans are underway to make the exhibit of fellowship finalists an annual affair. This could involve, he said, shows that alternate between Miami Art Central and El Museo del Barrio in New York.

"Finally what we realized is that, although it did cost a little money, there's no comparison [with past fellowships] to what the artists gained with this show," said Gonzalez. "A lot of them sold a lot of work, and curators can see the work. All the artists felt like winners."

There have been few exhibits linked to the Cintas Foundation. Cintas fellows include established artists like Jose Bedia, Teresita Fernandez, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Jorge Pardo, Ernesto Pujol and Andres Serrano, and more artists with much less art world fame, as well as two embarrassing omissions. According to the Cintas brochure, no grants have gone to Ana Mendieta, honored with a traveling show opening this week at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, or to pioneer abstract painter Guido Llinas.

There were shows of work by Cintas fellows in 1977 and 1987 at the Miami-Dade Public Library and a show in 1993 of photography at the Frost Museum at Florida International University (then known as the Art Museum at FIU).

In 1989, the museum acquired on long-term loan the Cintas Fellows Collection, which developed as a result of the foundation asking fellows to give it work produced during their fellowship. Now some of the show's glory is tempered by the fact that the foundation's record-keeping, especially when the collection was housed before 1993 in a New York warehouse, was faulty, and a number of works--including those by Lydia Rubio--has disappeared, said FIU curator Elizabeth Cerejido.

In a show like this, there's a head-spinning variety of art. Trying to make it mesh must have been a nightmare for co-curators Gonzalez and Celso Gonzalez-Fall, both New York-based Cintas directors.

You'll encounter Magda Fernandez's conceptual installations, with a coiled garden hose emitting drops of fake water in blobby forms textured like blue Astro Turf. Her work skewers the forced camraderie and isolationism of genteel gated communities, and though despite its perceptive politics, the work itself is visually tiresome.

Contrast her strident art with the oil paintings by the show's elder statesmen, Cundo Bermudez, Agustin Fernandez, and Jose Mijares. All born before 1930, they developed in pre-Castro Cuba.

Adopting the gem-bright colors of tropical sunshine streaming through stained glass windows, Bermudez and Mijares are known for rhythmically structured compositions of figures in ornate, stylized dress, all ripe with island abundance. "Portrait of a Headless Lady" (1978) by the youngest of these three, Fernandez, is typical of his grimmer work that's both dark and sensual, with body parts imprisoned by a labyrinth of metallic shapes.

Still, this is not a show that's completely exiled coherence, and this painting has been thoughtfully hung near Pablo Cano's sculpture, "Truth," of a saintly, grandly armored female. It's constructed with his deft ability to model delicate facial features and find bodily grace among clunky recycled aluminum cans, nodding to Duchamp's ready-mades and an exile's need to remake new life in new places.

Photography yields one of the most coherent elements of this show. Elegant fragments of the body are spotlighted in Serrano's triptych of ejaculation. There's also fine work by Martinez-Canas, Gomez and del Valle, Algaze and Morrell--fine enough to outshine the pretentious installations of Fernandez and Martinez, whose candlelit homage to talisman-wearing skater Michelle Kwan doesn't live up to its conceptual potential. Also weak are paintings by de Soignie, another finalist, of poorly digested Afro-Cuban symbols.

Most interesting among the finalists who didn't win are the photographs and installations by Juana Valdes, especially her installation of a flowing white dress suspended from the ceiling. It's stitched together with fish hooks and fish nets. Dangerous to touch, it's part airy shroud and bridal gown.

Blurry sounds of voices emanate from a tiny speaker inside this piece, like static on a boater's radio, relaying messages that can't be deciphered. The body as a vital receptacle for mystery, a carrier for essential journeys that are dangerous and hard to understand, is a subtle, hopeful theme here.

It asserts itself in such varied pieces as Trasobares' fraying, skeletal sculptures crafted from dollar bills, in Pardo's radiant sculpture of multiple cellular forms that build upon Charles Eames' body-friendly furniture of the 1950s, and in Valdes' bristling gown, a light twin to Cano's similarly resourceful and metallic maiden.

Also at MAC: "Point of View: An Anthology of the Moving Image," organized by New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art, is a highly selective anthology of video and film from 2003. There's something to be said about the title of this show, too. It's off-putting--the show doesn't have the broad historical perspective you'd expect from the title. But that aside, a contemporary art lover could do a lot worse than spending the hour or so it takes to see all of these works by 11 artists. They show the moving image as a shifting creature celebrating hybrid shapes gleaned from all sorts of visual precedents.

There's the moving image in the guise of a politically correct documentary blended with vertiginous effects from Alfred Hitchcock, in "El Gringo" by Francis Alys, about a stranger in a Mexican village surrounded by threatening dogs. Isaac Julien's distorted views of a Caribbean paradise are wonderful to contemplate, hallucinogenic and kaleidoscopic. Other highlights are the calligraphic cartoons of William Kentridge and the woodsy, mirror-flashing theatrics of Joan Jonas.

Also included here are Gary Hill, Pierre Huyghe, Paul McCarthy, Anri Sala, David Claerbout, Pipilotti Rist, and Douglas Gordon.

[Blogger's note: I REALLY miss the great shows and creative programming offered by Miami Art Central. Maybe at the time it was just too ambitious for us...]

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Miami Celebrates Frida Kahlo

Yes, it's that time of year for Fridamania, and I want to be sure my readers know about the Frida Kahlo Festival in Miami on June 24 and July 1.

Mark your calendars for two enticing evenings of cultural and culinary surprises at Cube/Kitchen Loft, 5101 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach. On June 24 at 7 pm, hear lecture on Frida Kahlo, "A Tormented Brush," presented by art historian Armando Droulers and then, at 8 pm, savor a dinner created by Chef Diego Texera based on Frida Kahlo's recipes, plus there will be live music. Cost is $69 per person. On July 1 at 8 pm, there will be more Mexican tastings created by Texera, with performances of music from the time of Frida Kahlo. Cost is also $69 per person. RSVP by calling 305-866-6900 or email For more info, see While you are there, you can also see an exhibit of photographs of Frida Kahlo by Leo Matiz, an artist I highlighted for my June Critic's Choice at (Surely there are other Frida-centric events happening in Miami. Readers can post more info about them by making comments on this blog entry.)

I'd also like to urge readers to check out this promising exhibit: "Annie Blazejack and Geddes Levenson: The Twelve Days of Painting" at Flagler Arts Space, 172 West Flagler St. It's up till the beginning of July. See

Here's another: videos by Maria Lino in "All About Water" at 6th Street Container, 1155 (rear) SW 6th Street, Little Havana. See For info about the closing reception, probably the best time to see Maria's videos, try contacting Director Maria Amores at or Chief Curator Adalberto Delgado at Or perhaps if they have a chance they can post that info in a comment on this blog entry.

I've been away from Miami for several weeks, visiting friends and family in the Midwest, especially in my hometown of Shelbyville, Illinois. I just love to go back and visit. It's quite beautiful in the summertime. I have so many wonderful friends there from my high school, and I can check up on my email on computers in the charming 1905 Andrew Carnegie public library, where I checked out tons of books when I was growing up.

Now there's a lake in this small town (pop. around 5,000, when everyone's at home, as my dad always says) built by the Army Corps of Engineers, but that was not completed until after I went to college. But in all those many years since I have left high school, the lake has been a considerable source of tourism and revenue for the area. See

So, now, in honor of Frida, here's my story about her from The Miami Herald, July 25, 2004.


This month marks the 50th anniversary of Frida Kahlo's death at age 47 in Mexico, a milestone that has ratcheted the country's highly charged cult of Fridamania--one of Mexico's best-known exports--into overdrive.

"Frida is all over Mexico," says South Florida artist Carlos Betancourt, who in May made his fourth visit to Kahlo's home, the Blue House, in the Mexico City suburb of Coyoacan. "Frida is Mexico."

Kahlo's face already has launched millions of reproductions on such low-brow items as cigarette holders and mouse pads. In Mexican markets, T-shirts printed with her haughty uni-browed visage share top billing with T-shirts celebrating national heroes like Pancho Villa. Her fame has extended so far around the globe that a website devoted to rock music in Korea reports the existence of a "bluesy" rock band in that country named "Frida Kahlo."

Now a handful of new exhibitions of Kahlo's art in Mexico and several books about her famously interconnected life and art debut this summer and fall. They show that five decades after her death--and more than two decades after Hayden Herrera's biography of the artist appeared, fueling her rapid rise to popularity in the multicultural mind-set of the 1980's--it's clear that Kahlo's art and life still make for a volatile mix, more popular than ever.

Although death did not become her as rapidly as it did for Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, Kahlo has a brilliant second life ahead of her as an iconic cult heroine for years to come, it would seem. Yet some art historians versed in the ways of Latin American art don't think all the Frida hype does justice to her singular, and for many years unsung, artistic innovations.

"I think the sensational aspects of her physical suffering and her suffering over Diego Rivera has been exaggerated," says Carol Damian, art history professor at Florida International University.

Damian especially admires the way Kahlo revisited the 19th Century Mexican tradition of retablo paintings so common on household altars. These folk paintings on wood or tin give thanks for misfortunes averted with cursive text and intimate narratives.

Yet Kahlo embellished this convention with her own spectacularly morose and magical brand of surrealism. Think of an ironic painting like her "Self-Portraits with Cropped Hair," painted at a low point in her relationship with Diego Rivera. It is notable for its cursive text and homespun tableau, but also for its acid yellows, cross-dressing identity, and for the funereal, languishing swirls of sliced-off hair. It is not a picture of thanks.

"There's a lot of history in her painting," Damian says. "This idea of suffering was very Mexican. She's coming from a very rich background."

For some, the background remains nearly as vivid as the artist's celebrity.

"When you go to any market in Mexico and you see the folk art," recalls Betancourt, "and when you see the drama in these retablos [folkloric religious artworks] in the churches, you see Frida all over."


On the 50th anniversary of her death, drama of her celebrity is getting a controversial boost from a family member. Isolda Pinedo Kahlo, the artist's 75-year-old neice, has written one of the new books, Frida Intime (Intimate Frida), which has been jointly published in Colombia and Argentina. In it, Pinedo Kahlo contends that the famed muralist and philanderer Diego Rivera helped his pain-wracked, crippled and suicidal wife die shortly before dawn on July 13, 1954, after she'd lain for hours in a partly comatose state brought on by heavy doses of painkillers.

But Isolda's claim has been challenged by Rivera's grandson, Juan Colonel, the Mexican website reported earlier this month. And Isolda Kahlo also has been criticized for using this 50th anniversary to profit from her aunt's name. This July she has also launched "Frida S.A.," a line of sunglasses, necklaces, and pashmina shawls inspired by the artist's signature flair for folkloric fashion, priced at $100 and up.

Memories of Kahlo's death have also brought new liveliness to the Blue House, home to the Frida Kahlo Museum, which attracts some 300,000 visitors a year. The museum, filled with Frida's artworks and her fabulous collection of Mexican artifacts, is located in the legendary lapis lazuli-colored home where she grew up. It's also where she lived and loved, suffered and painted from the late 1930s until her death from pneumonia.

This past May the results of more than $100,000 worth of repairs and restoration work to the Blue House were unveiled, and the Frida Kahlo Museum opened one of the largest exhibits of her work ever, showcasing 46 paintings, many of them her fiercely iconic self-portraits that bristle with not only her powerful charisma but also with monkeys, blood-red ribbons and her treasured symbols of pre-Columbian Mexico.

Still, all the hype surrounding the familiar Frida facts of glamour and gore--she was a lifelong cripple after being impaled on an iron rod in a horrific trolley car accident, she was the miscarrying and bisexual wife of Diego Rivera, and she was a flamboyant stylist who adored native Mexican jewelry, artifacts, and costumes like Tehuana dresses--can make it harder to take into account the elaborate legacy she's left for several generations of younger artists.


One such younger artist who comes to mind is the late Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta (1948-1985), subject of a solo show now at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art and coming to the Miami Art Museum next year.

"Ana Mendieta was very impressed by Kahlo's work and always went to her home when she was in Mexico," says Latin American art historian and curator Julia P. Herzberg, who's based in New York and has written a catalog essay for the Mendieta exhibit.

"I would say probably that Mendieta was impacted by the way in which Frida Kahlo created narratives through her autobiography, how she used almost exclusively her self-image, which Mendieta did in a very different way. Mendieta didn't use her face, as Kahlo did--she used the silhouette of her body," adds Herzberg. "I'm not saying it was Frida who gave her that idea, but I think this is a legacy Frida left."

In the well-known photographs from her "Silueta Series," Mendieta left imprints of her body in earth and rock, often inspired by the ovoid fertility forms from the indigenous Taino peoples of Cuba.

Another Latin American artist whose work carries links to Kahlo's legacy is contemporary Cuban photographer Marta Maria Perez Bravo. Her black and white self-portraits often show a tableau in which her body is being transformed into a fetishized object evocative of Cuban history and Afro-Cuban rituals.

"All three artists are using the body to find their roots and identity," Damian says of Kahlo, Mendieta, and Perez Bravo. "All of them have an identity that directly connects them to the land."

"The idea of self-portraiture has a very long history," points out Museum of Contemporary Art director Bonnie Clearwater, who published a book in 1993 on Mendieta's photography and rock carvings in Cuba. "Think of Rembrandt and van Gogh, who used themselves as subjects. The distinction is that women are taking charge of their own bodies, rather than being the subject of a painting by a male artist."

But it's not too far-fetched to see traces of Kahlo's precedent-setting self-portraits resurfacing in a considerable spectrum of contemporary artists, both male and female, from photographer Cindy Sherman's cinematic personas in her famous series of self-portraits to Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura's posturing self-portraits inserted into his reproductions of famous paintings by European and North American artists such as Goya and Kahlo herself.


Among artists in South Florida, it's also possible to see Kahlo echoes lingering in a variety of work by both men and women. Damian says Kahlo's adaptation of retablos resurfaces in the paintings of Mexican-born artist Alekxey Sabido, a resident of the ArtCenter/South Florida. "He has a genuine sensitivity to the whole history of Mexican art," she says about Sabido's dedicatory altars to both the Virgin of Guadaloupe and to Kahlo.

Maritza Molina, a performance artist and photographer who's exhibited here at both The House and Leonard Tachmes Gallery, has made allusions to Ana Mendieta's "Siueta Series" in one of her own self-portraits.

Both Kahlo and Mendieta have long fascinated Betancourt. His large-scale photographs of himself are layered with hand-written text and lavished with imagery, from flowers to ashes, that convey a flamboyant sense of personal history and his own roots in Caribbean culture.

"There are so many artists that I think work indirectly inspired by Frida Kahlo," Betancourt says. "I love her cursive writing. This is someone telling her art story through herself and, of course, so am I. "

While so much of Frida's art and celebrity is entwined with the history of a life colored deeply by both passion and pain, the pain has led to a heritage that's passionately proactive, Herzberg says.

"It's clear that Frida gave a face to pain, to suffering, and she gave a face to death from her own vantage point, using her own body in portraits. I mean, when did we see miscarriage in art? So through a woman's body, albeit hers, I think she really took on and assumed a new identity.

"She asserted the role of female as agent, the body as agent. The notion that you can take on any identity opened up new ways of thinking about how you could portray your body, and what fictions you could assume," Herzberg says. "And that became a really key element for future artists."