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...]

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