Miami Supports Miami

In her article “In Miami, a Hot Spot of Art, the Temperature’s Rising” (The New York Times, Arts Section, September 16), Amei Wallach concludes that “for this 15 minutes, at least, Miami is where the art is.” For young artists in particular, there have never been so many opportunities, with newly created informal alternative spaces, new museum shows focusing on Miami artists, new galleries, new collectors, and inexpensive studio spaces. Over the past year, Miami museums have shown a number of compelling exhibitions featuring Miami artists.

Edouard Duval Carrié, The Last Boat, 2000. Mixed media, installation view.

At the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami, Director Bonnie Clearwater curated “Making Art in Miami, Travels in Hyperreality,” which opened on December 15, 2000. Of the 22 artists, Mark Handforth, Robert Chambers, Bert Rodriguez, John Espinosa, Cooper, and Westen Charles created sculptures and installations that captured the vibrancy and quirkiness of the Miami art scene. Thoughtful and thorough essays in an accompanying catalogue make a case for a Miami style. Clearwater supports Miami artists by showing their work in the project space, as well as in the foyer and gift shop area. She has curated a remarkable series of installations by Teresita Fernandez, Robert Chambers, and others. Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt created an installation for the gift shop that featured miniature versions of their large projects, including M (An M for Miami), commissioned by Miami-Dade Art in Public Places for the Riverwalk Metro Mover Station. Clearwater also co-curated an innovative exhibition with the young Miami artists Bhakti Baxter, Martin Oppel, and Tao Rey, called “The House” after a series of shows for emerging artists put on by this trio in their cracker-style house. Much of the work responded to the architecture of the museum space.

This year, Art Basel offers an art fair in Miami (December 13–16). Most of Miami’s galleries and museums will be hosting special events, including an exhibition by Miami artists in the Botanical Gardens in Miami Beach.

Installation view of Robert Chambers’ work at the Miami Art Museum, 2001.

Under Director Suzanne Delahanty, the Miami Art Museum (MAM) in downtown Miami began developing a permanent collection, with an emphasis on Miami artists. Last winter, Edouard Duval Carrié installed Migrations (2000–2001), an eloquent and bewitching multi-media installation dedicated to Agoue, a water deity in the voodoo pantheon. In a bold and highly commendable move, MAM also commissioned and exhibited new work from eight Miami artists in the year-long series “New Work Miami” (2001). The series of four exhibitions, curated by Lorie Mertes and Amy Rosenblum, opened in February with installations by Robert Chambers and Frank Benson. At the opening, Delahanty described Miami as having “one of the most vibrant artist communities in the United States.” The first space of Chamber’s installation, illuminated by neon lights, featured fields of color controlled by a computer program, a giant dome that acted as a clock by revealing slits of light projected onto the walls, and the sound of exhaling breath. Benson showed slickly crafted floor and wall pieces. Another highlight of the series was Robert Thiele’s Zen-like installation of shaped canvases. Other artists in the series include Dara Friedman, Consuelo Castañeda, Adler Guerrier, Naomi Fisher, and Glexis Novoa. MAM was also the first Miami institution to give José Bedia and Ruben Torres-Llorca exhibitions complete with publications. In addition, Barbara Neijna and Miralda created new work for the project space. MAM will soon be publishing three volumes with images and essays about all the work commissioned between 1996 and 2002.

In January, the newly expanded Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach opened “Inside and Out,” a spectacular outdoor sculpture exhibition. Curated by Kimberlee Cole, this year-long show includes new works by five area artists, Carol Brown, Florencio Gelabert, Barbara Neijna, Bedia, and Chambers. Bedia created his first outdoor work, a reclining male figure in a giant chain-link hammock. Chambers’s piece resembles a planetarium dome that hums, dims, and glows on a seven-minute cycle, shifting from opaque to translucent and responding to viewers’ manipulated voices. Neijna and Gelabert both created environmental works, also lit from within at night. Brown installed a large aluminum work composed of writhing snake-like forms. This annual exhibition will continue to include local, national, and international artists. The exhibition “Globe>Miami<Island,” curated by Chambers for the Bass Museum’s new space designed by Arata Isozaki, opens December 12. The show is conceived as a “large-scale laboratorium/ contemporary art installation” with over 40 artists with ties to Miami.

Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt, M (An M for Miami). View of public artwork at the Riverwalk Metromover Station.

With the creation of new art spaces and the expansion of existing institutions, Miami’s art scene has received internatonal attention over the past five years. While much of the focus has been on bringing international artists to Miami (in particular from the Caribbean and Latin America), attention is also being paid to local artists even in the increasingly important area of the art fairs that have become a locus of energy on the Miami scene (with Art Basel/Miami joining the annual Art Miami, held in January). Last year, in connection with Art Miami, Fredric Snitzer organized “Departing Perspectives,” site-specific installations by 44 established and emerging Miami artists. The show occupied eight floors of the former Espirito Santo Bank building in downtown Miami on the weekend of the art fair, and featured a special, curated show of installations by Mark Handforth, Teresita Fernandez, Dara Friedman and others. “Departing Perspectives” generated a lot of excitement because of the quality of the work and the experimentation by well-known artists moving in new directions. Carol Brown’s Domestic Architecture, constructed of small pieces of wood and sound, dealt with the strife that can go on behind closed doors. In addition to her stitched leaf columns suspended between floors, Karen Rifas transformed a room with piles of shredded paper. Westen Charles’s installation contained a large zebra floating on undulating soap powder, while Carlos Betancourt put live birds in his darkened room. John Espinosa showed images of explosions, while Luis Gispert included an audio of domestic violence. Eugenia Vargas transformed her space with soap bubble machines, and Annie Wharton placed pastel circular forms on the walls. Mette Tommerup used inflatable dolls to mimic Matisse’s dancing women, Elizabeth Withstandley piled up romance novels, and Charo Oquet filled her space with unpredictable reliquaries and altars. Among students from the New World School of the Arts, Julian Picata, Jay Hines, and Bhakti Baxter made an atmospheric candlelit tent-like structure. Overall, this remarkable exhibition was instrumental in depicting the vitality and liveliness of the growing Miami art scene.

Carol K. Brown, I’m Not Your Damn Maid, 2000. Mixed media.

Contemporary Miami art has also been put in perspective by historical overviews from the 1940s onward, an ongoing curatorial project of Lilia Fontana at the Kendal Campus Gallery of Miami-Dade Community College. More recently, Robert Chambers was invited by the House artists, Bhakti Baxter, Tao Rey, and Martin Oppel to curate “The Sears Building” in their space. Chambers invited 23 artists, then added 25 more and later another 20 to create installations, performances, and objects for the space. The opening on August 19 became a spontaneous performance, not unlike the Happenings of the ’60s.

The institution that hsa most consistently supported Miami-based artists is the ArtCenter/South Florida, which provides low-cost studio and exhibition space on trendy Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. With the recent sale of one of its buildings, the ArtCenter is primed for expansion. During the tenure of former Executive Director Gary Knight, facilities were expanded and renovated, and an innovative agreement was reached with a Walgreens store nearby, which provides Art Center artists with changing window exhibition space. Negotiations are underway for similar contracts with other stores. Artists-in-residence are now rejuried at the end of a three-year term with the possibility of a three-year extension. Artists can apply for an space through a juried process.

Installation view of John Espinosa’s work in the exhibition “Making Art in Miami: Travels in Hyperreality,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Bakehouse Art Complex, a nonprofit arts and education organization, is housed in a historic 1920s bakery. Located by the interstate near North Miami, the complex houses low-rent studios, with 14 additional outdoor studio spaces planned, exhibition and meeting spaces, and classrooms. This member-directed organization offers numerous programs, including the Paul Abrams Sculptor Endowment Scholarship Project for an emerging, self-taught sculptor.

As with many art communities, individual organizers represent a driving force. Dahlia Morgan, Director of the Florida International University’s Art Museum, has been instrumental, arranging the long-term loan of the Margulies outdoor sculpture collection to the campus. Morgan, who has curated a broad array of exhibitions, held a solo show of José Bedia’s work in 1999. With the expansion plans for The Art Museum and programming at the Lowe Museum of the University of Miami and at the Miami-Dade Community College gallery spaces, there will be more opportunities for involvement by Miami artists in area museums. Other exhibition spaces include the small Miami-Dade Cultural Resource Center in the lobby of the Stephen P. Clark Center near MAM. The center also has an artist slide library available for visitors. The adjacent Miami-Dade Public Library also hosts exhibitions with work by Miami artists and has a permanent collection.

Mia Gallery, directed by Yolanda Sanchez and funded by Miami-Dade County, opened in May 1999 in Concourse E at the Miami International Airport. Its first major exhibition, “The Present Absent,” featured work by eight Miami artists. A glass wall allows airport visitors to see works even when the gallery is closed. The New Gallery, which is part of the University of Miami’s Department of Art and Art History, also provides space for Miami-based artists to exhibit. It recently showed Cooper’s mixed-media installation Tone, Rinse (and) Repeat.

Karen Rifas, Shred It, 2000. Shredder and paper, 8 x 20 x 18 ft.

New commercial galleries have recently opened. Moving down from New York, Bernice Steinbaum opened her new gallery near the Design District and began to promote dialogue among various segments of the art scene with an informative Web site: www.Miami, with listings and reviews. In addition, artists and art world people can now meet in a new dealer space once a month for further dialogue. Steinbaum brought her stable of artists and also represents Karen Rifas and Edouard Duval Carrié and exhibits work by other Miami artists. Other newly opened commercial galleries include Kevin Bruk Gallery in the Design District.

Established gallerists have expanded their spaces. Fredric Snitzer incorporated a new project room into his gallery near Coral Gables. Snitzer, who received an MFA in sculpture in 1977, has recently begun to show the work of emerging artists who studied at Miami’s New World School of Art. He is particularly excited by the energy of the students. He also feels that, for the first time, collectors and curators from elsewhere are looking at Miami with interest. He feels that “there’s a real hunger” for young Miami art, which “has never been the case.” He has also noticed a shift among collectors who now “have a really serious interest in nurturing young artists.” Snitzer, who represents José Bedia, is actively involved in supporting the Miami art scene. He feels, as many do, the vital importance of creating new art-viewing audiences.

Other galleries have moved. Genaro Ambrosino, who left a law career to follow his passion for art, recently relocated from a large warehouse near Fredric Snitzer to an air-conditioned space opposite MOCA. While he shows well-known sculptors such as Carol Brown and Barbara Neijna, he likes to nurture younger artists such as Florencio Gelabert and William Cordova. In the late summer, Wendy Wischer and Nina Ferre’s collaborative installation opened at Ambrosino Gallery to much critical acclaim. Ambrosino loves showing emerging artists, “because I can also buy the work myself.” He makes his gallery available for poetry readings, plays, music, and art performances, which allow people to have a different approach to an art gallery. Moving to a new location 10 blocks north of the Design District has provided the Barbara Gillman Gallery with 18-foot ceilings and lots of space. Gillman, who shows Miami sculptors Peter Kuentzel, Claudia De Monte, and Ed McGowin, was instrumental in supporting emerging Miami artists. Now she is able to represent even more. In particular, her show of Robert Thiele opened concurrently with MAM’s exhibition of his new work in May. The recently combined T. Curtsnoc Fine Arts and Seth Jason Beitler Fine Arts, in a new location near MOCA, shows work by David Floyd and Kathleen Holmes. Even in Coral Gables, where more traditional art predominates, Broman Fine Arts showed work by area artists in the group show “Arte Actual,” curated by the director Manola Payares.

View of work of Jay Hines and Bhakti Baxter installed in Art Miami, 2000.

A new arts district seems to be emerging around the Design District. If intentions materialize, this would represent an extraordinary new beginning for a more cohesive Miami art community. Gallery owners and alternative spaces have chosen this dilapidated area because of its proximity to the Rubell Family Collection and the Margulies Photography Collection. The Rubells will be moving to a new location near MOCA inNorth Miami, which is rapidly becoming another arts district.

Enterprising artists have opened their own exhibition spaces and created new spaces. For example, in memory of the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, George Sanchez created the giant installation Monumento on April 16th, 1999 in the old airplane hanger that was used for the invasion. A group of Miami artists of largely Latin heritage concurrently exhibited in the group show “Art Gang” in a new space called the Warehouse, literally a warehouse storage unit converted by owner Robert Bilbao, an art lover and collector. Nearby, the all-white Box: Forum For the Arts was started in the late ’90s by three young artists, José Reyes, Leyden Rodriguez-Cassanova, and Manuel Angel Prieres. The small space shows mostly Miami artists and is funded by participating artists. Artist-run galleries continue to open, such as Green Door Gallery, which showed the sculpture of Allysa Browne and is committed to new work by younger artists.

The foremost example of artist-run initiatives is Locust Projects, one of a growing number of spaces near the Design District. Opened in May 1999, the realization and expenses for renovating the space were undertaken by Westen Charles, Cooper, and Elizabeth Withstandley. The first of Miami’s new alternative art spaces to receive nonprofit status, Locust Projects has hosted a mixed-media show by Charo Oquet and a mixed-media installation/performance about dreaming by Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt. Around the corner, Brook Dorsch opened his huge new alternative gallery space, The Dorsch Gallery, which he supports with his day job. He gives artists free rein to experiment as in “Illumine,” with photographs by sculptor Wendy Wischer. Also noteworthy are the series of “Home Shows” that artist Eugenia Vargas organized in her own home. The House, opened by Baxter, Oppel, and Rey a few months before the show they curated at MOCA, has also demonstrated great promise.

Barbara Neijna, Untitled, 2001. Mixed media, installed at the Bass Museum of Art.

Miami is well-known for its public art, and new projects include Jill Canady’s High Jinks for the Metro-Dade Animal Shelter, Michele Oka Doner’s A Walk on the Beach, Phase 1 for the Miami airport, and Silvia Lizama’s Light Forms for the exhibition room of the Deering Estate. Carlos Betancourt was also recently selected for a $600,000 commission at the airport. From December 2001 to April 2002 Miami Dade County will be festooned with a temporary community-wide public art installation “Flamingos in Paradise.” Eight-foot-tall fiberglass flamingos will be transformed by area artists selected by a Flamingo Review Community.

Peter Boswell, the Miami Art Museum’s Assistant Director for Programs/Senior Curator, noted a major strength of the Miami scene—that major collectors also collect work by Miami artists. A few of Miami’s notable collectors are Paul and Estelle Berg, the de la Cruz’s, Craig and Ivelin Robins, Ruth and Marvin Sackner, Ruth and Richard Shack, Marty Margulies, and the Rubells. Miami artists are finding innovative ways to grow and expand. As Lorie Mertes of MAM says, “In the best scenario, artists working in Miami are seen in a number of diverse venues over time, revealing and supporting their growth and development.”

Anne Barclay Morgan is a Florida-based writer and frequent contributor to Sculpture.