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‘Inspired by Masters’: A journey through Sagamore’s newest exhibition

Posted By Jean Blackwell Font
February 28, 2020 at 6:10 PM

A Collaborative work by Jean Blackwell Font and Ignacio Font.

The Sagamore Hotel has established itself as a leader in cultural tourism on Miami Beach, with a regularly updated contemporary art gallery that is free and open to the public “24/7/365.”

Sebastien Laboureau, fine arts advisor and chief curator for the luxury boutique property, has worked for several years to develop a program that offers guests and locals alike the opportunity to experience some of today’s modern masters along with an array of promising emerging artists.

Currently on view is the newest exhibition, “Inspired by Masters… A Journey through Art History,” co-curated by Laboureau and Gabrielle HB-Abada, chief editor of Balthazar Magazine USA.

My husband, Ignacio Font, and I were fortunate enough to be invited to the opening night and were excited to attend and experience this new show. The exhibition opened on Feb. 20, 2020, or 02/20. Abada mentioned in her opening remarks that this date was selected intentionally because of the visually reflective significance of the numbers: the “Masters” exhibition is itself a reflection of the impact artists have on each other, reflected in the works on view in the current exhibition.

“Artists from all periods have been inspired by art history. Pablo Picasso had an obsession for Delacroix’s ‘Femmes d’Alger.’ Andy Warhol used iconic imagery from art history to create some of his most sought-after artworks,” Abada said.

The opening night was a great success, with diplomats, collectors, artists and influencers sipping bubbly while enjoying the exhibition. It was a sparkling event for both people-watching and art-viewing.

The exhibition features many contemporary and internationally known artists, such as Jeff Koons and John Baldessari, as well as newer, promising young artists including Speedy Graphito, Monique Lassooij, Sharon Berebichez, and Maxi Cohen. Participating artists presented diverse works inspired by “the masters,” and oftentimes featuring a portrait of the artists, such as Dali and Frida Kahlo, for example. Much of the work suggested that perhaps the artists look to art history, and its masters, for subject matter as well as medium and process.

“Looks Like a Perfect Day” by Speedy Graphito, in the Lobby at The Sagamore Hotel. Photo by Ignacio Font.

Upon entering The Sagamore lobby, a great surprise work awaited us – a large painting by Graphito, “Looks Like a Perfect Day,” featuring the cartoon character, SpongeBob SquarePants, jumping into a swimming pool. The bright, colorful painting clearly references work by David Hockney, and the adjacent informational card explains the connection between this current piece and the Hockney work it reflects.

In looking at the work of  Hockney, who is an openly gay male, the placement of SpongeBob is interesting, given what some communities say about the cartoon character. It was a smart piece, involving a social setting and poignant commentary, as SpongeBob (an underwater sea creature) is safer under the water, not out of it as depicted.

Other pieces that captured our attention were two paintings by Miaz Brothers: one referencing Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” and another featuring the iconic “Mother and Child.” These two works are the most successful, both in terms of referencing the master and of standing as works in themselves.

The Miaz Brothers’ works resonated. The approach used by the artists, the blurred effect, makes the viewer feel like this is something familiar – as if you know the work, but when you try to focus in on it, you really can’t because of the way the image has been executed.  There is nothing to focus on, but when you aim your cellphone camera at it, the lens tries to correct the blur and actually creates more of an image than is there. It is an interesting aspect of the work: The technology was able to create a better image and “memory” than our own eyes could do. The photographs that we took of it misrepresent what the works actually look like – you really should go and see them for yourself!

The Anatomical Lesson by Little Tulip by Monique Lassooij, inspired by the masterpiece by Rembrandt. Photo by Ignacio Font.

One artist who captures your attention more than once is Lassooij. Her work has been presented at The Sagamore in previous exhibitions, and she had several works in “Inspired by Masters.” Her work, “The Anatomical Lesson by Little Tulip,” was directly inspired by and referencing the original masterpiece by Rembrandt, “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.” While the work was easily recognized, excellently done, and quite powerful in imagery, there was a lack of reference to Rembrandt in the quality of use of technique. The artist chose a monochromatic palate, omitting the color expected in a vibrant Rembrandt work. While the work was created in oil, the lack of brush strokes, with added sheen over the top of the work, interfered with our viewing experience.

There is an entire section of works by Tom Criswell, seemingly inspired by aboriginal art. The artwork stood out as abstract, colorful, 3-D pieces. There were several works together in an area of the gallery, and another larger sculptural piece by the bar. There are many surprises in this exhibition, with a wonderfully diverse array of artists at all levels of their craft. In past exhibitions, Laboureau has displayed a preference for contemporary and conceptual art, and his tradition continues with “Inspired by Masters” through the inclusion of works by artists such as Baldessari and Koons.

The educational cards that accompanied every artwork provide helpful information about “the masters” referenced in the works. This is a key element to the exhibition and very important to the curators, as they hope to provide more information to the viewer about the master and the work being referenced.

Laboureau said the accessibility of this show is very important to him and reflects his commitment to the community. Another point Laboureau made in his speech at the opening event was that the works are for sale, with the money going directly to the artist (minus a small commission.) He compared the choice of buying an expensive handbag and where that money goes (to a large corporation far removed from the community) vs. what happens when you purchase artwork from a living artist who then buys materials to make more art. The idea conveyed was that buying art creates the possibility for more art, and contributes to the overall culture of our society as a whole. It was a very powerful idea.

Overall, the quality of the work was mostly intelligent and well-executed. The exhibition offers well thought-out works that are not kitschy. Some work is better executed than others, due in part to the fact that the curators are working with emerging and young artists who are still developing their craft, as well as more established and polished professionals.

The Sagamore Hotel Miami Beach is located at 1671 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. For more information on the art program, visit sagamoresouthbeach.com or follow them on social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @sagamorehotel. “Inspired by Masters… A Journey Through Art History” is open through May 30. The curators have created an opportunity for Miami-Dade County Public Schools to visit as part of an arts education program, with special guided tours and workshops. For more information on the exhibition and art history tours, contact the curators, Gabrielle HB-Abada at g3poles@gmail.com or Sebastien Laboureau at Sebastien.laboureau@gmail.com.

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