Visual Art

de la Cruz Legacy Celebrated in Auctions, Exhibitions

Written By Douglas Markowitz
May 10, 2024 at 3:36 PM

José Bedia’sLucero viene alumbrando,” 1992, gift of Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, is featured in“To Be As A Cloud: Recent Acquisitions”  at NSU Art Museum, 1 East Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. (Photo courtesy of NSU Art Museum)

A sadness hung in the air at the de la Cruz Collection’s final day on April 12. It had been mere weeks since the death on Sunday, Feb. 25, of its primary patron, Rosa de la Cruz, who supported generations of Miami artists and students.  

 The Design District building and art are now under the steerage of Christie’s, which plans to auction off the influential collector’s trove of art. The collection is one of such distinguished provenance and exceptional value that the auction house, one of the top two globally alongside Sotheby’s, is releasing the collection over multiple sales so as not to shock the art market – the first one on Tuesday, May 14 is even titled the Rosa de la Cruz Collection Evening Sale.  

José Bedia, Untitled (Ogun Series), 1992. Ink, conte on amate paper; Carol K. Brown, Tondos, 1992. Plastic, rubber, wire and acrylic. (Photo courtesy of NSU Art Museum)

 “We’re calling it the ‘Year of Rosa,’” says Jessica Katz, director of Christie’s Miami office, during our visit. 

 Indeed, the introduction of the de la Cruz collection to the art market is expected to set new auction records for certain artists, according to Julian Ehrlich, a contemporary art specialist with Christie’s. In particular, he notes Ana Mendieta and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, both of whom died young and left a limited amount of work behind. The de la Cruzes, Rosa along with her husband, Carlos, who made their money running Coca-Cola bottling plants in Puerto Rico, were major collectors of both artists, and of Cuban contemporary artists in general, and the works they collected by these artists are some of their best.  

 “Very few major works by these artists have ever come to market,” says Ehrlich. “With Felix Gonzalez-Torres, our low estimate on “Untitled (America #3)” (a string of lights created by the artist in 1993) is already in excess of the public auction record. So there are just these moments that will automatically break records.”  

A select group of visitors, some potential buyers, had been invited to view the works one last time before the sales begin in New York. Loss prevention officers in black suits hovered around the artworks that had been rehung and restaged for the occasion on the first floor. These pivotal pieces by Mendieta, Gonzalez-Torres, Rufino Tamayo, Peter Doig, Hernan Bas, and other big names in contemporary art may be swept up by foreign and out-of-town buyers and never be seen again in Miami.

But thankfully, some of the de la Cruz’s holdings will remain in South Florida – and they’re some of the best. At the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale, a new exhibition is paying tribute to Rosa’s legacy by highlighting her longstanding relationship with the institution, which dates back to 1992 according to director Bonnie Clearwater.  

Alejandro Piñeiro Bello, Exodus (Escaping Paradise), 2023. © Alejandro Piñeiro Bello. NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale Collection; museum purchase. (Photo courtesy of NSU Art Museum)

 “They were very generous with donations of works in their collection when I was a director of MoCA (North Miami), and when I came to Fort Lauderdale, they continued their support,” says Clearwater. “They’ve given 63 works to the museum since 2019, and the most recent were given a few months ago – ten very personal works to them, early major works by José Bedia.”  

 These pieces by the Cuban-American artist form the centerpiece of “To Be As A Cloud,” a show featuring a litany of recent acquisitions by the museum, some purchased as recently as last year. There’s a painting by Jared McGriff that gives the show its name, as well as a ceramic work by Theaster Gates. A photograph of a slave shack on a preserved Louisiana plantation by Dawoud Bey is hung in conversation with a pair of small canvases by Reginald O’Neal, whose work alludes to the modern oppression of the prison industrial complex. There’s also work from last year’s group of solo shows “Future Past Perfect,” including a terracotta sculpture by Joel Gaitan and a monumental tropical-fauvist-surrealist painting by Alejandro Piñeiro Bello.  

José Bedia, Untitled (Ogun Series), 1992. Ink, conte on amate paper.

 But the de la Cruz-donated works by Bedia, a Palo Monte priest whose artworks reflect his fascination with indigenous spiritual practices are the real highlight. There’s a group of eight drawings on amate paper, each one big enough to take up an entire wall, titled the “Ogun series.” The title alludes to Ogun, the Yoruba orisha (deity) of iron and war still worshiped by some Afro-Caribbean sects like Cuban Santería and Haitian Vodou. In Bedia’s prints, the head of Ogun becomes shaped into trains and ships, guns and helicopters, referencing the way in which Yoruba-descended slaves in Cuba were forced to work in heavy industry, blacksmithing and building the country’s railways.  

 In another work, “Lucero viene alumbrando” (“Star Comes Shining”), Bedia depicts Nkuyo Nfinda, a trickster god of the Congo encountered while traveling, in the center of a circular canvas. Light radiates out from the jackalope-like being’s head, and he holds a toy boat in his hands. Four winds blow from the cardinal directions at the painting’s borders. Bedia completed the painting in 1992, as migrants from Cuba and Haiti took to the seas in makeshift craft to escape deprivation at home. In a sense, Nkuyo Nfinda represents the fate that these travelers tempted when they took to the waters of the Caribbean in search of a better life in America, and specifically Miami.  

Jared McGriff, To Be as a Cloud, 2021. NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale; purchased with funds provided by Michael and Dianne Bienes, by exchange. (Photo courtesy of NSU Art Museum)

 Clearwater says she had a difficult time convincing the couple to part with these works, which hung in their home on Key Biscayne. As fellow immigrants from Cuba, they shared with the artist a common heritage that must have resonated deeply.  

 “(These) are the works they chose to live with,” says Clearwater. “And I don’t know if you’re aware, but of all the artists whose works they’ve collected, they had commissioned Bedia to engrave their final resting place.”  

 WHAT: “To Be As A Cloud: Recent Acquisitions”  

 WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; noon  to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday. Thorough July 28.

 WHERE: NSU Art Museum, 1 East Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale 

 COST: $16 for adults; $10 for seniors; $8 for military, $5 for students 13-17 and non-NSU college students with valid ID; free for members, NSU students, faculty, and staff, and children 12 and under; free for all on the first Thursday of every month.  

 INFORMATION: 954-525-5000 and nsuartmuseum.org 

 ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music, and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com

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