Four Decades of Oolite Artists Featured in ‘It Was Always About You’
Frances Trombly is one of more than 40 artists whose work is featured in Oolite Arts’ summer exhibition titled “It Was Always About You . . .” (Photo courtesy of Diana Larrea)
A piece of pottery by the late Ellie Schneiderman sits in the center of the gallery at Oolite Arts on Lincoln Road for its summer exhibition, “It Was Always About You . . .”
The clay pot is on a pedestal, conjuring a dual meaning.
In the annals of Miami’s visual arts community, Schneiderman’s legacy is deservedly put on a pedestal. The visionary artist founded the South Florida Art Center on Lincoln Road in 1983, after persuading the Miami Beach Commission to take her up on an offer to buy three properties on the thoroughfare with grant money. Her idea was to provide low-cost art studios and exhibition spaces.
In a taped recording released as a tribute to Schneiderman, who died on April 18, 2020, at the age of 80, the arts pioneer recalled starting the center, which would create lasting change on Lincoln Road, sparking careers and camaraderie among artists, along with a resurgence of the area itself.
“I applied for a grant,” the artist explained. She received it after going to the Miami Beach City Commission with her idea of starting an urban artists’ colony. The city approved $62,000 ” . . . and that allowed me to figure four bucks a square foot . . . an artist could tell me, once they’d be juried in by a panel, how many feet they could afford.”
“It Was Always About You . . . ,” which opens Wednesday, July 12, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 17, features more than 40 artists who have been a part of Oolite Arts’ four decades on Miami Beach.
“Having Ellie at the center of the show makes sense,” says Laura Guerrero, Oolite Arts programs coordinator, who co-curated the group show with Dennis Scholl, the nonprofit’s president and CEO since 2017. “When I was reaching out to different artists that we asked to participate in the show, I was really struck by the long-lasting community that Ellie started. It was apparent that this was something that wasn’t only close to her heart but also to everyone around her.”
For Scholl, there’s a bittersweet nostalgia built into “It Was Always About You. . .” It will be the last show he curates at Oolite Arts in his position: He is stepping down at the end of the summer to focus on his own art practice.
“Her line was always ‘helping artists help themselves,’ so when Laura and I started to talk about this show, we both agreed almost immediately that it all started with Ellie and it would be important to honor her,” says Scholl.
The South Florida Art Center, which became ArtCenter/South Florida, sold its signature building at 800 Lincoln Road for $88 million in 2014, with the profits from the sale allowing growth for the organization. Then in 2019, when it was announced that the center would eventually be moving to Miami’s Little River neighborhood, where it is building a new $30 million, 26,850-square-foot campus, ArtCenter/South Florida became Oolite Arts. It continues to house resident artists and produce arts programming at 924 Lincoln Road.
“This show,” says Guerrero, “is about art, community, and intimacy. It’s about exploring the relationships of the artists that have been part of the evolution, the relationships created among the arts, and the impact of Oolite on them and their careers.”
Luis Gispert, who is one of the artists featured in “It Was Always About You . . .,” had a studio at Art Center/South Florida for a few years during the 1990s.
“At the time, the art scene in Miami wasn’t as big as it is now. There weren’t many places for young artists to hang out and do things. We were a bunch of kids in our 20s. There were some artists like William Cordova and John Espinosa who have gone on to bigger and greater things,” says Gispert, who Scholl says was one of the artists that he first thought of to be in the group exhibition.
“There are people like Luis who have gone on to have pretty big art careers. I wanted this exhibit to be the works of people for whom Oolite has meant a lot and for those that Oolite has been very appreciative of, too,” says Scholl.
When he called Gispert to ask if he would be part of the group show, Scholl says he had a special request. “I asked him if he would lend us one of my favorite pieces.” Gispert said yes.
In 2001, Gispert began documenting Miami’s iconic “chonga” girls in his photographic series entitled, “Cheerleaders,” which attracted widespread critical acclaim and induced the chonga image into high art. His 2002 digital video, “Blockwatching,” part of the series of works based on Miami culture, will be at Oolite: A girl dressed a la Miami chonga is in a green room and she’s dancing to a car alarm as if it’s a techno beat.
When Gispert thinks of the Miami art scene now compared to when he was at the Art Center studio, he says “it’s night and day. You couldn’t find a place to do a show. There were no galleries, no collectors that would buy anything. You couldn’t make a living.”
Frances Trombly, another artist featured in “It Was Always About You . . .” spent a year in 2019 as an Oolite artist in residence. Then in 2022, Trombly received one of the grants for Oolite Arts’ Home + Away program to attend a five-week residency at Artpace in San Antonio, a life-altering experience not only for her work but for her family.
“I was able to bring my daughter (Penelope) and my husband (artist Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova). It’s rare to have the opportunity to be in residence with family and for my daughter to be there alongside me,” says Trombly. “As a mother, it would be difficult for me to leave my role as caregiver for a month. Oolite understood my needs. It’s that kind of thinking that we need, organizations that meet artists where they are.”
Trombly also received one of Oolite Arts’ Ellie Creator Awards (named in honor of founder Schneiderman) to create large-scale works that examine textiles and their relationship to painting. The piece she’s showing in the summer exhibition is one of the smaller works from the series created as part of the award.
“They have been really supportive of my practice for a long time,” says Trombly.
She co-founded Miami alternative art space Dimensions Variable with Rodriguez-Casanova in 2009 and says her time with Oolite has made an impact on how she approaches her business, too.
“We look to them as a visionary organization in the community. We have a lot of influences, and they are definitely a place that is inspiring,” she says.
The title of the show speaks to what Trombly expresses about Oolite. Scholl explains that he wanted to come up with a name for the exhibition that would differentiate the group show from anything else the organization has done. And that led to the notion of Oolite putting artists at the center of its mission from Day One.
“It always comes back to being there for them,” Scholl says. “It always is, and has been, about the artists.”
Artists exhibiting in addition to Trombley and Gispert include Michael Loveland, John Sanchez, Alette Simmons-Jimenez, Regina Jestrow, William Osorio, Jayme Gershen, Barron Sherer, Amanda Bradley, Carlos Betancourt, Gonzalo Fuenmayor, Pablo Contrisciani, Laura Marsh, Vickie Pierre, T.E.S., Tom Virgin, Chire Regans, Ahol Sniffs Glue, Roscoè Thické, James Herring, Christina Pettersson, Ema Ri, T. Elliot Mansa, lou anne colodny, Marielle Plaisir, Cara Despain, Diana Eusebio, Jen Clay, Kelly Breez, Germane Barnes, Rose Marie Cromwell, Juan Luis Matos, Beatriz Monteavaro, Gavin Perry, Thomas Bils, Rafael Domenech, Mark Koven, Matthew Forehand, Ernesto Oroza, Carolina Sardi, Agustina Woodgate, Kristen Thiele, Michael Vasquez, Robert Thiele and Reginald O’Neal.
WHAT: “It Was Always About You”
WHERE: 924 Gallery, Oolite Arts, 924 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach
WHEN: Opening Wednesday, July 12. 6 to 8 p.m. Through Sunday, Sept. 17. Hours, daily, noon to 5 p.m.
INFORMATION: 305-674 -8278 or oolitearts.org