Visual Art

ICA Miami presents ‘Tomás Esson: The GOAT’ exhibition through May 2021

Written By Rebekah Lanae Lengel
October 28, 2020 at 7:06 PM

The exhibition, “Tomás Esson: The GOAT,” is on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami through May 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Balber)

“Tomás Esson: The GOAT,” the latest installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, is the Cuban painter’s first-ever solo museum presentation.

Throughout three decades, Esson’s work has been called grotesque and challenging, and has been censored, with exhibitions being shut down in his native country. Since moving to the United States in 1990, Esson has lived between Miami and New York, and he has pieces in the permanent collections at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; and Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen, Germany, among others.

The opportunity to support Esson with a solo exhibition at this transformational juncture in his career resonated with ICA Artistic Director Alex Gartenfeld.

“Tomás is such an important artist who has been based in Miami on and off for almost 30 years. It’s so crucial to our mission to be able to support not just international artists but artists living and working in Miami who are making a profound impact on the international scene – and Tomás is a great example of that,” he said.

“Tomás’ work is provocative and it has a history that is closely related to censorship, and so this is the time to kind of reckon with the ideas that are central to his work,” Gartenfeld added. “Tomás’ work has been consistently critical of the political regime in Cuba and has done so by employing revolutionary iconography, as well as very provocative imagery relating to mythology and sexuality.”

Set in three rooms, the exhibition allows the viewer to trace the trajectory of Esson’s work – something Gartenfeld says highlights the depths of his artistry.

The exhibition, which will remain on display through May 2021, features never-before-seen pieces and highlights different periods of Tomás Esson’s life. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Balber)

“Over the course of three decades, you see him moving from figurative mythological to a hybrid style to an almost completely abstract style, and just the consistency and steadiness of Tomás’ development, I think in this exhibition, is really striking.”

The exhibition, which will remain on display through May 2021, features never-before-seen pieces and highlights different periods of his life, including his early career with works such as “The Retrato (Portrait) Series” and his “Wet Painting” series. It also features a monumental, 100-foot-wide wall painting done by Esson in black and white, with mythical and malformed figures that are signature to his work.

“There are new works which are site-specific and responsive installations,” Gartenfeld said. “One of the wall paintings are drawings on paper which are assembled into a mosaic-like wallpaper using some of his very humorous, very kind of sexual iconic imagery from the late ’80s and early ’90s and turning them into an immersive installation.”

ICA Miami is also creating a catalog to accompany the exhibition, due in the spring, which will offer a significant contribution to
the scholarship of Esson’s work through a critical exploration of his oeuvre.

Added Gartenfeld: “I’m hoping that people take a sense of what kind of incredible artistic practice is happening here in Miami, and a sense of how painting can be political, critical, humorous and sexual at the same time and teach us new things about ourselves and our society.”

ICA Miami reopened in September. The museum has implemented new cleaning procedures and polices to ensure the safety of visitors. In addition to requiring advanced timed tickets for entry, attendees are limited to one hour in the museum and are required to wear facial coverings while inside or in the sculpture garden. Visit for more details. 


WHAT: ICA Miami presents “Tomás Esson: The GOAT”

WHEN: Through May 2, 2021

WHERE: Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, 61 NE 41st St.

COST: Admission is free, but visitors must reserve timed tickets in advance

INFORMATION: Call 305-901-5272, visit or email is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story.

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