Visual Art

At The Frost Art Museum, Three Artists Make ‘Of What Surrounds Me’ Larger Than Life

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
June 11, 2024 at 10:23 AM

“Of What Surrounds Me” at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum-FIU features the works of three Miami artists: Amanda Bradley, Cristina Lei Rodriguez, and Mette Tommerup. An opening reception is Saturday, June 15. The show runs through Sunday, Sept. 15. Above, work by Mette Tommerup in the art museum’s Stella & J. Burton Orr Pavilion. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

When Mette Tommerup, one of three artists in the Patrica & Phillip Frost Art Museum-FIU’s summer exhibition, was creating her site-specific installation “Like the Body of a Flower,” she says she wanted the viewer to feel as if they were “walking through a field of wild flowers with lots and lots of colors.”  The Danish-American artist, who works out of Coconut Grove and Little Havana, created four pieces that make up the installation, each named using the line from one of Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Oliver’s poems.

Mette Tommerup, “Like the Body of a Flower,” 2024. Acrylic on raw canvas, aluminum armature. Dimensions variable 22’H x 15’W x 12’ D. (Photo courtesy of Karli Evans)

It is, in fact, a poem by Oliver in which the exhibit, which also features the work of Cristina Lei Rodriguez and Amanda Bradley, takes its name, “Of What Surrounds Me.” A contemplation and a recurring theme in Oliver’s work – of how the human and natural worlds intersect, of finding peace and serenity in nature, and, of how to navigate nature among civilization’s excess – is what the exhibit is all about.

As Oliver has said, for her, the door to the woods was a door to the temple.

Certainly, entering through the doors of the Stella & J. Burton Orr Pavilion is like walking into a temple where you are greeted by Tommerup’s Mark Rothkoesque floor-to-ceiling canvas wall tapestry “Which She Adores.” To the right, swooping from the ceiling is a red and purple 40-feet by 12-feet canvas, poppy-like with its drenched colors and translucence, almost as if looking through the petal of a flower.

A visitor stands in front of Mette Tommerup’s floor to ceiling canvas wall tapestry Rothko inspired “Which She Adores,” 2024. (Photo courtesy of Karli Evans)

Tommerup has created a giant grid of 64 modular paintings, 24 feet by 24 feet, which takes up the entire end wall of the first gallery. The title, “How to Stroll Through the Fields,” is a direct line from Oliver’s most celebrated poem, “The Summer Day.”

“It is meant to be reminiscent of sunlight as it hits a vast field,” says Tommerup.

The titles of each of the four works are taken from the poetry of Oliver and come together to form one stanza: “How to stroll through the fields /Like the body of a flower / Which she adores / Don’t you think that deserves a little thought?”

Miami artist Mette Tommerup with her work at the Frost Art Museum-FIU exhibition “Of What Surrounds Me.” At right, “Don’t You Think That Deserves a Little Thought?”, 2024, acrylic on raw canvas, 15’ H x 12’ W. At left, “How to Stroll Through the Fields,” 2024, grid of 64 each 36” x 36” paintings total dimension 24’ x 24’ (Photo courtesy of Karli Evans)

“The whole idea is to linger in this poetic space,” says Tommerup.

She also incorporates a video element, which has become increasingly integral to her practice. “Video is a freeing component and captures the canvas activation in nature. I try to remove myself from the work during these actions to allow the pieces to pave unscripted directions.” She says the video segments often require the use of a drone due to the large scale.

For Bradley, Oliver’s theme led her to incorporate her own writing into her photography.

Amanda Bradley, detail view of “I sit as a passenger (on this road),” 2024. Digital print on vinyl with clear vinyl text. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

“It does feel very serendipitous,” she says, “this exhibition coming together at a point where I felt ready to combine all of the elements and this is the first time I’m sharing writing with images.”

She describes her practice as “photographic work that explores place and landscape as a means to connect and understand identity, belonging, histories, and relationships.”

Amanda Bradley, “The wind carries me,” 2023-2024. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

“The exploration of nature and landscape comes from my relationship to Miami and Belize,” says the Belizean American. “I grew up between the two (places) and so I think when I was younger and I got into photography, it became another layer of language for me,” she says, adding that photography was a way to understand her place in the world. “It was typically through documenting the site of home in Miami and the site of home in Belize, so I always had this kind of dual relationship with nature and landscape. I’ve gotten to see two different worlds and allow them to inform who I’ve become.”

For this show, she’s incorporated debossed text to layer the legibility of the final image and the superimposed text.

Amanda Bradley, detail view of “Waiting to reach the horizon, “2023-2024. Archival fine art print with letterpress. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

She has always kept a photo notebook. “A lot of what I write is my reflection on where I am as I am making images, or after or before.” Bradley has taken these notes and created a palindrome poem (or mirror poem) as part of her exhibition.

There are 27 works that make up the suite in the third gallery. On the interior of a freestanding wall are solarized silver gelatin prints. “These are a different body of work that I think addresses a different layer of my relationship to place.”

She shoots analog photography while today’s norm is digital, and experiments with darkroom processes that become part of the art.

“It creates a level of intimacy that’s required of visitors where they have to spend time with an image to either find the text in the images or get close to these darkroom prints to be able to decipher or understand what they’re seeing . . .”

Amanda Bradley, detail view of “Where Paradise blooms I,” 2020-2024. archival fine art print with letterpress. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

There is also the concept of memory and time. “In all of my exhibitions, I’m always showing a huge span of time, and that’s because new images are made. But there’s still maybe something that happened three or four years ago that feels so present in what I’m trying to say.”

The passage of time also plays into the works in the middle gallery where Lei Rodriguez’s maximalist installation delves into the process of decay and the nature of resiliency. The dominant art in her exhibition is an installation piece from the collection of the Perez Art Museum titled “Endless Autumn,” an interactive sculpture of a Japanese Zen garden, which she created in 2006.

Exhibition view of monumental sculpture “Endless Autumn” portraying a Japanese garden in jeweled artifice by Cristina Lei Rodriguez. Richly textured landscape painting “Traversing Boundaries” on wall and photo “I sit as a passenger (on this road)” by Amanda Bradley. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

“I was thinking a lot about how the garden was a great way of conceptualizing the relationship between man and nature, and how, especially a Japanese garden, is so controlled by humans. I was wrestling with those ideas in my work of what is natural . . what is artificial and the tension between something growing wild and something being controlled.”

The monumental installation is laden with treasured objects, antiquities, and encrusted jewels. She also used plastic as a medium to make the garden. “It really epitomizes the work that I was making at that time. It is this idea of ‘it’s fake. It will last forever. The plastic is immortal.’ And of course, there’s also a critical part of that – that the plastic literally never goes away.”

There are six other pieces by Lei Rodriguez including paintings and a sculpture, entitled “Decadence Revisited” that is part of the Frost Collection.

Installation view of Cristina Lei Rodriguez’s painting “Push Back” and sculpture “Decadence Revisited (Turquoise)” in exhibition “Of What Surrounds Me” at FIU Frost Art Museum. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

“In talking with Amy (Galpin, the show’s curator) and Yady (Rivero, assistant curator), they helped me to think through and make connections to tie in works from the past. And I’ve been working over the last year and thinking a lot about how do I create work that feels accessible to the viewer, how do I create work that can hold an open space where someone can come and meditate, or space out, or discover something?” she says.

Lei Rodriguez mentions her affinity to poet Oliver’s work, which she says relates the writer’s own experience, but at the same time is “open enough that I can read it and have my own relationship to it.” That’s what the artist wants her work to be to a viewer.

“Dusk” (Recorded July 17, 2022 at 8:10 p.m.), 15 minutes captured by a scanner. The artist Cristina Lei Rodriguez, captures the purple blue hue of the sky at dusk, along with a composition of living exotic orchids. This is a detail of the full mural. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

She uses a nature metaphor – walking on a trail in a forest that is part of a larger landscape. “It doesn’t judge you. It’s just kind of a space to be yourself.”

While all three of the artists’ works are very different in approach, there’s a collective connectedness to “Of What Surrounds Me” at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum-FIU.

“Endless Autumn” is a sculpture of a jeweled Japanese garden created out of plastic by Cristina Lei Rodriguez. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

“There are a lot of visual connections back and forth,” says Tommerup, “and the beauty of the show is these unexpected visual gems. It demands you to slow down time and linger a while because there are so many discoveries in each work and the interconnectedness of the exhibition as a whole. There’s magic in the way that we’ve created a visual dialogue with one another.”

WHAT: “Of What Surrounds Me”: Amanda Bradley, Cristina Lei Rodriguez and Mette Tommerup

WHEN: Now through Sunday, Sept. 15, 2024. Opening reception 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday, June 15. Hours 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

WHERE: The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, Florida International University MMC, 10975 SW 17th St.

COST: Free

INFORMATION:  305-348-2890 or frost.fiu.edu

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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