Mindy Shrago’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ at Club Gallery Spans a Lifetime
Mindy Shrago’s career-spanning solo show opens at Club Gallery, Miami, on Saturday, Jan. 20. The show was curated by her son, Zach Spechler. Pictured above, “Playing with the Environment,” 2016, 22″x16″x5,”underglaze on ceramic. (Photo courtesy of Ben Morey)
It was the mother-daughter team of Esther and Mindy Shrago that founded the Young At Art Children’s Museum in a storefront at the Fountain Shoppes of Plantation in 1990.
Now, it’s the mother-son team of Mindy, the artist, and her son, Zach Spechler, the curator, who are working together on a career-spanning solo exhibition. “Wish You Were Here” features 109 clay and ceramic works by Shrago at Club Gallery, located on the first floor of the Citadel in Miami’s Little River neighborhood. The exhibition opens on Saturday, Jan. 20.
Spechler has been the voice in the back of his mother’s head telling her to never lose focus on her own art during her three decades steeped in the world as a CEO and arts administrator. He recalls coaxing his mother to create something new for a yearly fundraiser titled “Annual Interest” put on by the group he co-founded at YAA in 2011, the Bedlam Lorenz Assembly. Scores of local artists would donate original work to benefit the museum.
“At the time, I wasn’t taking a serious inventory of it, per se, but she was not making art that much. It was a big job running Young at Art. At least once a year, I would pressure her to create something for the show,” he says. “Once she got back to it, she was excited to do it,” says Spechler.
Shrago interrupts during the interview to say, “I’ve never stopped.” At 70 and now retired, she’s devoting more time to creating her art.
Her early works, which will be on exhibit in “Wish You Were Here,” focused mostly on food. The catalyst for the first from 1974, “I Only Use Kosher Clay,” was weekly Sunday brunches hosted by her grandparents.
A series “Cut Along The Dotted Line,” created in 1977, came from a story of an elementary school show-and-tell where she planned on taking sliced oranges as her presentation. Her father, in charge of the oranges, forgot the fruit. Spechler picks up the story: “My mother called my grandmother to tell her what had happened. When Mom ran home to get her oranges, there was my grandmother in the kitchen cutting them up. My grandma, the one who founded Young At Art with my mother, as it was usually the case, saved the day.”
In 1980, Shrago began a series that she continues today of ceramic ice cream cones, which started when the artist was commissioned by Howard Johnson’s restaurant. She was asked to create individual cones of ceramic art to pay homage to the chain’s 28 flavors of ice cream.
A Miami native who proudly says she graduated from Miami Norland Senior High School (she received her Bachelor of Arts in ceramics from the University of South Florida in Tampa), says the Miami landscape and its environment are quintessential to her work.
It’s what she calls “Miami language of color.”
A postcard series, “Wish You Were Here,” features ocean scenes, tropical beaches, flamingos, and skyscapes flattened on ceramic slabs adorned with a ceramic push pin as if the pin is keeping the cards tacked to a wall.
“Mom always had this favorite quote, ‘Tacky is beautiful,’ ” says Spechler about the nod to Florida kitsch imbued in the cynically sentimental ceramic postcards. However, there is an intention the idyllic scenes are purposely devoid of anything that would indicate interference or involvement by humans, says the artist.
Flamingos are present in many of the postcards, harkening to that idea of kitschy Florida Americana where the bird was a plastic symbol of the Sunshine State’s “good life.” In the works, they are dominant, surreal, and beautiful set against serene landscapes.
In “Playing with the Environment,” the Hollywood, Florida-based artist uses clay and airbrush painting to create three-dimensional puzzle sculptures. She explains that within the jigsaw pieces are detailed renderings of local flora and fauna. In a ceramic sculpture, her flamingo against the backdrop of a landscape is disassembled on different blocks, which appear to be falling away from one another.
“The message,” she says, “is that our ecological systems are coming apart.”
Spechler believes that Amanda Baker’s Club Gallery, which opened in 2022 on the first floor of the Citadel, a food hall built in a repurposed 1950s bank building, is the right space for “Wish You Were Here.”
“It’s accessible like the art. There’s a mix of people entering the gallery. Some who browse may have come for the food hall and others come specifically for one of the shows,” says Spechler.
Club Gallery keeps the exhibitions moving; usually, there is a new one every four weeks. “Wish You Were Here” will be on view for a week.
WHAT: Mindy Shrago: “Wish You Were Here.”
WHERE: Club Gallery, 8300 NE Second Ave., Miami.
WHEN: Open reception from 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Jan 20. The show runs through Saturday, Jan. 27.
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