Archives: Visual Arts

Legendary Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón Finally Gets Miami Debut

Written By Douglas Markowitz
March 4, 2024 at 3:40 PM

Belkis Ayón, “Sin titulo” (“Untitled”), is one of the works on display in an exhibition of the late Cuban printmaker’s work at Miami’s David Castillo Gallery through Thursday, April 25 (Photo by Jose Figueroa, courtesy Belkis Ayón Estate & David Castillo)

Few artists have a style as distinctive as the late Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón. In her stark, monochromatic images, figures are featureless, black-and-white silhouettes, devoid of any facial features save for snakelike eyes. They look like aliens or otherworldly beings. In fact, they are spirits, and Ayón drew from a unique, Afro-Cuban mythology to create them.

Ayón’s work is the result of painstaking research into the Abakuá, an Afro-Cuban secret society open only to men. Their complex system of rituals, myths, and iconography was extensive, but little visual representation of it existed, giving the artist license to develop her own interpretation. As a result, a dense web of mysterious symbology – snakes and crosses, goats held like babies and shadowy figures wearing leopard skins and fish scale armor – weaves through the artist’s work, corresponding to, but not fully analogizing, the Abakuá mythology. Characters such as Sikán, a princess sacrificed for revealing Abakuá secrets, and Abasí, a creator god, reoccur.

Belkis Ayón, “Ya estamos aquí” (“We Are Here”) (Photo by Sebastiaan Hanekroot, courtesy Belkis Ayón Estate & David Castillo)

“My goal is to synthesize the aesthetic, visual, and poetic details that I find in Abakuá mythology and to add my own vision,” Ayón, who died by suicide at 32 in 1999, said in a 1993 interview, “which is, of course, simply the vision of an individual observing all this great mythology, which I treat with enormous respect and care.”

Respect and care have been crucial to preserving Ayón’s legacy, according to Miami-based art gallerist David Castillo.

“It’s paper, so it has to rest,” he says. “The works have to go through periods where they’re not shown, they’re not exposed to light, they’re packed safely.”

Indeed, Ayón’s embrace of the collagraph, a unique form of printmaking that few other artists have utilized extensively, is also part of what makes her work unique. And as work on paper, it also presents distinct challenges. Unlike other printmaking processes like lithography that can produce multiple copies of the same image, a collagraph print is always one of one, each imbued with unique qualities from the temporary materials used in the printing process. Ayón would use found objects to enhance these unique prints, a task that was compounded in difficulty by the deprivations of life in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Belkis Ayón, “Abasí, sálvanos” (“Abasi, Save Us”) (Photo by Sebastiaan Hanekroot, courtesy Belkis Ayón Estate & David Castillo)

“It was a period of enormous scarcity in Cuba, so she had to be very resourceful with what inks she had access to, what materials. So, she used everything from vegetable peels, found materials, to create the textures and gradations in her collagraphs. I would say that’s a very significant thing for why the artist has continued to be so important to contemporary art conversations 25 years after her death, and why there are younger artists who devote the research within their own practice to her work.”

Surprisingly, such an important Cuban artist has never had a solo show in Miami, inarguably the heart of the Cuban diaspora. Ayón’s work has been featured in group shows around the city recently, including the Museum of Art and Design at Miami-Dade College’s well-regarded “Where the Oceans Meet,” and Castillo brought a group of her collagraphs to Art Basel Miami Beach in 2021. Her work is also held in the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

That’s finally changed thanks to a show currently at David Castillo Gallery through Thursday, April 25.  It shows some of the artist’s finest works and compiles them in a monograph published by local bookmaker [NAME] Publications featuring two archival interviews. Two of the prints on display have been picked up by major museums: “Resurrección” (“Resurrection”) will go to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, while the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. acquired “Untitled (Woman in Fetal Position).”

An exhibition of late Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón’s work is at Miami’s David Castillo Gallery through Thursday, April 25 (Photo by Zach Balber, courtesy Belkis Ayón Estate & David Castillo)

It’s the culmination of a multi-year strategy from Castillo, working with Ayón’s estate, to expand her reputation within the U.S. and internationally. “I’ve been working with the estate for nearly 10 years, and they release very few works for sale at a time,” he says. “And so my role, when I came on board with the estate, has been to place the work with institutions. Because the work is rare, because there’s not a lot remaining, it’s not just up for sale to people with money, necessarily. It really is important to preserve the artist’s legacy.”

Starting in 2017, the estate organized a series of museum solo shows, starting at the Fowler Museum at UCLA in Los Angeles. That show, titled “Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón” traveled to El Museo del Barrio in New York as well as institutions in Scottsdale, Houston, and Kansas City, and led to Ayón’s first retrospective in Europe, a 2021 show at Spain’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. More shows are planned, including one at Modern Art Oxford in England, according to Castillo.

Belkis Ayón, “Vamos” (“Let’s Go”) (Photo by Sebastiaan Hanekroot, courtesy Belkis Ayón Estate & David Castillo)

During her lifetime, Ayón was one of Cuba’s most celebrated artists, both on the island and internationally. She participated in biennials, including Venice in 1993, won the Cuban Prize for National Cultural Distinction in 1996, and held several residencies within America. Her death in 1999 slowed her recognition as a major artist, as her estate launched a multi-year effort to study and catalog her work. But did not stop it entirely, according to Castillo.

“I don’t think there’s been a period where curators were not interested in her work, or where people were not writing about her work, or where artists were not researching her work to make work about her work,” he says. “I do believe that her ascendancy would have continued unbroken, had she not died 25 years ago.”

WHAT: “Belkis Ayón”

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Through Thursday, April 25

WHERE: David Castillo, 3930 NE 2nd Ave., Miami

COST: Free

INFORMATION: 305-573-8110 and davidcastillogallery.com

ArtburstMiami.com 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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Photographer Zachary Balber Haunts Wealthy Homes in ‘Intimate Stranger’

Written By Douglas Markowitz
February 25, 2024 at 10:21 PM

“Whistling in the Dark to Keep Up My Spirits”  is one of the photographs in Zachary Balber’s gallery exhibition “Intimate Stranger” at artmedia GALLERY, 350 NE 75th St., Miami. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Balber)

Zachary Balber, known across Miami for photographing the city’s museum and gallery shows, took almost a decade to assemble his gallery exhibition “Intimate Stranger.” It wasn’t because the photos took ten years to make – according to the artist, if he had showed them sooner, he probably would have been “buried in lawsuits.”

“I thought to myself, am I gonna risk my place in Miami?” he says. “Everything is very small. Everybody knows everybody. Many artists said to me, ‘Zach, you got to be careful.’ This is like a breach of trust.”

But what makes these photos so dangerous? Put simply, Balber took them surreptitiously, without permission, in various private homes around Miami. In some, he’s partially or fully nude.

“Bathing in Mapplethorpe” (Photo courtesy of Zachary Balber)

“Intimate Stranger,” completed during Balber’s time as a real estate photographer, puts the artist in plenty of compromising positions. He makes himself at home everywhere he goes, lounging in children’s bedrooms (“Desperately Seeking Susan”) and in soaking tubs (“Bathing in Mapplethorpe”). In others he’s on a vintage Terrazza sofa in a red, ‘70s-inspired home theater watching “Austin Powers” (“Whistling in the Dark to Keep Up My Spirits”) and stands at the top of a stark white staircase as nude as Michelangelo’s “David” (“Crush On You”). He haunts these wealthy spaces like a mischievous gremlin, a surreal, Lynchian figure like the Mystery Man from “Lost Highway.” He’s at your house. You invited him. It is not my custom to go where he is not wanted.

The photos in “Intimate Stranger” imitate the glossy, space-enhancing style favored by real estate photography, which Balber started doing for a Chicago-based firm to make ends meet. “I learned about, you know, basically bad real estate photography across the United States and how much money it generates. And I was in shock. It generates, like $10 or 15 million a month, and you guys edit photos that look like crap!”

Nevertheless, his work gained him access to some of the most valuable properties in Miami, palatial estates and condos with bay views. As he photographed their interiors for listings, he would get asked by real estate agents, assistants, even architects for photos of them in the expensive houses. Or he would watch them take selfies in front of the homes for social media, all to create the illusion that they actually inhabited those posh homes. That got him thinking.

“Don Bailey Special” (Photo courtesy of Zachary Balber)

“We all live in this sort of fake identity world now where all of us are promoting this idealized version of us that’s not really true. And I thought this is a brilliant idea for a photo series. I could use all these people’s interiors, and I could do the same thing.”

The risqué quality of many shots extends to the titles. In “Showing Ass,” he boldly displays his own behind next to a tower of pelvic ceramics, and in the suggestive, yet ultimately tame “Don Bailey Special,” referencing the iconic local carpet salesman’s nude advertising, although Balber wears clothes in his imitation. Balber was very aware that the owners of these houses might not take kindly to him swanning around their homes in the buck, which is why he consulted the likes of Richard Prince’s lawyer in New York.

“The attorney told me you have to wait at least five years. Because usually at the five-year mark, all the people who are touching these homes, or are in association with them, have been overturned,” he says. “I waited another couple of years just to make sure, because my objective was not to harm the people who gave me the opportunity to be in these places.”

Indeed, Balber describes “Intimate Stranger” as a therapeutic project, a way to make sense of the contradictions in his life. There was the element of class and aspirational living: Balber grew up working class in Pittsburgh before moving to Miami when he was 14, and his father, who Balber says served prison time for financial crimes, would tour him around wealthy areas like Aventura and Golden Beach to see the types of homes he would eventually photograph. Then there was the immense personal tragedy he faced at the time. All three of his immediate family members died during the making of the series: his mother from cancer, his father from hepatitis C, and his sister from a drug overdose.

“Golden Child” (Photo courtesy of Zachary Balber)

“My mother was simultaneously going through cancer treatments during part of this,” he recalls. “I would go to the hospital, and then the next day, I’d go back to another $10 million house. So I think the split between going to the hospital and seeing my life, and then going to see how everyone else lives, was pretty jarring.”

But it was the support of Miami’s art community that saw Balber through and friends like Loriel Beltran whom he met while attending the New World School of the Arts on scholarship. He began photographing art while working as a gallery assistant for New World professor and art dealer Fredric Snitzer. At the gallery, watching the boss pay expensive photographers with lots of lights and equipment to shoot his artists’ work, he realized he could create images of the same, or better, quality with the help of digital software – and he could do it cheaper.

“I thought this was a great idea,” he recalls. “I can take their images and make them look like (mega-gallery) Hauser and Wirth or some of the big guys. I would edit them so that they looked perfect.”

“Booties and Astro Turf to Walk on the Moon” (Photo courtesy of Zach Balber)

Since then Balber has become a fixture of Miami’s art world over the last ten years, though not necessarily for his own work. Instead, he’s celebrated as a photographer of other people’s art, shooting museum and gallery shows. I’ve run into him taking pictures at MoCA North Miami, the ICA, David Castillo Gallery, and other institutions around town.

“My art family saved me,” he says. “Sometimes, I could barely get up in the morning, but at least I could go to Loriel’s studio, photograph his new work and talk with him about artwork. And that was enough to get me going through the day. And eventually, it turned into taking portraits in people’s houses. But the art world really gave me my life back.”

WHAT: “Zachary Balber: Intimate Stranger”

 WHEN: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Closing reception Thursday, March 14 from 6 to 9 p.m.

 WHERE: artmedia GALLERY, 350 NE 75th St., Miami

 COST: Free

 INFORMATION: 305-318-8306 and artmedia.gallery

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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Treasures from The Harlem Renaissance at Wolfsonian-FIU

Written By Sergy Odiduro
February 23, 2024 at 1:01 AM

“For Freedom,” illustrated by Aaron Douglas, with interior illustrations by Mabel Betsy Hill, is featured in the exhibition “Silhouettes: Image and Word in the Harlem Renaissance,” on view through Saturday, June 23 at The Wolfsonian-FIU, Miami Beach. (Photo courtesy of the Wolfsonian-FIU)

Most people would say that the Harlem Renaissance only took place in Harlem.

But Christopher Norwood,  a Miami-based collector and gallerist,  begs to differ.

He says that’s just part of the story.

“Many of the artists that are considered so-called Harlem Renaissance artists never lived in Harlem,” explains Norwood.

And other prominent contributors aren’t originally from there.

Robert Savon Pious created cartoons, portraits, and illustrations during the Harlem Renaissance including this poster for the American Negro Exposition of 1940 in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of the Wolfsonian-FIU)

Case in point: Leslie Garland Bolling.

“His work was shown in the Virginia Fine Arts Museum, the first Black artist shown in the fine arts museum in the 1930s,” says Norwood. “It was really only HBCU museums that kept a lot of this art alive.”

But in Miami Beach,  history buffs and art enthusiasts can see Bolling’s piece at a new exhibit at The Wolfsonian-FIU as part of “Silhouettes: Image and Word in the Harlem Renaissance,”  on view through Saturday, June 23.

“It’s a wooden sculpture made with a pocket knife of a bishop of the AME Church, which is arguably one of the oldest Black institutions in this country,” says Norwood.

Included in a section dedicated to Black spirituality and is just one of many items at the event including over 35 book covers and interior illustrations and more than 60 sculptures, paintings, photographs, and prints.

And when it comes to Norwood, the exhibit is just the latest in a fervent discussion that he has been having about the Harlem Renaissance.

This most recent dialogue began almost three years ago after he was encouraged to seek out the Wolfsonian to suss out whether there was an opportunity to collaborate. What he found was a treasure trove of documents and information.

“I met with them. I looked at their archive of artwork, particularly artwork that reflected Black themes, and I was really pleasantly surprised with what they had,” says Norwood.

What he found were photos taken by Carl Van Vechten.

Christopher Norwood curated “Silhouettes: Image and Word in the Harlem Renaissance” at The Wolfsonian-FIU. (Photo courtesy of Yvette N. Harris)

“He’s one of the primary patrons of the Harlem Renaissance,” explains Norwood. “He also was a photographer. He captured a lot of the intellectuals, entertainers and artists, and documented that period in portraits. (The Wolfsonian) had a small collection of original photos as well.”

As Norwood dug deeper, he realized he hit pay dirt. He encountered artwork within first edition books from the Harlem Renaissance that the Wolfsonian had recently acquired.

“The covers. The inside. And for me, I was always fascinated by that artwork because Black artists during this time period were not shown in galleries and museums. So their canvas, for many of these artists, were these books. This way they could actually be seen around the world and around the country.”

Ironically, his findings nearly dovetailed with an event that he was hosting himself.

Norwood is the founder and owner of Overtown based Hampton Art Lovers, a gallery specializing in African American Fine Arts.

At the time he was in the midst of presenting “One Way Ticket: Movement, Migration and Liberty.”

The cover for the Crisis magazine is an iconic example of the artwork produced by Aaron Douglas. (Photo courtesy of the Wolfsonian-FIU )

The show centered on a book of poetry by Langston Hughes’ which was published in 1949 and illustrated by Jacob Lawrence. It documented the experiences of African-Americans who sought an escape from oppression by relocating to the North during the Great Migration.

It was this exchange between Langston and Lawrence, coupled with Norwood’s new Wolfsonian findings which sparked a realization that something must be done.

“I was already in this sort of space where I was really impressed by these collaborations,” says Norwood.

“So when they said they had these collection of books, I was like, Oh, we’re going to do a show focused on these illustrations.’ And what I’ll do is I’ll curate artwork from these artists, but we’ve got to get them from various places.”

One of his first steps was to engage historically Black colleges.

“Fortunately, we have one here in Miami. We were able to have work loaned to us from Florida Memorial. We also had work loaned to us from Fisk University in Nashville, which is home of Aaron Douglas who was the principal artist of that time period, the father of Harlem Renaissance art. He taught there for many years. We also had the Aaron Douglas family loan us work directly.”

With added pieces from his private collection, he then sought (and eventually) received other contributors from various sources including Beth Rudin DeWoody, the Kenkeleba Gallery, and the Norton Museum of Art.

Shawn Christian, an English professor at Florida International University, and a staff member at the Wolfsonian, was brought on board to ensure appropriate attribution and placement.

“We recruited Shawn to be the curatorial consultant so that I could really make sure that I’m positioning the importance of these books in their proper context.”

For his part, Christian was delighted to be a part of the project.

“Being able to personally go back to the time period that I’ve been studying for most of my professional life, and re-enter it through the arts was really powerful because I’m a literary studies scholar,” says Christian.  “They were people coming with a different perspective about African American contributions and their role as citizens. And so to tap into that kind of Zeitgeist,in  that moment, was really cool.

And like Norwood, he too recognizes the beauty of those who used art to celebrate the set of ideals explored in the New Negro movement.

A College Lad” by German born Winold Reiss is just one example of the multiracial collaboration between artists during the Harlem Renaissance. (Photo courtesy of the Wolfsonian-FIU )

“It’s the idea that art can be transformative and socially powerful at this really interesting moment in African American history,” says Christian.

He mentions figures like Alain Locke, Aaron Douglas, Jessie Fauset, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Weldon Johnson, who, he says were encouraged and emboldened to create art, and understood the need to preserve what they were doing during such a transformative period.

“And for a lot of these artists, in addition to wanting to make a living and wanting to make great art they were hopeful that in by doing so, the racial animus of the country would dissipate, or just be removed altogether. It was a lofty, ambitious and arguably crazy goal that in some ways wasn’t realized, but (still) they created this body of work that persists and tells its own story, even to this day,” says Christian.

WHAT: “Silhouettes: Image and Word in the Harlem Renaissance”

WHEN:  10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday–Sunday. Until 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday, June 23

WHERE: The Wolfsonian–FIU, 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach

 COST: Free for members, Florida residents, visitors with disabilities and their accompanying caregiver  and children under six. Otherwise, $12 for adults, $8 for seniors, students and children 6-18.

 INFORMATION: 305-531-1001 or wolfsonian.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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At LnS Gallery, an exhibition honors the legacy of Cuban-American artist Carlos Alfonzo

Written By Miguel Sirgado
February 22, 2024 at 11:07 AM

Installation view of project room in “Carlos Alfonzo: Legacy” at LnS Gallery, Coconut Grove,  Miami, through Saturday, April 13.  From left, “Head” (1989) welded steel with pain and poured concrete. (50½ x 35 x 12 inches) (128.3 x 88×9 x 30.5 cm.) “Untitled (from the Pulpo series), (1990), oil on linen, (84 x 84 inches) (213.6 x 213.6 cm.) (Photo by Sofia Guerra, courtesy of LnS Gallery)

Tony Montana, the protagonist of Brian de Palma’s famous film, “Scarface,”  is a Cuban immigrant who escapes from the island during 1980’s historic Mariel Boatlift. Once in Florida, the “marielito” of this story becomes a hired killer to obtain and pay for his green card. His ruthless and unscrupulous style quickly places Tony at the highest level of the cocaine mafia in Miami. Over the years he even becomes an iconic figure of American popular culture.

But the Tony Montana of 1983, embodied by Al Pacino, outraged many Cuban exiles who felt that the film portrayed a negative and one-sided image of their community. They had a point.

Not everyone from the “Mariel Generation” was a Tony Montana — 125,000 Cubans are estimated to have arrived via the Mariel-Havana Key West bridge, many of whom were everyday Cubans hoping to find freedom and reunite with their families in the United States. Others were citizens who utterly disagreed with the politics, the ideology and abuses of the Castro regime.

“Oyá,” (1987), acrylic on panel, 47 ½ x 36 inches (120.6 x 91.4 cm.) (Photo by Sofia Guerra, courtesy of LnS Gallery)

What came out of this was a greatly diverse group of exceptional creators in the fields of literature, visual arts, poetry, music, journalism, academia, and theater, known as the “Mariel Generation.” They encompassed an intellectual movement with very peculiar characteristics which is still being defined and studied to this day.

Artist Carlos Alfonzo is one of them.

Defying erasure and in the name of cultural justice, LnS Gallery in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami is showing “Carlos Alfonzo: Legacy,”  an exhibition honoring the Cuban American artist as a towering figure within the history of post-revolutionary art from Cuba and its diaspora. Alfonzo, who was born in Cuba and fled the Castro regime in 1980, died of AIDS in 1991 when he was only 40 years old.

According to the gallery, among the works on display is “The City” (1989), a masterpiece by Alfonzo that is being shown for the first time in almost two decades. The exhibition is made up of more than 13 works that could be considered a comprehensive survey of the artist’s oeuvre.

Additionally, the show aims to celebrate the publication of a major monographic volume about the painter titled “Carlos Alfonzo: Late Paintings,” published by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (ICA) in conjunction with its exhibition at the Miami Design District museum between April and November 2022.

A major monographic volume on the painter titled “Carlos Alfonzo: Late Paintings,” published by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (ICA) is available during the LnS Gallery exhibition. (Photo by Sofia Guerra, courtesy of LnS Gallery)

“I curated Carlos Alfonso’s show at ICA (in 2022),” says Gean Moreno, director of the Knight Foundation Art + Research Center at ICA Miami, and part of the institution’s curatorial team. “It was an exhibition that just displayed the paintings produced by Alfonzo in the last fourteen months of his life, before his passing in 1991 —sometimes they are called ‘the black paintings’ or ‘the black period’— and so, no work from before that (timeframe) was presented then,” says Moreno.

He says that the publication contains the black paintings and includes works from the rest of Alfonzo’s career: from drawings and sculptures he produced in Havana in the late 1970s to the dynamic compositions that brought him international recognition in the 1980s. According to Moreno, this is the first monograph dedicated to the artist in over 25 years. Its contents fill an art historical gap with newly commissioned scholarship, materials drawn from archives, and a comprehensive selection of paintings.

During the run of the show at LnS Gallery, “Carlos Alfonzo: Late Paintings,” will be for sale.

For LnS Gallery director Sergio Cernuda, his interest in Alfonzo’s work and his desire to better study his trajectory (and turn it into a historical archive) began a long time ago.

“Over the past twenty years, Carlos Alfonzo has become one of the most outstanding painters of the 1980s. In the short time that elapsed between his departure from Cuba during the Mariel exodus in 1980 and his premature death  . . . , he generated a body of work that evolved coherently and that made constant references to his various interests, such as his relationship with life and death, his spirituality and mysticism, his relationship with literature and history, his vision of the spiral of time,” explains Cernuda. “This project fully highlights Alfonzo’s work in all the media that fascinated him: painting, sculpture, and ceramics.”

Among the works on display are “The City,” (1989), oil on linen, three panels, 96 X 252 inches (243.8 X 640.1 cm.) The masterpiece by Alfonzo is being shown for the first time in two decades. (Photo by Sofia Guerra, courtesy of LnS Gallery)

The gallery owner says it is through the generosity of Alfonzo’s collectors and the interest of institutions such as ICA that helped realize the exhibition at LnS Gallery.

“Most of the paintings we are showing at LnS are from that period of the mid-1980s that we have been able to gather due to a collaborative interest in preserving his legacy,” says Cernuda.

On examining Alfonzo’s body of work in 2024, Moreno assures that the time was right.

“It’s been almost 25 years since the last time people (thought) about him in any serious way,” explains Moreno, “and it’s also a time when people are starting to think about the 1980s again. So it’d be nice to rethink the 1980s and make it a bigger picture since artists like Alfonzo were maybe on the periphery in the eighties. I think this is the time to do another rereading of his entire body of work.”

From the perspective of an Alfonzo appreciator, the work of this Cuban artist born in Havana in 1950, is an act of personal affection. Coral Gables art collector Jorge Pedroso says that in 1993 he organized and was part of the group of investors who bought the artist’s estate—with the idea of preserving the unity of the works that Alfonzo had left before his death.

“My wife and I had always been intrigued by Alfonzo’s work, but we didn’t know much about it,” explains Pedroso. “When I saw his work I was very impressed. I think (Alfonzo) is, in my humble opinion, one of the most complete and talented artists that Cuba has produced in the last fifty years.”

Installation view of “Carlos Alfonzo: Legacy” at LnS Gallery. At left, “Untitled [Head] Witness” (1990), oil on canvas, 36 x 30 inches (91.4 x 76.2 cm). At right, “Prayer 2” (1989) oil on canvas, 72 x 72 inches (182.9 x 182.9 cm). (Photo by Sofia Guerra, courtesy of LnS Gallery)

Pedroso says that for many years he had in his possession an Alfonzo piece titled “Santa Lucía.” It was especially significant to him because it bore the same name as the sugar mill owned by his mother’s family (but expropriated by Castro), in the province of Oriente, in Cuba. “It was a coincidence that that was one of Alfonzo’s favorite pieces, according to what Sena Toll Artigas told me. She is the mother of Carlos Artigas, who was the artist’s partner,” he explains.

For Cernuda, Alfonzo’s work is incredibly close to his own history. “I’m a first-generation Cuban American. Our gallery opened seven years ago, in February, the same month that Alfonzo passed away in 1991. Now, in 2024, his exhibition and the launch of his monograph is happening again in February. I think it’s not a coincidence that we are celebrating his life, his amazing work and our own gallery anniversary,” he says.

WHAT:  “Carlos Alfonzo: Legacy”

WHERE: LnS Gallery, 2610 SW 28th Lane, Miami

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., Sunday. By appointment Monday. Through Saturday, April 13. 

COST: Free

INFORMATION:  305-987-5642 or lnsgallery.com

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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Written By Jonel Juste
February 21, 2024 at 4:14 PM

Lisa Leone’s photograph of The Fugees’ Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill is on display at The Art of Hip Hop’s inaugural exhibition in Wynwood through Wednesday, Feb. 28. (Photo by Lisa Leone, Fugees. Courtesy of The Art of Hip Hop)

When people think of hip-hop, they often focus on rap music, breakdancing, deejays, and bling.  A new museum in Wynwood, The Art of Hip Hop, seeks to illuminate the lesser-known artistic dimensions of the genre on its 50th anniversary through its inaugural exhibit “From the Bronx to the Beach.” 

The showcase sheds light on the visual artists integral to the cultural movement since its inception in the early 1970s in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City.

“From the Bronx to the Beach” exhibition, which runs through Wednesday, Feb. 28, premiered at Miami Art Week in December. The former Museum of Graffiti building now accommodates The Art of Hip Hop, 299 NW 25th St., Miami. (The Museum of Graffiti relocated to 276 NW 26th St.)

The Art of Hip Hop, a new cultural hub dedicated to showcasing the visual arts of hip hop, located in the former Museum of Graffiti building in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami. (Photo courtesy of The Art of Hip Hop)

Notably, both initiatives share a common thread as they were spearheaded by Alan Ket and Allison Freidin.

Freidin explains that hip-hop encompasses various elements beyond rap music, with graffiti being a significant aspect recognized by the founders of the Museum of Graffiti. “The Art of Hip Hop is a space dedicated to all visual artists of hip-hop culture who create masterpieces but are not receiving mainstream attention and accolades as artists,” says Freidin.

Echoing this sentiment, cofounder Ket emphasizes the importance of celebrating the behind-the-scenes creatives in hip-hop culture, such as photographers and designers, not just those out in front such as rappers and deejays.“These are important cultural contributors that make up the ecosystem and economy of hip-hop. I believe they deserve recognition and to be celebrated.” 

Ket, a graffiti artist, curator, photographer, and author of the book “The Wide World of Graffiti” believes that “The Art of Hip Hop” serves as another personal tribute to this genre, which he says he deeply admires.

A mural by Miami-based artist and illustrator Disem pays tribute to Clive Campbell, renowned by his stage name DJ Kool Herc, credited as one of the pioneers of hip-hop music. (Photo courtesy of The Art of Hip Hop)

“I have been an active member and a fan of hip-hop culture since I first encountered it in New York City in the early 1980s. I’ve always felt that it spoke to me and over the years I’ve sought to contribute,” says Ket. 

That’s why, he launched Stress, a magazine that celebrated hip hop in the 1990s, and in the 2000s, co-founded COMPLEX, a magazine that is still active today. In the 2010s, he went on to launch VIBE Magazine and took on various other projects. “Each was about celebrating street culture and hip-hop culture,” says Ket. 

In the heart of  The Art of Hip Hop are the visual artists themselves who, according to Freidin, former Miami prosecutor turned art businesswoman and co-owner of the new museum, “have shaped the visual identity of an entire global culture of hip hop and deserve a proper gallery space that is researching them, archiving artifacts, and exhibiting their work.”

Freidin believes that the inaugural exhibit accomplishes its  goal by presenting the works of old-school New York flyer designers like Phase 2 (Michael Lawrence Marrow), to local photographer Esdras T. Thelusma “who poses iconic hip hop musicians in a way that juxtaposes humble surroundings with symbols of opulence.”  Thelusma will be speaking about his work at the museum on Friday, Feb. 23 as part of its Black History Month programming. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the discussion starting at 7 p.m.

Visitors to The Art of Hip Hop museum look at the artworks of Miami-based visual artist Esdras  T. Thelusma, left in the background, and Martha Cooper, front right, an American photojournalist renowned for capturing the New York City graffiti scene during the 1970s and 1980s. (Photo courtesy of The Art of Hip Hop)

The new hip-hop space is designed to be both immersive and educational. “Our experience tells us that immersive moments make learning easier and more enjoyable,” says Freidin. Therefore, instead of just putting a bunch of record covers on the wall in frames as any other piece of art might be displayed, we recreated a record store where you can see famous album art, flip through the bins, and even play a record so you can see how the visual art correlates to the music.”

One immersive aspect of the museum is the creation of an old-school movie theater to screen “Wild Style,” a 1983 American hip-hop film directed and produced by Charlie Ahearn. Instead of a projection onto a white wall, visitors can lounge in vintage red theater seats surrounded by original vintage movie posters, creating an environment that transports them back to the time when the film was released. Freidin remarks, “It really sets the environment for taking in the information.”

“From the Bronx to the Beach” emphasizes the cultural impact of visual pioneers within hip-hop, including the works of photographers, album cover artists, graffiti writers, logo designers, painters, authors, and fashion creators.

Among the photographers, Bronx-born Lisa Leone, whose work highlights artists such as The Fugees, Snoop Dogg, Grandmaster Flash, Fable, and Wiggles. Also on display, the work of the British-born photographer Janette Beckman. Titled “The Mashup,” it is a collection of images reinterpreted by graffiti artists such as Lady Pink who remixed Queen Latifa’s picture with a regal pop of color, Mode2 painting a stylistic De La Soul piece or CES giving Big Daddy Kane a special cut. 

Included in the exhibited paintings is “Truck Jewelry,” a joint effort by James Alicea (BlusterOne) and the online hoop earring platform Hoop88Dreams. The showcased artworks depict oversized earrings, rings, medallions, watches, and chains worn by hip-hop artists and hood celebrities. The collection also features pieces by Erni Vales, renowned for his mastery as a muralist, having painted walls across cities from New York to Chicago to Miami. 

The exhibition also features a variety of other mediums, including graphic design, fashion items such as custom-designed t-shirts and sneakers, movies, cassettes, magazines, and books such as “The History of Miami Hip Hop” authored by John Cordero. Cordero notably co-founded, edited, and published “The Cipher: Miami’s Hip Hop Newspaper” from 1998 to 2000. The independent monthly publication documented and chronicled the burgeoning hip-hop scene in South Florida at the time.

Other visual artists included in the exhibit: Eric Haze, Cey Adams, Erin Patrice O’Brien, Robert Michael Provenzano (CES), Martha Cooper, Mike Miller, Henry Chalfant, Matt Doyle, Joe Conzo, and Daniel Hastings.

Allison Freidin and Alan Ket, the co-founders of the Museum of Graffiti & Hip Hop Art. (Photo courtesy of The Art of Hip Hop)

The exhibition also pays tribute to its host city, Miami, where it has found its permanent home after being initially showcased in Austin, Texas, and Seoul, South Korea. “From the Bronx to the Beach,” delves into Miami’s hip-hop history, as captured by local historian and photographer Derick G. and photographer Esdras T. Thelusma. Derick G’s work notably features South Florida hip-hop artists like DJ Khaled, Dieuson Octave (Kodak Black), and Davidson Pierre (Black Dada).

Another standout contribution to the exhibition is the mural by Miami-based artist and illustrator Disem. The artwork pays tribute to Clive Campbell, renowned by his stage name DJ Kool Herc, credited as one of the pioneers of hip-hop music. 

“We wanted the creators from Miami’s own hip-hop scene to feel recognized as while hip-hop started in New York, it has now infiltrated every major metropolitan city in the world, paving a way for thousands of people in different regions to work and create . . . Shining a light on Miami’s own contributions to the bigger story has been very important,” says Freidin.

Freidin has a favorite Miami moment in the exhibition: “The wall with early rare photographs of Poison Clan and 2 Live Crew taken by famed UK photographer Janette Beckman. I really appreciate this because it demonstrates Miami Hip Hop entering the world stage, where these groups were just as important as Jannette’s other subjects like Slick Rick, De La Soul, Big Daddy Kane, Salt-N-Pepa and more.”  

Interactive vinyl wall, left, and works of photographer Janette Beckman, right, at The Art Of Hip Hop museum. (Photo courtesy of The Art of Hip Hop)

Commenting on the importance of a popular musical genre such as  hip-hop to have museums and galleries dedicated to them, Ket says: “Spaces like these can inspire the public to be creative and to recognize the value of this cultural movement.”

Freidin says there is also an element of art education that the spaces provide.

“We are able to get these historic works into important collections while also teaching art history to our daily visitors,” concludes Freidin.  

And, in keeping with that history, The Art of Hip Hop is hosting a panel discussion at 7 p.m., on Friday, March 15 in conjunction with Women’s History Month. The guests, Lucy Lopez, Supa Cindy and Stichiz, will discuss their success in a male-dominated industry and their significant impact on Miami’s music and hip-hop culture.

WHAT: “From the Bronx to the Beach” 

WHERE:  The Art of Hip Hop, 299 NW 25th St., Miami

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday through Wednesday, Feb. 28.

COST:  $12, general admission; $22 combo ticket, The Art of Hip Hop and The Museum of Graffiti, children under 13 admitted free. 

INFORMATION:   786-772-1604 or artofhiphop.com

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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Art Wynwood likes being the only fair in town post Basel

Written By Douglas Markowitz
February 8, 2024 at 6:49 PM

The Art Wynwood art fair returns to Herald Plaza for four days from Wednesday, Feb. 14 to Sunday, Feb. 18 in downtown Miami. (Photo courtesy Art Wynwood)

Just when we thought we were out of the Miami art fair season, Art Wynwood is about to pull us back in.

Setting up shop in downtown Miami at Herald Plaza from Wednesday, Feb. 14 to Sunday, Feb. 18, the show of modern and contemporary art from dozens of local and international galleries offers another chance for art lovers and collectors to explore a bustling art market. More than 50 galleries and over 500 artists will be shown, according to organizers.

“We have galleries introducing post-war (art) for great prices,” says Julian Navarro, director of Art Wynwood. “You’re going to see Picassos, you’re going to see Miros, you’re going to see the good secondary market (artworks) from Latin America.”

With a little over 50 galleries showing at Art Wynwood, the art fair aims for a more intimate experience than Miami Art Week. (Photo courtesy of Art Wynwood)

Several galleries will be offering blue-chip art. New York-based Zeitz Contemporary Art will be showing works by such illustrious names as Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol, Alex Katz, and Jeff Koons – hopefully they’ll be able to avoid a repeat of last year, when a Koons “balloon dog” statue was accidentally shattered. Lesser known and international names are also represented: Kyiv-based Kedria Arts, which has a second location in Detroit, has work from five Ukrainian artists at their booth this year at Art Wynwood.

Locals will also have a strong presence. Adamar Fine Arts will feature work from famous contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst and Ugo Rondinone. Coral Gables-based Cernuda Arte will show Cuban modernist and contemporary artists including Wifredo Lam and José Bedia, while Imaginart, also based in the Gables, will have work by local artist Gloria Lorenzo. And artist Peter Tunney, still based in Wynwood after most local galleries have left the neighborhood, will receive the fair’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The artist has kept a gallery at the Wynwood Walls for the last eight years, and he’ll be at the fair with a special booth titled “Invincible Summer.”

Antonio Sannino, “Under Construction Sea VI,” is being shown at Art Wynwood by Liquid Art System. (Photo courtesy Liquid Art System)

“We decided to honor him not only for his work, but for his career as an entrepreneur, as an artist helping new emerging artists,” Navarro says of Tunney.

Some of the galleries in the show are transplants to Miami, part of a trend of international dealers moving into the city. Liquid Art System, originally based in Capri, Italy and with several locations in the Naples area, recently opened a Miami showroom on NE 4th Avenue in Little Haiti. They plan on using the fair to get closer to their American clients and show work by artists including Marco Grassi, Silvia Berton, and Filipo Tincolini.

“We have a lot of important American collectors and Art Art Wynwood is a way for us to be closer to (them),” says Franco Senesi, founder and CEO of Liquid Art System, adding that the gallery also shows at Art Miami. “For us, it’s a good opportunity.”

Marco Grassi’s “Pink experience n.731,” will be at Liquid Art System for this year’s Art Wynwood in downtown Miami. (Photo courtesy Liquid Art System)

The art fair takes place in tandem with the nearby and much bigger Miami International Boat Show, which is owned by the same parent company, Informa. The firm also runs the trifecta of Art Miami, Context, and Aqua during Miami Art Week and Palm Beach Modern + Contemporary in March and sees Art Wynwood as a way to take advantage of customers coming to the boat show.

But while last year’s edition benefitted from two satellite fairs – art-focused Superfine and the artist’s book fair Tropic Bound – both have taken this year off. Tropic Bound’s next edition won’t be until 2025, and Superfine appears to be focusing on other cities like San Francisco in March and New York City in May.

For Navarro, this doesn’t change much. He sees an advantage to being the only game in town for art collectors this weekend. For one, attendees aren’t wasting time trying to get to every other fair.

“(During Miami Art Week) it takes two hours just to cross the bridge, right? I think with Wynwood, it’s a good place,” he says. “The collectors are going to spend more time there. They don’t need to go to other places because there are no other places.”

Silvia Berton,“Petricore,” will be shown by Liquid Art System at this year’s Art Wynwood. (Photo courtesy Liquid Art System)

Navarro also feels the year will be better overall. The art market is cooling down after a brief post-pandemic boom, where business was frequently conducted online or over the phone. Now, collectors and gallerists alike are going into fairs to get facetime, and they’re being more intentional with what’s being bought and sold.

“Right now, I feel like the market is leveling up,” says Navarro. “You’re not going to see people coming to buy a lot of things without knowing (about the art). And I feel like collectors are being more responsible in how they support not only the galleries, but the artists.”

WHAT: Art Wynwood

WHEN:  VIP Preview 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14, Regular viewing: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 15 to 17, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18.

WHERE: The Art Wynwood Pavilion, One Herald Plaza (Biscayne Bay & 14th St.), Miami

 COST: $38, one-day general admission; $28 for one-day senior and student (12 to 18); $68, multi-day pass; $230, VIP pass.

 INFORMATION: 305-517-7977 or artwynwood.com 

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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Erotika Biennale Wants to Change the Conversation About Sex and Art

Written By Douglas Markowitz
February 2, 2024 at 5:03 PM

Above, artwork by Nicole Salcedo. The artist will open their studio to visitors during the Erotika Biennale, being held throughout the month of February (Photo by Nicole Salcedo/Courtesy of ClitSplash)

In today’s culture, it can seem like sex is everywhere and nowhere. The media is as replete with stories about polyamory, porn addiction, and OnlyFans content ranches in central Florida. And if certain studies are to be believed, young people are having less sex than ever (possibly because of all that freely-available porn). Meanwhile, social media platforms like Instagram are so puritanical about nudity that even their board is getting tired of it. It’s all a bit confusing.

“Younger generations have technology access and use that is, frankly, sometimes out of control,” says Tam Gryn, a Miami-based art historian, curator, and researcher.  “They spend most of their time, and most of their social interactions happen in the metaverse, or in some sort of digital or gaming platform. So this generation is less used to being physical, both in a social context and also in a sexual context.”

Artworks by Ras Aagave and Jaqueline Michelle. The Erotika Biennale will host discussions and studio visits for similar erotic artwork. (Photo by JN Silva/Courtesy of ClitSplash)

Gryn’s work with ClitSplash, an erotic art collective co-founded by fellow curators Luisa Ausenda and Gladys Garrote, involves demystifying and destigmatizing art with sexual themes. That’s certainly the goal of their next project, the Erotika Biennale, a festival of erotic art debuting in February at venues across Miami. With a schedule including film screenings, panel discussions, studio visits, and live exhibitions, the program attempts to provide an elevated, inclusive, and safe platform for the exploration of erotic art, one that prioritizes perspectives and experiences from outside of traditional, patriarchal views on sex.

“(We’re) looking at art and culture, not from the male gaze only, but trying to be as inclusive as possible, putting a big focus on women’s perspectives,” says Gryn. “So, most of the artists that we work with and that we select are in line with this.”

Aiming to reach a wide-ranging audience of varying comfort levels, offerings at the biennale range from tame panel discussions to BDSM demonstrations. A $60 ticket gains access to most events. The festival kicks off on Friday, Feb. 2 with a screening of ethically created erotic films by  Swedish filmmaker Erika List at The Wilzig Erotic Art Museum.

Artist and sexual freedom coach Jaqueline Michelle will host a demonstration of tantra and shibari during the Biennale. (Photo by JN Silva/Courtesy of ClitSplash)

With an esteemed collection of art from around the world, the WEAM is the defacto home base for the Biennale. Other events taking place there over the month include an art talk featuring experts from the well-regarded Kinsey Institute on Thursday, Feb. 15 and demonstrations of tantra and shibari (Japanese rope bondage) on Thursday, Feb. 8. Several Spanish-language panels are also scheduled

The organizers also wanted to make sure Miami’s robust, yet stigmatized local erotic art scene was included. Studio visits of various artists are in the offing, some of whom have never opened their practices to the public before. An evening of classy striptease performances from Lotus Exotic Conscious Cabaret will also take place on Saturday, Feb. 10, aiming to offer a way to appreciate the form outside of the often misogynistic confines of a strip club.

The group’s work builds upon that of Naomi Wilzig, the WEAM’s intrepid founder who passed away in 2015. The socialite and real estate heiress turned to collecting erotic art in her later years, advocating for public acceptance of sexuality in popular culture and opening the museum in 2005. In a 2002 Miami Herald profile she declared herself “a crusader to get John Q. Public to accept that erotic art is out there. We accept violence, but we go crazy over the idea of a nude body.”

Tam Gryn, an art historian, curator, and researcher, is also part of ClitSplash, an erotic art collective, the organizers of Erotika Biennale. (Photo by Romina Hendlin)

Along with this robust local community, it wasn’t just the fact that ClitSplash is based in Miami that made the group decide to launch the Biennale here. As Gryn describes, Miami’s permissive atmosphere was part of the appeal, especially in comparison to other places in Florida. The group has run into obstacles running events elsewhere, such as a Pride-themed exhibition they held last year at MadArts in Dania Beach.

“Miami is honestly a very sexual city, and we felt like it was ripe for this kind of offering more than other cities,” Gryn says. “Maybe it’s the fact that it’s hot in terms of weather, and the way people are comfortable with their bodies, or even more stereotypical things like, you know, the availability and popularity of plastic surgery. There’s a lot of things about Miami, both good and bad, both stereotypical and nascent, that could classify Miami as a very openly sexual place.”

Clitsplash, the organizers of the Erotika Biennale, previously hosted similar events such as an exhibition at MAD Arts in Dania Beach. (Photo by JN Silva/courtesy of ClitSplash)

In Miami, the group has found willing partners, including the WEAM, the soon-to-open satellite of the New York-based Museum of Sex, which will be housed in Miami’s Allapattah arts district, and the music venue ZeyZey on NE 61st St in Little River, which will host the closing party on Saturday, Feb. 24.

“There’s so many artists creating really beautiful sublime art, digital or regular, that is erotic, and they cannot show it or market it in traditional platforms like social media because it gets banned,” says Gryn. “There’s this beautiful sort of underground market of collectors and artists that appreciate this kind of work about the human body and sexuality, that is not on the surface (of culture) because of the nature of censorship that we live with.”

WHAT: Erotika Biennale

WHERE: Wilzig Erotic Art Museum, 1201 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, and venues throughout Miami

WHEN: Friday, Feb. 2 through Wednesday, Feb. 28

 COST: $60, shotgun.live/festivals/the-erotika-biennale

 INFORMATION: theerotikabiennale.com

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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Mindy Shrago’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ at Club Gallery Spans a Lifetime

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
January 16, 2024 at 1:46 AM

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.

Mindy Shrago co-founded Young At Art Museum in Broward County with her mother, Esther, in 1997. Shown circa 2012-2013 with the interactive installation “Kenny’s Closet” by Kenny Scharf. (Photo courtesy of Young At Arts 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.

Mindy Shrago, “Cut Along The Dotted Line,” 1977, 8”x12”x12,” underglaze on ceramic, knife. (Photo courtesy of Ben Morey)

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.”

Mindy Shrago, “Ice Cream Cones”(edition of 38), 1980-2024, 7”x3”x3,” underglaze on ceramic, acrylic base. (Photo courtesy of Ben Morey)

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.

Clay and ceramic artist Mindy Shrago’s career-spanning solo show opens Saturday, Jan. 20, at Club Gallery, Miami. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

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.”

Mindy Shrago, “Flamingos in Flight,” with ceramic push pin, 2020, 4”x6”
underglaze on ceramic. (Photo courtesy of Ben Morey)

“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.

COST: Free

INFORMATION: 914-787-9270, clubgallery.com or mindyshrago.com.

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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Botanical art installations by landscape designers enhance Lincoln Road

Written By Jonel Juste
December 20, 2023 at 4:44 PM

Orchids on Lincoln Road in Living Art Festival, a botanical art installation through April 30 in Miami Beach. (Photo courtesy of The Dana Agency)

Art is everywhere including in nature. Case in point, the Living Art Festival on Miami Beach, a botanical art installation, that fuses natural elements with artistic creativity.

The festival was initiated by the Lincoln Road Business Improvement District (BID) in collaboration with the city of Miami Beach and five local landscape designers: The Miami Beach Botanical Garden, the Miami Beach Garden Club, Habitat, ULU Studio, L&ND Design, and Urban Robot Associates.

The installation by Urban Robot Associates at the Living Art Festival on Lincoln Road. (Photo courtesy of The Dana Agency)

Through April 30, 2024, the work of Living Art creators will be exhibited in redesigned landscape planters along Lincoln Road, spanning from Meridian to Washington avenues, particularly between the 400 and 700 blocks.

Lyle Stern, president of the Lincoln Road BID, says that the initiative draws inspiration from international botanical festivals such as the International Garden Festival in Quebec and the Festival des Jardins de la Côte d’Azur in France.

“Each designer (brought) their creative vision to life, enhancing existing planters with custom designs centered around flowers, plants, art, and ground coverings. The goal was to engage and partner with Miami Beach-based landscape architects and the Miami Beach Botanical Garden to expand on the lush landscaping on Lincoln Road and create engaging moments,” says Stern.

Ben Noyes, showcasing his work at 690 Euclid in collaboration with Overland Landscape and Plant the Future, emphasizes that the design not only offers visual stimuli but also engages the senses of hearing, smell, touch, and taste. The inclusivity takes into consideration individuals with sensory disabilities, providing various ways to experience the design.

“We thought about how most landscapes are typically experienced visually and really wanted this to be a space that evokes all the senses,” says Noyes.

Ben Noyes from HABITAT with his botanical art  installation. (Photo courtesy of HABITAT)

Noyes further connects the project to the concept of biophilic design, highlighting the inherent fusion of nature and art and the human connection with nature. The aim is to encourage an immersive experience that engages all the senses in appreciating both art and nature, he says.

Urban Robot Associates is showcasing “Butterfly Wishes,” which repurposes living plants as sculpture, emphasizing their significance and offering a novel perspective on nature. Justine Velez describes the exhibit as “interactive and immersive,” allowing viewers to admire, touch, move, listen, sit, speak, and even inhabit the space.

ULU Studio, a boutique landscape architecture studio, whose work is in outdoor spaces for urban parks, and L&ND Design, an environmental planning and landscape designer, updated the planters on the 700 block of Lincoln Road in collaboration with Overland Landscape and Orchidscapes for the installation.

Beehives, inspired by wild bees, were fabricated using burlap and organic lime-based paint in Miami Beach Botanical Garden and Miami Beach Garden Club’s Living Arts installation. (Photo courtesy of  Lincoln Road BID)

The Miami Beach Botanical Garden joined forces with the Miami Beach Garden Club to reimagine the 600 block of Lincoln Road, which they turned into a Pollinator Pathway.

“We curated a garden with plants capable of supporting pollinators in a challenging urban environment, ” says Derwyn Cowdy of the Miami Beach Botanical Garden. “The organic materials used on the project warmly echo the inherent message. Lincoln Road is a unique shopping experience alongside historic architecture and a botanical garden. Our living art exhibit offers an immersive and educational addition.”

The botanical art was activated on Dec. 12.

Lyle Stern, president of the Lincoln Road Business Improvement District (BID) at the opening of the Living Art Festival. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Road BID)

“Within a few months, each of these exhibits will have bloomed, transforming Lincoln Road into a flowering, living art garden,” says Stern.

He predicts plans for the future of the Living Arts Festival.

“Our goal is to grow this exhibit yearly and make it among the go-to immersive botanical exhibits in the world. Given the density of the base we start with (all of Lincoln Road’s plants and trees) – we start from a strong position,” says Stern.

WHAT:  Living Art Festival

WHERE: Lincoln Road, from Meridian to Washington, between 400 and 700 blocks, Miami Beach

 WHEN:   Through April 30, 2024

COST:  Free

INFORMATION: 305-600-0219 or lincolnroad.com

 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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Report from Art Basel MB 2023: An Interview with Art Activist Pussy Riot

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
December 8, 2023 at 1:46 PM

“This art is a hammer that shapes reality” (2023), part of a series by Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova now at Art Basel Miami Beach. The artist has other works at Art Miami and SCOPE Miami art fairs during Miami Art Week. (Photo courtesy of Pussy Riot)

I meet Nadya Tolokonnikova for our interview inside the Miami Beach Convention Center amid the crush of people at the first VIP preview day of Art Basel Miami Beach 2023.

She is flanked by her publicist, a few out-of-town journalists and Lauren Taschen, one of the original members of the team of the now- legendary Art Basel Miami Beach since its inception in 2001.

There’s a buzz surrounding Tolokonnikova’s appearance at Art Basel by people who have followed her activism art and her political activism activations.

“It’s my first time here as an artist. I’ve been coming to Art Basel for the last 10 years to see it, but it is the first time for me to be on this side of Basel, because, well I haven’t been important enough usually to get a preview ticket. But for me, that’s good because I like to be with everyone else,” she says unassumingly.

“Holy Squirt,” Pussy Riot’s take on a holy font. “Holy Squirt” baptizes believers in the Holy Rainbow Church of Matriarchy. A series of the fonts are at SCOPE Miami. (Photo courtesy of Pussy Riot)

News breaks the same day as the preview opening on Wednesday, Dec. 6, that Tolokonnikova, the creator of the notorious Russian feminist protest art collective Pussy Riot, had reached a deal with STX Entertainment to develop a scripted series based on her still unfinished memoir.

The young girl from Siberia who moved to Moscow at 16 is famous at 34. Convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” along with fellow Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich in August 2012 after an impromptu protest performance against President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, she was sentenced to two years at a labor camp. Not long after her release, she and other members of the group protested at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. Uniformed Russian Cossacks surrounded the group, and they were attacked with whips.

“I’m a strong believer in persistence and in being consistent with what you do,” she says.

Nadya-Tolokonnikova in Moscow, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Pussy Riot)

Just a few weeks before her Basel appearance, on Nov. 24, a Moscow court ordered the arrest of Tolokonnikova in absentia. She faces a two-month incarceration when she crosses the Russian border or extradition back to Russia. “Today I’m on Russia’s most wanted list, labeled as a foreign agent . . .,” she says.

She was put on Russia’s most-wanted list for “obscene” NFTs. That NFT was titled “Virgin Mary, Please Become a Feminist,” sold on the cryptoart platform SuperRare in 2021. One could be led to believe that it wasn’t so much the NFT, but a gallery show “Putin’s Ashes” at Jeffrey Deitch in Los Angeles in early 2023 that prompted scrutiny once again of the artist.

The invitation to see the Los Angeles show and Nadya’s public art performance was to join and see the “protest against the authoritarian leader of Russia who started the biggest war in Europe since World War II.”

“Putin’s Ashes,” a 10 X 10-foot portrait, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Pussy Riot)

“Putin’s Ashes” began in August 2022 when Pussy Riot burned a 10 x 10-foot portrait of the Russian president, performed rituals and cast spells aimed at chasing Putin away. Tolokonnikova bottled the ashes of the burned portrait and incorporated them into art objects.

But today we are here to talk about her work at three locations for Miami Art Week.

At Art Basel Miami Beach at the Miami Beach Convention Center, at the Jeffrey Deitch Gallery booth (A2), a series of three works “This art is a hammer that shapes reality.” (2023).

At SCOPE Miami Beach, between 8th and 10th streets at 801 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, there is a series of sculptures made of 100 percent wax, “Fragile Masculinity” (2023) which gives the collector/buyer the choice of what to do with the piece:  “Lighting the wick of this sculpture burns down the patriarchal systems of oppression.” The artist instructs that it can be burned or preserved by the collector.

Works at the Turner Caroll Gallery booth at Art Miami, One Herald Plaza, downtown Miami, are “Icons (2023),” a take on traditional religious tropes and “Knife Play” (2002), a series of handcrafted prison shives in faux fur frames.

She compares her career as an artist to that of a cultural worker.

“St. Matriarch,” part of “Icons” (2023), Pussy Riot’s take on the traditional religious tropes. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

“It’s a very pragmatic perspective on it. Cultural worker creates a different perspective to me because it’s humbling. And it’s not about artists expressing necessarily all of their feelings, only those feelings that are helpful for society to learn something new about itself. That way, I’m not centering my art about myself. I’m bringing myself into the art only when it makes sense for conveying my message,” she says.

Tolokonnikova says she was asked about the goal of her art during an interview with a Russian journalist recently.

“My goal is not to talk to the other side, to people who hate me. My goal is to meet people who are on my team to help them feel more empowered and feel like they have a voice,” she says.

Then the subject turns to censorship and her fight against it — something that has landed her in difficult and life-threatening positions.

“Self-censorship is really the backbone of a modern authoritarian regime,” says Tolokonnikova.

She admits: “I have a lot of fears. I love comfort, I love being alive. I don’t love being in jail. I’m like everyone else. But these ideas are central to my life and in my practice that fear is an instrument of authoritarian regimes. And I think spreading this courage . . . Courage is not an absolute category. It’s not a coin that you can have in your pocket. It’s fluid. One day you have more of it, one day, you have less. And it’s important for me to spread this message and inject that into places like Art Basel, SCOPE, Art Miami.”

The artist with her work “Fragile Masculinity (2023, sculpture). A series of “Fragile Masculinity” is on display at Art Miami, Turner Carroll Gallery booth. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Shortly after the Miami appearances, Tolokonnikova was hopping on a plane to head to Dallas, Texas, where she’ll be speaking at the opening of “Nadya Tolkonnikova: Putin’s Ashes” on view at Dallas Contemporary through Jan. 8, 2024.

And ongoing is work on the memoir.

“(The book) starts from my childhood upbringing,” says Tolokonnikova.

The artist is one of those people who looks into your soul when she speaks. And this is what happens as she describes the memoir that will be turned into the deal for the scripted series.

Born in the Siberian arctic town of Norilsk, she says she became involved in performance art after moving to Moscow in 2007 then co-founded Pussy Riot in 2011. The group began organizing unauthorized live performances of political punk music and wearing brightly colored balaclavas, their faces covered with only their eyes and mouths exposed.

“It’s truly a story of how a little girl from Siberia from the outskirts decided ‘I’m going to make political art and I’m going to move to Moscow,’ then everyone told her, ‘You’re not going to be able to move to Moscow, you don’t have money to have connections.’ My parents did not support me in that my mom was strictly against it. But I just got a ticket to Moscow when I was 16. And I was very results-oriented and very determined. So, to me, it’s a story about dreams and the power of dreams. And I think ultimately, most of my art and my statements, and movies or series, I make for a 16-year-old version of myself in a parallel reality living somewhere else. Let’s say, it’s Indianapolis, and a girl’s parents tell her you cannot do this. I want to instill this idea in her that you can fight for your dreams, and you can get closer to that.”

She pauses for a moment, then says: “I’m not trying to paint rose-colored glasses like everything is possible. Sometimes you get shot in the back in front of Kremlin like my friend Boris Nemtsov, a politician who went against Putin. (Nemtsov was a Russian opposition politician and a former deputy prime minister who was murdered in 2015 when someone in a car shot him four times in the back as he crossed a bridge in view of the Kremlin, according to police). Sometimes you get sent to jail and it’s not an easy task, but you can fight for it, and you can make some of your dreams possible.”

Members of the radical feminist punk group Pussy Riot stage a protest against Vladimir Putin’s policies in Moscow. STX Entertainment has reached a deal with Nadya Tolokonnikova, the artist, activist, and creator of Pussy Riot, to develop a limited scripted series. (Photo courtesy of Pussy Riot)

Tolkonnikova says that she doesn’t live on pipe dreams – that the political activism through her art or any of the other acts of protest may not dissuade minds already made up. She talks about Pussy Riot’s appearance at the Indiana State House in early November protesting the state’s near-total abortion ban.

“We came to Indiana with a God Save Abortion action. People tell me, ‘Your art is so gruff, it’s so abrasive. It’s not going to change the opinion of a person who is against abortion.’ You know what? I don’t think it’s gonna change it, but I think it’s probably going to empower the younger version of myself to feel like, ‘Well, I don’t have to follow what my conservative friends tell me, or my parents, or my government to tell me what do with my life.’ ”

At the state house in downtown Indianapolis, Tolkonnikova led 18 women, reportedly mostly female students from Indiana University. Newspaper reports described the group as dressed in black slips and boots, wearing balaclava face coverings gathering outside of the statehouse.

Within minutes, they had inflated a large pink vagina and began filming. It was a peaceful protest. And no one was arrested or sent to a labor camp.

WHAT: Nadya Tolkonnikova: Pussy Riot at Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Miami, and SCOPE art fairs

WHERE: Miami Beach Convention Center, 1901 Convention Center Drive, Miami Beach; Art Miami, One Herald Plaza, Miami; SCOPE Miami, 801 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach 

WHEN: Through Sunday, Dec. 10. Art Basel Miami Beach: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, Dec. 8, Saturday, Dec. 9 and Sunday, Dec. 10;  Art Miami, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, Saturday, Dec. 9 and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 10.; SCOPE, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 8, Saturday, Dec. 9 and Sunday, Dec. 10.

COST: $150, $95, $75, $60, $58 depending on venue. 

INFORMATION:  artbasel.com, artmiami.com, scope-art.com

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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‘A Call to the Ancestors’ ponders, honors those who came before us

Written By Karen-Janine Cohen
November 30, 2023 at 4:11 PM

Morel Ducet’s “Bones of Belonging: Skulls as Markers of Resilience and Identity,” pays homage to a diversity of cultures in “A Call to Ancestors” at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. The multi-media exhibition has been extended through Sunday, March 10. (Photo courtesy of Carl-Philippe Juste)

It all started when Carl-Philippe Juste, the storied Miami Herald photojournalist, was asked to help create an exhibit about the nearly forgotten Lincoln Memorial Park cemetery, the resting place of many early African-American Miamians.

The 2018 Coral Gables Museum show, “Caretakers,” celebrated those who stepped up, often without pay, to help maintain the Brownsville site, with its unusual above-ground mausoleums and crowded tombstones that are a witness to Miami’s African American past. The park is, in many ways, a document of the experience of Miami’s people of color. There’s hatred and racism – lynching victims are buried there. But there is also a testament to resilience, achievement and pride – U.S Armed Forces veterans rest there, as do Bahamian immigrants who helped build and settle early Miami.

Show curator Carl-Philippe Juste sits in the installation “The Parlor.” (Photo courtesy of C.W Griffin)

“I felt that the subject matter had many different things that flowed throughout the community,” said Juste, who asked himself “if the dead speak: And the answer is ‘yes.’ ”

Since then, he’d been planning the current exhibit, turning over in his mind how it should come into being. “I had the vision, then deconstructed it to build it in parts,” says Juste. “If you are willing to listen, you can hear the dead speak, so the idea is: what are they saying to us, and how can I tap into that?”

Those ideas form the genesis of “A Call to the Ancestors,” at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, curated by Juste. It’s an alchemy of visual art, installation, documentary, poetry, essays and narrative that inquire what those who came before us still have to say. And, it invites those connections to inform our lives, while enlarging the Lincoln Memorial Park story.

The show, which runs through March, is a collaboration of The Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance of which Juste is the executive director of its board, and Florida International University entities, including the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab, and the Mellon Foundation-funded project: Commons for Justice: Race, Risk, Resilience. FIU history professor Rebecca Friedman, who founded the humanities lab, and is co-director of the Mellon Foundation grant, encountered Juste at the Coral Gables Museum show and knew his project was a perfect fit for the foundation.

In “Cleansing,” Lincoln Memorial Park cemetery caretaker Arthur Kennedy helps keep the site clean. (Photo courtesy of Carl-Philippe Juste)

“You have images of the caretakers, those who are searching for buried history, and then the other part of the exhibition is really about the ways the ancestors continue to speak,” says Friedman.

Along with a documentary about and photos of the cemetery, the show celebrates “the rituals of transition,” from Haitian, Central and South American, Caribbean and Native American communities that complement the focus on the African American experience in Miami.

The exhibit’s first section includes essays by columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., and Miami Herald reporter C. Isaiah Smalls II, with their calls to remember and celebrate Black history and experience, plus poetry by award-winning Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat, along with artwork, much of it created specifically for the show.

Especially arresting are the brightly colored ceramic skulls by noted Haitian-born ceramic artist Morel Doucet. Titled  “Bones to Belonging: Skulls as Markers of Resilience and Identity,” it references not only Latin America and Mexican traditions, but seem to evoke a celebratory intimacy with those who have passed.

“Beast of Burden,” by Edouard Duval Carrié, is both magical and horrifying. (Photo courtesy of Carl-Philippe Juste)

Doucet noted In an interview with Colossal, the online arts and culture site, that the subject matter and imagery are not what he typically explores, but in this commissioned piece, he said, “I wanted to find a way to pay homage to various cultures. Blackness is not a monolith–you have Haitians, Bahamians, Jamaicans, Black Americans–and so I wanted to find ways to represent that diversity, which is why all the skulls are slightly different.”

In “Vidrio: The Face in the Glass,” novelist Ana Menéndez painted a portrait of her grandmother, her face surrounded with buttons, an homage to her mastery with needle, thread and fabric, intertwined with stories and narrative.

Yet Juste’s interactive installation, “The Parlor” is possibly the most moving. A chair in what looks like a home’s alcove is flanked by a bookshelf and a mirror. Photos of Juste’s family nestle beside the books. There is a house plant. A rotary phone sits nearby. Visitors, who see themselves in a gilded mirror, can pick up the phone and leave a message for their own departed family members.

“You need space to connect with people,” says Juste, noting that the installation is an homage to his parents. “Whenever I have a problem I call upon them – and if it works for me I figure it might work for others. So I give then a vehicle to at least start the conversation.” “The Parlor,” he says, is a vessel to have difficult – or lovely – conversations, “I am not one who believes in goodbyes.” The entire exhibit, he notes, “Is a conversation happening on both ends.”


(Go Inside “A Call to The Ancestors” Catalogue)

Juste’s parents are known and celebrated in Miami, and are considered the moving spirits in establishing Little Haiti. In 2022, NE 59th Street from North Miami Avenue to NE Fourth Court, was named for Viter and Maria Juste.

Moving toward the exhibit’s second room, one encounters large format photos of the cemetery, many by Juste. Those include poignant images of caretakers, including Arthur Kennedy, looking like an angel of protection, and a tattered American flag overseeing an armada of above-ground tombs.

In “Frayed Glory,” a weathered American flag still waves above the graves at Lincoln Memorial Park cemetery. Photo courtesy of Carl-Philippe Juste)

At the far wall is a piece by celebrated Haitian-born artist Edouard Duval Carrié titled “Beast of Burden,” an absorbing, magical work that speaks to the unpaid labor of those kidnapped from Africa and brought to the Americas.

The show, which opened in September, was originally slated to close in November but has been extended through March. It is now also expected to travel to other venues, which may include historically Black colleges and universities.

WHAT: “A Call to the Ancestors”

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday; Saturday and Sunday times may vary based on programming and events, through Sunday, March 10. 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 8, Art Week studio open house with Edouard Duval-Carrié’s studio, IPC ArtSpace, and other venues at the complex open for visitors.

WHERE: Little Haiti Cultural Center 212-260 NE 59th Terrace, Miami

COST: Free

INFORMATION: (305) 960-2969 or miami.gov/LHCC

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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Raymond Elman’s Portraits Tell Stories at the Jewish Museum

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
November 30, 2023 at 3:21 PM

Raymond Elman’s “Pictured Above Is At Least One Person Who Loves the Boston Red Sox and Edward Hopper’s House,” Morton Dean, 2014, 60 X 40, is one of the 27 portraits featured in an exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU through March 3.

(Photo courtesy of Raymond Elman)Artist Raymond Elman’s work is true to the phrase, “every picture tells a story.”

Notable people that the artist has encountered in his life and with whom he has forged formidable relationships come together in “Raymond Elman: The Portraits” at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU in Miami Beach, where the exhibition will be on display now through March 3.

The presentation makes viewers feel like they are privy to a gathering of who’s who.

The 27 portraits include two stages of Elman’s artistic life – his time living on the tip of Cape Cod beginning in the 1970s and his settling in Miami in 2012. He now lives in Aventura.

Raymond Elman in his Miami studio with his portraits in the background. (Photo by Lee Skye, courtesy of Raymond Elman)

Narrowing the show to a little more than two dozen out of the hundreds he’s created since he began his portraitures in the late 1980s came down to the connectivity Elman feels with each subject.

“In some cases, they are ones I like the best and of the people I like the best, but another element is that I have done interviews with almost every one of them,” he said.

Accompanying the works are QR codes that lead to interviews that Elman conducted for the e-publication ArtSpeak, of which he is the founding editor-in-chief, and part of FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + the Arts (CARTA).

“Saint Robert at the Haulover Cut.” Robert Zuckerman, 2021. 60 x 40 inches. Mixed-media on canvas. (Photo courtesy of Raymond Elman)

Elman says the multi-media experience offers visitors insight into his subjects — the sort of candidness that makes his work so interesting and enlightening.

He stood in front of his portrait of Miami artist Michele Oka Doner.

“I remember I asked Michele what would be a location that was meaningful to her? And she said, ‘Well, a banyan tree’ and it was the one right across the street from where she grew up in Miami Beach.” Elman says that in the interview accessed via QR code, Oka Doner goes into details of how the banyan tree became part of the Florida landscape … “How it got here and how the trees wound up propagating, spreading.”

“Banyan Tree.” Michele Oka Doner, 2017. 40 x 60 inches. Mixed-media on canvas. (Photo courtesy of Raymond Elman)

Elman hadn’t thought about creating representational art until 1989. He had been laser-focused on abstract art after his graduate studies at NYU where he met his mentor Knox Martin, a painter, sculptor and muralist. (Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Elman got his undergraduate and MBA degrees at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.)

“He was the one art teacher who made me believe in myself, he changed my life,” recalls Elman of Martin. He created abstract art during the 1970s and 80s. But in 1989, Elman began dabbling in portraits. “I never intended to do representational art,” he admits.

The first of the portraits followed his wife, Lee’s, pregnancy.  The next were of his son, Evan.

“I so enjoyed (creating these) that I decided that I wanted to document my life and the Outer Cape Cod Art Colony (Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet) by doing portraits of other people.”


(Go Inside the Exhibition at the JMOF)

He developed a technique, he explains, where the portraits begin as photographs, then he enlarges them and prints them on up to 20 multiple sheets of archival 11 x 17-inch paper, using a large-scale high-resolution printer. He soaks the printouts in water and adheres them to canvas using a polymer resin, then he paints over the image with oil paint.

“I don’t call myself a photographer because I don’t know much about my camera. I call myself an artist or painter who uses photography as an element. One of the things that I thought was one of my strengths as an abstract artist was the juxtaposition of shapes to create a dynamic tension. And now that kind of happens for me automatically.”

When he and Lee picked up and left the Cape for Miami full time in 2012 after being snowbirds in a Miami Beach condo since 2001, he knew he wanted to continue his documentation of people. “We moved to Miami because of the explosions of art communities here so we were just transferring from one art colony to another as far as I was concerned,” he said.

“BIMA (Back in Miami Again).” Lourdes Lopez, 2016. 60 x 40 inches. Mixed-media on canvas. (Photo courtesy of Raymond Elman)

Elman remembers how his first Miami portrait came to be. He was watching Cuban American Richard Blanco, who was raised in Miami, read his poem, “One Day,” on television during President Obama’s inauguration in 2013. That’s when he decided Blanco was the one to start the next chapter of his portraiture documentation.

“La Carreta.” Richard Blanco, 2014. 40 x 60 inches. Mixed-media on canvas. (Photo courtesy of Raymond Elman)

“I told him, like I say to all my subjects … we should capture a place that has meaning to you. And we went to La Carreta.” The colorful background of the interior of the Little Havana restaurant as a backdrop to Blanco’s portrait is made even more brilliant with Elman’s oil painting technique.


(Richard Blanco talks about reading his poem at Obama’s inaguration)

At the museum, Elman stopped in front of one of the first paintings encountered in the show. It’s of newsman Morton Dean and part of the artist’s Cape Cod series. Its title is, “Pictured Above Is At Least One Person Who Loves the Boston Red Sox and Edward Hopper’s House.”

Dean wears a Red Sox hat in the foreground and the American realist painter’s house is in the background.

“He told me he used to go on a walk,” says Elman, adding that Dean had a house on the Cape in Truro, Mass., close to Hopper’s and not far from where Elman lived at the time. “Mort would find all these used paint tubes and stuff like that, and he would collect them as artifacts.”

Then he adds, “Morton Dean, as a matter of fact, is the first person to buy a painting of mine. It was an abstract painting in 1971. I know he still has it hanging in his house.”

WHAT: “Raymond Elman: The Portraits”

 WHERE: Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, 301 Washington Ave., Miami Beach

 WHEN:  10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, through March 2

 COST: $12, $10 seniors and students, JMOF members, FIU faculty, staff and students, children under 6, free

 INFORMATION:  305-672-5044 or jmof.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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