Archives: Visual Arts

James Prosek’s natural curiosity is on view at the Lowe Art Museum

Written By George Fishman
July 10, 2019 at 11:00 AM

In selecting artist James Prosek for a major exhibition, Lowe Art Museum director Jill Deupi reached back to her days at the Fairfield University Art Museum in Connecticut, where she first met and exhibited (in 2011) the young but accomplished artist and writer, who lived nearby. While a quick scan of his wildlife-themed paintings suggests a straightforward celebration of nature through masterful realism, there’s lots more going on here. 

As Deupi notes during a gallery tour, “There are multiple points of entry, and it’s up to the viewer to decide how to engage.” If one chooses to look deeper than the pleasures of seeing majestic animals, exquisitely portrayed, there’s the level of Prosek’s messaging about our relationship to the natural world and how we seek to tame it — literally with dams, canals and fences and figuratively with our naming systems. 

Some of his imagery derives from the documentary traditions of 18th century explorer-naturalist-illustrator-collectors who also promulgated the Linnaean taxonomy (class, order, family, genus, species, etc.), an attempt to impose order upon the bewildering chaos of nature. Prosek’s life-size fish from the Florida-Atlantic region, painted on tea-stained paper, dramatically showcase his mastery of this European tradition of representation, as well as those of India and China. Prosek is a hardcore observer. Each highly nuanced principal subject is accompanied by detailed, annotated field sketches of plants and crustaceans that share its habitat.

He actually witnessed his “Atlantic Great White Shark” being captured near Cape Cod. Fascinated by the dramatic shifts of sheen and coloration that telegraphed the animal’s visceral reaction to peril, the artist managed to portray its variegated skin tones in a combination of materials that include watercolor, gouache, colored pencil, graphite and iridescent mica powder. Rendered in its daunting 12-foot length, open-mouthed and equipped with razor-sharp teeth, this predator appears formidable and menacing, but paradoxically, its flattened presentation suggests a mounted specimen rather than a struggling captive.

An array of black silhouettes of Everglades flora and fauna, like those found in a field guide — except life-size — runs the length of the gallery, forming an impressive mural. While Prosek was in town creating this commissioned feature — with assistance from Lowe staffers — Deupi eagerly introduced him to a family of macaws that performs raucous daily flyovers along South Dixie Highway. Native to the tropical rainforests of South America, these birds likely escaped captivity during Hurricane Andrew. As Deupi puts it, “the result of ruthless nature intervening with man’s intervention.” Now residing in the area, they became inspirations for Prosek. 

His Audubon-worthy, watercolor of a blue-and-yellow macaw includes a red mangrove branch and a morning glory flower. Prosek reprises the macaw for a larger painting, where he adds a similarly realistic Burmese python, but again juxtaposes black silhouetted butterflies, birds, plants and numerals. The mix of stylistic representations introduces an unsettling conceptual twist, contributing to what makes Prosek a contemporary artist.

James Prosek’s “Paradise Lost 1 (Burmese Python and Blue and Yellow Macaw, Everglades)” is on view through Sept. 8 at the Lowe Art Museum in Coral Gables. Image courtesy Prosek and the museum.

Other nonnative species also contribute to the conceptual intrigue. “A Tyger for William Blake” depicts a tiger and a leopard, locked in an intimate tangle. Are they fighting or engaged in foreplay that could result in a hybrid creature adapted to the warmer, wetter Florida of the future? Like Blake, the Romantic-era artist-mystic poet, Prosek seems to question the design and origins of life. “The reason we included these works,” Deupi says, “even though it’s not the Everglades, is because it’s the logical extension of what’s happening now if you can have lionfish and Burmese pythons.” 

Inspired by his childhood exposure to Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History and its famous dioramas (combining painted backgrounds with rocks, trees and taxidermy specimens), this old-school format is Prosek’s latest undertaking. “Paradise Lost 2,” created this year, features a meticulously painted Everglades background with a section of ash tree in the foreground, supporting a trompe-l’oeil ceramic ghost orchid. It’s an uncanny tour-de-force tribute. 

Prosek isn’t a loud proponent of environmental causes, but the World Trout Initiative he co-founded has raised millions of dollars for cold-water habitat conservation, and his work clearly seeks to deepen audiences’ appreciation of the world we share. Moreover, as the Lowe’s communications specialist Bridget O’Brien suggests, “Some of his ideas about invasive species have correlation to the conversations we’re having about human migration.” 

Deupi readily connects two other exhibitions the museum is hosting, whose themes are equally topical and provocative.

Billie Grace Lynn’s “Hoodie” is on view through Sept. 15. Image courtesy Lynn and the museum.

“A House Divided” is the latest of artist and University of Miami instructor Billie Grace Lynn’s probing explorations of social conflict. Using her students as subjects, models and informants, she has created a multilayered, audience-participatory project that addresses the raw issues of race-based inequality, discrimination and disrespect. It comprises an online forum; a three-hour video of intimate testimonials; a teetering reflective obelisk; and an adjacent, 22-foot-tall, hollow, veil-like “hoodie” sculpture, suspended from the ceiling, that visitors can enter for another kind of reflection.

“Visions of Place: Complex Geographies in Contemporary Israeli Art” was curated by Martin Rosenberg from Rutgers and J. Susan Isaacs from Towson University. The exhibition presents work by 33 artists from Israel’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities. Some express despairing or angry visions, but there’s captivating beauty and humor, as well — effective when dealing with sensitive topics. Tamir Zadok, for example, has set up a rack of travel postcards, showing the Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, etc. But effecting an adroit spin on the pejorative expression “wandering Jew,” he created “Wonder Jew” by superimposing images of himself proudly wearing his Israeli Army uniform in front of these iconic backgrounds. 

“James Prosek: Contra Naturam/Against Nature” is on view through Sept. 8. “Visions of Place: Complex Geographies in Contemporary Israeli Art” is on view through Aug. 4. Billie Grace Lynn: A House Divided” is on view through Sept. 15 at the Lowe Art Museum, 1301 Stanford Drive, in Coral Gables. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $12.50, $8 for seniors and non-University of Miami students, and free to Lowe members, UM students, faculty and staff, children under 12 and veterans with proper ID. Call 305-284-3535 or go to LoweMuseum.org. Listen to audio from Jill Deupi.

Top photo: James Prosek’s “Atlantic Great White Shark” courtesy the artist and the Lowe Art Museum.

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, music and performing-arts news. Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.

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MOCA extends monumental ‘My Name is Maryan,’...

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At Spinello Projects, two Miami artists are up against the clock

Written By George Fishman
July 8, 2019 at 8:12 AM

“Within Time,” a modestly scaled but momentous exhibition featuring five acrylic paintings by Eddie Arroyo and two disparate but complementary works by Agustina Woodgate, is on view through July 31 at Spinello Projects, which has returned to its one-time Allapattah venue.

The artists tackle issues of gentrification, the capricious value of labor, cultural erasure and the industrialization of time in ways both direct and subtle. The show coincides with the artists’ participation in the Whitney Biennial in New York.

Whitney Museum curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley saw works by Woodgate and Arroyo during a 2017 visit to Spinello’s expansive show “Mere Façade,” which explored the socioeconomic conditions of Little Haiti through the eyes of 20 artists. Woodgate at that time, gallerist Anthony Spinello says, “had a multilayered map that caught their attention, and Eddie had a whole wall of paintings.” 

The curators were tight-lipped about revealing too much about the evolution of the 2019 biennial, Spinello recalls, but the two artists eventually were selected. Considering that Miami-based artists have not been included in the museum’s prestigious snapshot of contemporary U.S. artmaking since 2008, the appearance of Woodgate and Arroyo in the biennial is significant for the artists, the gallery and Miami’s art community.

“Miami is having another bit of a renaissance,” says Spinello, who has been a dealer for almost 15 years. He sees it “both [in] the nature of works produced in Miami and the support artists are having in institutions. I think we are now being considered as part of bigger conversations.”

For Arroyo, who grew up in Little Havana, immigration and gentrification are prominent concerns. In 2011, he began his “Developers Survey” series, photographing buildings in the transitional neighborhoods of Wynwood, Little Haiti and Allapattah, focusing on botanicas, bodegas and other small, community-oriented businesses. Now 42, the artist was deeply moved by the work of Serge Toussaint, a Haitian-born sign painter and muralist whose vivid imagery of goats, hats, drummers, vegetables and generals conveys cultural pride, resilience and history. Arroyo laments the erasure of those murals, which often follows property sales to unsympathetic investors. Arroyo’s informal acrylic paintings spotlight the downsides of gentrification, and he has taken part in civic protests against government policies that facilitate displacement in the Little Haiti neighborhood he shares.

“If [capitalism] is the best way of doing things, shouldn’t it benefit everyone?” Arroyo asks. “And that’s the question I continue to pose to businessmen and developers. To people who are promoting themselves as bringing prosperity, I ask, ‘Prosperity for whom?’ ”

Eddie Arroyo’s “End Colonialism” was inspired by protests that occurred during the Miami artist’s participation in the 2019 Whitney Biennial in New York. Image courtesy Arroyo and Spinello Projects.

Sharing the title “5825 NE 2nd Ave. Miami, FL 33137 (Cafe Creole),” Arroyo’s four paintings selected for the Whitney Biennial depict this former restaurant at progressive stages of “whitewashing” between 2016 and 2019. Although unimposing in scale, they command attention and contribute to the extensive but nuanced societal critique the Whitney curators have orchestrated.

Even before it opened, this year’s biennial was marked by controversy. The museum’s board vice chair, Warren Kanders, was rebuked by staffers and artists for his ownership of an armaments company, though calls for his resignation have been unsuccessful. Several of Arroyo’s “Within Time” paintings at Spinello draw directly from his stay in New York during the May opening of the biennial, where he joined one protest directed against Kanders and another dramatizing the “invasion” of Chinatown by arts institutions.

His documentation of these tumultuous events includes figures carrying banners and shouting. The New Museum and Whitney facades give context to signs reading, “End colonialism” and “Chinatown is not for sale!” Arroyo’s style is satisfyingly textured and detailed, without fussiness. He readily cites the influence of Edward Hopper. 

Spinello is keenly aware of the awkward dynamic of art institutions hosting work that indicts the very power structures whose patronage helps keep the doors open. He wrestles with the practicalities of operating an unpredictable business, while also creating ambitious, noncommercial ventures that champion marginalized voices and buck the male domination and sales orientation of most art fairs. Along with Zoe Lukov, Spinello co-produced Fair (2017) and Free (2018) at Brickell City Center. Many of the artists dramatically indicted pernicious social mechanisms.

Woodgate also investigates power relationships, but through different means. A vital through-line animates her practice, which encompasses — among myriad additional forms — nomadic community radio broadcasts, hopscotch boards, rugs made from teddy-bear pelts and poems embedded in municipal sidewalks. It’s the very inquiry into what’s universal, common and public. 

“We all have hair,” she says regarding a five-year project offering free haircuts on the streets of Buenos Aires, her birthplace, “and that same thread is carried along all my work: this idea of that common thing that has potential of trespassing the objecthood and symbolizes entire systems.” 

Spinello Projects’ “Within Time” exhibition features the work of Miami artists Agustina Woodgate and Eddie Arroyo. Photo courtesy Diana Larrea.

She has broached the complex and problematic notion of political boundaries, for instance, by sanding down globes and atlases, obscuring those imposed divisions, then creating artworks from the collected ink.

She says that her piece “$8.05,” shown in “Within Time,” is “the record of a moment when $8.05 was reckoned to be the value of an hour of a person’s labor.” 

Representing Florida’s minimum wage when the piece was conceived, it consists of 16 rectangles of black and green ink dust, collected from both sides of eight one-dollar bills, painstakingly (and illegally) sanded and then adhered around the “ghosts” of those bills. She pointedly questions the disparate values of those dollars as artwork, as obliterated currency and as the wage for the labor of erasure and assembly.

“Work Out” is part of Woodgate’s series of wall-clock installations, titled “National Time.” In this iteration, eight institutional clocks, common to schools, factories and prisons, are wired together. The network’s so-called “master” clock is synchronized through the power grid and dictates conformity among the subsidiary, or “slave,” clocks. Embodying the domination represented by institutional time — and other nefarious forces — that sovereignty is cleverly undermined by Woodgate’s attachment of small sanding blocks underneath the minute hands. They slowly turn, irrevocably erasing the numerals and thus liberating themselves from the arbitrary rule of time.

“Within Time” runs through July 31 at Spinello Projects in the Gesamtkunstwerk Building, 2930 NW Seventh Ave., in Miami. Go to SpinelloProjects.com. Listen to audio clips from Spinello, Woodgate and Arroyo.

Top photo: Agustina Woodgate’s piece “$8.05,” shown here as a work in progress, features ink dust collected from eight one-dollar bills. The work is on view through July 31 at Spinello Projects. Photo courtesy Woodgate and Spinello Projects.

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, music and performing-arts news. 

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MOCA extends monumental ‘My Name is Maryan,’...

Written By Michelle F. Solomon,

The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (MOCA) spent three years creating the exhibition "My Name is Maryan," which fills 12 galleries and introduces visitors to an under-recognized artist. From here, it heads to Tel Aviv.

Miami Beach native Michele Oka Doner leaves footprint o...

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Artist Michele Oka Doner will visit the "Aspen Ideas: Climate" beginning May 9 in her native Miami Beach. Her artistic legacy has long been inspired by Florida's fragile eco-system.

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Written By Sergy Odiduro,

Presented by The55Project Art Foundation, the exhibit is running through July 16, 2022, at Miami's Fundación Pablo Atchugarry.

Purvis Young and the hope and risk of new beginnings

Written By Elisa Turner
June 18, 2019 at 8:21 PM

There was a time when self-taught artists such as Purvis Young were called “outsider artists.” The art world did not quite fathom how to identify those whose obsessive dedication to color, line and material did not generally coincide with “isms” in standard art-history books. Moreover, these artists accomplished superlative feats of the imagination without formal training. 

A culturally arrogant term, “outsider” no longer clings to Young’s art and career like stubborn lint. The late artist’s powerful work distinguishes permanent collections of national museums. It’s imbued with a fervent need to underscore social injustice, a need rooted in protest movements of the 1960s. In these polarized days of the 21st century, stained by bigotry and gun violence, Young’s art remains painfully relevant.

Sure to polish his reputation even further are showings of Young’s work this year in Miami and at the Venice Biennial in Italy, the pinnacle of art-world prestige. The grand, sometimes controversial, international showcase spotlights arguably the most compelling art for its time. 

At the Palazzo Mora for this year’s Biennial, a gathering of Young’s multimedia work from the 1980s, organized by Skot Foreman Gallery in New York, is on view through late fall. In Miami, the Rubell Museum in Wynwood is presenting “Purvis Young,” with over 100 mixed-media paintings by the artist, who died in 2010. The show opened in December during Art Basel Miami Beach to much acclaim.

Accompanying the Rubell exhibit is a 364-page, hardcover catalog with 254 color plates and several essays. It revisits the story of how Don and Mera Rubell met Young in his Wynwood warehouse studio in 1999. Afterward, the family purchased the contents of Young’s studio, including more than 3,000 paintings, hundreds of works on paper and many artist’s books. The Rubell Museum has since donated 493 paintings to museums across the country. 

Meanwhile, ICA Miami is presenting “Purvis Young: Drawings,” which opened May 16 and runs through Oct. 27. It features 19 works from roughly 1969 to 1984, with drawings from its own collection combined with loans from the Rubell Museum and Miami-Dade Public Library’s permanent art collection. The drawings, in various media on paper and other surfaces, reflect the practice of an artist who found many of his rough-hewn materials on the street and liked to incorporate into his art pages from discarded ledgers and books. This selection is curated by Gean Moreno, who contributed a scholarly essay about Young’s art to the Rubell show’s catalog. 

Purvis Young’s “Man With Eye,” a mixed-media work from 1975, is on view at ICA Miami. Image courtesy ICA Miami.

Strangely, the ICA exhibit is far less engaging than the ongoing survey at the Rubell, and not just because it is so much smaller. The drawings on view here rarely convey Young’s pulsing sense of color or the visceral impact of his calligraphic sense of line. That distinctive, roving line summoned dynamic portraits of places and faces in Overtown, where he spent years chronicling desperation, injustice and tenacity. His art “isolates the poetry of poverty, the life of the street, the cosmos of despair,” as artist César Trasobares writes in his essay “Purvis Young: Me and My People,” republished in the Rubell Museum catalog. 

Yes, Young’s signature images and themes are apparent in the selection of drawings at ICA Miami. They illustrate the contrast between violence-plagued, inner-city streets and pregnant women with swollen bellies, who evoke the hope and risk of new beginnings amid an urban landscape scarred by vast gaps between haves and have-nots. 

But too often, compositions appear muddled, hastily crowded and blurry, bereft of the intensity that makes the current selection of paintings at the Rubell Museum so commanding. For example, in “Another Killing Last Night,” from 1978 and rendered in crayon and ink, the crush of barely discernible, scribbled figures looks oddly tame despite the grim, immediate subject. 

An exception is “Man With Eye,” from 1975 and showing one of Young’s wraithlike figures with arms outstretched but uncomfortably tethered to a giant blue eye. Its power derives from the drawing’s surreal economy of line. Two other affecting drawings highlight, in wavering paint strokes, the plight of immigrants navigating tumultuous waves beyond Miami. 

The lukewarm effect of the show makes it imperative that art lovers visit the stunning Purvis Young exhibit at the Rubell. Even if you have already seen it, it’s well worth another look before the exhibit ends June 29, when the museum itself will close in preparation for its relocation to Allapattah. 

An ardent Miami Dade County Public Library patron and fan of public television and radio, Young gave himself a wide-ranging education in art, history and current events. He painted and drew striking allusions to wars, troubled race relations and refugees. 

Forever curious, Young was intrigued by Chicago’s short-lived but influential Wall of Respect in 1967. The project gained national attention for its mural of black heroes painted on a building’s facade in an impoverished neighborhood. It arose from ongoing struggles in the civil rights movement and included portraits of figures such as Malcolm X and Aretha Franklin.

Inspired by the Wall of Respect, Young created his own short-lived, large-scale mural in the early 1970s in Overtown. He painted his now classic, provocative scenes on found metal and wood scraps, nailing them to boarded-up houses in an area known as Good Bread Alley, named for fragrant Bahamian bread once available there. Young’s mural was visible from the then recently completed I-95 overpass in Miami. Thus, his unique story of Miami began in earnest. It continues still. 

“Purvis Young: Drawings” is on view through Oct. 27 at ICA Miami, 61 NE 41st St. The space is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Admission is free. Call 305-901-5272 or go to ICAMiami.org.

Top image: Purvis Young’s “He Doing It,” a mixed-media work from 1972, is on view at ICA Miami. Image courtesy ICA Miami.

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, music and performing-arts news. Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.

latest posts

MOCA extends monumental ‘My Name is Maryan,’...

Written By Michelle F. Solomon,

The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (MOCA) spent three years creating the exhibition "My Name is Maryan," which fills 12 galleries and introduces visitors to an under-recognized artist. From here, it heads to Tel Aviv.

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At the Bass museum, Sheila Hicks’ fabric of life

Written By George Fishman
May 29, 2019 at 4:46 PM

Advised by the organizers of the 1977 Lausanne Tapestry Biennial exhibition that her submission, a looming, multipart, embroidered linen drapery titled “Reprisage Répertoire” was of inadequate scale, Sheila Hicks responded daringly. She secured a bundle of nurses’ uniform blouses from the local hospital, and dyed, shredded and piled them to create what she called the “Wow Bush/Turmoil in Full Bloom.” Rising from the floor like a shaggy, multihued tropical blossom, it’s among Hicks’ most exuberant pieces. 

The exhibition “Campo Abierto (Open Field),” on view through Sept. 29 at the Bass museum in Miami Beach, is rich in surprises, but not all are the pieces flashy. Many of the works are muted in color and relatively flat. Hicks’ genius derives from her ability to masterfully evoke water currents (“Seal Beach,” “Pêcher dans la Rivière”), re-create the majesty and solidity of an ancient masonry arch (“Moroccan Prayer Rug”), suggest drips and misty veils (“Silk Rainforest”) and spin sensuous flow in “Menhir,” a luxuriant blend of braided and wrapped brown, gold, copper and blue. In one series of exquisitely subtle chromatic gradients she uses the deceptively simple technique of winding dyed linen yarns around rectangular stretchers. 

The exhibition spans five decades and presents an artist who’s constantly experimenting and whose aesthetic, though coherent, doesn’t follow a simple trajectory. Along with Lenore Tawney, Jack Lenor Larsen, Magdalena Abakanowicz and others, Hicks helped to establish fiber art as fine art. As Bass curator Leilani Lynch stated during a recent tour, “This is a legitimate art form in which one can experiment, have conceptual ideas, address it with abstraction and not just have it be ghettoized in the craft field.” 

While encompassing works from 1966 to 2018, the exhibition, which Lynch and executive director Silvia Karman Cubiñá planned for three years, undertakes a specific, if broad invocation of the landscape, rather than emphasizing the artist’s evolution.

“She wanted a title that reflected Miami, and that we are a city that speaks many languages,” Lynch says. “And the idea of open field was really bringing this idea of landscape and nature out of her work. Most are not literal landscapes, but even just from the element of scale they suggest it. As you know, we often present works that are very large in scale. … In order to use the space effectively, you really need to be able to handle the architecture and the breath of the space.”

Sheila Hicks’ “Campo Abierto” is on view through Sept. 29 at the Bass museum in Miami Beach. Photo courtesy Zachary Balber/The Bass, Miami Beach

“Campo Abierto” gracefully occupies the upper galleries, substantially expanded in a vitalizing 2017 renovation. Approximately 30 freestanding and wall-mounted sculptures are elegantly orchestrated, evoking Ghanaian artist El Anatsui’s inspired 2014 exhibition of draped tapestries, fashioned from liquor bottle capsules. Hick’s equally inventive works are fabricated from natural and synthetic fibers, neutral to neon in color. They’re stitched, woven, wrapped, braided and twined, stuffed and embroidered. There are several watercolors, too, because Hicks began as a painter, and her imagemaking process derives from that discipline. 

At Yale in the late 1950s, Hicks came under the tutelage of Josef Albers. His exhaustive studies of the interactions of color were key to her lifelong investigation of this vital design element. Albers had been a central figure in the German Bauhaus, an institution whose philosophy interconnects architecture, interior design, handcraft and the visual arts. This integrative orientation underlies Hicks’ approach in small, personal studies (“minimes”) but also her public commissions. “Labyrinth of Communication,” was designed for the AT&T headquarters and appealingly alludes to the switchboards and dangling cords of the telephone’s early days, while incorporating contemporary synthetic and metallic fibers. 

At Yale, Albers’ wife, Anni, introduced Hicks to weaving, which opened the door to a lifetime of exploration. “All of the metaphors of weaving work so well with Sheila,” Lynch says, “because it really is about not having this distinction between art and life. It is everywhere for her.” 

Upon graduating from Yale in 1959, Hicks embarked on a Fulbright-funded expedition of South America, steeping herself in the various pre-Columbian fiber-working traditions. This great adventure grounded her in the multiplicity of natural fiber types and distinctive ways they can be worked. A visceral orientation to materials and a profound respect for indigenous traditions undergird her work. From her studio and home in Paris since 1965, she has continued to travel and collaborate with local weavers in South America, Morocco, South Africa, India and Japan. Meanwhile, her conceptual ideas are contemporary, and she unhesitatingly adopts high-tech materials, collaborating repeatedly with the outdoor-fabric manufacturer Sunbrella — even using stainless-steel fibers developed by Bridgestone Tires. 

Turning 85 in July, Hicks remains fully hands-on in a steady career that has attracted a recent surge of attention. In 2018, she showed at the Centre Pompidou. In 2017, her installation of snaky, acrylic, ribbon-wound tubes graced New York’s High Line. She appeared in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, which is usually dominated by young stars. Her 2010 retrospective at the Addison has travelled extensively, and her attention-grabbing entry in the 2017 Venice Biennale, “Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands” — now reconfigured — is a Bass highlight. 

Sheila Hicks’ “Reprisage Répertoire” (left), “Le Démêloir” (back) and “Wow Bush/Turmoil in Full Bloom” are on view at the Bass. Photo courtesy Zachary Balber/The Bass, Miami Beach.

The brilliantly colored “Escalade” (literally, the scaling of defensive walls) was the only piece fully installed before Hicks arrived to bestow approval. A dramatic “soft sculpture,” flanked by two enormous hanging tapestries, it climbs the end wall of its gallery, essentially replicating its prior installation in the shadowy Arsenale in Venice (a former armory), but brightly illuminated here. Several ranks of multicolored beanbag-like bundles of fabric, dominated by blues and greens, stack up to create the fore and middle ground of a fantasy landscape, whose background lights up the back wall like a blazing sunset. 

Either interpretation works in Miami, which, like Venice, is under siege from the ocean and also hosts beguiling sunlight displays. 

“Varmayana (The Place of Shining Light)” is a constellation of large and small, pillow-like disks, featuring multiple stitchery techniques and installed in an improvisatory process. “She actually allowed us to collaborate in terms of placement,” Lynch says, “which was also a really special and intuitive experience. It would just be about like, ‘OK, let’s put up the purple disk, and what do you think?’”

So Miami.

“Campo Abierto (Open Field)” is on view through Sept. 29 at the Bass, 2100 Collins Ave., in Miami Beach. Hours are 10 a.m.–5p.m. Wednesday–Sunday. Admission is $10, $5 for seniors, students and youth. Call 305-753-7530 or go to TheBass.org.

Top photo: Sheila Hicks’ “Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands” is on view at the Bass museum in Miami Beach. Photo courtesy Zachary Balber/The Bass, Miami Beach.

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, music and performing-arts news. Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.

latest posts

MOCA extends monumental ‘My Name is Maryan,’...

Written By Michelle F. Solomon,

The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (MOCA) spent three years creating the exhibition "My Name is Maryan," which fills 12 galleries and introduces visitors to an under-recognized artist. From here, it heads to Tel Aviv.

Miami Beach native Michele Oka Doner leaves footprint o...

Written By Elisa Turner,

Artist Michele Oka Doner will visit the "Aspen Ideas: Climate" beginning May 9 in her native Miami Beach. Her artistic legacy has long been inspired by Florida's fragile eco-system.

‘Forest: Ancestry and Dystopia’ is homage t...

Written By Sergy Odiduro,

Presented by The55Project Art Foundation, the exhibit is running through July 16, 2022, at Miami's Fundación Pablo Atchugarry.

Artists from Miami and beyond report on the Global South in new exhibition

Written By Elisa Turner
May 23, 2019 at 10:56 PM

The bold, bright sun of what’s known as the Global South has risen in Miami, shining a can’t-miss light on Little Haiti Cultural Complex. It’s casting don’t-miss shade too. Artists here lay assertive claim to political discord and brutal histories that have plagued this beautiful, sun-kissed region for centuries.

With creative élan, they’ve updated that tumultuous legacy, capturing the present moment in provocative snapshots of sorts. Much of the art in the center’s current exhibit was created within the past two years or so. It opened March 13 and will be on view through April 17. This exhibit represents a multilingual swath of the Caribbean region, assembling 27 works by 19 artists, including six based in Miami.

“It places Miami within the setting of the Caribbean,” LHCC curator-in-residence Marie Vickles says. “We are really part of the Global South, that convergence of South America, the Caribbean and Europe, and honestly the rest of the world.”

While not all the artists currently live and work where they were born, they for the most part represent a stunning international chorus of compelling voices. Their art is variously embedded with cultural and historical ties to France, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico and Venezuela. There’s plenty to see and ponder in this wide-ranging show that embraces video, photography, painting, ceramic, video, textiles, and collage.

Unfortunately, the show’s title is a scholarly mouthful: “Echo-Natures: Cannibal Desire.” No matter. The term “Echo-Natures” underscores how art weaves its own vivid stories set within the generally verdant Caribbean. These places evolve and change along with the artists.

Vigorously avoiding beach-driven clichés, this exhibit pays homage to lush but fragile, threatened natural resources of the region and beyond. In the short video “Rover” by Juan Ernesto Requena, packs of dogs roam mounds of garbage on a beach. In the background are skyscrapers and palm trees. Requena shot this in Mumbai, India, a country whose traditions have also left their mark in the Caribbean.

The title’s “Cannibal Desire” draws on concepts integral to early 20th century Brazilian modernism. They were developed by Brazilian author Oswald de Andrade. Deeply critical of Portugal and other European colonial powers, he advocated for no longer imitating their corrupting influence but “devouring” European traditions in order to reconfigure the old ways. Artists could then produce new and original forms firmly grounded in the New World.

The first iteration of this exhibit was titled simply “Cannibal Desire.” It was presented in July 2018 at the Clément Foundation, a contemporary art center in Martinique, and curated by Jean-Marc Hunt, an artist and curator based in Guadeloupe.

Hunt and Vickles joined forces to create the Miami version of this exhibit. Their curatorial essays are informed by the thinking of de Andrade as well as influential poet and critic Édouard Glissant of Martinique. Glissant, Vickles writes, “sought to establish a new identity that was self-defined, while looking to the unique development of multiculturalism in the United States.”

Miami multiculturalism is very much present here in the work of Miami-based artists Requena, Stephen Arboite, Morel Doucet, Pepe Mar, Vickie Pierre and Keisha Rae Witherspoon.

Perhaps in a sly allusion to encompassing sunshine of the Global South, Doucet has painted a solid yellow circle on the wall to surround his intricate relief sculpture, “Black Madonna (Black Is Thicker Than Blood).” Delicately modeled leaves and hands seem to grow from a glossy, black porcelain seashell. It’s elegantly framed by lattice shapes reminiscent of gingerbread-style, vernacular architecture in Haiti. His sculpture is at once emblematic of intersecting formal influences and a morphing, vulnerable world.

Arboite’s mixed-media collage on paper portrays the human figure during an intense period of flux. Spectral figures emerge and dissolve among dense textures created by such materials as coffee, acrylic paint and charcoal.

By contrast, another powerful work on paper, created with collage and India ink by Gwladys Gambie, depicts a graceful triumvirate of black female bodies standing strong and united, crowned with thickets of thorny plants arising from their heads. Observing a similar theme, Vickles writes that Pierre’s acrylic and decorative paper collages set loose “a new ‘she-form’ that defies definition while fully encompassing the energy of femininity.”

In two striking works, both titled “Notebook of No Return,” Kelly Sinnapah Mary addresses the violent history of Caribbean slavery by coupling a defiant feminist spirit with velvety textiles evoking aristocratic privilege and plantation wealth. In fact, these mixed-media wall hangings, ornamented with pink bows and eyelet ruffles, could almost be mistaken for over-the-top, kitschy draperies. But those ruffles and bows are only a wickedly clever distraction. These faux draperies contain disturbing images, conveyed through embellished fabric, of black bodies dismembered and scarred.

Photographs by Cédrick Isham and Gerno Odang double down on the visual punch of this show. Odang, who has reported for the newspaper France-Guyane in French Guiana, photographed a lone person holding aloft the territory’s flag during a time of social unrest in 2017, as he explained in a visit to the gallery. It vividly encapsulates the territory’s status. Protests that year, the New York Times reported, “illuminated the deep economic, social and sometimes racial divide between mainland France and its overseas territories, which are remnants of the French colonial empire.”

“Echo-Natures: Cannibal Desire” is on view through April 17 in the Art Gallery of Little Haiti Cultural Complex, 260 NE 59th Terrace, in Miami. The gallery is open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free. Call 305-960-2969 or go to LittleHaitiCulturalCenter.com. The exhibit is part of the Caribbean Arts Toute-Monde Festival 2019. Go to Toute-Monde-Festival.com.

Photo: Stephen Arboite’s “Mete Dlo Nan Diven Ou (Put Some Water in Your Wine).”

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How Colombian artist Beatriz González got serious

Written By Elisa Turner
May 23, 2019 at 10:55 PM

No doubt about it: In the current show at Pérez Art Museum Miami devoted to Latin American artist Beatriz González, the garish yellow, green and orange colors in her “Sun Maid” scream kitsch. They are a supersize riff on those colorful packs of Sun Maid raisins that are ubiquitous in lunchboxes. Typical of González’s art from the 1970s, the piece is like a fusion of a tacky flea-market wannabe with a prized museum object.

Leavening high-end irony with lightweight kitsch, González has painted an industrial-strength, restaurant-size tray with the cheery Sun Maid, using enamel to mimic commercial printing. Print media, including advertising and newspapers with sensational stories bearing headlines and captions such as “Murdered Woman at Lodging. Could Not Be Identified,” have long piqued the 80-year-old artist’s populist imagination.

“Sun Maid” betrays no nuanced color akin to those found in icons of European art by Vermeer and Velásquez, whom González admired when studying art history in the early 1960s in her native Colombia. The tray itself matches the one cradled by the iconic “spokeswoman” for Sun-Maid Growers, a California-based dried-fruit processor known worldwide.

The piece captures the artist’s wry sense of humor. Both spooky and cheery, González’s Sun Maid sports green teeth and green sclera, the white part of the eye. It is just one of many examples of the artist’s wit cloaked in adaptations of commercial-printing techniques. This tactic has often led González to be labeled Latin America’s pop artist, a label the artist resists.

Although González is well regarded in Latin America as an artist and teacher, it’s a coup that Miami is the first city to host this show in the United States. “Beatriz González: A Retrospective,” on view through Sept. 1, assembles more than 150 works from 1960 to the present and explores the prolific career of this outspoken artist.

“Beatriz González: A Retrospective,” featuring such works as “Jacqueline Oasis,” is on view through Sept. 1 at the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

Still, the selection of her art expressing relentless, even cheesy ripostes on popular culture in Colombia could have been edited to convey a greater focus on González’s later, sobering art. In those more recent works, she decries the status quo in her home country, which has suffered more than 50 years of deadly civil strife.

The show is a collaboration between the Pérez Art Museum Miami and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Pérez curator Tobias Ostrander and Houston curator Mari Carmen Ramírez teamed up to make the exhibit happen.

“This exhibition is really very much a part of our mission,” Ostrander says, “delving deep into artists working in modernism and contemporary art and particularly looking at Latin America.”

Ramírez adds, “Beatriz is a seminal figure, always in dialogue with her national context and centers of Western art, contesting the centrality of the U.S. and Western art history.”

“Beatriz González: A Retrospective,” featuring such works as “Gratia Plena (Tocador),” is on view through Sept. 1 at the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

Indeed, the González retrospective underscores the Pérez Art Museum’s growing commitment to Latin American art. In 2016, the museum showcased stunning sculptural work embedded with memories of Colombia’s brutal history by another Colombian native, Doris Salcedo. Salcedo is an internationally prominent artist who studied with González before moving to New York, where she was deeply influenced by the conceptual, social sculpture of Joseph Beuys.

That Salcedo exhibit was billed as the most comprehensive survey of her work to date. Yet it was first seen at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, which organized it. Now, with the González retrospective, the Pérez takes a major step forward by co-organizing the retrospective with a museum known for its focus on contemporary Latin American art and by presenting it first.

Consistent with work from the 1970s, when González modified ordinary items found in places such as street markets, is “Gratia Plena (Tocador),” or “Full of Grace (Vanity),” an Art Deco-style vanity that only seems ordinary. Replacing the vanity’s round mirror is a gaudy painting playfully echoing “Madonna della seggiola,” or “Madonna of the Chair,” by Renaissance master Raphael.

In the 1980s, Colombia’s violence increasingly darkened González’s art. Kitsch took a back seat.

Two paintings from 1986 and 1987 bear the same title, rife with sarcasm: “Sr. Presidente, qué honor estar con usted en este momento histórico,” or “Mr. President, What an Honor To Be With You in This Historic Moment.” Both paintings refer to a brutal 1985 confrontation in Bogotá between military and guerrilla forces, known as the Palace of Justice Siege, that left at least 100 people dead. Mocking photos in the press of government leaders, González depicts a self-righteous President Belisario Betancur and his cabinet.

“Beatriz González: A Retrospective,” featuring such works as “Animas Benditas,” is on view through Sept. 1 at the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

That event marked a turning point in González’s art. In a film about her life and career screening at the museum, González remembers how she felt after the siege: “I thought, ‘No more laughing.’ ” Showing her childhood on her father’s farm and later in the city of Bucaramanga, about 200 miles from the capital, the film chronicles González’s career as the country slipped further into chaos. It also shows the artist sifting through boxes of newspaper clippings that recorded Colombians’ increasingly desperate daily life. The clippings provided a steady source of inspiration for her art.

A self-portrait from 1997 in which González presents herself as a weeping nude is painfully intimate. The signature strident color remains but with more subtlety. Luminous strokes of turquoise outline her body and delineate fingers covering her face in grief. Her naked body is the soft purple of a bruise that won’t heal. The work is from a late 1990s series, “Las Delicias,” based on images of grieving mothers. According to a museum label, the mothers’ sons were soldiers kidnapped at a military base in the countryside and held captive by the guerrilla group FARC. Other works from this series feature sober tones and blunt, unadorned compositions.

The show closes with a haunting reminder of González’s powerful, public witness to decades of tragedy: a partial, nearly floor-to-ceiling re-creation of “Auras anónimos,” or “Anonymous Souls,” a 2009 work she installed at Bogotá’s central cemetery. To honor thousands lost during the country’s bloody past, the installation occupies mausoleum-like structures and covers nearly 9,000 niches, emptied years ago, with hundreds of the artist’s stenciled black-and-white images of figures awkwardly carrying bodies.

The starkness of these images burns the eye. True to González’s years of reading newspapers, they derive from newsprint photographs of bodies recovered across warring regions of Colombia.

“Beatriz González: A Retrospective” will be on view through Sept. 1 at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday. The museum is closed Wednesday. Go to PAMM.org.

Top image: “Beatriz González: A Retrospective,” featuring such works as “La Pesca Milagrosa,” is on view through Sept. 1 at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. 

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, music and performing-arts news. Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.

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‘Post-apocalyptic’ Haitian art on display at Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami

Written By Elisa Turner
May 23, 2019 at 10:46 PM

Pieced together as a mosaic of glitter and gritty refuse, “Pòtoprens: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince” at Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami charts a unique map of Haiti’s capital. It documents neighborhoods where artists persevere despite their country’s recent past of disaster and dysfunction.

Artists create harsh magic from recycled industrial trash scavenged on the street and limestone boulders found in a river, Rivière Froide, running from mountains to the urban coast. This magic is intensified by the extraordinary Haitian tradition of sacred Vodou arts. Its rich visual legacy is present today in many forms throughout Haiti. Entwined with the defiant history of a country tracing its birth to a 1791 slave rebellion, Vodou is a syncretic fusion of Roman Catholicism imported by French colonizers with religious traditions brought to the colony from West Africa by slaves.

With astonishing work by over 20 artists, “Pòtoprens” includes sculpture, photography, beaded textiles and a selection of films. The title is the city’s name in Creole. This art ranges from powerful and raw to delicate and exquisite, evoking complex, wrenching challenges of daily life in Port-au-Prince.

“It’s a city that has important sites of artistic production,” co-curator and Miami-based Haitian-American artist Edouard Duval-Carrié says. “These are artists recognized on an international level. Haiti is an evolving country with a lot of contradictions, a lot of problems, but still culture exists. It’s unique to Haiti.”

Before the country’s massive earthquake in 2010, Duval-Carrié recalls visiting one of those sites, La Grande Rue. He found artists making art that was “very raw, very strong,” he says. “It was representative of what was going on, like the collapse of the state and economic breakdown.”

Other sites highlighted at the museum are Bel Air, where artists create sequined Vodou flags and other objects, and Rivière Froide. Artists there make distinctive carvings from the river’s porous limestone boulders, used at one time to manufacture Roman Catholic rosaries under the guidance of a local priest.

Dubreus Lherisson’s “Gede Kriminel” is on view in “Pòtoprens: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince.” Photo courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami.

Ti Pelin carves Rivière Froide boulders. The grouping of his furrowed, expressive human heads, some with exaggerated features, creates an intense effect at the museum. As sculptures, they recall pre-Colombian art as well as centuries-old, coveted Benin bronzes from West Africa. They also highlight a prominent focus on the human head throughout the exhibit, from the lavish, sequined skulls by Dubréus Lhérisson to Michel Lafleur’s painted portraits and his installation re-creating a Port-au-Prince barbershop.

Several La Grande Rue artists are represented in the exhibit, some with art made before the 2010 earthquake, but most works in “Pòtoprens” were created afterward. Duval-Carrié calls the city’s art “post-apocalyptic.” He says, “The artists are very true to their situation. Their art reflects what is happening now. They are making art in very dire conditions. It’s an aesthetic of despair.”

Greeting visitors to the exhibit is a 2010 digital-inkjet, panoramic series of photographs, “Grand Rue after the Earthquake,” by renowned documentary photographer Maggie Steber, who has worked in Haiti for over three decades. One foot in height, it spans some 23 feet and offers an eerie, in-your-face chronicle of storefronts both decimated and apparently somewhat intact, punctuated by piles of concrete rubble and a dislocated iron gate.

In the first gallery are groupings of abstract and loosely figurative sculptures by La Grande Rue artists. Some sculptures tower over visitors. Rangy and forbidding, they include a tangled mass of car parts, mattress coils and bicycle wheels. The pieces are often melded with intricate wooden carvings, retrofitting techniques used to create tourist-friendly souvenirs in Haiti and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Sharp edges dominate, wielding a critique of failed efforts to revive Haiti’s economy.

Indicative of a determined community, artist André Eugène has played a leadership role for fellow artists in La Grande Rue and beyond. With “Pòtoprens” co-curator Leah Gordon, he founded the Ghetto Biennale in 2009. According to its website, it provides an alternative to costly biennales for artists who may not have funds to garner international attention by attending other biennials. Eugène also co-founded with artist Jean Hérard Céleur a collective for La Grande Rue artists, Atis Rezistans.

André Eugène’s “Gede Sekey” is on view in “Pòtoprens: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince.” Photo courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami.

“Pòtoprens” includes Eugène’s 2009 sculpture “Gede Sekey.” “Gede” refers to a family of trickster Vodou spirits linked to ancestors, sexuality and children. This sculpture portrays the interconnectedness of death and life in a place that has witnessed devastating hardship. It’s a grotesque figure with a gaping skull for a head and a comically huge phallus. It arises from a coffin spangled with glittering CDs, a fierce riff on sequins favored by Bel Air artists.

A vertical sculpture by Céleur is composed of discarded tires, shoes and metal clustered on a seemingly haphazard wooden scaffold. Created before the 2010 earthquake, it could be a misshapen totem pole to the “aesthetic of despair,” prescient of further devastation.

Céleur’s sculpture is ornamented with clearly worn-out shoes and other discarded objects shipped from the United States to sell in Haiti. Perhaps this sculpture pays ironic, reverse homage to the glittering, ornamental style of Bel Air artists. It’s also a wry comment on the country’s bleak economy.

For years in La Grande Rue, there has been “a brisk business,” Duval-Carrié says, in selling old clothes, old toys and old electronics shipped from the United States to Haitians. Some are functional and some are not. Artists gather such battered, obsolete objects as materials for their art.

Myrlande Constant extends the Bel Air tradition of Vodou ceremonial flags with feminist imagery in her beaded and sequined textiles, larger than traditional flags. Their intricacy is exquisite, wrought with vignettes of domination and resistance, placing her among pioneering artists such as Judy Chicago, Faith Ringgold and Miriam Shapiro who elevate to fine art so-called “women’s work” in materials like textiles.

Photography by Josué Azor adds another dimension to this portrait of a city by documenting its nighttime LBGTQ community. Roberto Stephenson, a Haitian-Italian photographer now living in Haiti, documents the city’s architecture, including upper-class “Gingerbread” homes in the historic Pacot district.

“Pòtoprens: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince” is on view through Aug. 11 at Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, 770 NE 125th St. Museum labels are in English and Creole. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesday–Friday, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $10, and free to MOCA members and North Miami residents. Call 305-893-6211 or go to MOCANoMi.org.

Top photo: Myrlande Constant’s ceremonial flag is on view in “Pòtoprens: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince.” Photo courtesy of the artist and Pioneer Works. 

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, music and performing-arts news. Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.

latest posts

MOCA extends monumental ‘My Name is Maryan,’...

Written By Michelle F. Solomon,

The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (MOCA) spent three years creating the exhibition "My Name is Maryan," which fills 12 galleries and introduces visitors to an under-recognized artist. From here, it heads to Tel Aviv.

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Written By Elisa Turner,

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‘Forest: Ancestry and Dystopia’ is homage t...

Written By Sergy Odiduro,

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