Visual Art

Unshown works part of the draw at ICA Miami’s ‘Toward The Celestial’

Written By Sergy Odiduro
July 3, 2024 at 4:25 PM

Loriel Beltrán, OBSDV, 2020-21. Latex paint on panel. 70 x 155 inches (177.8 x 393.7 cm). Institute of Contemporary Art Miami. Gift of Marquez Family Collection, Miami. Courtesy of the artist and Central Fine, Miami Beach. (Photo by Zachary Balber)

If you ignore its bright lights, Mark Handforth’s “Weeping Moon” is arguably an understated commentary on development, deconstruction and decay. Yet, the piece, almost simplistic in its execution, looms above you demanding a prompt response.

“It’s a work that is so evocative,” says Alex Gartenfeld, artistic director of the Institute of Contemporary Art of  Miami (ICA).

“It sits up high above, 14 or 15 feet on the wall and tear drops fall from it in neon.”

“Up Up with You You and Me Me,” is another piece that elicits a similar reaction.

“There’s a fantastic work by Megan Rooney, which is a 25-foot abstract painting, that the museum commissioned and really speaks to women-based artists,” says Gartenfeld.

Megan Rooney, “Up Up with You You and Me Me,” 2023. Oil stick, oil and acrylic on canvas. Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Museum purchase with funds provided by Jen Rubio and Stewart Butterfield. Image courtesy of the artist and Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery. (Photo by Eva Herzog)

The painting shows off a palette of sky-inspired blues, splashes of creme and other tempered hues that swirl up and around and once whipped up are then laid out flat on a canvas.

The two are among several works of art that Gartenfeld, without hesitation, effortlessly reels off when asked for a list of “must see” works showcased during ICA’s “Toward the Celestial,” its ten-year anniversary exhibition.

The collection, on view through Friday, Nov. 1, is a celebratory nod to  Betye Saar’s “Celestial Universe,” an otherworldly banner by the noted visual artist and champion of assemblage,  which was featured in her 2021 survey and has been a prominent fixture in Saar’s installations for decades.

Under this premise, ICA’s anniversary exhibition consists of carefully selected pieces from the museum’s permanent collection. Also on display are a plethora of new works interspersed among recent acquisitions, some of which have never been shown before.  It is a bird’s eye view, one that offers a look into the sheer breadth, depth and scale of ICA Miami’s robust catalogue.

Installation view: Dan Flavin at Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Jun 13, 2019 – Jan 12, 2020. (Photo courtesy Fredrik Nilsen Studio)

To properly put the pieces on display, the exhibition’s curators organized the works by arranging them in context according to their relative themes.

What has emerged is a parade of artists, all marching to the forefront expressing a medley of disciplines and mediums. This includes American installation artists Ed and Nancy Kienholz, German painter Albert Oehlen and native New Yorker and minimalist Dan Flavin.

The exhibition also includes works by Venezuelan born but Miami-based Loriel Beltran,  Buenos Aires visual artist Mercedes Azpilicueta, and African-Puerto Rican painter and sculptor Daniel Lind Ramos. ” Swamp,” a dreamy and haunting rendition of a forested wetland by Swiss Artist Nicolas Party, can also be found here.

1. Nicolas Party, Swamp, 2023.Soft pastel on linen. Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Museum purchase with funds provided by Jessica Nagle and Roland Hartley-Urquhart, Maurice Kaufman and an Anonymous Donor. © Nicolas Party. I(Photo courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth)

It is clear by the scope of the exhibit that the museum has much to commemorate.

ICA Miami first opened its doors in 2014, but then relocated to the heart of the Design District three years later.

Since then, it has been a hub of ongoing activity that serves a vibrant arts community.

With an emphasis on free admission, the museum regularly offers a myriad of resources to the public. This includes programming offered through their The Knight Foundation Art + Research Center, whose goal is to explore topics through an artistic lens. Their Knight Summer Art and Research intensive, slated to begin in mid-August, is but one example. Those who sign up for the course will be able to take a closer look at contemporary art in relation to the rituals of Afro-Cuba.

And when the museum isn’t taking a deep dive into the intricacies of fine arts, it is focused on youth outreach. Baptizing a whole new generation of artists and art lovers involves hosting school-based tours, online classes and opportunities for volunteering and internships.

George Condo, “Am I Human?,” 2022. Oil on linen. Purchased with funds provided by Constance and David Littman Charitable Trust, Scooter Braun, Simone and Kerry Vickar, Ronald and Valery Harrar, Adam and Behati Levine, Jane and Dan Och, and Alberto Chehebar. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth. © George Condo. (Photo by Thomas Barratt/ICA)

For those seeking an art fix outside of normal operating hours, the museum also provides its own channel and podcast. Topics run the gamut and cover everything from the Haitian Revolution to a food tasting tour in Mexico City.

When the museum isn’t reaching out to the public, ICA Miami is busy with its time-honored tradition of offering talented yet relatively unknown artists the exposure that most would kill for.  Gartenfeld points out that they are always looking for opportunities to offer a helping hand to those who need it.

“We do a lot of U.S. museum premier institutional acquisitions,” he says.  “As an artist’s career develops, we pride ourselves in being able to support artists at the early and critical stages in their career  . . .”

While it is clear that the museum offers an abundance of benefits to the community, the museum, however, has not been without controversy.

In March, ICA Miami faced scrutiny when a Miami New Times report questioned the disappearance of a piece featuring Palestinian scholar Edward Said from a Charles Gaines exhibition.

The story, by Douglas Markowitz, cited an anonymous source from the museum who “believes the painting may have been removed in order to avoid angering pro-Israel members of the ICA’s board of trustees.”

The piece, “Faces 1: Identity Politics, #10, Edward Said,” was restored to the exhibit but not before some questioned whether the fingers of censorship had reached too far.

Nevertheless, despite the dust-up, ICA’s enthusiasm for Gaines and his artwork has far from disappeared.

“The Charles Gaines exhibition was such an amazing success. And I feel proud to continue to work with him,” says Gartenfeld. “It was unfortunate if there was any miscommunication with the artist during the final days of the exhibition, but the work has done well and is so important, so we’re proud to have presented that survey.”

Didier William, “Anba Dlo (Underwater),” 2022. Acrylic, wood carving, ink on panel. 106 x 70 in. Museum purchase. © Didier William. (Photo by Constance Mensh)

Gartenfeld is looking forward to the museum’s continued success and notes that they could not have done it without an enthusiastic show of support.

“I think it speaks to the dynamism of the philanthropic community here in Miami and the energy with which a group of leaders in Miami have come together to support this institutional collection.”

Gartenfeld says the exhibit is just one example of their successful collaboration.

“There are 50 works in this exhibition. We’ve acquired over 1,000 works in the last decade. So, it’s a glimpse into just how active and just how energetic and enthusiastic the Miami community and the ICA community are.”

WHAT:  “Toward the Celestial”

WHEN:  11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday. Through Friday, Nov. 1. 

WHERE: ICA Miami, 61 NE 41st St., Miami

COST: Free

INFORMATION: (305) 901-5272 or 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


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