Prospect.4, the fourth iteration of acitywide exhibition that opens November 16-19, 2017, finds inspiration in the lotus plant. This aquatic perennial takes root in the fetid but nutrient-rich mud of swamps so that its beautiful flower may rise above the murky water. The flower’s grace is inextricably connected to the noisome swamp, just as redemption exists in ruin and creativity in destruction. Viewed as a symbol of spiritual enlightenment in Buddhism and Hinduism, the lotus suggests the possibility of overcoming arduous challenges. It reminds us that, from the depths of difficulty and desolation, art brings the invisible to light.
The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp evokes New Orleans’s natural environment—surrounded by bayous, lakes and wetlands near the mouth of the Mississippi River. It also alludes to the city’s unique cultural landscape as a creative force; the politically engaged jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp described jazz itself as a triumph of the human spirit, a lily that grows “in spite of the swamp.” New Orleans of course gave birth to jazz, arguably the preeminent art form of the twentieth century, pioneered under adverse circumstances. That music germinated within of the darkness of slavery; grew through the African drumming of Congo Square; absorbed European classical and brass band music; was nourished in the sultry brothels and saloons of Storyville where Buddy Bolden played his cornet; and mixed with the syncopated Cuban rhythms that Jelly Roll Morton called the “Spanish tinge.”
This history of creolization and cross-cultural fertilization informs more than the evolution of jazz; it is central to the very essence of New Orleans, as is evidenced in the hybrid nature of the city’s customs and celebrations, food ways, religion, architecture, language, numerous genres of music and people themselves. In no other American city is this concept such a part of the everyday. Cultural synthesis and syncretism inform many of the central issues explored in Prospect.4. The rich diversity of New Orleans is rooted in a long history of human interactions including colonization, the transatlantic slave trade, waves of migration and displacement and Gulf Coast trade buoyed by the city’s position as the American South’s largest port. Many artists in P.4 explore related themes, connecting them to contemporary geographies and cultures around the world.
Prospect.4 overlaps with the city of New Orleans’s tricentennial celebration—the three-hundredth anniversary of the founding of Nouvelle-Orléans by the French in 1718. Because of this serendipitous intersection, P.4 takes the city’s distinctive character as a point of departure to investigate global concerns. As with prior Prospects, it is committed to being an international exhibition, while also directing more of its focus southward, placing greater emphasis on art and artists who engage with the American South and the Global South, particularly those from North America, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Africa and the European countries that colonized these regions.
While participating artists will present a broad range of international perspectives, the works made and selected seek to resonate with the city of New Orleans—aesthetically, musically, culturally, spiritually, historically and environmentally. This connective tissue will be reinforced through the physical footprint of P.4 within New Orleans. The citywide exhibition aims for increased density and linkage between its roughly twenty venues, ranging from major museums to public sites, with clear pathways and clusters that enhance the ease of navigation. In this way, Prospect aims for visitors to get the most out of their experience, while ably and efficiently presenting the rich and diverse culture of New Orleans.
Trevor Schoonmaker, Artistic Director of Prospect.4 and Chief Curator and Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
Invention of language
Note on day 9. The group is beginning to develope a language. Following terms and phrases have been observed:
Let me tell you something… : Opening sentence used to pinpoint an important message. Sentence originating from our very sweet and lovely Cuban tour guide Judith. Who – by the way – is a revolutionary woman.
Top (adj.): a general appropriation of tour leader de Ridder’s expression of things being either great or non-problematic.
Smurf (noun): morphologic term used in relation to the Houston fire posts. Taking a photo of yourself with a fire post is “taking a smurfie”. The resultat can be “smurfect” (noun. Can also replace the use of “top”).
The G word: G stands for gentrification. By group consensus a negative term present in most conversation about neighborhood development. The term “G word” was coined in Miami, where gentrification apparently didn’t have the same obvious implications.
Wifi (noun): pronounced with a flat v. Use of the term has mainly been detected in the Danish group.
In Houston patrons of art come by the dusins
Heading for the museum district of Houston, our first stop of the day is Houston Museum of Fine Arts. We are welcomed by assistant curator Rachel Mohl, who gives a short introduction to the history of HMFA. Established in 1900, the MFAH is the largest cultural institution in the southwest region and houses impressive encyclopedic collections of American art, European paintings, pre-Columbian and African gold, decorative arts and design, photography, prints and drawings, Modern and Contemporary painting and sculpture, and Latin American art. The MFAH is also home to the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA), a leading research institute for 20th-century Latin American and Latino art.
The museum lies in the so-called Museum District of Houston, which comprises a large number of art museums and other cultural institutions; a very convenient strategy in the vastly spread-out urban structure of Houston. The HMFA comprises multiple buildings, but we are visiting two of them. The oldest is from 1900 (made by unknown architect) and the newer part has been designed both by Mies van der Rohe, Isamu Noguchi, and Rafael Moneo. The two buildings are connected by an underground light tunnel designed by James Turrell. Across the museum Steven Holl architects are building new facility for the Glassell School of Art. It is already quite evident, that allocating funds for these enormous institutions are no problem in Houston, a largely republican city where the oil and car businesses are strong and go way back.
Rachel gives us a generous sneak peak into the museum’s upcoming opening exhibition HOME—So Different, So Appealing. Curated by Chon Noriega, Pilar Tompkins Rivas and Mari Carmen Ramírez the features an impressive rooster of U.S. Latino and Latin American artists from the late 1950s to the present. The artists in the show use the universal concept of “home” as a lens through which to view socioeconomic and political changes in the Americas over the past seven decades. More than 100 works by 39 artists – including Carmen Argote, Luis Camnitzer, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Guillermo Kuitca and Pepón Osorio – explore the differences and similarities within art related to immigration and political repression; dislocation and Diaspora; and personal memory and utopian ideals.
The exhibition is part of the large triennial exhibition initiative Pacific Standard Time (PTS) founded by the Getty Institute in Los Angeles and spreading out to collaborative national institutions. PST:LA/LA is by far the most ambitious and definitely the most generously funded project from the Getty chipping in more than $16 million spread over 13 exhibition.
On Common Ground: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art
After the tour we get a quick look into their exhibition On Common Ground: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art featuring artworks by Wangechi Mutu, Oscar Muñoz, Robert Gober, Francis Alÿs and Julie Mehretu amongst other. Seminal works.
The rest of the time we have left we go explore in the permanent collection. The European modern collection is quite amazing leaving no doubt that the collecting patrons behind this museum were as influential and powerful as their New Yorker counterparts during the 1950ies and onwards. The lasting impression after this short visit is that HMFA is impressive!. I would dare to call it the mini- MET of the southwest.
Aukje Lepoutre Ravn
Contemporary Art Museum
Bill Arning, director of the Contemporary Art Museum, welcomes us at his institution and updates us on its history before giving us a tour of the two solo exhibitions on show, Annabeth Rosen. Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped, and Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz. Telepathic Improvisation. Bill’s energy and enthusiasm are contagious, and it’s a pleasure to have him as a guide!
The Museum is a non-collecting institution which originated as a secession from the Museum of Fine Arts. Founded in 1948, it moved to its present location in 1972 – a building by architect Gunnar Birkerts which looks somehow challenging to curate shows in, with its high ceiling and strangely triangular shaped room on the main floor. But the Annabeth Rosen exhibition Bill walks us through, curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver’s , senior curator at the Museum for 18 years, and her last show there, is inhabiting the space just beautifully. It is Rosen’s first major survey exhibition. On a long, low pedestal-like table, ceramic sculptures from the last twenty years of Rosen’s career are brought together, from her white glazed massive plates to her more intricate, abstract « compressions » made of small, organic looking shapes of recent years, recalling Lucy Lippard’s idea of “eccentric abstraction” in sculpture. The rest of the show features her most recent works, both ceramics and impressive, large drawings, which both take inspiration from the sculptures and feed into new productions. Born 1957 in Brooklyn and an influential figure & long-time teacher at UC Davis, Rosen navigates both the contemporary art field as a sculptor and that of craft owing to the material she chose to create her sculptures in.
Moving to the lower floor, we enter a radically different space with the exhibition of Berlin-based Swiss & German artist duo Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz. Entitled Telepathic Improvisation, the show – their first solo in the US – consists in an installation playing with different scales and prop-like elements which feed into the theatricality of the work itself. The show revolves around a newly produced video work co-commissioned by the Walker Art Center’s Moving Image Commission, in which humans, non-humans, movements, speeches, gestures, music, light and other stage effects interpret composer Pauline Oliveros’s 1974 score of the same title. The actions, although somehow cryptically abstract, all reference specific moments of left-wing protests, queer life and fantasies about new relations between humans and non-humans.
After the great shows, great food! Bill takes us to Restaurant Lucilles, where to our great delight, we have some delicious food – fried green tomatoes are still on our mind as we write…
The Moody Art Center
The Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University was designed by renowned Los Angeles-based architect Michael Maltzan.
The architect’s striking contemporary design, with its bold geometric shapes and inviting transparency, creates a beacon on Rice’s campus while affirming the Moody’s mission to foster connections across disciplines. The $30 million, 50,000 square-foot building serves as an experimental platform for creating and presenting works in all disciplines, a flexible teaching space to encourage new modes of learning, and a forum for creative partnerships with visiting national and international artists.
The Moody was the recipient of a 2017 Design Honor Award from the AIA California Council. The American Institute of Architects, California Council (AIACC) Design Awards Program strives to recognized projects that have inspired architectural design thought and exhibit formal, technological, and spatial innovations. The mission of the Moody Center for the Arts is to encourage creative thinking and original expression, enrich curricular innovation, and promote cross-campus and community collaboration through transformative encounters with the arts.
Exhibitions at the Moody
Mickalene Thomas: Waiting on a Prime-Time Star features paintings, photographs, collages, prints, and mixed-media works that explore the artist’s complex vision of female sexuality, identity, and power. Thomas’s portraits, landscapes, and interiors examine how black women are represented in art and popular culture and confront our assumptions about what defines the female experience in the 21st century.
Thomas’s work draws on her close study of art history and the classical genres of landscape and portraiture. Inspired by diverse sources from Romare Bearden, Édouard Manet, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and Henri Matisse to contemporary film, fashion, and popular culture, Thomas challenges notions of femininity from a contemporary perspective. By modeling her figures and interiors on classically modern works, she claims agency for women who have historically been subjugated.
The Moody’s Central Gallery will feature a room-sized tableau designed by Thomas as an immersive environment. At the center of the tableau is Thomas’s documentary film, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman (2012), a 23-minute exploration of the life and longings of her mother and muse, Sandra Bush. A former fashion model whose life echoes the aspirations and struggles of a generation of women, Bush is the inspiration of much of Thomas’s work. This video exemplifies the artist’s ongoing engagement with portraiture as a key to personal and cultural identity.
Visiting Sergio Pregio’s solo exhibition at the Blaffer Art Museum, I talked to a member of the Dutch delegation regarding the possibility of adding “The M word” to our group vocabulary. “M” referring to french philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and his emphasis on the relation between perception and the physical body. Because… let me tell you something: having a body is great. We activate it all the time to perceive both everyday life and art. It’s out of question that our body is a powerful tool when it comes to the experience of art. However, it should never be used as an excuse for making boring exhibitions. Yes, I see the objects behind the pneumatic wall membrane change when I move around the exhibition space. Yes, I hear the electric sound of instant inflation, and I smell the latex. Yes, I sense the presence of a structure negotiating my own physicality. The problem is that it is not really interesting. Plain and simple: I was really bored in the attempt of having a bodily experience in a pneumatic installation filled with hot curatorial air…
On the second floor of the Blaffer Art Museum was an exhibition by Houston based artist Gabriel Martinez. The exhibition was about poetry imbedded in cityscapes. A topic that is not unfamiliar to contemporary art… I liked a sewn wallpiece consisting of used oil rags that Martinez had been collecting from a gas station where he used to work. The rags had fleshy pink-ish colors and still smelled a bit of oil (kudos to Merleau-Ponty!). I said that I liked the feminist connotations of the work. The interchange between masculinin and feminin codes (the gas station mechanic and the patchworker, the color of the rags in relation to their use etc.). He was being very nice and polite, but I don’t think that these observations were part of the narrative.
Being in the US this blog post calls for a disclaimer: The observations above are strictly personal, and not an expression of the group’s generel point of view as well as it’s not a critique of the Blaffer Art Museum in generel. The visit at Blaffer was the last one on Day 9, so generel fatigue may have occured!
Right before eating my pulled chicken that I had mistaken for pulled pork, a Spanish speaking artist showed us his work while his words were translated by another Spanish speaking person, who had excused herself, prior to translating, for not being great at it. Being lost of what his words may mean, I decided to force some words into his mouth and make up a meaning to his works. Based on my words put into his mouth, he stated that he no longer wanted to make any significant statements.
He told us, again based on my words forced into his mouth, that he had had a disdain for having to prove that he too could be critical. Having had made the decision that he no longer needed to be intelligent, he came to the conclusion that it may be best, after all, according to my words, to be an idiot. He had preferred to be like a turtle.
The G-word and the Tr3: Project Row Houses and a bike tour with Dr. V
“Project Row Houses (PRH) is a neighbourhood-based nonprofit art and cultural organization in Houston’s Northern Third Ward, one of the city’s oldest African-American communities. PRH began in 1993 as a result of discussions among African-American artists who wanted to establish a positive, creative presence in their own community. Artist and community activist Rick Lowe spearheaded the pursuit of this vision when he discovered the abandoned 1 1/2 block site of twenty-two shotgun-style houses in Houston’s Third Ward. The shotgun houses became the perfect Estate opportunity to pursue the creation of a new form of art. They had two key elements: 1) a beautiful form recognized by the renowned Houston artist Dr. John Biggers to be filled with architectural, spiritual, and social significance, and 2) a need for social action among the community to bring the project to life. PRH is founded on the principle that art-and the community it creates-can be the foundation for revitalizing depressed inner-city neighborhoods. This principle was is in part based on the philosophy of German artist Joseph Beuys (1921 – 1986) who coined the phrase “social sculpture,” which transformed the idea of sculpture as an art form into a social activity. Thus, the mission of Project Row Houses is to create community through the celebration of art, African American history and culture. PRH has established programs that encompass arts and culture, neighborhood revitalization, low-income housing, education, historic preservation, and community service.” (from PRH website)
On a sunny Monday morning we are met by the amazing McKenzie Watson, artist and ‘guest services representative’ of PRH, who gives us an extensive tour of the project. Project Row Houses was founded by a group of artists including Rick Lowe in 1993; during McKenzie’s introduction to the project Rick walks by and says hello to the group – it seems ‘presence and production’ is the key term here, with everybody involved in PRH taking up crucial roles in the local community in order to be able to create social transformation by relational-artistic means.
One of the main physical sites of PRH is a block and a half of 22 shotgun shacks: cheap wooden architecture that has its design roots in West Africa, purposefully developed to provide comfortable living conditions in the hot and humid Southern climate, where ventilation and communal outdoor space are important issues. PRH restored the shotgun shacks (that derive their name from their elongated rectangular design with successive rooms whereby one woud be able to fire an imaginary shotgun through the front door and out through the back) and repurposed them as exhibition and residency spaces for both local artists and invited guests.
PRH presents a program of exhibitions in seven of the shotgun houses consisting of two ‘rounds’ a year, with a residency program during the summer. We visited an exhibition on gentrification called The Act of Doing: Preserving, Revitalizing and Protecting Third Ward, curated by Ryan N. Dennis.
The exhibiton has each house hosting a single solo presentation or project, ranging from Third Ward street life-inspired photography and video (by local artist Brian Ellison, who we would bump into later on his lunch break, and who would give a highly inspiring introduction to his socially engaged practice) to spatial sculpture installations, and gentrification-focused work whereby the interior of the shack was transformed into a giant Third Ward Monopoly board. The G-word lingered in the critical textures of a lot of the presentations we saw: with redevelopment of neighborhoods, to which Project Row Houses obviously contributes, big-dollar investment comes in, and social fabric changes as a result of higher rents and increasing real estate prices. The Third Ward community and social and religious organisations (including PRH) have united themselves in the Emancipation Economic Development Council, a body actively concerned with the gentrification of Third Ward.
Other projects PRH initiated are the Young Mothers Program, which provides housing and counseling on personal growth and parenting skills. PRH stimulates income generation for the community too, helping locals set up businesses, and developed rental duplexes for affordable living for low and medium income households in architecture that preserves the historical aspects of Third Ward.
After the extensive tour of the PRH projects, we went on a bicycle tour of Third Ward neighborhood, under the guidance of self-proclaimed ‘bicycle activist’ Dr. V., before heading for lunch at the amazing Doshi House vegetarian café on Emancipation Ave. Critical of the neighborhood’s regeneration, Dr. V. showed us how the neighborhood’s infrastructural planning testifies to socio-economic segregation: for example, the lowest income areas would have open sewer systems, versus a closed sewer system in the ‘better’ parts. With an average income of US$ 22k a year and approx. 25% unemployment, Third Ward is dealing with socio-economic problems of which the signs were ominpresent on the streets: derelict houses, street loitering, and homelessness. Being part of a group of privileged (and mostly white) outsiders on bright orange bicycles, cycling through a neighborhood like Third Ward felt uncomfortable, even though we encountered nothing but friendliness of locals throughout. It was enlightening and humbling, but made me acutely aware that we need to turn responsibility into action, and that the PRH project is such an inspiring example of how to achieve this.
The Station Art Museum is an exhibition space that carries the name of a museum however does not have a collection. It is 100% privately funded, meaning its director Jim (James) Harithas is the sole benefactor of the institute which has five people working their – mainly with an artist background – of whom assistant curator Sophie Asakura (the only art historian within the team), and assistant director Joshua Poole, generously welcomed us. He spoke about the basis of the museum relating to ethics and morality.
A subjectmatter that is obviously present in the current Andres Serrano show. Under Torture fits in the musuem’s goals to “uphold the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression”. The exhibition starts with a quote from Donald Trump, justifying torture, while the pictures in the show depict different modes of torture, including waterboarding and referencing Nazi, Stasi, CIA and MI6 torture tactics. The photographer aims to confront the viewer with these techniques, as they are normally shielded from the public eye. Poole added that Serrano’s practice is not widely featured due to its confrontational nature. Both viewers and collectors tend to avoid him for that reason, while Station Art Museum is able to support his practice, as they do not aim on pleasing a public or board of trustees. This mode of working includes not doing too much marketing and being slightly independent and on their own within the Houston art scene – but a visit is free.
The final stop of the day, Diverse Works, aims to commision and present experimental and novel art. In that realm they seek tailor fit spaces regarding their program in order to present and support the exhibited practics in an optimal way. Thus, the current exhibition space is just a temporary one. For a next project, for example, a black box, theater or public space would be more suiting and used as exhibitory vessel. Most of these possibly suited rooms would be present in the same complex at Main Street where Diverse Works’ office is permanently based. For the current show Diverse Works occupies a relatively primordial quasi-white cube.
Titled Lines Drawn and curated by DV’s executive director & chief curator Xandra Eden the exhibition reflects on different readings and positions relating to the subject of boundaries and borders. The curator gave a short introduction and tour through the show. The topics presented were reflected upon through works that deal with migration and linguistic boundaries in both knowledge, accessibility and perception (Jorge Galván Flores & John Pluecker). While others for example directly dealt with legal borders (Henry G. Sanchez), spatio-economical mapping (Philip Pyle II), and physical boundaries (the Palestinian border by Khaled Jarrar and a translation of a fence by Margaret Griffith). Furthermore, Pedro Lasch mixed strictly framed identities by presenting combinatory (national)flags creating new possible identities which do justice to contemporary migration and infinitely mixed backgrounds. Lasch also showed a video piece in which national anthems were sung in a different (mostly politically remarkable) language. Finally, the exhibition also included a curated Zine Library with selections of activist zines from across North America.
Vincent van Velsen
After arriving in Houston we quickly checked in at our hotel so we could go to the Menial Collection.
The Menil Collection is an art museum located in Houston, Texas, USA, in a 30-acre neighborhood of art. The main building houses special exhibitions and the permanent collection, and it anchors a campus with three other museum buildings: two are dedicated to single artists (Cy Twombly and Dan Flavin) and another to year-long installation projects; a fourth building is under construction for a drawing institute. Known for displays that allow the objects and works of art to speak for themselves—there are no “didactics” on the wall or media in the galleries—the Menil philosophy is to foster each individual’s direct, personal encounter with works of art. The display of carefully chosen artworks in sympathetic settings are Menil hallmarks. The private collection of John and Dominique de Menil, includes contemporary art as well as antiquities. The organization owns a large tract of land near St. Thomas University inside the loop. In addition to the main Menil museum building at 1515 Sul Ross, the “campus” contains parks (sculpture gardens), apartments, purpose-built galleries, and residential houses, of which some are rented, and some house staff offices, shops or utilities. In 2015 work began on the Menil Drawing Institute.
Other buildings on the Campus include: Cy Twombly Gallery | Rothko Chapel | Richmond Hall and Byzantine Fresco Chapel: hosts new series of approximately year-long exhibitions (since frescoes returned to Cyprus 2012).
The evening ended with a diner at Restaurant Ninfas on Navigation with art professionals from the Houston scene.
In Miami everyone was preparing for Art Basel. All institutions we visited were installing new shows to open in December. Everyone was continuously apologizing for the empty galleries and unfinished hanging. On this trip it became clear to us that this Swiss art fair is having a huge impact on the local art scene and its development in the last two decades.
Did this even shift the taste of the local collectors? If we look closer to the Miami context, however, there seems to be a certain tradition of patronage and collecting art. In Miami we got an insight in the different ways of building up and maintaining a collection, the different ways of making these collections available to the public and different strategies of how to secure them for the future.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
At Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, we were welcomed by curator Gina Wouters. Vizcaya was conceived as a winter residence by James Deering, a wealthy businessman whose family made a fortune in the production of farming machines. Deering was a true pioneer, the first one to build his estate on this mangrove swamp that later developed into the playground for the rich, as we know Miami today.
Deering’s mansion and gardens are of a stunning beauty, and they were tremendously sophisticatedly designed. A beauty which was definitely acknowledged by the many people that used the location for a photoshoot for their wedding or Quinceañera, the fifteenth birthday’s fiesta for girls of which we learned in La Habana. For its creation, Deering closely worked with the young architects and designers Paul Chalfin, Diego Suarez and F. Burrall Hoffman, but he was certainly on top of things. The mansion’s period rooms and thematic gardens were conceived with a sincere and thoughtful attention, but not necessarily with historical accuracy, into an eclectic whole of contemporary art and antiquities, inspired by French and Italian styles and flavored with colonial elements.
In 1952 Vizcaya became a public museum when Deering’s niece conveyed the estate to the County. Echoing Deering’s patronage and commissions to artists and makers of his time, the museum started in 2006 to invite artists and designers to develop site-specific work in resonance with Vizcaya’s architecture and history. Unfortunately, there was no exhibition when we were visiting Vizcaya. The two phase group show Lost Spaces and Stories of Vizcaya – featuring the work of South Florida artists, amongst others Frances Trombly and Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova (who we met on our first day in Miami) –had just closed its doors. In December, Vizcaya Museum will open the exhibition Overload, presenting immersive installations by David Brooks, Orlando Jacinto Garcia, Arnout Meijer and Tanja Smeets.
The Bass Museum of Art
The Bass is Miami Beach’s contemporary art museum, focusing on midcareer and established artists that reflect the spirit and vanilla character of Miami Beach. The museum opened in 1964 through the donation of a private collection of primarily European old masters by John and Johanna Bass to the City of Miami Beach. Situated in a beautiful 1930s Art Deco building, that was formerly a library, The Bass just reopened after being closed for renovation for almost two years.
Since the current Director Silvia Karman Cubiñá took over in 2008 The Bass has had a strong focus on contemporary art, mostly presenting solo exhibitions such as the upcoming show by Mika Rottenberg and the current show by Ugo Rondinone. The Rondinone exhibition has been touring for some time but is here supplemented by an early and seldom shown immersive six-channel video installation by Rondinone with the very long title: “It’s late and the wind carries a faint sound as it moves through the trees. It could be anything. The jingling of little bells perhaps, or the tiny flickering out of tiny lives. I stroll down the sidewalk and close my eyes and open them and wait for my mind to go perfectly blank. Like a room no one has ever entered, a room without any doors or windows. A place where nothing happens.”
A second exhibition currently on view is “Beautiful” by Pascale Marthine Tayou who has been invited by the museum to do an intervention with the museum’s permanent collection as part of an ongoing series of exhibition projects that present works in dialogue with the collection. This exhibition format seems to work well for the Bass, whose collection would otherwise remain quite disconnected from the overall contemporary profile.
de la Cruz Collection
At the end of the day we visited the de la Cruz Collection in Miami’s Design District. The collection opened its 30.000 square foot exhibition space to the public in 2009, and so we encountered the latest example of ‘The Miami Model’: collectors opening their collection to the public. The collection holds 700 to 800 works of art by the major contemporary American, European and Latin American artists. And – as we were told by our enthusiastic guide – all activities, including student’s trips to Europe and other public outreach projects, are “100% out of the pocket” for the de la Cruz collector couple.
Every year the collection is thematically arranged and installed in new ways, and we worked our way through the 2016/2017 exhibition “Progressive Praxis”, since the 2017/2018 exhibition “Force and Form” will not be ready until December, coinciding with the opening of Art Basel.
The guided tour through the extensive exhibition, at times shown on a slightly elevated concrete catwalk: “to safely maximize the number of sculptures that can be shown” as our guide explains, reached its climax in the back of the last floor where the group find themselves tripping on the very finest Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Ana Mendieta works.
Tine Vindfeld and Wim Waelput
Vist to José Bedia
Cuban-American artist José Bedia (Havana, Cuba, 1959) belonged to the so-called Volumen I generation – a group of groundbreaking avant-garde visual artists in Cuba who in the 1980’s paved the way for many younger generations of artists. Like many artists of that group, Bedia is interested in creating connections between ancient cultures and contemporary society. José Bedia grew up in Cuba and migrated to Mexico in 1991. He settled in Miami in 1993, where he since lives and works. He is strongly interested in anthropology. Acquainted as he is with Afro-Cuban religious traditions, many of Bedia’s artworks were informed by Afro-transatlantic practices from his country of origin. Simultaneously, Bedia studied the cultures of the Sioux, the Yaqui, the Cherokee, as well as other cultures from Latin America, Africa, Australia and Oceania. The artist repeatedly proclaimed that his work tries to entamate a process of historical revisionism and justice, where the periphery gains importance over the center.
On our last evening in Miami, a part of the group visited the homes of José Bedia and his son José Bedia jr. Their homes form living museums: from bottom to top they are filled with tribal and etnographic art in neat, thematical and geographical, horror-vacuï arrangements. Bedia, who has been travelling all over the world, collected the objects both during his expeditions and in the art market. “When I buy something new, I have a big problem,” says avid collector José Bedia, whose houses barely leave space for any additional objects.
Bedia doesn’t specialize in a single geographical region or one discipline, but collects ethnographic objects and folk art from all continents in all possible forms. The objects reach from nineteenth-century Ledger drawings by native American artists to African masks, Asmat shields, Aboriginal paintings, and Mongolian shaman dresses. The collection serves as a living archive and as source material for Bedia’s own art.
During the tours along his collection, Bedia proved to be a lively storyteller. He remembers the time in the early 1980’s when he regularly visited Wifredo Lam. In the evenings Bedia would share some of his books on ethnography with the famous Cuban artist, who was half-paralyzed and spent most of his days in bed at that time. Lam would leaf through the books with one hand, constantly expressing his admiration or disinterest in the tribal art he saw. Although Lam is often coined as an artist who celebrated his afro-Cuban roots in his paintings, Bedia recalls that Lam seemed to be interested in Oceanic art – in particular art from New Guinea – rather than in African art.
What can I say, Anna is great!
Oh well, I expect too much…
Anna has a huge black Mary and white child with three little heads coming out underneath her feet.
Anna has 24 figurines, miniature figurines, mini miniature figurines of wooden buddhas. Fat ones.
Anna has her HD flat screen TV on all the time. The channels she watches have poor signal. They’re analogue, I think.
Anna’s Louis XIV inspired patterned furniture is covered by another Louis XV inspired patterned cloth. I think she prefers Louis XVI’s decoration.
In Miami it is difficult not to be immediately struck (and soon conquered) by the cultural melting pot which characterizes the local population. The interesting question to ask people here is not “where are you from?” but rather “where are your roots?”. Here, it does not matter where you were born, but which cultural traditions you have been carrying with you along the way. Miami is a bilingual city – actually trilingual if we consider also the creole minority – and as many as 50% of the population speaks Spanish as its first language. To have a Cuban, Caribbean or, more broadly, Latin American background here is not the exception but the rule. It is bearing this in mind that our group has adventured along the itinerary planned for our second day in the city. Miami is a place where the notion of identity and the process of forming identity are very much at the core of any cultural reflection.
Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM)
The first stop on our agenda was the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) – the former Miami Art Museum – where we were warmly received by Tobias Ostrander, Chief Curator and Deputy Director, and Rene Morales, Senior Curator. The new building which hosts the institution is a project of the Swiss architects Herzog de Meuron which opened its doors to the public four years ago.
While we were waiting outside of the building for our appointment, I could not avoid noticing how the clusters of suspended pillars hanging from the roof structure and covered in vertical gardens (by botanist Patrick Blanc) are a formula that the architect duo had already experimented before, in a reduced scala, for their work of reconstruction of the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland. I like to imagine this as a sort of friendly clin d’oeil of the architects to the Art Basel crowd attending the eponymous fairs in both cities. Herzog de Meuron’s building is designed to be welcoming. It is a very social space, a meeting point for the people of Miami who like to hang out by the water on the outside of the building and enjoy the view of the Marina. As we are told, some of these people do not necessarily enter the building, a clear sign that PAMM has officially become part of the identity of the city. Anymore, it is not seen just as a place offering education and cultural entertainment.
PAMM was built using funds from the City and County and private gifts, including a generous donation from Mr Jorge Pérez, a successful real estate developer, who in exchange for his support, received naming rights. PAMM is a “fragmented” museum with as many as 15 spaces capable of hosting exhibitions of different formats and texture. The vision of the curatorial team at PAMM is to view the world from Miami outwards, and to create a dialogue with the cultural actors which animate the local scene, thereby serving a purpose of cultural translation. PAMM is therefore not a museum of Latin American art in the strict sense of the term, it rather serves the local community by establishing a dialogue between Latin American and Caribbean artists and those representing the African diaspora with the rest of the western canon. It is about giving space and freedom to intercultural conversations without knowing in advance the script of the dialogue. The only agenda in this plan is to proactively try to shift the emphasis on the reading of Art History from Europe to Latin America in its broad definition.
Just to give you a sense of the density and variety of the programming at PAMM, today we could experience following formats:
1. a selection of works from the permanent collection following a hanging aiming at revisiting the traditional art historical genres (still-life, history painting, landscape and scenes of everyday life) by means of featuring non-western interpretations of those genres;
2. an exhibition focusing on an (for Europeans) little known but extremely talented Jamaican self-taught artist by the name of John Dunkley (1891-1947);
3. an exhibition of contemporary Cuban Art from the Jorge M.Peréz Collection (i.e. PAMM’s permanent collection) which juxtaposes artists who live in Cuba with others who live in Miami or abroad;
4. a solo show featuring a thought provoking selection of videos by German-born artist Dara Friedman (b. 1968), who lives and works in Miami.
Rubell Family Collection
I do not remember who told me this story for the first time – was it one of our friendly Uber drivers or someone in our group? – but it seems that the space today hosting the Rubell Family Collection used to be a deposit used by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to store confiscated drugs and goods. The power of imagination and next thing you expect is to see Sonny Crockett (or his alter-ego and cover, Sonny Burnett) running out of the warehouse wearing a pink pastel suit and leather moccasins (no socks, of course). Instead of Sonny and Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs of Miami Vice, we had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Mrs Mera Rubell herself, who, together with her husband Donald Rubell, have the distinction of having built since 1964 this impressive and still growing collection, one of the world‘s largest, privately owned contemporary art collections.
Listening to Mera speaking about the artists represented in her holdings (from Basquiat to Hernan Bas and Kara Walker, just to name a few) is mesmerizing. Knowing that she met and visited them (almost) all in their studios adds to the collection another layer of meaning, one made of personal history and of the many anecdotes which we would have loved to have had the time to listen to.
Today, however, we were lucky enough to meet a very young and extremely promising artist in residence at the Rubell’s. Her name is Allison Zuckerman and you can bet you will hear this name more and more in the future. Allison has mastered the task she was assigned by Mera Rubell and Juan Roselione-Valadez, the Director of the Rubell Family Collection. She has conquered the huge gallery space put at her disposal with four enormous site specific canvases realized using painting and photographic media in an articulated dance between brushwork and computer generated images. The protagonists of her works are empowered women: “The women (in Allison’s paintings) are like inside of themselves, they are not part of the furniture!”, as Mera points out with some pride. Compositions by old masters of the caliber of Rubens and Bellini, and elements taken from well-known paintings by Picasso or Van Gogh, to name a few, are the point of departures of Allison’s work. She is not afraid of addressing these “sacred monsters” of art history in her work and does so with disarming freshness. Painting over a computer-generated image, photographing the result and then painting over it once more, in an articulated back and forth that leaves no space to improvisation. Sure, the computer, like any good workshop assistant, sometimes “suggests” to Allison an intervention: “maybe that shape would look better if it was bigger, bolder?” In the end, however, Allison is the master in her workshop and she decides whether or not to follow the suggestion of the machine. Revising the old masters and skillfully playing on the interaction of old and new media: it seems to me that Allison Zuckerman has found a very clever way of reflecting about our present and its idiosyncrasies.
“Locust Projects is the first and longest running alternative art space in Miami”, as we are told by Claudia Mattos, Exhibition and Programming Director who introduced us to the history of this space. Over the past twenty years, Locust Projects has changed its locations three times and given a platform to approximately 350 contemporary visual artists to experiment with their ideas without feeling the pressure of the art market. With a yearly budget that in the meantime has reached $800,000, Locust Projects has achieved the status of an historic landmark on the contemporary Miami art scene, hosting 10,000 visitors per year.
Today we received an advance sneak peek of two shows due to open on November 18: ‘Per Sway’, a multimedia installation by Nancy Davidson, featuring among the rest a selection of anthropomorphic sculptural works exploring the architecture of the female body; and ‘Man of the Night’, an immersive installation by Mexican-born artist Pepe Mar, a sort of ephemeral personal archive transforming the room into an artwork and at the same time creating a queer space. Both Nancy and Pepe intervene in the fabric of the space with an architectural approach which invites the viewer to reflect on the interaction of body and space and on questions of gender identity.
Uh, uh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, uh
Just like Will Smith, we’re going to Miami. An aprox 1 hour flight that sparks a strange unrest in the group. Leaving a country that we haven’t been able to grasp. A country so full of contradictions, grey zones and problems indicated but very seldom articulated.
Over the last days a majority of our discussions have been trapped in speculations about the blurred Cuban art system. Resulting in a lot of circular reading between the lines: on which level is the state controlling the Cuban art world? Are state supported non-profit structures just a clever capitalistic scam to enhance own profit? How many Cuban art scenes are there? And last but not least: where is the wifi zone?! (in Cuba you only have the possibility of getting online at certain outdoor public hotspot, and providing the right one hour acces card is an achievement in itself. However, the lack of wifi was a very efficient way of quickly knitting the group together. There were just no emails to be checked, no text messages to be send, no showcasing on Instagram, and no stalking around on facebook. Putting the extremely problematic state control of information aside, it was actually a social relief)
With all these issues ecchoing in the group, we left Cuba with a bunch of unsolved questions, that we just hadn’t had enough time to dig into… But also with an extremely valuable glimpse into an artistic reality very far from the West European safe haven…
Arriving in Miami the structural uncertainty was pretty much swept aside. After checking into the Shore Club Hotel – and depositing 300$ dollars for minibar expenses – we went to visit the artist run space Dimensions Variable. Dimensions Variable is a combined exhibition space and studio run by the Miami based artists Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova (born on Cuba) and Frances Trombly. Dimensions Variable is a pragmatic way of solving the problem with extremely high studio costs, while at the same time being able to show works by artists that Frances and Leyden not only like, but also artist that will help contextualize and support their own practise. Dimensions Variable have changed locations several times, but is currently based on the 2nd floor of Miami Dade College’s Art Department. Talking to Leyden and Frances about the constant struggle of surviving as an artist, there was pretty much no beating around the bush: it’s all about embracing the ability of art as a tool of gentrification (that argument had always been their primary starting point when approching developers) and just accepting that your existence as an artist is based on the market in generel. Sayonara Cuba – welcome to Miami!
That being said we where able to get a great sneak peak into the studio of two very different, very cool and very friendly artists. Leyden working with appropriated objects in a rough, poetic and memory based way. While Frances combines traditional handicraft with a conceptual and (in relation to her latest project) minimalistic approach. And for me personally it was an absolute highlight to see a handfull of Frances’ embroidered receipts from 2008!
The first day in the new world was wrapped up with a get-together-dinner at the Mandolin Aegean Bistro Miami, the heat is definitely on…