Big names in modern, contemporary art fill Gary Nader Centre


Big names in modern and contemporary art fill expansive exhibit at Gary Nader Centre

If you go

“Master Pieces from the Berardo Collection” runs through April 15 at Gary Nader Art Centre, 62 NE Second St., Miami; free;

Special to the Miami Herald

It’s not easy to highlight just some of the 100-plus works in the expansive exhibit at the Gary Nader gallery, the Master Pieces from the Berardo Collection. There are works here from almost every important artist from the 20th century, and some from the 21st.

Yes, we are talking Manet and Miro, Rauschenberg and Rosenquist, Lam and Lichtenstein and many, many more. They come from the collection of one of Portugal’s richest men, José Berardo; the exhibit includes examples from most major modern and contemporary art trends from Europe, the United States and Latin America over the last hundred years.So where to start? The exhibit is not organized chronologically, so it doesn’t matter much. The groupings are more thematic, inviting viewers to discover the foundations of a genre or explore the threads of influence from one generation of artists to another.

For instance, one remarkable section is filled with abstract explorations of color — or, some would say, very limited color. Look closely at the all-black 1962 Ad Reinhardt oil on canvas, Abstract Painting, and you’ll see that subtle degrees of shades emerge; the black is not uniform after all. The classic piece helps explain why Reinhardt was a trail-blazing painter. As a founding father of abstract painting, he rejected more emotional expressionist gestures, leading him to his single-color canvases.

It’s easier to discern the changes in hues in the stunningly beautiful Josef Albers’ 1964 Study for Homage to the Square: Blond Autumn. Yet the blond and sand squares remain in the same color family. The all off-white Superficie Bianca from Enrico Castellani from 1967 uses small, raised points on the canvas to make its tonal change effect, while the black-and-tan 1960 work from Lucio Fontana also plays with textural visuals — it looks like a physical slit in a brown canvas, but created by waterpaint.

This area is quiet compared to works from the likes of Bacon and Basquiat, yet it shouts out why this show is important. We can see, and study, how painting evolved from the first abstract and semi-abstract artists from the early part of the 20th century; the narrative and the figurative has literally been erased by the time Reinhart’s black paintings arrive. In other words, trekking through Nader’s second floor exhibit is really a trip through art history.

Nader not only curated this show but also, as a dealer, helped Berardo build his collection, which is why it is making its premiere in Miami. Calling Nader’s sprawling Wynwood space a “gallery” anymore is misleading, and in fact, it is now officially the Gary Nader Art Centre.

“Like a museum, many of the works here are just on display — 50 percent is not for sale,” he says of his hybrid space. Masterpieces is so far the most comprehensive survey of modern and contemporary art there, hands down. “Every single piece has been shown prominently somewhere,” he says. “From Picasso to Duchamp, the Surrealists to Pop and Minimalist art, they are all historically important.” He points out that there are also significant works from all over Latin American.

So it’s not a surprise that Nader would like to see as many young people and children pass through the space as an educational experience.

While taking in the exhibit, you’ll encounter most of the big names, although not always in their most familiar form. Jackson Pollock has become an iconic figure in 20th century American art, his work almost immediately recognizable even to the novice. Famous for his action paintings, pouring and dripping paint on giant canvasses laid out on the floor, here is a very early work, a swirling Head made between 1938 and 1941, where the head is clearly defined. Fast forward to 1989, and you might be caught off guard by the cartoon from Richard Prince, usually known for his photography.

On the other hand, art lovers will likely know the quintessential look of the cartoon-like Keith Haring sculpture from 1987-1989, and the same goes for the color blocks of the 1923 Mondrian. There are the bold, strong colors of a nude surrounded by flowers in the 1944 piece by Mexico’s Diego Rivera. The fragmented figurine parts in the 1950 Alfredo Lam and the 1953 Fernand Léger reveal the lineage birthed by Picasso, who is represented by a 1929 work, maybe a linchpin to the exhibit’s historical trail. Oh, and there is a great Wrapped Cushion from Christo, from 1965, nearly 20 years before he wrapped the islands of Biscayne Bay in swaths of pink.

Less familiar might be the piece from Leon Kossoff from 1993, a muted-toned painting on cardboard that is nonetheless dizzying, as everything is crooked and swaying in an Expressionist view. Titled Christchurch, Spring 1993 it does indeed convey real — not metaphorical — collapse, as in a New Zealand earthquake. Or the large-scale, hand-dyed photograph from Gilbert & George from 1986, depicting highly stylized, repetitive images of men, or boys, at work.

While there is a good mix of hugely influential European, American and Latin artists, there are a few gaps. Women and black artists are underrepresented, although that can also be seen as a commentary on their relative “obscurity,” particularly through a good part of the 20th century. But it still means that a full grasp of the art history of the latter part of the 20th and 21st centuries suffers.

For those who might be concerned about contemporary art in terms of bringing the kids, rest easy. The exhibition presents little that is overtly violent or sexual. Works that absolutely challenged the established sense of what art should be: check. Works that transformed the way art would be created and viewed: check. But while many were controversial in their time, by today’s standards they are far from outrageous.

Another way to take in this show is to observe the “art” of framing. Ornate baroque frames, fascinating in themselves, were literally part of the artwork in times past. But at some point those heavy frames went out of style, as we can see here, and artworks were positioned to look as if they had no frames or really had none.

Nader hopes residents will take the time to discover these various trends and genres, the scope of modern art history, which is free. “Art is the soul of a community,” he says. It helps us climb out of the mundane and the mediocre “and makes us a world-class city.”

Read more Visual Arts stories from the Miami Herald

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