One of the best things about the de La Cruz Contemporary Art Space is that it is never static.
Opened in 2009 in a specially built 30,000-square-foot building in the Design District, the light and airy space became the latest addition to Miami’s public exhibition halls founded and run by major private collectors. Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz had been acquiring art for a quarter of a century and showing it to the public at their house, but they decided to move some of it to a more accessible place that would also serve as an educational center, an arts center that would never sit still. So along with highlighting works from the permanent collection, there are a variety of changing exhibits, a project room set aside for solo shows from local and international artists, and lectures.
As an example: Right now, in the project room, is an installation from one of the most thought-provoking, talented artists working today, Chilean-born Alfredo Jaar. While overtly political works are sometimes shunned by North Americans, South Americans often give us a front-row seat to what is happening around us. Jaar is one who does not flinch.
In what can seem the ultimate contradiction, Jaar reveals darkness in an incredibly beautiful way. In his most famous project, documenting the Rwandan genocide, he combines the lush landscape of that African nation with tales of mass murder. Here in the de la Cruz room, another of his remarkable installations, the 1991 Terra Non Descoperta, has been set up.
Three large light boxes sit on the floor, showing images of lovely, calming seas overlaid with text from Christopher Columbus, whose mission it suggests is not really to find a lovely new land but to dig up gold. Behind the light boxes hang 15 gold-framed mirrors — we can watch ourselves in the same greedy search. But then Jaar adds his unique touch. Walk up close to the light boxes, and on the back side are photographic images of gold miners, dirty, sweaty, exhausted humans excavating the dream. At one time we see both our own likeness and those who are perpetually hidden in caverns below.
Upstairs, there’s a temporary exhibit of works from Carlos Alfonzo. Of all the extraordinary contemporary Cuban artists of the last 50 years, he might be one of the most underrated. Although he died in 1991, it’s nice to have his presence back in our town. Like many of his island artistic compatriots, he combines the real, the fantastical, the mythical and the spiritual world in his paintings and sculptures. Alfonzo fled Cuba in the 1980 Mariel boatlift only to face the horror of the exploding AIDS epidemic, all of which comes out in his dense canvases. But the most exquisite piece up here is a small, black sculpture of a ballerina’s legs, topped by a spiral head.
This in-house exhibit is the second part of a series that includes lectures from locally based artist Cesar Trasobares. The Cuban-born Trasobares knew well the three influential artists who have been highlighted for the series. The first was Ana Mendieta, known for her searing self-portraits of her figure engulfed, swallowed, sometimes brutalized by the world around her; her works are often displayed at the de al Cruz space. The second is Alfonzo, and the last will be Felix Gonzalez Torres, whose minimalist sculptural work also figures prominently in the de la Cruz’s collection. All three died at a tragically early age.