Like contemporary art itself, the de la Cruz art space is always on the move


If you go

The 2013 De La Cruz Collection exhibition runs through Oct. 12, at 23 NE First St., Miami; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, free.

Special to The Miami Herald

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.

While the project room and special exhibits feature solo outings, the majority of the works at the three-floor exhibition space are individual pieces from the permanent de la Cruz Collection, which are usually literally illustrations of cutting-edge contemporary art. In the past, the third floor was often the focal point, with its selection of pieces from the aforementioned Mendieta and Gonzalez-Torres, along with outstanding sculptures from Jim Hodges and Gabriel Orozco. But this year the first floor feels the strongest.

The first encounter when you walk through the door is a newly acquired, large-scale painting from Mark Bradford, a mixed-media collage from 2011. The Los Angeles native is known for his interpretations of urban life, but this doesn’t mean street art or graffiti, although elements of those forms can be detected. He crafts with more subtle color and detail, collating bits and pieces of daily life in the big city.

Other African-American artists are also well represented on the first floor. There are some fine works from Glenn Ligon and Rashid Johnson, who had a solo show at MAM in the fall. Ligon plumbs history — African American and otherwise — through text, neon signs and here, with coal dust on canvas. Johnson mashes up mirrors, soap, wax, shea butter and heavy doses of cultural references to come up with his creations.

But maybe the most riveting attention grabber is an unintentional collaboration. Covering the west wall are six inkjet-on-linen panels from Wade Guyton, a 2012 work commissioned by Jeffrey Deitch initially for an exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. This art-world star can at times make some irritating art from his Epson printer and computer-generated techniques, but these are beautiful. What really distinguishes this, however, is a white-light work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres made from 42, 15-watt bulbs, hanging from the ceiling and puddling on the floor. The resulting light drips in front of the panels, making the installation complete and gorgeous.

On the second floor an indoor sculpture garden has been installed. With numerous pieces, it does feel like a populated garden. There are some nice works from good artists. Maybe because the amount of sculptures are placed so close to each other, though, it doesn’t have the same impact as the isolated works on the first floor; here, the pieces can lose their identity.

On the third floor, some of the works will look familiar, and that is more than fine. The great Ping Pond Table with plant-like birds fluttering over it from Gabriel Orozco would be worth the price of admission alone. Except that one of the most admirable things about this private collection is that it is free — you can go back and look at Orozco, or any other of the artists when you have time, not necessarily cash.

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