One of the oft-touted strategies of real estate is to buy the least expensive property in the best neighborhood. The opposite approach is true for art, where savvy collectors know to buy the best work they can afford from both emerging and established artists.
The latest exhibit at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, “On the Horizon: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection,” indicates that the museum’s namesake knows as much about art as he does real estate. As the principal of The Related Group of Florida, Pérez has topped the Hispanic Business 500 and helped remake the Miami skyline. As an art collector, he has donated more than 170 works of art to the museum — most of it good, some of it great.
Pérez, who was born in Argentina of Cuban parents, identifies with the Cuban diaspora and collects work by Cuban artists, among many others. The Horizon show was borne of an artistic response to the thawing of relations between the two countries initiated by the Obama administration in 2014. While some members of the Cuban community may criticize the museum for showing work by Cuban artists while the country remains under communist rule, Pérez points out that all of the artists on display have been featured in other shows in the United States, many of them locally. The works in this show were purchased by him; none involved public money.
Unquestionably, the art chosen for the exhibition is cohesive, where even the lesser works add to the understanding and appreciation of the whole. The exhibition is actually a triptych of sorts, with three separate shows, each referencing the horizon and featuring Cuban artists living in Cuba or abroad. The three shows, which run 10 months in total, play on the notion that the horizon tantalizingly beckons us forward but remains forever unattainable.
Some of the larger works in the first show, which runs through Sept. 10, were purchased expressly for the museum. Before moving to the museum, some first had pride of place in the Pérez Coconut Grove manse overlooking Biscayne Bay. Although built in 1996, the home has an Old World European ambience that Pérez calls “clubby” and can support art that is elemental in nature, such as Manuel Mendive’s two wooden chairs with backs that resemble people and are painted in Mendive’s iconic fashion, with bean-shaped heads and lots of white speckles. They are from the artist’s Energías series. Each chair has three feet — a device often used by artists to signify movement. (In “The Dream,” for instance, Pablo Picasso sat his lover in a chair with her eyes closed and her six-fingered hands strategically placed in her lap, so she could pleasure herself.)
At PAMM, the Mendive chairs sit in the center of one gallery, enabling visitors to obtain a 360-degree view. The same is true for Roberto Fabelo’s “Caldosa #1” (Soupy #1), a black cauldron etched with surrealistic images of people with beaked heads and wings on their backs. The metal pot is paired with Fabelo’s “Mujeres de ‘Cien años de soledad’ ” (Women of ‘100 Years of Solitude’), a seminal work that is more than five feet tall and nine feet wide. Created in 2007, the same year Fabelo illustrated Nobel laurate Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” the painting is a mural of female characters depicted in various shades of avian plumage, with seven large and colorful birds in the foreground.
Going clockwise around the room, visitors next encounter Jorge & Larry’s installation from “Collection: Relics of the Tatar Princess.” The artists Jorge Modesto Hernández Torres and Larry Javier González collaborated to create a mural of individual icons of dozens of contemporary celebrities, each with his or her unique aura, including former first lady Michelle Obama; the late pop icon David Bowie and his supermodel widow Iman; country music star Dolly Parton; Bond Girl baddie Grace Jones; and rapper/businessman Sean Combs. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin makes an appearance on horseback, sans halo.
The room also contains monumental works by Juan Roberto Diago and José Bedia. Of particular note is Bedia’s rounded, 94-inch-diameter painting of a man carrying two heavy suitcases in either hand. The caption above his head — and the title of the work — is “Estupor del Cubanito en Territorio Ajeno” (The Poor Bewildered Cuban on Arriving in a Strange Land). Bedia can relate, having relocated to Miami, where he maintains a studio.
A video by Miami native Antonia Wright dominates a neighboring gallery, with her highly amusing “I Scream, Therefore I Exist.” (Full disclosure: The author of this article owns several works by the artist, including this four-minute looped video.) The sound and the brilliant turquoise of a public pool draw in the viewer. The imagery of the young artist screaming underwater while an elderly woman does a slow, methodical twist is laugh-out-loud funny and reminiscent of Old Miami, which once had a reputation as a city for seniors in the sun.
The “Scream” video isn’t Wright’s most seminal work. But it fits smartly into the exhibition because of its pairing with Juan Carlos Alom’s photographic portraits of bathers in Cuba, titled “Los Bañistas o Nacidos Para Ser Libres” (The Bathers, or Born to be Free). His 13 portraits play on the freedom that water offers the people of Cuba, while at the same time isolating them from the United States, just 90 miles away.
Much of the artwork conveys a sense of longing and displacement, such as Kcho’s untitled painting of Cuban rafters. The lack of facial definition gives a ghostly aspect to the rafters who are mostly covered in blood red, as is the water they row through. That work is paired with Luis Cruz Azaceta’s “Caught,” a painting of a man in a boat, with his hands raised, while daggers point at him from all directions, an obvious metaphor for those fleeing Cuba who are apprehended and returned.
Perhaps the most bittersweet work in the show is that of a child’s suitcase painted by Sandra Ramos, featuring images from a Cuban primer, the equivalent of our “Fun With Dick and Jane.” The only difference is that the Cuban version includes images of revolutionaries, as well as a map of Cuba, a child in the clouds and a tidy pink house with a working fireplace. Prior to the show, Pérez kept the suitcase on an altar of sorts in his bedroom closet.
A few of the works on display actually reference the horizon. As a prelude of things to come, the show opens with a brilliant mosaic by Miami-born Teresita Fernández. Reminiscent of a fire in the Everglades or even Toba Khedoori’s “Untitled (Black Fireplace),” currently on exhibit elsewhere in the museum, the Fernández mosaic is a sumptuous work that engulfs the viewer both with its overpowering beauty and its size, spanning 8 feet in height and 16 feet in length. Although the fire is shown in the dark of night, the horizon is clearly visible, illuminated by the flame.
Enrique Martínez Celaya also makes use of the horizon in his season paintings, all four of which previously showed in 2007, when the institution was known as the Miami Art Museum. The large-scale paintings depict a girl shouldering a limp leopard and standing in a field that changes in appearance with the seasons. The paintings exude a sense of rootlessness, the fate of the exile who misses home and cannot fully embrace any subsequent home because the migration was involuntary. The current show features only “Summer/Verano.” To see all in a room must be a powerful sight, akin to being in a gallery surrounded by Claude Monet’s haystacks. “I would love to own all of them,” Pérez says wistfully.
One of the most impressive artists in the show is also the youngest. Elizabet Cerviño was only 27 when she created her monumental work, Horizontes, from the series Nieblas. (Horizons, from the series Mists) in 2013. The 31-foot-long painting is the largest on display and the perfect match for her installation of handmade clay bricks. Titled “Beso en Tierra Muerte” (Kiss on Dead Ground), the bricks are carved with varying undulations, resembling waves. In actuality, they represent the underside of each letter in each line from a poem written by the artist. The bricks are arrayed on the floor in front of the painting almost as if they are one continuous installation.
There are many extraordinary works in this exhibition, but the show-stopper is Yoan Capote’s “Island (see-escape),” a 26-foot-long, four-panel painting in which the artist uses more than half a million rusted fishhooks to recreate the shadowed side of each individual wave as one looks out to sea and into the horizon. Capote, who was born in Pinar del Rio and chose to stay in Cuba to help support his elderly relatives, views the sea as a barrier for those who live in the island nation. He wanted to convey the sense of isolation the sea engenders to those who cannot move freely from the island.
“I was thinking, how I can do a painting that people, when they get near, they can feel the fear, the seduction, but at the same time they can feel they are in front of the Iron Curtain?” Capote in an interview with the Miami Herald at the show’s opening earlier this month. He hit upon the idea of using fishhooks by accident. “I used to fish,” he says, “and I saw the fishhooks full of blood and I was thinking about that sadness and death and the sea as a trap.”
He first began creating fishhook paintings in 2006 and even learned to create his own fishhooks using an antique machine. He also purchased fishhooks from local fishermen. Capote completed the work in 2010. “It’s a masterpiece in my career,” he said.
From the start, he wanted the work to be part of the permanent collection of the PAMM. The painting first went on exhibit at the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York and then to the London gallery that represents the artist, Ben Brown Fine Arts, which wanted to place it in the Tate Gallery. At the time, Capote was an emerging artist, an unknown. As luck would have it, Jorge Pérez met the artist in Cuba and decided he had to have the painting after seeing it in a book that featured Capote’s art.
“It was just coincidence that the piece is where we always wanted it,” Capote says, “because it’s the best museum in the world for having the piece.”
If you go
‘On the Horizon: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection,’ curated by Tobias Ostrander, at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; pamm.org
▪ Through Sept. 10: ‘Chapter 1: Internal Landscapes.’
▪ Sept. 21-Jan. 7, 2018: ‘Chapter 2: Abstracting History.’
▪ Jan 18-April 8: ‘Chapter 3: Domestic Anxieties.’