Miami artists are often overlooked, even here in their homeland. The city’s international art reputation hinges on private and public collections showcasing works by top global artists. Local collectors tend to buy from galleries in New York and abroad. Local galleries struggling to compete can’t afford to narrow their offerings by leaning too heavily on local artists.
That may be changing as local institutions and organizations focus on Miami-made works and the artists that create them.
Last year, Oolite Arts (formerly ArtCenter South Florida) instituted the Ellies, giving out $491,000 in awards to 44 local artists. Also in 2018, the Knight Foundation initiated its New Work Miami program, dedicating $500,000 to commission new work by local artists or those with strong Miami connections; this year it has returned with its decade-long Knight Arts Challenge grants aimed at individual artists and small organizations. And after a one-year hiatus, Miami-Dade County has resumed its Artist Access Grants of up to $1,500 to locally based practitioners. It and other local county arts councils collaborate to award $15,000 and $7,500 grants to individual artists through the 30-year-old South Florida Cultural Consortium (SFCC).
Local art museums have begun showcasing and acquiring works by local artists. To help art lovers connect with local artists, Miami gallerist Mindy Solomon organized a gallery open house at spaces throughout Little River and the Upper East Side last December. And earlier this summer, local arts activist Kathryn Mikesell organized a city-wide artists studio open house.
At the Historic Ward Rooming House in Overtown, Miami MoCAAD presents “Reconstructing Identity,” showcasing the work of 11 artists of color. Through photography, drawing, painting and sculpture, each explores his or her connection to the African diaspora experience — here, in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and the U.S.
Dash — don’t saunter — to see it. The show is a pop-up exhibition of MoCAAD, the Museum of Contemporary Art of the African Diaspora, and it closes June 27.
“We’re discovering gems in Miami,” says Marilyn Holifield, a lawyer and founder of MoCAAD, the ambitious effort to create a permanent platform for artwork and scholarship. “This is a taste of what could be.”
The Identity show is a discovery of both artists and the curator, Donnamarie Baptiste, who worked with Art Basel Miami Beach and New York’s Armory Show before returning recently to the Miami area. To put together the show, she spent six months driving from Homestead to Hialeah. “Artists all live outside the core,” she said. “They can’t afford to live here anymore.”
Baptiste has pulled together works by practitioners well-known in Miami: the abstracts of Adler Guerrier, images from a historical exploration of rice by Onajide Shabaka (whose work is also on display at Emerson Dorsch through June 22), and an intricate drawing by Kandy Lopez-Moreno, better known for her portraits. But Baptiste has also chosen artists whose names may be new, such as recent graduate Rhea Leonard, whose large-scale black-and-white figurative drawings are nearly hypnotic.
Here, too, are evocative black-and-white photographs of Havana by Duwane Coates, a beautiful drawing by Morel Doucet and the fantastical paintings of Asser Saint-Val. (His works always contains an invention by an African-American, here including Alfred Craille’s ice cream scoop and George Toliver’s ship propeller.) And on the balcony, a powerful bronze sculpture of a tethered world by Christopher Carter.
Rounding out the show are works by T. Elliott Mansa, Francisco Maso (whose abstracts are based on the shirt patterns of Cuban government informants) and Sharon Norwood. Collectively and individually, these works shouldn’t be missed.
Since joining the Frost-FIU Art Museum 15 months ago, curator Amy Galpin too has logged dozens if not hundreds of hours visiting galleries, studios and collective art spaces. “There are so many studio visits I need to do, so many that I want to do,” she says.
Some of the results are on display in two distinctly different shows on display through Aug. 25.
In “Cut,” Galpin brings together work by American artists from the 1970s to the present.
Here are lust-worthy works by some of contemporary art’s most famous names — Mark Bradford, Jack Whitten, Sam Gilliam, Angel Otero, Ed Clark and Howardina Pindell — and some of Miami’s: Loriel Beltran, Alejandro Contreras, Maria de los Angeles. It’s a conversation, sometimes introspective — Bradford’s massive skin-like painting, Beltran’s flowing grooves of paint on wood — and sometimes joyous, as in Angel Otero’s painted oil skins on fabric and Contreras’ floor-to-ceiling BOYBO++. Some are physically intricate: Clara Varas’s torn “window” and Howardina Pindell’s tiny strung paper disks seems to whisper the same refrain, even from across the room.
Some works in both shows came from artists she had been tracking for some time; others came from emerging talents.
While “Cut” feels like an extrovert’s shout, the accompanying show, “Spheres of Meaning” is a study in nuance and innuendo. All are one-of-a-kind artists’ books. And though “Miami” is not mentioned in the show’s name, all of the works included were made by Miami-based artists, many with studios at Oolite Arts (the former Art Center of South Florida).
“For me, these artists are all excellent,” regardless of where they’re from, says Galpin. “For me, the questions are “are these great artists, and is this great work?”
The exhibition takes in only a few rooms, but there’s enough here to fill an hour and leave you wanting to return. Don’t think of this as books in the classic sense. Some are more sculpture — even architecture — than books.
Donna Ruff’s “Fourth Estate,” a battered corrugated “wall” of papier mache made from The Financial Times, speaks to the condition of journalism in the age of the Mexico wall. Lisa Haque’s ethereal paper cuts are at once fragile and tough. Rafael Domenich’s interactive installation is a playground of surprises. Margarita Cano’s hand-colored pages recall medieval manuscripts.
If you’re itching to turn those pages, you can — virtually speaking. Many of the works are amplified with digital pads, allowing you to flip through the books beyond the pages showcased.
“Spheres of Meaning” would be a standout exhibit in any city. In Miami, it’s an exemplar of the best that we are, and can be.
IF YOU GO
▪ “Reconstructing Identity,” presented by Miami MoCAAD.
At the Historic Ward Rooming House, 249 NW Ninth St., downtown Miami. Open Wednesday-Friday, noon to 6 p.m.; Saturday 1-5 p.m. , through June 27. Closing reception June 27, 6-9 p.m. miamimocaad.org.
▪ ”Cut: Abstraction in the United States from the 1970s to the Present” and “Spheres of Meaning: An Exhibition of Artists’ Books.”
At the Frost-FIU Art Museum, 10975 SW 17th St., Miami. Through Aug. 25. frost.fiu.edu; 305-348-2890.