Art Society Conflict: Javi Fernandez

Photo by phy_damon

Hey everyone, my name is Javi. I’m a sophomore currently pursuing a B.A. in Math Education. I’m not sure what I want to do in the future; I’ve always liked math and been enveloped in pure academia, but in the past year I’ve gotten into many creative outlets I previously had little experience in, like poetry, music, and visual art. From this class I hope to glean info about the creative processes of many amazing artists, as well as deeper insight into the way I view art. I’m also very interested in learning about the evolution of different art movements and the mark they left on history’s biggest societal changes.

Photo by Vanessa Lopez

Norton as Text

I am enamored by the abstract. This painting encapsulates my favorite things about abstract art; a relatively simple concept expressed mystically and shrouded in complexity. Upon first coming face to face with this piece, I was immediately engulfed by the ominousness of the situation. There is a conflict; is it bloodshed between humans, internal strife, or something else entirely? It is, after all, just a bunch of black marks. Intrigued, I stepped closer; perhaps there is more to be found. Expecting to see potential shapes among the black marks, I noticed thin shapes impossible to make out until your curiosity leads you within inches from the painting. Blueprint-esque diagrams of buildings litter the background. The truth became clearer; this was bloodshed. A city, or possibly much more, was being overcome with strife. One thinks then of modern history’s biggest wars and tragedies: the World Wars and the Holocaust, or perhaps the Armenian genocide, or colonialism as a whole. I then read the description; this painting is about Ferguson. Not a war, not a genocide, not even a particularly international historical event, but the Ferguson riots incited by the murder of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. This painting does not just represent riot, but injustice and the fight against it. In the eyes of the artist (whose name I regretfully did not record) and of many other American citizens, this was an unforgivable injustice. The shooting of Michael Brown as well as of Trayvon Martin two years earlier seemed to have set the public’s eyes on this too-common tragedy. Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, E.J. Bradford, and countless others’ names and deaths are immortalized in this piece.

Photo by Vanessa Lopez

Deering as Text

It is easy to remove yourself from past civilizations when your only experience with them is from textbooks or articles. But when you step onto the very grounds that our geographical ancestors stepped on, holding the very tools that they held thousands of years ago, the connection to them becomes impossible to ignore. In our visit to the Deering Estate, I had the honor of experiencing this indescribable feeling that only a few hundred people in recent history have. Having lived roughly twelve thousand years in the past, the Paleo-Indians are the earliest known civilization to have inhabited southeast Florida. The treacherous path to the primary site, marked by bumpy rocks and poison ivy, gave me a newfound respect for the tribes of the past. For us, the trek there was a test of stamina; for the natives, that was likely but a taste of what they dealt with on a day to day basis. I thought about these tribes as well as the Tequesta Indians and every Native tribe across the New World; how would the present era be if they hadn’t met a fate so untimely? Did they deserve to win? The cruelty of the European man, focused only on riches and conquest, nearly eliminated all traces of these complex cultures. The traces we now consider sacred were bulldozed for profit. Civilizations some now dedicate their lives to studying were ruthlessly destroyed: and for what? We certainly were not inherently superior to the natives, and we especially were not more fit to rule these lands; such is evident by the struggles of the first New England settlements. We have ruined the natural landscape of Miami in an effort to imitate the ideal American city. We have ruined the earth that the tribes toiled for millenia to live harmoniously with. It may be pointless to reflect on the unchanging past, but it seems impossible to ignore the feeling having walked on such sacred ground.

Wynwood as Text

It is easy to romanticize the past when reflecting on the entirety of art history. After all, only the absolute best works survive into relevance hundreds or thousands of years in the future. When viewing art history through such a lens, it is easy to feel dissatisfied with the current state of art: its ease, its accessibility, and something about the digital era just tends to make everything feel less beautiful than in the centuries when artists had to toil for hours to complete a piece. Where do you find beauty in the digital era?

In the Margulies Collection, the beauty of the modern world is stunningly evident. Visual art was historically limited to paintings and sculptures until Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain flipped the international art scene on its head. Every prior definition of art was now null. Anything goes in a post-Fountain world! But is it still possible to define art?

I couldn’t help but smile when Mr. Margulies introduced the following hypothetical. An abstract John Chamberlain sculpture made entirely out of used car parts, rejected by the common art enthusiast at the time it was made, gets flattened and becomes a painting with identical colors. Suddenly, a trashy sculpture turns into a respected abstract piece. Why do the materials used devalue a sculpture? Would it have been equally received if it was made of marble?

  The Margulies Collection properly reflect what I believe to be the defining feature of contemporary art: the sheer amount of mediums. A room full of mirrors encourages you to raise your hands up to be reflected; you are a participant in the art. A fabric hanging from the ceiling, weighed down by pockets of spices and taking up an entire room, allows you to walk through the art and experience it with both sight and smell. A mock elevator opens up to reveal different recordings of regular citizens in an elevator. A set of out of sync eyes and a mouth is projected onto spheres as the mouth utters cryptic words and noises.

The de la Cruz Collection offered me a more light-hearted and less introspective view on contemporary art. What stuck out to me at the de la Cruz was the variety in the way the visitor interacts with art, and the ways art interacts with itself and the museum. Works of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, stacks of papers and stacks of peppermint, prompted you to remove from the stack. The art diminishes in front of you! A string of lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling may be relocated and placed in a pile or across a wall without losing meaning, and the same with Gonzalez-Torres’ aforementioned stack of peppermint, “Untitled” (Portrait of Dad). Rob Pruitt’s “Us”, a series of 288 paintings, are located partially in the Collection and partially elsewhere in South Florida. But when I saw the phrase “fuck off” in lights humorously placed above an elevator, I again had to wonder: why consider this art?

    This particular piece can be justified; it represents the casually negative attitude that pervades many teenagers and young adults today, especially online. It is also likely to be among the most memorable pieces at the collection, seeming out of place and distinctly humorous. But this is not always the case; some pieces are simply beyond explanation. A better question to ask, I believe, would be: why not consider this art? Why does it even matter? Is it a sense of pretentiousness that discourages people from labeling a urinal “art?” Is the label subjective? I cannot definitively answer any of these questions; all I can do is share my belief, reinforced by my fruitful visits to the Collections, which is that anything can be art if just one person deems it so. Perhaps this view is obtuse, or perhaps it is widely accepted! There are a lot of gaps in my knowledge, so I look forward to learning as much as I can in the coming months.

Vizcaya as Text

The Vizcaya Gardens, beautiful as they are, surprisingly has a depressing story behind it. A story of a lonely millionaire, soul-searching for his identity, and giving his most earnest attempt at creating one for himself by stealing everything cool about every other nation’s identity. 

There is a feeling of light-heartedness throughout the Vizcaya. Surely James Deering knew what he was doing when he was putting fake books in his “study,” setting up pictures of kids that weren’t his, and fervently copying every culture he found interesting. It’s beautiful, but it is humorous the lengths to which James Deering would go to seem important. The contrasts deepen when one takes into account the rampant racism of the era. Sure, Deering might have been goofy and a little pitiful, but he was also the same man who oversaw a moat being built by underpaid Bohemians to keep the neighboring people of color off his property. Furthermore, proud references to colonialism symbolized by ships are made frequently around the estate. The pieces fall into place with this in mind. James Deering’s humanity seems to be centered unimaginably far from the common man; it’s no wonder that the same man whose biggest troubles were sunlight in his eyes and the sound of footsteps was also blissfully acceptant of the white supremacy of the era. 

The Vizcaya Gardens, like many other historical landmarks, were created at the expense of others. Regardless, it is truly a beautiful and enjoyable place, and when viewed in context, it is an interesting dive into the mind of James Deering. The gardens are pretty!

Design District as Text

Yayoi Kusama’s mission is simple: to convey to us the Eternal Love she has for Pumpkins. In that mission she succeeded; the one minute I spent in her infinity room was among the more blissful minutes of my life. It’s an unlikely concept, something only Kusama could have created. She was not the first to utilize the infinity mirror effect in her art, but pumpkins are an unlikely friend to be reflected on forever. Kusama chose pumpkins purely because they made her happy, and that is made obvious as you step into her infinity room.

Avant-garde poet E.E. Cummings described his creative process with the following sentence: “If a poet is anybody, he is somebody to whom things made matter very little – somebody who is obsessed by making.” I would ascribe this philosophy to Sterling Ruby as well. Taking up two entire floors of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Ruby’s creative boundaries seem to be limitless. Ruby is a man who creates day in and day out in his massive 4-acre studio using any possible medium and any possible materials. He creates chaotically and often without purpose or agenda. His titles are simply categorical; he will explore the usage of spray paint, for example, and the title of one of his works will be SP179. “There are 179 spray paint works?” you think. Yes, and probably more! Sterling Ruby seems to be constantly exploring and constantly creating. His peculiar attitude towards creation and unparalleled diversity brings a certain uniqueness to the ICA.

The Wynwood Walls are unlike anything we have seen in this course due simply to their indulgence. If any art is as representative of this “contemporary” age of corporations and social media, it is the wall sized beer advertisement found in the Design District. The majority of art on display here is beautifully meaningless. There is no subliminal message behind these works, and very rarely does a piece have a political agenda. It serves as a pleasant reminder that art made to be beautiful is no less than art made to be meaningful or satirical. The Wynwood Walls is a place to take pictures, and that is okay!

Art Miami As Text

The culmination of our excursions as Art Society Conflict, UNTITLED and Art Miami reflect with full clarity the state of the contemporary art world: lively, booming, innovative, and full of passionate individuals. 

Prior to getting on the steps to UNTITLED, attendees are invited to reexamine the overarching effects climate change, and picture the earth as it would be in 100 years by writing a letter to the teenagers of 2119. Many of my peers apologized, as did I, and I promised to become educated on better ways to make a difference. A neighboring exhibit featured watercolors made using Antarctica water, an exemplary showcase of passion to a cause. I was pleased to recognize true innovation in the fair, a blend of old and new. Faig Ahmed transformed vintage rugs into an exploration of space. Godfried Donkor implemented medieval depictions of halos in his paintings of heroic black men. Art Miami, in contrast, was exemplary in showcasing the newness of contemporary art. The most popular attractions, for good reason, seemed to be the spatial illusions: high-end sculptures that appeared to go on for eternity into the ground or through the wall.

Throughout UNTITLED and Art Miami we were graced with the opportunity to talk with many helpful individuals, gallery owners and artists alike. The energy these folks had for their art was infectious; pieces that I initially had little interest for seemed to have life breathed into by these lovely curators. Victoria Cooke, director of Gallery 1957, eloquently took us through her strenuous efforts in working with various Ghanian artists, getting them Visas, transporting their art, and much more. It is relieving to know that the future of the art world rests in the hands of such wonderful people.

Fountainhead As Text

Portion of “it’s not the end of the world but we can see it from here” by Alex Nuñez

Fountainhead Studios is the home of dozens of incredibly talented artists. As part of FIU Honors, we were blessed with the opportunity for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of some of these artists in their studios. Just earlier in the day I had been thinking about how surprisingly little I’ve seen visual artists relate music in their work, whether by direct inspiration or tangentially related ideas. My prayers must have been heard, because just hours later I was graced with the opportunity to visit the studio of Alex Nuñez. 

An obsession with shininess, a vested interest in 80s aesthetics, and an openness to the carefree all define the work of Nuñez. I was particularly excited by the youthfulness and modernity of her work. Her paintings are done stream-of-consciousness style while engaged in other activities, such as watching Netflix or listening to a selection from her diverse taste in music. The titles of her work are often small quotes from somewhere online or snippets of meme culture. Nuñez’s art is a welcome change of pace and a much-needed reminder to not take yourself too seriously.

The themes found in her work shone through in our discussion with her as well. In her approaches to creating we learned of her infatuation with glitter and shininess. When it comes to the “meaning” of a piece, she not only leaves it to viewer interpretation, but also intentionally sets aside her own thoughts on the piece when discussing it with others. Her titles aren’t necessarily related to the work itself, but simply inspiring or humorous phrases, and attaching them to the beautiful eye-candy visuals of the art offers a unique, accessible, and ultimately refreshing viewer experience.

Rubell as Text

“Beth and Solomon” by Karon Davis

Managed impressively by the single Rubell family, the Rubell Museum is a diverse collection of must-see artwork. The Rubells must have an eye for potential, as many works here are from the emerging years of would-be celebrated artists. On display is Robert Longo’s “Men Trapped in Ice,” the first work of the “Men in the Cities” series that launched him into the popular eye. But perhaps the best example is the variety of Jeff Koons’ early work. New Hoover Deluxe Rug Shampooer, one of four Koons works at the Rubell from 1979, was acquired in 1980, years before his rise to fame in the mid-80s, and preceding by seven years Koons’ Rabbit, holding the record for the most expensive artwork sold by a living artist at a staggering $91 million.

The Rubell boasts 36 galleries, and each maintains a coherent theme in its delicate curation. There is something for lovers of any art; rooms may focus on an artist, a motif, or an underlying message. One gallery features feminist and otherwise boundary-pushing works from the likes of Jenny Holzer and Cindy Sherman, and another displays heart-wrenching and eye-opening pieces with names such as Kerry James Marshall and Karon Davis detailing the life of black Americans throughout the past century. One of the most intriguing works was the three-video series of animations by South African animator William Kentridge, made in the 90s and heavily reminiscent of the earliest eras of the medium. To top it off, the Rubell Museum maintains two of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms: Where the Lights in My Heart Go and LET’S SURVIVE FOREVER. To step into one of Kusama’s rooms is an unforgettable experience, and the Rubell is one of the only places in the world where you can see two in a single visit. The Rubell Museum is undoubtedly among the best contemporary art collections in Florida.

Printmaking As Text

Not only is Miami-Dade College Professor Jennifer Basile a master of the art of printmaking, her years of teaching made it a tremendous pleasure and an honor to visit her classroom and receive a crash course in printmaking: arguably the most physically intensive and sometimes tedious methods of creating 2D art. Professor Basile’s fun-loving spirit made the entire process a joy to learn. She puts it best: printmaking is honest work! From the start of her tutorial example, everyone in the room could feel her passion and dedication to the craft. Every direction was clear and cheerfully delivered. Each step seemed to be her favorite; even the tedious processes she carried out with a smile. When the instructions were completed, we students got a chance to create a black and white monoprint hands on. Creating a one of a kind piece of art was a truly special experience for all of us. The most exciting part for me was not quite being able to predict what the final product would exactly look like; it gave a certain thrill as the print went through the pressure machine. After a semester of diving into the art world, it was also a pleasure to finally see my classmates express themselves creatively. I was very impressed by many of the prints, despite it being our first time trying the process! I believe I speak for all my fellow students when I say we are very grateful to Professor Basile for the opportunity to work with her so directly. 

Deering Estate As Text

The Deering Estate is dedicated to protecting and recording several periods of history: grounds of the Paleo-Indians from 10,000 years ago, burial sites of the Tequesta from several centuries ago, and the Segregation era just decades ago. The entire estate was completed in 1922 and built largely due to the effort of African-American and Afro-Bahamian workers, a history we mustn’t forget. There is so much to the Deering Estate that cannot be explored in just one trip, and anyone who visits will undoubtedly be compelled to return. The estate provides educational programs to connect children with nature, as well as residency programs for artists to pursue their passions and interact with the estate. The Boat Basin is simply one of the most tranquil locations I’ve ever visited. One could easily spend hours here feeling the calming breeze, watching flocks of birds fly by, and even see manatees up close. The hidden treasure of the Deering Estate, however, are the restricted areas that can only be accessed with a staff member. On the Nature Preserve Tour, you can experience a truly stunning and uncensored look at the protected beauty hidden away at the Deering Estate. Where else on earth can you see solution holes, freshwater springs, burial mounds, and a plane wreck, all while learning of Miami’s unspoken history and the myriad of flora and fauna that call it home? Every inch of this part of the estate has remained relatively untouched by man, and every moment of the Nature Preserve Tour speaks to the dedication of the Deering Estate and its staff to protect an environment they love.

South Beach As Text

Photo by Rocio Sanchez CC BY 4.0

Though many people associate South Beach with partying or general trashiness, what may seem on the surface like simply a spring break mecca is not only a must-see for fans of contemporary art and architecture, but also a community that was lovingly molded by citizens who cared deeply for its future. A once small and diverse town was forcefully developed and subsequently segregated by Carl Fisher and turned partially into the Miami Beach of today. Were it not for the efforts of Barbara Baer Capitman and the Miami Design Preservation League which she co-founded, South Beach would have fallen victim entirely to the bland and uncoordinated design of what residents call Condo Canyon. 

You cannot understate the diversity of South Beach. Nowadays, South Beach is characterized by Art Deco buildings with neon lights, circular windows, and long horizontal slabs of concrete called eyebrows, and takes inspiration from European and Mesoamerican architecture. Art Deco design pervades part of the area so much that the district is named after it. This gives it a unique distinction that separates it from anywhere else in Florida and even the entire country. On Washington Avenue you can also find the Jewish Museum of Florida – FIU, the existence of which serves an ironic justice, as Jews had long been discriminated against throughout the 20th century. Down Ocean Drive you can even see a Mediterranean inspired building, the Versace Mansion, former home of Gianni Versace, who greatly shaped the world’s perception of Miami Beach. If you walk through the area with the efforts of Versace, Capitman, Leonard Horowitz, and others, you might find a lot of beauty, art, and love within Miami Beach.

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