ASC Service Project Fall 2019: Javi Fernandez

On the third Sunday of every month, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami hosts Family Day, where parents and their kids are invited to make art and partake in different activities. I was fortunate enough to be able to volunteer in the December edition of Family Day! The day started at 10am with a brief tour of the staff-exclusive areas of the museum, and we then gathered supplies and set up all the necessary preparations for the event. We were assigned to one of four tents, each with a different activity. My tent was “Hand in Hand,” where kids and their parents trace their hand on construction paper, write a descriptive word on it, and tape it onto a wall, culminating in a free-form poem by the end.

This experience gave me much-needed practice in interacting with people. I was admittedly scared before the families started coming in, but the event was a lot more light-hearted and casual than I expected. Shortly after beginning, I was already comfortable enough to greet the families with a smile and explain the activity. The staff were also extremely nice people, and participated in the events with us. I am lucky to have had this opportunity at ICA Miami, and I am truly considering returning another month!

Reference Contact Information:

Itzel Basualdo

volunteers@icamiami.org

Family Day Volunteer – 12/15/19; 7 hours

ASC See Miami Fall 2019: ICA Miami – Javi Fernandez

Student Bio

My name is Javi Fernandez. I’m a sophomore currently pursuing a B.A. in Math Education. I’m not sure what I want to do in the future, but I am interested in being a high school math teacher. 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.

Geography

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami is located at 61 NE 41 St., in the Design District of Wynwood. The Design District, as the name implies, is very modern and artistic, and is the primary location for many museums and collections of Miami. Conveniently, across the street from ICA Miami is the Museum Garage, so parking is never an issue.

History

ICA Miami began as an offshoot of the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. A dispute with the city beginning in 2014 over the right to move led to a property settlement that birthed ICA Miami from selected works of the MOCA. In late 2017, ICA Miami opened at last in a building previously belonging to the de la Cruz family.

Mission

The museum’s mission, from their website, is in “promoting continuous experimentation in contemporary art, advancing new scholarship, and fostering the exchange of art and ideas throughout the Miami region and internationally.”

Access

ICA Miami has exceptional accessibility. Most importantly, admission is free all year round. Notably, the ICA has an extremely large elevator that fits well over 30 people, and accomodates wheelchair users very properly. Wheelchair users also have no trouble getting in and out of the building. Additionally important is the inclusion of gender-neutral bathrooms. There are also programs for kids and adults of all ages.

The membership options are very enticing for anyone. Memberships offer a variety of benefits, and an individual membership, already a measly $50 a year, cuts down to $30 for students, educators, artists, and members of the military. The individual membership includes a 20% discount at the ICA Miami shop, free parking all over the Design District, exclusive discounts at select retailers and restaurants, reserved seating at all ICA Public Programs, and more. The dual membership, offered specially to parents, include all the benefits of the individual membership for the same price per person ($100/year) as well as special access to family events and discounts for education workshops. The most popular membership, for good reason, is the ICA Next membership. For $365/year (or $1 a day!) one can receive all the benefits of the individual membership with the added bonus of invitations to gallery visits, studio tours, special programs, and VIP Opening Cocktail Receptions for major exhibitions, free admission and discounts at nearly 700 museums across the country as part of the North American Reciprocal Museum program, and Modern and Contemporary Reciprocal privileges for over 60 contemporary museums. If that isn’t enough, members also receive VIP access to select Miami Art Fairs!

If you’re a wealthy enthusiastic supporter of ICA Miami, there are membership options for you too! The Patron level for $1000/year offers all the benefits of the ICA Next membership as well as a complimentary gift Dual membership, recognition on the Donor Wall in the museum, and invitations to exclusive events such as private collection viewings, artist studio yours, Donor Circle programming during Miami Art Week, and special programs with ICA curators and artists. Furthermore, Patrons are given the opportunity to join the Patron Council and attend the annual Patron dinner. The Benefactor Level for $2500/year offers all the benefits of the Patron level plus a personal tour of the museum with an ICA curator or educator. The Director membership for $5000/year reaps all the benefits that come with being a Benefactor, as well as exclusive opportunities to participate in art-centric travel opportunities with ICA Miami’s Artistic Director, priory notice for Enchanted Evenings, and invitations to Director Circle receptions outside of Miami. Lastly, the aptly named Visionary membership for $10,000/year offers the incredible benefit of being able to reserve the museum for a private event, as well as one complimentary copy of a newly released ICA Miami publication, and invitations to even more exclusive events such as the ICA Miami Donor Circle Dinner.

Collection

ICA Miami has nearly 100 pieces in its permanent collection, the majority of which seem to be in storage as Sterling Ruby’s two-floor exhibit is on display. Most notable, currently, are Dan Flavin’s trademark fluorescent lights. The museum also touts permanent pieces from acclaimed artists such as Ana Mendieta, Sterling Ruby, Rita Ackermann, and Hernan Bas.

Exhibition

The most noteworthy aspect of ICA Miami is the expansive two-floor exhibition “Sterling Ruby.” Open from Nov 7, 2019 to Feb 2, 2020, this massive retrospective showcases brilliantly the varied works of mid-career artist Sterling Ruby. Over 100 of Ruby’s works are represented across these two floors, including collages, ceramics, drawings, and installations of all sorts of materials from steel to denim to spray paint. One may think it excessive to have two floors dedicated to a single artist, but Ruby’s pieces are so diverse that there is not a shred of redundancy across the exhibition.

The first floor has its fair share of interesting exhibitions. One of the first things you may see upon entering ICA Miami is Robert Goder’s 1978-2000, a series of 22 photographs and collages that surround the harrowing untitled piece in the center of the room; a sewer grate with a body in it. On display from Dec 3, 2019, Wong Ping’s “The Modern Way To Shower” is an absurd and provocative phone screen recording of Ping commissioning a livestream of a latex-clad woman from the deep web. A few steps forward and you are presented with Carlos Sandoval de Leon’s massive untitled mixed-media installation, taking the form of a giant cylindrical hollow shelf. One can spend hours staring and deciphering this exhibition, as it is filled with many objects portraying a certain imagery left to the viewer to piece together.

Special Programs

ICA Miami has a variety of special programs open to the public. One of the most popular events is Family Day, held on the third Sunday of every month. This event invites families and their kids to enjoy hours of creating art together in fun and engaging activities. 

The museum also offers programs for middle school, high school, and college students. The Young Artist Initiative is an 18-week after school program for high school artists to analyze and create art. Students are also provided opportunities to work with leading artists, acquire scholarships and internships, and attend Art Basel. For 7th and 8th graders, the museum offers a two week summer course entitled Portfolio Prep for Academic Art Programs dedicated to helping students to prepare for magnet and charter schools. Lastly, for undergraduate, graduate or postgraduate students, ICA Miami offers paid internships in both education and exhibition records upkeep. 

Also available at ICA Miami are several programs dedicated to promoting discussion about art. ICA Performs invites performance artists to present their works at the museum. ICA Speaks partners with artists from their permanent collection to speak at ICA. ICA Ideas invites acclaimed artists to discuss with an audience about their artworks, ushering in a new method of interacting with the art beyond simply viewing. Lastly, ICA Residents sees the museum collaborate with up and coming organizations to host projects and events.

Visitor Interview

Reia Drucker, 19, visited the museum with her boyfriend on recommendation from a friend. Being a computer science major, she has had relatively little experience with contemporary art, but nonetheless enjoyed her brief excursion to the museum, and expressed an interest in returning. She particularly liked the works of Sterling Ruby’s Mapping series (which reminded her of graph theory), and the Wong Ping installation “The Modern Way To Shower.” She admitted having no knowledge of any of the programs offered at the ICA, which she attributed to lack of proper advertising. 

Employee Interview

What is your name and what do you do at the ICA?

Itzel Basualdo. Youth Programs Coordinator. I am responsible for recruiting interns and volunteers, but primarily I am in charge of two youth programs at the museum. I am a teacher and mentor, if you will, for teenagers who are enthusiastic about art and are interested in furthering their skills and knowledge of contemporary art.

How long have you been employed with the ICA?

Five months.

What is the best part of the job to you?

Interacting with talented and bright teenagers. Seeing life through their eyes through the art they make.

What drew you to work at the ICA?

I was looking for a job that would keep me close to my interests (art, art, art). I’ve never had my own class — I was a teaching assistant throughout grad school, and considered teaching at the undergraduate level after completing my studies, but felt nervous about the prospect of teaching undergrads because of our little to no difference in age. The ICA position, besides keeping me close to my passion, seemed like the perfect blend of all the “professional” skills I’d acquired along the way: event management, some teaching, curating an exhibition, etc.

What is your favorite exhibit/piece currently?

Carlos Sandoval de León. I didn’t grow up knowing of artists whose background was anything like my own, and by that I mean first gen, who grew up in Miami, immigrant, Mexican American. Carlos’ work reflects a genius to curating and altering found materials to reveal alternative meanings, these being specific to his identity. I really recommend everyone check it out and spend some time with the installation, which is scattered with visual poems for one to decipher (or not). 

How well do you think the ICA succeeds in its mission, and at being accessible?

ICA is free, which is really great and technically anyone can enter! We have an excellent visitor services staff that’s extremely knowledgeable on all the art, and all you have to do is ask. However, I think there are other less evident boundaries that keep just anyone from entering the institution. We are located in an enclave of luxury businesses that draws in a very specific audience. Visitors aren’t often told that the visitors services staff is trained and are a treasure trove of information that they can ask questions regarding the works. I’m not sure how conscious the museum is of its geography serving as a gatekeeper, and I’m personally looking through increasing our audience through my youth programming. I’m trying to attract students passionate about the arts from neighboring non-magnet school programs.

Summary

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami is a very well-rounded museum. The diverse Sterling Ruby exhibition leaves nothing to be desired, and the interesting works on the first floor, currently ranging from lights to video to multimedia installations, are very enthralling and offer the attendee a chance at introspectiveness. The museum ranks excellently in accessibility, providing gender-neutral bathrooms, spacious elevators, and guided audio tours both via app and through venue-provided headphones. The membership options are a must for any fan of the museum as well: from shop discounts to free parking, the Individual or Next memberships are more than worth it and entice you to return to see more of what ICA has to offer in the future. My sole nitpick with the ICA is with their advertising, particularly with their special programs on their website. The ICA Miami website does not explicitly describe the details of their Ideas, Residents, Performs, and Speaks programs, instead providing a well-meaning but vague mission statement for each one. However, Family Day is an amazing event that does wonders for families, kids, volunteers, and the museum itself. Itzel Basualdo, the Youth Programs Coordinator, does her best to break all barriers by visiting schools around the area to promote ICA Miami’s events. The staff are amazing people who truly do their best to see the museum flourish. ICA Miami is unquestionably one of the best museums I have ever been to.

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.

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.