ASC Spring 2020 Service Project: Javi Fernandez

Student Bio

Javi Fernandez is a sophomore at Florida International University pursuing a B.A. in Mathematics. He hopes to lead a fulfilling life surrounded by loved ones and an ability to engage in creative projects regardless of career path.

Service Summary

photo by the Smithsonian Museum

I participated in the Smithsonian Transcription Service, as I thought the concept of helping out with old documents in this way was fascinating. I found out about this service through an article listing 25 ways to volunteer from home. Beginning early Saturday morning, I spent about one hour transcribing just two pages of field notes dating back to 1908! Written by Vernon Orlando Bailey, the first page I transcribed related to various bird and plant species in New Mexico and Arizona. I submitted my contribution for review at 2:45am on Saturday morning. The challenge in this transcription was a combination of messy handwriting and my lack of knowledge on fauna genera and species. If I had a hint for what some initial letters were, I would Google them until I found a genus that matched up with what I could make out from the notebook, and do the same for the following species. This was even more difficult considering the number of spelling errors, which both slowed my searching process but also added an extra layer of carefulness, as I had to transcribe every word as it was on the notebook, including any errors.

By the time I woke up, the page had been peer reviewed and any mistakes I made or words I could not transcribe had been corrected. At 5pm on Saturday I got to work again on four pages from Bailey’s next notebook also dating back to 1908. I looked over a partially completed pair of pages for a bit with some nearly indecipherable handwriting, then began to work on another set of 2. This time, the page had been mostly transcribed though it was full of errors, and I again had to look up nearly everything on the page to find a genus that checked out. By this point, I had already begun to get familiar with his handwriting and note-taking; he’d list quantities of species by abbreviations such as “abu.” for abundant and “com.” for common, or “a few.” I had also noticed many transcribers would misread a cursive c for an e, which became the most important factor in speeding up the process. Even various plant genera became more recognizable to me without even having to look them up, such as Baccharis or Koeberlinia. Sunday morning I worked again for an hour and a half on a set of pages, and although I made significant progress, I did not feel comfortable submitting it for review as there were several things I could not transcribe properly.

I believe this experience was very educational, and I look forward to participating more in the near future. I was able to learn about a particular field that I would have never come into contact with otherwise, all while making a difference to an important organization.

Who Art Miami 2020: Alex Nuñez by Javi Fernandez

Artist Quote

artwork by Alex Nuñez; photo by Alex Nuñez

Jumanji meets South Beach after-hours.” – Alex Nuñez on summarizing her work

Student Bio

Javi Fernandez is a sophomore currently enrolled at Florida International University pursuing a B.A. in Math Education. A recently-found passion for creative media such as music, poetry, and visual art has led him on the path of Game Design, which he plans to begin pursuing in the Fall. He simply hopes to live a fulfilling life with the time to engage in creative projects, regardless of career path.


“Remember how we got here” – Alex Nunez; photo by Alex Nunez

Alex Nuñez was born in Miami in 1984. “My grandmother introduced me to painting when I was about 4 or 5. I’ve been painting as long as I can remember.” Dating back to her earliest memories, creating art has always been something dear to Nuñez. “We could compete for wall space at my parents’ home,” she explained. 

Ever since childhood, all the signs seemed to point at Alex Nuñez becoming a fantastic artist. She participated in art-related after school programs in elementary and middle school, and her parents and teachers encouraged her from the very beginning. Even her mom, a self proclaimed non-artist, has left a heavy creative mark on Nuñez. “She claims she’s not an artist, but she would create these things for PTA meetings and she was very crafty. To this day I think that it has a lot of influence in the work I’m doing now.”

Nuñez always knew she wanted to be an artist. “I studied communications in college, but all my electives were geared towards painting. I always knew.” She obtained her B.A. from Loyola University in New Orleans in 2006; to say her next six years were fruitful would be a gross understatement. Nuñez’s next single year consisted of six-month programs at Firenze Arti Visive and Metafora School of the Arts in Florence and Barcelona, respectively. She then relocated a fourth time to Tufts University in Boston, where she completed her post baccalaureate diploma. Finally, she obtained her M.F.A. from Hunter College in New York City, where she would stay until moving back to Miami in 2016. 

Personal Identity

“Don’t go chasing waterfalls” by Alex Nunez; photo by Alex Nunez

Nuñez is quick to identify the 80s and 90s culture she grew up in as having a notable influence in her work. The bright neon colors found in her paintings echo the “Nickelodeon palette” of the era. This influence is even more direct in the repurposed vinyl album covers from that era she often works with. 

Nuñez also notes her experiences in education as influencing her work in many ways. Completing her undergraduate experience with a major in Communications and a minor in Psychology, she earned a lot of valuable experience working with graphic design, video, and photography, not to mention advertisements, which regularly find themselves in many of her collages. Nuñez recalls her thesis piece, “don’t go chasing waterfalls,” as being particularly reflective of her anxieties of life after education, and perhaps one of her most personal pieces to date. “Dark charcoal contrasted by iridescent pigment like light breaking up darkness … it gives this feeling of being shot out into the world, like ‘what’s all this leading to?’” Nuñez considers it her most immersive piece, having worked on it for over 8 hours a day every day for about 4 months.

Cultural Identity

“if I had somewhere better to be, I’d be there” by Alex Nunez; photo by Alex Nunez

Nuñez carries with her a rich background of studying in 6 different cities across 3 different countries. Growing up in Miami, she moved to New Orleans for her B.A., and followed up with prolonged stays in Florence, Barcelona, Boston, and New York City, the latter of which she lived in for nearly 9 years. When asked if she thinks of her work as a culmination of all these experiences: “I’d like to think so,” she says. “It’s hard not to be influenced by your environment.” Even while living in such wildly different places, however, Nuñez still found herself drawn to her hometown of Miami, where she currently resides. Much of her work draws influence from Miami in the form of neon color palettes, eclectic depictions of nightlife, and lush, tropical environments. “Each work dissects and celebrates my Cuban-American heritage.”

Nuñez draws lots of influence from abstract expressionists and stain painters. “The men of that time received a majority of notoriety; the art world slowly came around to the women of that time years later.” She listed names like Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning and Sam Gillam, among others, as big inspirations, and it isn’t hard to see how they influence her work. The bright splatterings of Mitchell and the chaos of Krasner combine with Nuñez’s own flair to form something that is uniquely and completely her own.

Subject of Artwork

“hang on to your love” by Alex Nunez; photo by Alex Nunez

Nuñez creates under a bountiful source of influences, ranging from dreams, poetry, shows, or even memes. She summarizes her art perfectly as “a snapshot of pop culture,” in which themes as heavy as feminism down to the littlest thing such as a Twitter meme can manifest itself in Nuñez’s work. “I think of it as trying to describe earth to an alien,” she told me. “Not like how a scientist would; it’s as if we had to rebuild the world from scratch from merely observation.” A description matching the vividity of her oeuvre.

Nuñez certainly doesn’t shy away from tackling important issues, however. She holds a strong conviction that artists are morally responsible to confront the issues that matter, as art is one of the most accessible means to challenge issues of inequality in the present day. This is brought to life in her series “Diva,” in which she alters album art from women musicians primarily from the 70s and 80s. “These women, often centered and staring straight out at the audience, possess a dominating glare… I want these pieces to depict energy portals that at times highlight areas of the subject matter and form masks that both conceal and reveal.”

Ultimately, though, Nuñez just wants people to slow down. “My work creates immersive environments that draw the audience in, demanding engagement.” She wants people to spend more time looking at art, while keeping it honest and approachable; there never needs to be some out-of-reach secret to uncover. On her goals for the future, Nuñez simply wants to maintain her engagement and drive to tread new ground. With a prolific and ever-expanding body of work, it doesn’t seem like she’ll be slowing down any time soon.

Formal Elements

“A trail is formed of personal hieroglyphics, a compilation of seemingly meaningless symbols form imagery that mimics nature,” Nuñez elegantly wrote of her work.

“All formal elements share equal importance in my work,” Nuñez explained to me. This is evident after looking at any one of her paintings: a smile-inducing splattering of bright colors and repetitive patterns creates a dreamlike state and hints at a carefree process. “My work is based on a constant intake of imagery, music, nightlife, nature, gossip websites, movies, magazines, crap television, endless YouTube searches, etc.,” Nuñez wrote. Integral to her process is the setup of other media to be played at the same time, whether it be a movie, music, or both. These distractions introduce both a certain intuitive quality to her work and a subconscious influence from the content of Nuñez’s choosing. “The process is equally important to the content for me,” she explains. She loves to play with accidents, likening her process to clouds turning into shapes in the sky: natural, uncontrolled, and beautiful.

Exhibition History

Nuñez’s work has been exhibited across North America and beyond, from California to Mexico to Puerto Rico to Barcelona. The C12 Emerging Artists exhibition in 2013 remains one of the most important shows to her. Nuñez’s only solo exhibition to date, this show directly followed the C12 Fellowship award she won for her thesis in 2012. Nuñez points to the LA Biennial at El Musio de Barrio in New York as being a significant moment in her career having just emerged from grad school, as well as Locals Only in the Diana Lowenstein Gallery for being her first proper group show after her return to Miami. Nuñez also speaks highly of She Inspires and the Whitney Houston Biennial, two 2017 female-focused exhibitions in New York, where she fittingly presented enhanced vinyl artworks from her “Diva” series. “Contributing work to these shows felt incredibly important. There is a consistent lack of diversity in female representation by art institutions.“ Nuñez praised these shows not only for giving much-needed exposure to female artists of today, but also for being an opportunity to develop camaraderie between fellow artists.

Student Perspective

Talking with Alex Nuñez was an absolute pleasure. She offered valuable insight into the life of a career artist, but more than that she offered a glimpse into the life of one of the most interesting, innovative, prolific, and creative women I have ever had the joy of speaking to. She spoke very highly of the Ninth Street Women, some of her biggest inspirations and a group of artists who, despite being integral to the abstract expressionist movement and the modern art world as a whole, go largely underappreciated and unspoken about. It’s very likely I would have never heard of influential names like Helen Frankenthaler and Lee Krasner had she not sung their relatively unsung praises. Nuñez’s willingness to tackle important issues while consistently maintaining her carefree and spontaneous energy is something much needed in the world today. Her work only further cemented in my mind that masterpieces don’t need to come exclusively through a calculated and methodological process, but rather from a genuine desire to explore, to express, and to create.

Works Cited

Hernandez, Jasmin. “In Conversation with Alex Nuñez: Celebrating Pop and R&B Divas in Her Feminist Collages.” Gallery Gurls, Gallery Gurls, 24 Jan. 2018,

“Meet Alex Nuñez.” Voyage MIA Magazine | Miami City Guide, 13 Dec. 2018,

Munro, Cait. “15 Of Our Favorite Contemporary Artists Get Real About Making It In The Art World.” The Top Young Female Contemporary Artists List, Refinery29, 8 Aug. 2019,

Nuñez, Alex. 1985, Nov. 2013,

Rodriguez, JC. “PROVK Magazine: Miami Art: Alex Nunez.” Prvkmag, 12 Apr. 2018,

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

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.