Vaguely image: Moses Parting the Red Sea from the series “Gods Eye View” – Biblical events as seen by Google Earth imagined and produced by the Glue Society for Pulse Miami 2007. Image credit.
Two Wednesdays ago (October 28th) we were fortunate enough to catch the first in a series of seven lectures positioned to chronicle the important and fascinating, yet relatively unknown and hitherto underrepresented history of culture in Miami. Spanning from the initial settling of South Florida to the 1960’s when the seeds of Miami’s contemporary artistic landscape really began to be sown, the first lecture, given by art historian, consultant (for the Vasari Project) and one time critic for the Miami Herald, Helen L. Kohen, was entitled In the Beginning, Mostly the Sun. Illuminating the supreme effort on the part of early settlers to combat their own precarious existence to the end of Miami’s unlikely success, Kohen served to introduce not only South Florida’s chronological wealth, but also its residents’ unusual habit of dismissing it.
“We live in historic times, but we live in a very funny place. Here, today and tomorrow are much more valued than yesterday. Its not just that Miami forgets its past, it just doesn’t seem to want to remember it, and when the subject is art, that loss goes way back as well as way beyond Miami. We once had a president called Cal Coolidge. He was president from 1923 to 1929, during which time he very casually told the world that there was no such thing as American art. He was of course a Republican.” – Helen L. Kohen
From regaling her audience with tale of James Deering to commenting with utmost authority on the genetic fabric of the South Floridian consciousness the eminently qualified Kohen laid out, step by step, to the happy amazement of those in attendance, the process by which Miami came to be.
“Miami is the perfect home for art for where else has the struggle between illusion and reality been as constant…[...]…The late Robert Rauschenberg said that artists work in the gap between art and life, well here, art, the non real, and life, the very real, really provide a big gap for a lot of art. At the very beginning of this story, art in Miami, the trick was to somehow conquer and tame Miami’s over real reality. In truth, the first people to venture into what is now Miami before the civil war were going nowhere. Army, navy and pirates had been and gone. Our government had several turns trying to rule a shifting population of traders, missionaries, exiled Native Americans and runaway slaves. Unless you were a salvager, a naturalist or the wildest sort of dreamer, South Florida was no place for life. It was hard to get to; you trained to Georgia and then you got on a boat. It was even harder to homestead. Groceries came by sea from Key West once a month and biting insects in swarms were here on the hour. There was no respite from the daily shore of trying to make this place anything more than a tropical swamp.” – Helen L. Kohen
In general, this initial introductory lecture seemed to argue that owing to a long (in American terms) history of prosperity in the face of unrelenting adversity, that the spirit of American and in particular Miami arts is now near unbreakable. However, between the lines of the many glowing patriotic, moral boosting accounts of perseverance and advancements there was a sense from Kohen, no doubt owing to her career as a critic, that today those in a position to continue to push on are somehow not doing so to the best of their ability. The ultimate consequence of this it that the arts in Miami today, despite recent notoriety, risk falling from their newfound grace because we now work for the betterment of ourselves and our endeavors as opposed to the city as a whole. Moreover, and in the context of this lecture perhaps most importantly, we aren’t remembering where and what we came from.
The next lecture is this Tuesday (November 10) and will be given by architecture critic, Beth Dunlop, on the subject of Miami’s pioneering structural developments.
Subscriptions for this series in which local critics, historians and curators will present a panorama of the arts in Miami from 1896 to the contemporary scene are $30 for MAM members and$60 for Non-members. Alternatively, single tickets are available at $5 for MAM members and $10 for Non-members. Information on becoming a member here.
MAM Morning Lectures 2009-2010 Series:
Wednesday, October 28, 2009: In the Beginning, Mostly the Sun-Helen L. Kohen, Art Historian and Critic
Tuesday, November 10, 2009: Architecture and Design: Pioneering towards Deco, MiMo and Beyond-Beth Dunlop, Architecture Critic
Wednesday, January 13, 2009: Free and On & Off the Street-César Trasobares, Artist and Art Activist
Wednesday, February 10, 2009: The Biological Analog: Museums Grow, Divide, and Disappear-Helen L. Kohen, Art Historian and Critic
Wednesday, March 10, 2009: Recognizing the Miami Demographic: Before and Beyond-Mariel Margarita Cano, Artist and Joanne Hyppolite, Chief Curator,
Historical Museum of Southern Florida
Wednesday, April 14, 2009: The Transition: Pre-Basel Miami-Peter Boswell, Assistant Director for Programs/ Senior Curator, MAM
Wednesday, May 12, 2009: Assessing Miami Art 2010-René Morales, Associate Curator, MAM
The Morning Lectures begin at 10:30am, are preceded by Coffee and muffins at 10am and followed immediately by a docent led tour.
Guillermo Kuitca: Everything, Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980 – 2008
Upper Level Gallery
October 9, 2009 – January 17, 2010.
Upcoming exhibitions are:
Space as Medium
November 20, 2009 – February 28, 2010
Carlos Bunga: Metamorphosis
New Work Gallery
November 20, 2009 – February 28, 2010
Carlos Cruz-Diez: The Embodied Experience of Color
New Work Gallery
March 20 – June 20, 2010
For more information please contact MAM’s Education Department at 305-375-4073 or email@example.com
Miami Art Museum | 101 West Flagler St. | 305-375-3000 | miamiartmuseum.org
Note: Above quotes from the lecture were transcribed from live recordings by Anthony Quintana. Due to the poor quality of said recordings there maybe minor discrepancies between what was actually said and what is reproduced here. To obtain a copy of these recordings please contact us.