Art Exhibit gives place a fresh new perspective

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The Miami Herald
Up Front | Art

April 23, 2006

The work of artists in the heart of Miami’s building boom is featured in a new show opening Wednesday at the Miami Art Museum.

208058179256CHARLES TRAINOR JR./MIAMI HERALD STAFF

By Lydia Martin

Who but artists, traditionally short on green but in need of work space and community, would appropriate derelict buildings and menacing streets?

True, the gentrification they help ignite when they open studios and galleries in down and out ‘hoods — SoHo, South Beach, Wynwood — is the very thing that eventually pushes them out. But that’s progress.

On Wednesday, the Miami Art Museum previews a show dedicated, you could say, to progress. Miami in Transition, which officially opens Friday, features the work of 21 artists who live and work in the dust of Miami’s bulldozers and the shadows of its building cranes.

Among them: Spanish-born Vicenta Casañ, whose dreamlike digital images depict steel and glass towers floating in the clouds; Argentine-born Patricio Cuello, whose mixed-media installation, 24-inch House, speaks to the scarcity of space; and Cuban-American Xavier Cortada, whose Absence of Placeuses snapshots to convey the disorientation that ensues when all of your landmarks vanish.

As the building boom hustles their city toward a new, if still unresolved, identity, these 21 artists couldn’t help but muse — about impermanence, about sense of place, about both the vision and shortsightedness inherent in concrete and steel campaigns.

Some are for change. Some against. Many seem driven to document the past as a way of deciphering the future.

”What they have in common is that they are all witnesses,” said Lorie Mertes, MAM’s assistant director for special projects, who curated the show with assistant Rene Morales. “More than that, they have played a role. Artists become the catalyst for change in neighborhoods that go from funky to fabulous after they move in.”

A DISAPPEARING MIAMI

Michael Loveland, a Miami native and New World School of the Arts graduate, is one to value the funky over the fabulous. He collects discarded traffic markers, billboards and shop signs that stand as relics of a disappearing Miami.

His Development Opportunity for Sale, commissioned for the MAM show, features an old hand-painted billboard for Everglades airboat rides that came down in one of last year’s storms.

”It’s a design sensibility that seems lost in the age of the digital printout,” said Loveland, who lives in the gentrifying Upper Eastside. “There is another old sign from a beauty shop on Northeast Second Avenue painted by a street sign painter named Serge, who paints all the sandwiches and dripping beer bottles on neighborhood bodegas. It’s the simplicity of it. Now that creativity is being swept away by higher rents. That color palette is disappearing.”

What Leila A. Leder-Kremer laments most about disappearance is that Miamians don’t lament it more. Landmarks fall and nobody flinches, she learned when she began documenting the demolition of the Everglades Hotel and the Dupont Plaza with fellow artist Thomas Brian Virgin.

”There are a lot of people in Miami who are not from here. They lack a connection to the city’s past. Buildings go and it doesn’t mean anything to them,” said Leder-Kremer, who moved to Miami from Buenos Aires seven years ago. “Immediately, nobody remembers what used to stand there.”

She and Virgin crafted a zoetrope — a 19th-century optical device that creates a movie-like effect with a rotating set of still images — to tell the story of the Everglades Hotel implosion.

Except, they tell it in reverse, with the 1926 Mediterranean Revival building rising like a felled giant ready to reclaim its place on Biscayne Boulevard.

”We started with the idea of a flip book,” said Leder-Kremer. ‘The zoetrope was initially Thomas’ idea. It’s a device that disappeared when motion pictures arrived. It’s about the past making way for the future.”

Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova’s Home glorifies his own past much the way developers glorify the promise of a new glass-and-steel future. The architectural model of his family’s modest Kendall house has no zenned-out pool deck, no glam rooftop party space