There were a lot of foreign accents during Miami art week, with the usual mix of art and fashion and celebrities and this year the addition of an international coterie of starchitects who’ve been vying to make their mark on the youthful skyline.
But the most symbolic accent has to be an é: the one in the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the first major U.S. museum to have one in its name, which opened triumphantly in its Herzog & de Meuron building with a pan-American perspective and exhibitions devoted to artists born in Morocco, Cuba, Poland, China, Israel, the U.S., and Scotland, though most of them left their native countries to live elsewhere.
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That spectrum, like the scene in the fairs, museums, and private collections, reflects Miami’s status as an increasingly Latin American art center in an increasingly globalized art world. It’s hard to say exactly what this means, because the terms are so slippery. The idea of defining “Latin American art” is only getting harder, and less relevant to artists who have joined a global conversation.
Funny thing about the word “global”: It looks the same in Spanish and English. But it sounds different, and brings different connotations.
This was the challenge for Jen Mergel and Liz Munsell, contemporary-art curators at the MFA Boston who’ve been spending a lot of time in Miami.
Looking to do its first Latin contemporary show, the MFA had arranged with Ella Fontanals-Cisneros to organize an exhibition of artworks from her collection, open it at her foundation, CIFO, in December, and take it to Boston next spring.
Working with guidance from in-house curator Jesús Fuenmayor, the curators isolated certain themes that run through the art of the Caribbean and South America—“Occupied Geometries,” for example—looking at the ways artists push at tradition, borders, and authority.
They decided to call their exhibition “Permission to be Global: Latin American Art from the Ella Fontanals Cisneros Collection.” The idea was to provoke discussion about what it means to stage a show based on a geographic region, in era of an global networks that only include part of the globe.
Is it possible, Mergel asks in the catalogue, “to speak of a universal or global aesthetic in contemporary art? If free access and exchange of ideas and resources between cultures and continents is the global ideal, does this even exist yet?”
Their concept got lost in translation in the Spanish version of their title, which made it seem like the artists were the ones looking for permission—something the curators did not intend. So in Spanish, the show has a different name: “Prácticas Globales.” And the subtitle was changed too, from “Latin American art” to “Arte de Latinoamerica.” When it comes to discussions of identity, an “of,” like an accent, can matter a lot.
The Rubells avoided this problem, as is their custom, by calling the show at their Wynwood space “28 Chinese.”
The show of new acquisitions reflects the family’s decade of immersion in the Chinese art scene, involving over 100 studio visits conducted on six trips. The results touch on many of the themes in the CIFO show: the idea of an abstract language, a conflicted relationship with national identity, and an uneasy connection with history and power. You might say that these works speak to their contemporaries from Latin America using the global language of art.
Another intriguing conversation has just begun at Debra and Dennis Scholl’s Miami Beach apartment, where the couple debuted highlights from their growing collection of recent Australian Aboriginal abstract painting. As is their custom they hired an outside curator, Henry Skerritt, who has installed the Aboriginal works alongside pieces by Brian Jungen, Paul Chan, and others who speak the language of Western contemporary art. The whole gathering will go on the road, launching a tour at the Nevada Museum of Art in 2015.
Meanwhile, at the Bass Museum, “Piotr Uklański: ESL” celebrates the creative possibilities of speaking with a foreign accent. In the show, based on the idea of using English as a second language, the Warsaw-born artist adopts the “dialects” of art movements like Abstract Expressionism and Color Field—expressed with mock monumentality in techniques you might pick up in a crafts store, like tie dye and macramé.
Call it a deliberate act of mistranslation.
Uklański brings a note of irony to his gleeful arts and crafts game. Elsewhere in the contemporary-art scene, clay and textiles, common to cultures around the world, assumed their place of pride as a matter of fact. If there’s a global art style, this is what it’s made of.
This year more than ever, the fairs shimmered with glaze and beads and tribal bling.
Flaunting their decorative exhibitionism, their roots in the (former) periphery and the multiple influences of trade routes and migrations, these objects—by Hew Locke, Ebony G. Patterson, El Anatsui, Elektra KB, Sanford Biggers, Adrian Esparza, Santiago Cucullu, and so many others—held their own against the giant pricey baubles by the likes of Jeff Koons and Nir Hod.
The accents might be hard to identify, but the attitude isn’t.