Postcard from Miami

Naama Tsabar, the death of Castro, and Rem Koolhaas's new ‘hub for the cultural elites’

As Miami was gearing up for this year’s grand carnival, Art Basel the plethora of events that surround it, something happened. In a sudden turn of events, this year’s party started a weekend early. The news of Fidel Castro’s death was celebrated by thousands of Cubans in the streets of Miami’s Little Havana. Armed with pans and cutlery as musical instruments, and drinks sponsored by Versailles, a well-known restaurant and political headquarter of the Cuban diaspora, people chanted and toasted to a Cuba Libre (free Cuba). A great majority of Cubans in Miami are upper- and middle-class people who fled socialism attracted by the promise of work and prosperity. Over the years, they’ve contributed to strengthen the economy of South Florida turning Miami in the northernmost tip of Latin America, a second Havana —as people call it — but without Fidel and without socialism. Miami has become a paradise for Latin American’s urban developers such as the eccentric Argentinian’s hotelier Alan Faena. He has commissioned Rem Koolhaas and OMA to design the brand-new Faena District, an art district-cum-luxury condo-cum-frescoed hotel-cum Forum for the Arts in Miami Beach that Koolhaas himself, with dumbfounding frankness, calls ‘a new hub for the cultural elites.’

Faena Forum, with its focus on time-based art, was inaugurated by a fabulous colourful parade, 'Tide by Side', curated by Claire Tancons in collaboration with musician Arto Linsday and with commissions by artists Carlos Betancourt, Carnival Arts, Los Carpinteros, Marinella Senatore, Miralda and a special guest appearance by Ernesto Neto. Drawing on the music and nightlight tradition of Cuba, Los Carpinteros delivered an exceptionally energetic performance, Conga Irreversible, first presented during La Bienal de Havana in 2012, with exuberant costumes and elaborate choreographies. The parade moved back and forth on a stretch spanning a few blocks. The most spectacular moments of the performances occurred in front of the Forum under the eyes of its funders, who, with a stately air, greeted the dancers and the excited crowd. Coming from a small village in the South of Italy, this scene felt strangely familiar.

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Celebrations of Castro's death in Miami. Courtesy: the author

As art dealers, artists, curators and collectors flocked into Miami Beach to attend Art Basel Miami, the numbers of events, exhibitions, breakfasts and brunches multiplied exponentially. In Collins Park, a space adjacent to the Bass Museum (currently under construction and slated to open in spring of next year), stood the recently acquired Miami Mountain (2016), a colourful stone totem pole made by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone and something of a centrepoint for Ground Control, a public art project organized by Art Basel Miami Beach and curated by Nicholas Baume. A rich programme of public intervention and performances animated the park during the night of Art Basel Miami’s opening. For instance, the performance by Israeli artist Naama Tsabar, Composition 18 (2016), turned part of the park into a keyboard of sorts with three different bands of musicians, each atop their amplifiers, performing three separate pieces. Sharing a similar musical structure, the three pieces at some point blended together to produce hypnotic dreamy, drone-like sounds. The artist, who also had a solo show at one of the most exciting young galleries based in Miami, Spinello Projects, offered the audience a magical experience, after the obligatory chit-chat and hand-shakes, the audience was asked to be quiet and listen.

While the majority of these events took place in Miami Beach, Downtown remains relatively immune to art tourism, except for several private collections such as Margulies, Rubell and Cifo, and the Pérez Art Museum (PAMM) locate in the Bay front area. While private collectors tend to showcase their collections, this year the Perez Museum hosted a retrospective of Argentinian kinetic artist, political activist and founding member of the activist Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV), Julio Le Parc, curated by Estrellita B. Brodksy. At the heart of the Le Parc’s work — comprising paintings, drawings, and installations — is the idea of the democratization of art through play and participation, as he states in a video interview from the 1970s included in the show. The highlights of the show are his black and white geometric drawings as well as his coloured sketches exploring lights and movement from the ’60s and ’70s.  Overall, the exhibition felt exhaustingly crowded. A few works less would have provided enough elements to make sense of Le Parc’s practice and left some room for appreciating the trajectory of the work of this brilliant artist.

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Naama Tsabar, Composition 18, 2016. Courtesy: the author

I ended the week in Havana, Cuba, where I visited a beautiful Jannis Kounellis exhibition, organized in collaboration with Galleria Continua at Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wilfredo Lam. It seemed like all that Kounellis has ever argued for artistically, chimed with life in the streets of Havana, where society is not (fully) governed by the logic of mass production and consumption, engagement with the material world appears more considerate. What breaks gets fixed, by hand. People take care of old things as they do of each other. By suspending an old bed frame in front of a window, as if he was airing the sheets but using the whole bed, Kounellis paid tribute to the manner in which a certain touch of the hand gives levity to matter.

Lead image: Ugo Rondinone, Miami Mountain, 2016, Collins Park, Miami. Courtesy: The Bass Museum of Art, Miami

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