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An American Visits America: Photography Show In Miami

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The time came again for me to sail off into the turquoise sea and land in Miami, which is actually in America. Really! People may speak a lot of Spanish with Cuban, Peruvian, Columbian, Spanish, Basque, Nicaraguan, and even Mexican here; but America it is. There is French and Creole and myriad languages from Pakistan (Urdu, I think), India, and the sun and style-seeking Europeans.

America is a grand melting pot still. Versace was here, after all, but gone now — which sadly happens in our world that has embraced so much violence.

Miami is international. Tampa, where yours truly comes from, is not. Pensacola and Tallahassee, pretty as their Indian names are, are not. I am, I guess a little international, since I am presently expatriated and speak some of this and that. Luckily I still remember my English (well, American English) pretty well.

It is not my first visit in the nine or ten years I have not lived back here, back home in my native land. I may still be 110% American more or less, but this new America always comes as a surprise. It has changed – my America, the South, Florida. Maybe the world has changed as I aged and not perhaps for the better, even if there are iPods and iPhones and an I-Net.

This gives me a chance to write a bit of travel and a bit of art criticism (Miami is growing its cultural identity almost as fast as the condos are being jig-sawed together with big cranes and tons of pre-formed concrete panels), some restaurant reviews and, when the cataract is sucked out, I will be able to photograph again.

So this is Miami. These are the thoughts of an American seeing America anew, a Southerner back home in the South, my mobility limited to public transport in a world of the car culture from which I came, who drive at least one car at a time. Judging by the horrendously growing traffic, some may be driving two or more at a time. I haven’t seen that yet, but something must fuel those eight or more lanes of revving monsters just waiting for me to slow down as I (gasp!) walk across the highway.

The restaurant reviews that may come later tend toward the affordable, the Chinese (my favorite cuisine), and the Cuban on which I grew up. However there is a Japanese-Chinese with a Shanghai dish that I plan to note, the Peruvian-Chinese where I ate a Szechuan dish the other night, and my favorite luxury restaurant in Coconut Grove at the Ritz-Carlton (which is not affordable, just perfect). Later, you hungry readers – first the eye and the mind.

Finally, after meaning to during a number of trips here (filled with hospital and medical chores), I went to the Miami Art Museum in Government Center, an easy-to-reach downtown location. Only half the galleries were open (two) but “Modern Photographs: The Machine , The Body And The City ” was worth the train trip on Miami’s clean and quick Metrorail elevated system.

The show includes 160 photographs from Atget and Stieglitz, through Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Edward Weston, to Robert Mapplethorpe, Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol, and some 21st century photographers with whom I am not familiar. However, new views of the world is what art is about, as are visits to old friends like a Weston sand dune picture and his nude torso of his son Brett.

Mapplethorpe is represented best for me by nude torsos, magnificently printed of nude figures in black & white — the photo and the models. Some of the newer workers have large chromogenic prints of “10 cupolas” and a Chinese shipyard with skeletal, industrial symbols of the growing might of the Eastern powerhouse that has its sights on American dominance. Maybe for the first time, this photo made me think that they may, indeed, be aiming for competition with the West. They are a-building while we are a-fighting.

There was one of my favorite Bruce Davidson’s, the Coney Island shot with the 50’s boy, sleeves rolled up, Marlboro Man, and the girl primping in the vending machine mirror, a wonderful William Klein, Mirror, Times Square, Vogue from 1962 lent by the Howard Greenberg Gallery back in my New York where we expect great photos to live.

Then click over to the MAM site for their one reproduction — a photographer and picture I did not know — Ted Croner, Taxi, New York Night 1949, which shows that a good collector can find pictures by less famous people that are still the essence of art – transported by being well-seen. In this case, a ghostly blur of 40s speed in the epitome of a view of the Big Apple before they even called it that.

The exhibition is open until 15 April 2007 and is “from the collection of Miami-raised and New York-based collector, art dealer and curator Charles Cowles.” 101 of the 160 pieces are gifts to MAM for their collection. The guest curator of the show was photography critic Andy Grundberg who is “… currently Administrative Chair of Photography at the Corcoran College of Art and Design (Washington).” He chose the “core” 101 prints while Cowles chose 60 of the works ” which he has hung ‘salon style’ — wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling – as his preferred way of seeing the collection.

I enjoyed that wall. It reminded me of my grandmother-in-law’s Victorian-style piano with its mélange of framed family photos fighting for attention, related but confusing like the piles of an efficiently disorganized office. The wall was chock full of gems and less-than-gems, wonderful eyes seeing things newly or better, some mediocre prints (a Joel Meyerowitz Cape Cod shot I normally love and today felt cheated out of its normally delicate colors and excitement in the mundane porch and background lightning flash).

The problem is that this wall neglected those helpful tags to label the pictures, mixed styles, and types, and over-loaded my tired eyes with visual information until I fled. Later I came back from across the gallery a few times when I noticed pictures I wanted to see that had been lost in the morass of images, times, styles, views and feelings.

My over-all feeling: Wow! Pleasure for my first exhibit in ages. What a lovely way to break from doctor visits, computer shopping, and just plain American shopping that can take so much time for so little pleasure and so much money. If I lived here I would go again at least once. However, since this visit loaded me with maps and opening invitations to galleries I didn’t know existed and a whole “Miami Art District,” I now must begin exploring.

There was one jarring moment that aged me most and either excited or saddened me. I have not come close to understanding enough of Photoshop and am considering Aperture for my new Mac (but its horrendous cost kept me from a new, better film scanner and — oh, someday! — one of the neat, new Nikon digital SLRs like the D80 or D200). The Museum has a room with seats for the kiddies and a chemical darkroom with lightbox, trays, and Omega 4×5 enlarger. All those years I slaved away in those fumes, mixing acetic acid and trying new developers, fell asleep while prints washed on deadline, and now it is all just a museum piece. The digital darkroom reigns.

The small gallery had a show of “Scholastic Art”. I thought the paintings were weak for college students and wandered through with few glances. Then I found some photos and realized these were middle and high school student works that present a different slant on how they are to be judged, and that the photography was better than the painting.

That is, I think, because it is more accessible to young people, more “modern” and can be made by prodigies while painting needs more education, more maturity, more practice. Indeed, my favorite B&W of a dramatically lighted girl was done by a 7th grader. I, too, was shooting my little heart out in the 7th grade, just not as well. The benefits for Miami of providing a venue for kids in a museum to the city and to them are without question. Kudos to the administrator.

Are you in Miami? Go. It is a pleasant interlude and the Cowles show a visual treat. Information is at 305-375-3000. Fill your eyes before the nightlife and before the myriad restaurants. Have some Cuban coffee con leche or colada and fly low to the MAM.

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  • michael sears

    please i need to know abouting the your home show at the this weekland [Personal contact info deleted] please let me to knoe how happy be my smile to you all the this weekland plesa i can come to this weekland.