"This is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. No museum, no gallery has done anything this comprehensive," Robert Thiele of Bridge Red Studio pronounced.
After visiting the latest exhibition at North Miami's Bridge Red, I could not fault that statement. Titled "BluPrnt," on view through Sunday, Feb. 5, consists of 305 Miami artists from 1914 up to the present day.
"BluPrnt" carefully draws a metaphorical diagram charting local art movements through the decades. Each artist and concept is linked, spiraling out to encompass today's art community in its synergistic amplitude. The exhibition will surprise you in the breadth and influence of our city.
Several of Miami's most august artists have painstakingly amassed this vast show to fill a void in our Art-Basel-in-Miami world. Seems we lost sight of one faction as the city welcomed contemporary artists from over the globe. That oversight is now a full-on exhibition of Miami artists. No one works in a vacuum. As I traversed the show, it clarified the importance of a vigorous art community for other artists and the community in general. Artists breathed new life into Coconut Grove back in the 1960s and Wynwood in the 1990s, most notably.
I will let the project statement delineate the concept:
Curated by Robert Chambers and assembled by the artists, "BluPrnt" is an all-volunteer, zero-commission multidisciplinary, inter-generational cross-section of Miami-based artists connected through relationships between teachers, students, mentors, community and family ties.
Bridge Red has 10 artists' studios with exhibition space. Thiele, a widely collected sculptor/painter who works from studios both here and in Brooklyn, is co-director of Bridge Red along with fellow artist and daughter Kristen Thiele (painter).
Miami native Robert Chambers, artist (sculptor, mixed media), mentor and previously an instructor at NYU and University of Miami, is the highly qualified curator and mastermind of "BluPrnt." He is deeply involved with Miami’s influential YoungArts program. Dimitry Said Chamy (artist/designer) is assistant curator and producer of the show with the support of FIU's Ratcliffe Art and Design Incubator where he is founding faculty member and Research Associate.
A poem, "For Posterity’s Sake," by Par David Neiburger guides viewers up the stairs to the main gallery. Walls are covered with floor-to-ceiling pieces by artists directly connected to other artists. Like the continuous living that this exhibition explores, it is an exponential example of growth. Starting in November 2022 with close to 185 pieces, the goal of "BluPrnt" in acquiring 305 locally connected artists of any and all media was successfully reached by the Jan. 6 official opening.
Thiele laid out the genesis of "BluPrint": “Robert Chambers, 22 years ago had replaced the missing Art Basel that first year (because of 9/11) with the first Miami group show (in 2001), held at the Bass, called Globe Miami Island. We had the idea for it to be Miamicentric without having any idea how centric… and eccentric, and all comprehensive it would become. There was only one curator who could pull this together who has the knowledge and the energy; Robert (Chambers) would curate the show.”
"BluPrnt" is the first show since then to replicate the ideas of Globe Miami Island.
I spent the next hour and a half mesmerized by explanations of who and how each artist was connected to the next, what decade and medium they embraced and why.
Miami, like most cities, has acquired its residents via a variety of circumstances.
Many arrived here to free themselves from a difficult political life, using their art to communicate adaptation into whatever Miami is/was to them. Many artists of note grew up in South Florida, as young adults left to figure out who they were, (usually to a bigger more influential city), often returning to aid ailing aged parents. Many discovered the town had grown up, as had they. A large portion of artists stayed to gather with others rediscovering what they left was actually what they were looking for.
Chambers took over to explain wall Number One and off we went from there: “Loni Johnson was a teacher of Chris Friday, who is a teacher whose student was Leo Castaneda (an artist working with VR, gaming and interactive sculpture)" He continues: “Lance (Minto-strous) was a student of Loni…”
Thiele interjects: “It’s Coconut Grove centric…by location,” referring to the wall of artists under discussion.
Each piece is equally linked in this manner by Chambers and his vast knowledge base. In fact, many are his past students.
His artist mother, Eleanora Chambers (painter/sculptor) is represented in the show, which focuses on synergistic interrelationships.
“My mother arrived on the Coconut Grove scene in the late 1950s. This piece is from ’63,’64,” he pointed out. Chambers lofty Miami heritage is obviously solid.
“She knew Robert McKnight, Klara Farkas, the whole pack.”
Eleanora once showed with Pablo Cano’s mother, Margarita Cano. By now I was clinging to every snippet from both genuine interest and attempting to correctly note how the complicated information worked together. How he could keep it straight is beyond me, but then Chambers lived it all.
On a wall in the first room is a painting by Alexandra Jimenez, an 18-year-old painter still in school and never shown previously. "BluPrnt" spans the gamut from “Who?” to a long and impressive “Who’s Who” list including such notables as Purvis Young, Edouard Duval-Carrié, and my esteemed Bridge Red guides for the day.
“It’s a horizontal cut through the Miami art scene… and a vertical cut,” said Thiele, emphasizing the depth.
“During Art Basel, if you were from out of town looking for Miami art, you were out of luck. We were remarking how it’s never been done. This should be in a museum. That’s when we realized it’s bigger than just Miami."
I had my own Miami ’70s connections, dropping personal experience into the timeline. One such connection was to Marilyn Gottlieb-Roberts, a noted artist and educator in Miami. As proof positive of the power of connection Dimitry Chamy chimed in. “This is the magic of the show. She (Gottlieb-Roberts) was my first art teacher when I came to the States, she and Charles Recher (helped open an artists' colony on Miami Beach; Recher was a video projection installation artist) were my art 'parents' here in the ’90s. This is just the beginning; the goal is to have a proper archive website. It will become a resource when talking about the arts in Miami.”
Note: Recher is survived by a partner of 20 years, well-known mixed media artist Judy Robertson, included in the show. And so it continues…
Stunning photographs by Coconut Grove photographer Klara Farkas from the 1930s and ’40s are presented. Her work spanned many decades until her death in 2014 at the age of 103. Prodigious oil, watercolor, gouache, pastel artist Margaret LeFranc (1907-1998) also shares the wall. A gamut of ages, stages, past and present washes over the viewer as each facade unfurls its secrets. “Over here an early Purvis Young is next to a Sal La Rosa.” Chambers knows each one without fail. Images, history, names and connections are coming at me fast and furious now. Everyone bubbles with ideas and energy. I’m swept up in the ebullience on the day I visit: a normally sedate New Year's Day.
Over here we have self-taught interdisciplinary artist Carol Jazzar who came from Paris in 1991. Lou Anne Colodny, founder of MoCA introduced Jazzar to myriad local artists. Jazzar now curates exhibits for others as well …and the beat goes on.
“This is a feel-good show, a sort of collective freedom, if I can associate these two words, when no matter what you do, as creative expression or whether your work belongs to the mainstream establishment, you are and feel part of this incredible community of artists,” Jazzar says.
The overwhelming amount of artwork, facts, and stories smoothed out into a library of information benefitting not only Miami’s art community, but the community in general. It will be amassed into a catalogue, in progress as I write this piece.
“The catalogue will be online and hopefully the show will continue and travel, representing Miami.” mused Chamy, who teaches at FIU with community-based projects for his students. “It’s already serving as a resource for future shows.”
Artist/curator/landscape architect Laurencia Strauss meandered in at this juncture with her own dots to connect. Dots that go back to Florida beginnings brought me into the Everglades and the indigenous world of Seminole arts and customs with skills going back centuries.
Daniel Tommies' work uses native wood and customs to fashion the cypress dugout-shaped sculpture hanging over the main room. Strauss “has curated many indigenous artists that have never been shown in the Miami art context which is now overlapping.” Chamy interjected this new wrinkle.
A piece done by Strauss collaborating with Miccosukee’s Houston Cypress (poet, artist, environmentalist and ordained minister), and Claudio Marcotulli (film and digital imagery) on a photograph that shows a mile span overview of the Everglades. Airboat driver Alex Tigertail-Baks circumnavigated existing airboat trails in and around the tiny islands spelling out the words, ONE WATER, thus stressing how all water is linked, as are the inhabitants. 100 Miccosukee were the only ones who never surrendered during the Indian Wars because they hid in difficult Everglades terrain.
Chambers switched it up to a discussion of Tibetan/Miamian Ben Paljor Chatag expounding on metaphysics and epistemology, dealing with the circle of life, which by now we had buzzed through many lives and many places. Epistemology is defined by “the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.”
I’m thinking we cannot get enough of that concept right now.
Aramis O’Reilly, a well-respected professor at New World School of the Arts, is a key figure on Miami’s art platform, “He’s been very supportive of the show, many of his students are included, as is his wife Pierina Guido O’Reilly,” explains the curator.
To finish up, we clomped down the back stairs to view the artists displayed in the sculpture gardens surrounding the building. If most of the names sound familiar it’s because they are: Kandy Lopez, Carlos Alvez, Alberto Checa, Pedro Vizcaino, Nick Gilmore, George Calderon Sanchez, Sterling Rook, Daniel Artura-Almeida, Frank Hyder… all roll easily off the tongues of the Miami art community.
Next stop is Thiele’s studio off the gardens. A space filled with his work through the ages, punctuated with the piece for this show, a collaboration with Venezuelan-born sound artist, Gustavo Matamoros. He spent three days in Thiele’s studio surrounded by the large, isolated concrete sculptural pieces, manipulating bouncing sound waves that change as you walk about, each eerie note taking the viewer-listener deeper into the intimate environment of the two artists.
Connections and images, thoughts and ideas are swirling, whirling throughout the exhibition. Chambers finished with the thought, “It was like assembling a sculpture that’s talking and has sentient parts that were in conversation.”
I have merely touched on the amount of information bestowed upon me, but with the exhibition, it will not be lost. In "BluPrnt," we see our little spot of real estate has a deep and not-so-hidden place in patterning -- the relationship of our artists through the years mirrors how the universe relates in every tiny molecular structure.
The somewhat hidden location is worth discovering for the first time or resurrecting into your current rotation. Seriously, if New York Times critic Brett Sokol can specifically find his way there during the overwhelming Art Basel onslaught, I suspect we can too. Bridge Red is in its eleventh season, putting on four shows a year.
Bridge Red will have a public brunch open house on Sunday, Jan. 22 from noon to 3 p.m. Look for other events centered around "BluPrnt" for the duration of the show. Otherwise it will be available for viewing upon appointment. Call or text for appt. at 305-978-4856. Bridge Red is located at 12425 N.E. 13th Avenue North Miami, Fla. 33161. www.bridgeredstudios.com