Beaches, bikinis, and drugs. Models, rappers, celebrities. And.....artists?
A quiet revolution has been taking place in Miami, one that non-residents have been slow to appreciate. In the know Miamians have been leaving behind the excesses of South Beach, with its Ko Sanh Road in triplicate of Ocean Drive, Washington Ave, and Lincoln Road, for the refined pleasures of the Design District, where you can find artists like Luca Artoli and Philip Smith. I spoke with Artioli and Smith recently to get their thoughts on the evolving Miami experience, and their recent exhibitions and books.
Part of this renaissance is due to the arrival in 2002 of Art Basel. But Art Basel is just a few days a year. It has taken Miami's own unique charm to keep artists here year round.
Luca Artioli is one of a growing number of world reknowned artists calling Miami home. The Italian photographer and poet took Miami Beach's world famous Art Deco style and "deconstructed" it in a series called "ArtDECOnstruction" opening March 1st at the Zadok Art Gallery in the Design District.
Artioli's work slices and dices Miami Beach's familiar buildings, in the process accomplishing what true art does: making the familiar unfamiliar and showing us what we've been missing right in front of our eyes. See sample photos here.
That is it is being held in the Design District, rather than on the Beach itself comes as no surprise to Miamians, for whom Miami Beach, despite its beautiful architecture, has become too overblown, too expensive, and too noisy. (Art Basel is on the Beach, but many Art Basel events are held in the Design District.)
Artoli's recent book "Seasons of Music" also draws inspiration from Miami's lush tropical environment. A vanda orchid becomes a soft parachute of blue drifting over the viewer. Published first in Italian, it will soon be available in the United States in English.
A photographic interpretation of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Seasons of Music was commissioned by the famous La Scala opera house of Milan and has received widespread acclaim.
Artioli recently returned from a tour of Europe and New York, and notes that Miami is a comforting place to return to after experiencing the frigid north. The contrast between Miami's lush beauty and the harshness of the temperate zone provides him with an additional aid to his artistic process. "Travel by airplane is so remarkable: you get on a plane amid freezing snow and you arrive at the foot of a sunny beach."
For an artist whose work is so much about taking the familiar and unpacking all of the overlooked elements so that it becomes startlingly fresh and vibrant, Miami's ability to constantly refresh and surprise is invaluable.
Philip Smith is another kind of world class artist calling Miami home. Philip basically grew up in the Design District where his father had an internationally recognized design studio on 39th Street with clients like President Carlos Prio of Cuba and President Paul Magoire of Haiti. In his recent book, Walking Through Walls, Philip describes growing up in Miami during the 1950s and 60s.
One day his father discovered that he could talk to the dead and heal the sick. From that moment on, Philip's life was like a scene out of "Bewitched." Walking through Walls is a captivating read about one of the oddest families in Miami and a great look at what Miami was really like in those days.
His father's experience with the otherworldly had a profound influence on Philip's art. Dazzling prints look like alchemical manuscripts from another era. With work in the permanent collections in a long list of museums, including the Dallas Museum, the Miami Art Museum, the Bass Art Museum, the Whitney, Philip returned from a sojourn in New York and now paints from Miami.
Last week, Philip and his art were featured on Miami's Plum TV. He has also shown in the Beijing Biennial and most recently at Rosenbaum Contemporary in Boca Raton.
When asked what prompted his return to Miami, Smith doesn't hesitate. "Thanks to Art Basel and Miami's new cosmopolitan population, this city is much more interested in artists and their work than ever before. It's fantastic that there are now openings and reviews of local artists, something that did not exist when I was a kid. As time goes on, this city can become a world class art destination."
Artioli agrees. "The energy in Miami is contagious. It is an exciting city."
Philip Smith's book Walking Through Walls can be ordered through Amazon and found at most book sellers. If you are in Miami, try to buy it at the iconic Books and Books stores in Coral Gables or on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. You can visit his website and see his art by clicking here.