ONE PICASSO FOR MIAMI

I hadn’t been to Miami for two years until my recent trip to the Magic City last week. I lived in South Florida for 14 years and it was something that I didn’t plan on living there more than 2 years. Initially, I hated Miami for approximately two solid years. I didn’t like the impending doom of every hurricane season - I was a nervous wreck between June and November. I never became as blasé about being potentially flattened by a hurricane as local Miamians. I just could not understand how people who had lived their entire lives or at least a big majority of time, not be prepared for a hurricane. You’re going to Home Depot for plywood and duct tape, now? NOW? You mean to tell me that you don’t already have these things in your garage? No? Well, why the hell not? Anyway, I was a little apprehensive about flying to Miami at this particular time, because Hurricane Florence was set to destroy the Carolina’s and most of the southeastern coast of the U.S.. What was weird was that the weather up North and upon landing in Miami, was beautiful. Blue skies and a little hotter than usual, but nevertheless, really gorgeous weather. You would have never guessed that not that far away, fellow Americans were battling hurricane force winds and flooding.

It’s well-known that Miami has had a very active street art and graffiti scene since the late 1990’s. The epicenter of this art scene is a neighborhood named, Wynwood. At the beginning of the Miami art boom, Wynwood was an under-developed warehouse area, complete with drug addicts and drug dealers, prostitutes and other sketchy individuals. It started off as an area that was more or less ok to walk about during the daylight hours, but once the sun started to set, it was time to scram. I’ve had many students who have been mugged, robbed at gunpoint or had their cars broken into. Today, Wynwood is pretty gentrified and many shops and galleries have security guards keeping a watch on things. Miami has always been a strong art gallery, but weak art museum type of town. I remember the “golden age” of Wynwood’s Art Walk, taking place on the second Saturday of every month, where galleries would stay open late for art lovers. My favorite galleries at the time were Rocket Projects, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Dorsch Gallery, Fredric Snitzer Gallery … amazing spaces to see really superb art, for free, I might add!

Miami’s art museums were not as stellar, but they did try, but it was always ‘meh’. There was the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami, the Bass Museum on Miami Beach, the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami campus right off US 1 … and that was about it back in the early 2000’s. I’m not counting “spaces” or “collections”, like the Goldman Warehouse or the Rubell Family Collection - although those are really stellar places to see some of the best art that Miami can offer. I’ve never had a bad time at the RFC - never, but they’re not exactly considered a ‘museum’. So when the news came that Miami was going to have a FOR REAL art museum, every art lover in Miami, lost their minds. Some people were hopeful, some skeptical and some never thought that it would ever happen. I mean, Miami DID have the Miami Art Museum (MAM), but it was tough to get to and the shows were a bit lackluster (although they did have an awesome gift shop).

The MAM morphed into the Perez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County and they debuted during the 2013 Art Basel event. I remember the whole hullabaloo that Jorge Perez, the super-rich Cuban businessman, wanted to name the museum after himself. I mean, he DID give millions of dollars towards its existence, so I always felt that he had the right to do so. Plus, the acronym was cool, PAMM - it’s catchy and cute in that sunny Miami kind of way. The museum itself is GORGEOUS. I’ve never seen a museum quite like this - as corny as it sounds, the building really is art itself. Huge hanging columns of plants from the outdoor beams … everything is so lush! And there’s the view of Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach in the distance from the ‘front porch’ area. The museum itself is quite small if you compare it to the Art Institute of Chicago or The Met; one could easily navigate the interior in under 40 minutes, to be honest. I find myself spending just as much time in the gift shop.

Anyway, at one time, I was lucky enough to work one MetroMover stop away from the PAMM and I took full advantage of hopping over at lunchtime or after work to look at the latest show. My favorite show was Ai Wei Wei’s 2013-14 ‘According to What’ … huge exhibit with a great scope of his work. Finally! Now Miami had a world-class museum and we didn’t have to go to New York City, L.A. or Chicago to get an art fix.

The exterior of the Perez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County, located at 1103 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33132, designed by architectural firm, Herzog & de Meuron.

The exterior of the Perez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County, located at 1103 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33132, designed by architectural firm, Herzog & de Meuron.

Jaume Plensa’s “Looking Into My Dream, Awilda’, faces Biscayne Bay on the PAMM grounds.

Jaume Plensa’s “Looking Into My Dream, Awilda’, faces Biscayne Bay on the PAMM grounds.

Beautiful PAMM’s terrace facing east towards Miami Beach.

Beautiful PAMM’s terrace facing east towards Miami Beach.

If it weren’t for a former basic drawing student of mine, Ingrid, I would have never known about Picasso being shown at the PAMM, because my schedule was jam-packed and the PAMM wasn’t really on my list of things to do & see. I didn’t research which Picasso paintings were being exhibited and to be honest, it didn’t matter, because I love Picasso. Anyone that knows me, knows how much I LOVE Pablo Picasso and his work. My friends and former students always post some Picasso news or article on my Facebook wall or I’ll get a tip that there’s a Picasso show in Toronto this year that I can’t get to. So, Ingrid requested that she & I go see the Picasso together when I was in town. Sure! I actually couldn’t wait and I was so excited to see her and the Picasso’s.

We visited the museum on the open-late Thursday night and there weren’t very many people there. I’ve heard about how expensive the parking is at the PAMM - it’s $8 for the first hour. I just laughed. I’m sorry, that’s not expensive. South Florida wants to have nice things, but nice things come at a price. I’d like to see the face of someone from Miami, when they see the $45 parking fee across the street from Eataly on Ohio Street in Chicago for a couple of hours. Pffft.

At the entrance, there was a huge latex Picasso well-known signature behind the ticket counter and there was also another poster promoting the exhibit leading you into the first floor galleries. Ok, now I was getting pretty jazzed up and I just wanted to cut to the chase, so I asked one of the guards, ‘Excuse me. Where are the Picasso’s?’ And she said, ‘On the second floor.’ Oh baby! Ingrid and I bounded up the stairs - we were both excited to see each other, catching up and planning a big future trip with a whole bunch of other Alumni this October. Our conversations meander and flow in the most fun and charming way - well, we’re both Gemini’s and this type of stuff happens.

Initially, we thought we’d just stumble upon the Picasso’s, but as we walked around a bit, we could sense that we weren’t close. Again, we asked a security guard where the Picasso’s were and he politely pointed the way. Ok, I’m really super excited at this point. Finally, we see a large doorway into a darken room, we walked in slowly and we noticed ONE painting in the entire salon. It was lit up like a Broadway spotlight. I turned around to look at the rest of the large room and noticed that it was empty and dark, aside from another large vinyl Picasso signature on the wall. I whispered to Ingrid, ‘There’s just one Picasso?’ And she shrugged in that charming Cuban way and put her hands up in disbelief. The painting being shown is Picasso’s ‘Femme á la montre’ - I’ve seen it many times before. In fact, someone gave me little notecards as a birthday gift one year with this image on it. I also have drawn this image on the whiteboard for my Art 101 class. I KNOW THIS PAINTING, but … IS THIS IT? Such a enormous room for one painting. Is this to create a seriousness about it? You mean to tell me that they had access to just ONE Picasso painting? The man made thousands & thousands of works (maybe even MILLIONS, I suspect) … hmmm. No photos of the lovely Marie-Thérèse Walter? No photos of them at the beach during their ‘Summer of Love’? I mean, where is the supporting stuff? What new nugget of knowledge can the PAMM tell us about Femme a la Montre?

Pablo Picasso: Femme à la montre (Woman with a Watch), 1932. Oil on canvas. 51 ¼ x 38 inches. © 2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Pablo Picasso: Femme à la montre (Woman with a Watch), 1932. Oil on canvas. 51 ¼ x 38 inches. © 2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

My quick whiteboard sketch of ‘Femme a la montre’ for Art 101, 2017.

My quick whiteboard sketch of ‘Femme a la montre’ for Art 101, 2017.

Anyway, Ingrid and I stood in front of the painting for a little bit, talking about the painting itself and then about ourselves, then about Picasso, then about our dinner plans after the museum, then about the painting, then I spoke about Marie-Thérèse and how much Picasso loved her, then back to dinner plans. Ingrid was getting the text-buzz on her iPhone and she took her cell out to respond, the guard glided over and said, ‘No phones.’ We said that she was just texting and the guarded repeated, ‘No phones.’ Okkk. We sort of stood in silence for a little bit, until another couple came in and they wanted a chance to look at this SINGLE PICASSO. Once we decided that there wasn’t much more, I playfully announced to the guard that we were leaving and that we hadn’t taken any photos of the Picasso painting. It’s strange … you can take photos of Picasso paintings at his museums in Paris and Barcelona … the Mona Lisa isn’t off limits. The Art Institute of Chicago allows visitors to take photos (sans flash, of course) of almost everything on exhibit; occasionally there is something in a special exhibit that you can’t photograph, but it’s not a big deal. I ask myself, WHY WON’T THE PAMM ALLOW PEOPLE TO TAKE A PHOTO OF THIS PARTICULAR PICASSO PAINTING? Are they afraid of copyright issues? Have they seen Society 6, the online store? You can get Picasso leggings, tank top, pillow and iPhone case. What’s done is done … it’s too late to think about bootleg Picasso’s. I think it’s a shitty policy, to be honest.

The only take-away to prove, or even remember years from now, that I saw this exhibit, is this rather staid, sterile double-sided printed sheet of paper … no image, naturally. In my haste, I took a Spanish version. In my defense, it could have been French, because the brochures all looked the same. The info is generic with the typical things that people write about Picasso - born in Malaga, went to Paris in 1904, invented Cubism, blah-blah-blah, etc. WHO DOESN’T ALREADY KNOW THAT? There’s no information on this specific painting - nothing. I mean, it’s obvious that it’s Marie-Thérèse Walter … not too many blondes in Picasso’s orbit; the other fair beauty was Sylvette. This is common knowledge.

The PAMM flyer for Picasso’s Femme á la montre, 2018.

The PAMM flyer for Picasso’s Femme á la montre, 2018.

Now that we left the Picasso room, our focus became more and more on dinner. But first, the GIFT SHOP! Lots of cute things, but I already have so many cute things. ‘Do I need another cute thing?’, I asked myself. Before Ingrid & I left, I asked one of the gift shop kids, ‘Do you have any postcards of that Picasso painting you have upstairs?’ I was hoping to walk away with some kind of real, tangible, visual proof somehow. The tall hipster kid smiled down at me and said, ‘Sorry, no. Sorry.’ I was disappointed. And I know that in this generation of cellphone photography and selfies, it seems like people NEED a photo of everything- almost to validate the experience. But you know, I wanted a blasted takeaway. I WANTED A POSTCARD … what’s wrong with that? I could have used the image in a class lecture or posted on Instagram for posterity’s sake. Well, at least I got to see it at the PAMM with a lovely friend. P.S. Our dinner was quite delicious.

Picasso’s Femme a la montre will be on exhibit at the PAMM until October 16, 2018.

Why I Love Teaching Art Appreciation to Non-Art Majors

I've been happy lately.
Really happy. Why you might ask?
I recently started teaching again, after a year of trying to find work in the education field in Chicago. My new role involves teaching Art 101, which is a introductory, survey-style type of class; I'm really excited to be teaching in the visual arts again, as it's something I really love. 
Aside from loving my short commute, the fact that I can take public transportation and not have to deal with driving and parking, is that my new university is in downtown Chicago ... I get to say hello to the Art Institute of Chicago bronze lions every morning. Yeah, it's been great.

 But the MAIN thing that's making me happy are, of course, my students. I teach to mainly sophomores, with a sprinkling of freshmen in each of my three classes this past Fall quarter. The university has bachelor’s programs like, Business, Education, Criminal Justice, Health/Human Services and Social/Behavioral Sciences to name a few. Absolutely nothing to do with the Arts, per se. The demographic at this university is mostly comprised of African-American and Hispanic students. These students are a great bunch, but many have faced (and are facing) many personal and social/economic battles. The overwhelming majority of these young people have jobs and in many cases, are the ‘bread-winner’ of their household, if you can believe that. These kids face real-world adversity very early in their lives and one has to give them so much credit for attending school and trying to make positive changes in their lives.

So, it's safe to say that these students are not creative makers ... rather, creative thinkers, yes. Aside from some art classes that a few had taken in high school, most of these students have never had to deal with art directly. On the first day, many asked if they were going to actually draw and make art and I had to inform them that the class was mostly 'art appreciation', to their disappointment. Many of them said that they couldn't draw at all and were looking forward to learning how to draw. Trust me, I was disappointed that wasn't happening either. Although I have to follow a set syllabus, I had some wiggle room to introduce some new things in class; but that was tough because each class was jam-packed with activities.

My university has a special partnership with the Art Institute of Chicago, in that the students could get into the museum for free - all they need to do is show their school ID. It's an amazing resource to have a world-class art museum as part of the curriculum! We have discussed Van Gogh's 'The Bedroom' and then visited the museum and see actual painting ... it really brings visual art education full circle. It's a wonderful teaching tool and it's magical to see a Van Gogh in a textbook and see the actual painting in person on view; they can see the beautiful textural quality of the paint applied by a palette brush.

As we approached the final project, we visited the museum as a group, to find artwork with a social issue message, as that would be something that the students had to focus on for their final. I am aware that many teachers who visit art museums with university-level students, usually set them loose and it's a self-guided trip through the museum. My approach is to guide them as a group through AIC's very expansive space, as I know it can be very overwhelming and daunting for a young person to navigate. I bring my students to specific areas in the museum where they can find content for their personal final projects.

So this particular day for the social issue visit, we entered the museum through the Modern Wing, more specifically, we crossed the 'Sky Bridge' that begins in Millennium Park and spans over Monroe Street and leads right into Terzo Piano, the museum restaurant on the upper level on the North end of the building. The majority of my students marveled, I mean MARVELED that we were on the Sky Bridge ... so many said they saw people on the bridge from the street, but had no idea how they got up there. And they thought it cost money and that it was only for 'museum people'. Nope, free to use for everyone. From that moment, I got the sense that they thought art was for the special few or that they didn't belong ... not even on the Sky Bridge.

Sky Bridge facing North towards Millennium Park.

Sky Bridge facing North towards Millennium Park.

As we walked through the Modern Art galleries and then to Contemporary collection on level 2, my students were incredibly interested in almost everything ... some things they loved and some things outraged them. Many of them could not understand why Ellsworth Kelly's, Train Landscape (1953) was worthy to be in an art museum. "What's the big deal?! It's just three areas of color, prof! I could do that! This is crazeeeeee!" It wasn't until I explained the artwork to them, that they understood its importance. Beginning with the title, on how the artist saw the French countryside as a blur on a high-speed train ... and he reduce the fields to represent mustard, spinach and lettuce and assigned the three variants of green to each. They all were thunderstruck ... I went on to say how everyone has experienced this optical blurring if you ever rode in a fast car, bus or train. They got it. The related the painting to their personal experiences and now this painting wasn't so bad after all. Many of them went in for a closer look and they were impressed that the artist used oil paint and didn't leave brushstrokes ... seemed so flat and neat.  We kept moving.

Ellsworth Kelly, Train Landscape, 1953, oil on canvas, three joined panels.

Ellsworth Kelly, Train Landscape, 1953, oil on canvas, three joined panels.

A funny thing ... a student asked me if the paintings on the wall were the originals. I responded, ‘Yes.” and they were awestruck and continued to be marveled by saying, “Ok, so, this is the ONLY version of this work in the whole wide world, right?” Again, I responded with a “Yes.” And they had a collective, “WOW!” Then, we walked past Picasso’s 1931 portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, The Red Armchair and they had recognized it, because I had used the painting to talk about contour line ... “Hey! There’s that Picasso you used in class!” They all gathered around the painting to take it all in. One of them turned around and said, “That’s Picasso’s signature?!” I had to look again to see that Picasso had signed this painting in the upper right-hand corner and I gave an affirming nod. They marveled again and the consensus was that they didn’t think he’d have such a beautiful signature. ‘Oh, ok?’ was my thought, but it’s interesting to hear what they think. Perhaps they thought Picasso’s signature would also be abstracted? I informed them that the car manufacturer, Citroën, had a model of car named ‘Picasso’ and they were floored once again. "Art and cars?" Yup, you guys have no idea! These kids made me laugh so much ... their enthusiasm and naiveté is so refreshing!

Pablo PIcasso, The Red Armchair, 1931, oil and Ripolin on panel.

Pablo PIcasso, The Red Armchair, 1931, oil and Ripolin on panel.

Citroën's Picasso, multi-purpose vehicle, 2013, Paris

Citroën's Picasso, multi-purpose vehicle, 2013, Paris

And this leads me into why am I so enjoying teaching Art to students who do not have an artistic background. The non-Art major student approaches artwork with adorable ingenouness and overall openness to concepts and approaches. The level of expectation and/or personal taste isn’t quite set in stone just yet ... these kids are receptive and more comfortable when navigating through enormous amounts of art. 
The flip-side to this situation is my experience with college-level, undergraduate visual art major students. They can be impossible ... not all, but the majority. What I mean about ‘impossible’ is that there’s a level of skepticism based on superficial knowledge and predisposed taste. Many of the art students that I have taught in my career were incredibly talented ... I had a student who drew Durer’s ‘Praying Hands’ that rivaled the original; I’ll never forget that incredible skill. I think when art students enter college, they are under the impression that the only thing they really need to learn is art history, because so many of these kids have been drawing all of their lives. They reach a certain level of skill, both manually and conceptually and they stop reaching and developing because they are comfortable. I taught a 300-level drawing class once, filled with incredible student-artists and initially they thought that they would get the same, routine drawing assignments, but I threw many curve-balls at them ... I had them using warp grids that completely abstracted their work. And, they loved it. They would, however, return to status-quo techniques, because they could not think around the idea of what art can and could be; or perhaps they were so set in their aesthetic and oeuvre.

So, my non-art majors made me approach art in another way and that meant the world to me; as art is so multi-faceted. I did not expect to enjoy myself as much as I did just by guiding young people through the enormous possibilities of the world of Art. I'm delighted to know that I have empowered them to visit places like The Art Institute of Chicago, and feeling comfortable, knowing how to analyze and approach an artwork, and making them know that they belong there just as much as anyone else. There is no need to feel inferior and I feel that they themselves overcame a barrier that was placed there for them ... perhaps of their own doing. And it's the best feeling when one of my students says how they were watching 'La La Land' on HBO and noticed many scenes illuminated with symbolic colors; how Ryan Gosling was usually lit in warm light and Emma Stone was usually portrayed in blue colors (except the last dance scene when she wears a yellow dress, they said). They remarked how they are noticing more things like that, because of Art 101. THAT is art appreciation. Now they see the world with a new lens and I think my job is done here. My best Fall quarter ever!

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in “La La Land.” Photo Credit: Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in “La La Land.” Photo Credit: Dale Robinette/Lionsgate