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Written by Anne Tschida, BT Arts Editor   
July 2018

With new programming, MDC’s museum moves Miami forward

MArtFeature_1iami-Dade has now a number of contemporary art museums, and trying to stand out in the crowd has become a challenge. So the newly renovated space at Miami-Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design (MOAD) in the Freedom Tower has decided to reach out both physically and experimentally, in an effort to bring art to a broader community.

So far, the results have been impressive.

Under the new director Rina Carvajal, MOAD launched a performance art series, “Living Together,” while the museum was still closed last fall. With events taking place across the city and running through September 2018, the series includes not just performance but also film, talks, and workshops.

So, for instance, MOAD invited internationally known artist Carrie Mae Weems to perform at the MDC Wolfson campus. In an innovative twist, the museum asked the British-German artist Tino Sehgal to create This Situation, which involved live public interaction and lasted through much of April. It was described as a contemporary salon, where people discussed art, our roles in society, or other topics that grappled with issues affecting the world and making headlines today. Sehgal famously doesn’t allow filming of events, so, well…you had to be there.

The Freedom Tower museum is now open, and there are physical art exhibits. However, they remain part of the “museum without boundaries” theme that Carvajal is crafting, and with a range that goes beyond visual art -- to design, urban development, political discourse, the environment, and ecological protection.

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“By the People: Designing a Better America” inaugurated the renovated galleries in April, and again it breaks from the typical mold we see in contemporary museums. Originally organized by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian American Design Museum, it is described this way: “Based on more than two years of field research -- traveling to shrinking post-industrial cities, sprawling metro regions, struggling rural towns, border regions, areas impacted by natural and manmade disaster, and places of persistent poverty, this exhibition presents collaborative designs for more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable communities.”

“By the People” features more than 60 projects that aim to suggest solutions to our transportation problems, the lack of affordable housing, and even what to do about access to healthcare and healthy food.

Visitors are encouraged to add their own thoughts, to be part of making a Better America (and, no, it does not resemble the kind of retro MAGA thinking that the current president has promulgated).

Another exhibit currently showing is the incredible film More Sweetly Play the Dance from South African artist William Kentridge. It is a work that can’t be missed: a 130-foot-long wraparound film, cocooning the visitor with images that are described as a modern version of the danse macabre. It incorporates live brass bands and parades (including Mardi Gras-like crowds dressed in gruesome costume), scenes from war-torn Syria, along with Kentridge’s own illustrations.

Kentridge is among the best-known contemporary artists worldwide, and his work often addresses the political and societal issues that surround us. Having grown up in apartheid-era Johannesburg, in a Jewish family, Kentridge always had something to say visually about the darkness of social inequities. But his work would also become inspirational, showing us a way out of that darkness. More Sweetly is the perfect choice to highlight the new MOAD vision.

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“I want to humanize the place where we live,” says Carvajal. “A museum without boundaries means we want to be part of the community.” And part of a conversation that will try to bring together groups that too often have been segregated from each other, to make a more cohesive and sustainable landscape.

Carvajal, a native of Venezuela, is a long-time curator. She may have left her most indelible mark as curator for the now defunct MAC museum, founded by the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation. In that position, she exposed Miami to some very exciting art, including from video artists who had never been shown here.

Now, Carvajal says, she wants to expand beyond visual arts shown in one museum to include the environment of Miami, especially downtown, where the iconic Freedom Tower, built in 1925, is located. “I want people to become more interested in the place they are living,” she says.

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So Carvajal is working with the Danish art collective Superflex, which also concentrates on economic ecologies and social environments. Along with the upcoming November exhibition, “Superflex: We Are All in the Same Boat,” they teamed last year with the local landscape architecture firm Curtis & Rogers Design Studio for a design competition organized by the Downtown Development Authority to create a unified vision for Miami’s bay and river walk.

Their proposal, named “The Miami Walk,” envisioned an extensive nature-inspired art installation where giant coral forms emerge from the sea floor to the baywalk to create an iconic landmark that celebrates Miami’s connection to the water, while reflecting on climate change, sea level rise, and the urgency of the environmental issues at hand. They remind Miamians of our connection to all the water around us, and how we must protect those waters and the life they sustain.

Although their proposal was not awarded, their progressive ideas are very deserving of a stage like Miami if we would like to be unique, while also a global reference for empowering environmental art.

Back at the museum, new additions have also made waves. In May, it opened the Kislak Center, a permanent space on the first floor of the Freedom Tower. Donated by the Jay I. Kislak Foundation, this collection is considered one of the biggest of its kind of pre-Columbian art, artifacts, and source materials. In 2004, the Kislak Foundation donated more than 3000 works to the Library of Congress.

At MOAD, the first exhibit, “Culture and Change in the Early Americas,” is curated by the Kislak’s Arthur Dunkelman and Miami’s Carol Damian, and features Mayan pottery, masks, a very early atlas, and an exquisite drawing of Aztec life.

MOAD, says Carvajal, is about art and design, education, and also social engagement. Thus far, she says, she is pleased with the turnout -- to the “Living Together” performance events, to the reopened gallery space, and to the public reaction to all the outreach. “I love Miami,” says Carvajal, “and I think what we are doing can be useful and beneficial to its future.”

 

MDC MOAD at the Freedom Tower: “By the People: Designing a Better America,” runs through September 30. “William Kentridge: More Sweetly Play the Dance” runs through January 20. Other films and talks related to “Living Together” run through September.

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