text by Eddie Arroyo

It has been stated that, “Miami has no culture”.  This is a recent phenomenon.  In full disclosure, I am a Miami native so one may imagine my curiosity regarding such a statement.  Not so long ago, I posed a similar question to a number of artists, curators, and collectors about the South Florida identity.  Answers followed along the line of the initial sentiment. 

Since the arrival of Art Basel on the shores of Miami Beach there has been an impulse to erase the city’s history.  Year Zero (applied to the takeover of Cambodia in April 1975, by the Khmer Rouge) is the analogy which seems the most appropriate.  This sentiment was further reinforced with Martha Raoli’s article in the Temporary Art Review “Miami as Idiom”

She describes the lack of structure that shapes the city’s creative machine.   Raoli stated, “We don’t talk about an art ‘practice,’ or having ‘strategies.’ No ‘dialectic between’ or ‘No more ‘working it out’ or ‘getting it’ or not. No ‘unpacking’ or ‘teasing out’ or ‘resolving,’ We’ve developed new words for ideas we don’t even have yet: Superfice and Superbase. We invent new idioms to talk about art and sometimes we don’t talk about it at all.” 

Christo was the only historical reference cited within global art influence, and only as an aesthetic, a color. Pink.  One may extract many things from Raoli’s poetic observations however my impression was one of new territory.


New Territory

This romantic term within contemporary art presents the potential for discovery.  However, it also has history in migratory approaches when settling into foreign territory.  A method described as colonization. 

In the past, the philosophy of universalism was used as a religious tool to carry out these practices as a way to bring everyone together in perpetual harmony.  In the context of European religion, it’s a doctrine of moral principles based on universal values and in the spirit of inclusivity, so long as doctrine was followed. 

Postmodernism has a tendency to skeptically interpret doctrine of a culture, literature, art, philosophy, history, economics, and architecture.   The use of cultural relativism opens the coexistence of truths from other positions by negating the existence of absolute truth.   The beauty is that it rests in the view point of subjective perception and consideration. 

Truth exists in context.

This was apparent in Bhakti Baxter’s “Returning What Was Borrowed” exhibition at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood.  It’s a series of sculptures made between 2011 and 2014 in the neighborhood of Little Haiti in Miami.  The work is a focus of assemblage pieces from the area, damaged concrete pillars, plastic containers, ceramic tiles, found wood, a small flashlight.  The materials are presented as form in modern practice.  A dystopian aesthetic. 

In relative truth there is no need to reference history of a place or culture.  It seems absurd to mention Little Haiti at all for there is no evidence of it being present in the work.  Only an apparition in name.  However in context, Baxter reflects his personal experience in the neighborhood.  He is redefining what Little Haiti is.

Cultural relativism as method played a notable part with the creation of Wynwood.  Developers such as Goldman and Lombardi have stated that nothing existed before they came to this crime ridden poverty stricken neighborhood.  And this was true for the commercial warehouse area which was mostly abandoned. 

However, there was and continues to reside a small Puerto Rican community.  For a time, it was referred as “Little San Juan” due to the Puerto Rican owned restaurants, shops, markets and other businesses line the streets of Wynwood.  This practice of cultural relativity has made it possible for gentrification to elevate economic prosperity with the advent of rebranding.  Little San Juan becomes Wynwood – effectively shedding its undesirable heritage to make way for a brave new world.



Colonialism’s evolution to gentrification also has its roots in paternalism. This is exercised by the global art community when addressing a regional culture.   Art Basel takes the role of protector and presenter of enlightened thought when it arrived in 2001.  It brought a caravan of satellite fairs; galleries and artists from all over the world.  These presenters of global knowledge arrived in this small provincial city/ culture to disseminate knowledge as a patron.  

Over the years, the city has grown economically in the downtown area with investors acquiring commercial properties and private homes.  It has been well documented that contemporary art has been used as a vehicle to bring about economic growth to investors.  Patron and missionary will decide what is best for its indigenous residence who needs saving but are not entitled to determine their future. Subsequently, the indigenous community should be grateful.

In this compliance rests a need to satisfy the patron and discard any assemblage of regional identity, culture, and history.  Adopting the role of a noble savage.

“Objects are built for disintegration.

Temporary structures, built on the quick, unpermitted,

by artists practicing construction, are built for demolition.

Objects, having lost the quality of forever.

Preservation has lost its zing.

Luxury has left the object. Luxury

Is the event.

Flammable sheet of nitrocellulose. You burn it, it’s gone. Voids for Burning. Brookhart Jonquil. 2013.

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat
collaborations, 1983-84
presented by Bruno Bischofberger


Commodity as Culture

Cultural Relativism has been used as an anthropological principal utilized to reconstruct identity with the objective of commodity as a culture.  It is apparent when Daniel Arsham presented “Welcome to the Future” at Locust Projects.  It’s described as an excavation site.   A circular trench was dug into the concrete ground of the space.  In it was an assortment of 20th century artifacts of media devices mounds of boom boxes, electric guitars, SLR cameras, Blackberries, game controllers, VHS tapes, Walkmans, film projectors, and portable televisions.  

These objects are rendered in crystal volcanic ash where Arsham references a narrative in the historical context of Pompeii.   An allegory to Miami, for the city is also known as an important passage for goods which arrives by sea. Miami is also vulnerable to the whims of the gods as well, however, our destiny will not come from a volcano but by the rise of the ocean.

These objects are not specific to the region but are essentially goods.  All are manufactured objects from the previous century used to represent a culture at a period in time through consumerism. An objective that corresponds with the empty manufactured condo structures which reside in Brickell used for monitory value.  Their existence financed in foreign investment capital. It’s evident with plans to erect the Miami Worldcenter downtown as a beacon of accelerated commerce through the use of privatized capital.  Finally, the fact that Locust Projects rests in the Design District correlates with its philosophy of materialism.

In contrast, Miami’s heritage / regional identity is represented by Bridge Red Studios/Project Space in Duane Hanson’s “Ghosts” exhibition.  Where Arsham was concerned with the future there was an effort to present the city’s content with genuine relics. 

Originally from Minnesota, Hanson moved to South Florida in 1965 and produced a number of sculptures cast from actual people.  His previous work dealt with physical violence and other explosive social issues of the 1960s.  These sculptures were made of fiberglass painted to make revealed skin look realistic with veins and blemishes.  Clothes from second-hand clothing stores were utilized to theatrically arrange the work as tableaus.

The duration of his career focused on a series of work depicting domestic life in South Florida.  Many of the sculptures had a regional dialect of elderly retirees, tropical tourists, and residential figures enjoying provincial leisure.   A video documentation was included in the exhibit describing the process of making “The Football Player”. (Currently in the permanent collection of the Lowe Museum, Coral Gables, FL) Robert Thiele, another well know South Florida artist was used as a model for that particular piece which depicted a Miami Dolphin football player crouching from exhaustion.

The “Ghosts” exhibition presented Hanson’s work as artifacts noting similar analogies with Arsham’s Roman excavation.  It’s coincidental that these exhibits can be experienced at the same time in two different locations.  Hanson exhibit succeeds in the fact that these objects are actual relics, grounded in regional culture and history.  The sculptures are stripped away in the initial stage of the process to present an expression of intent.  Questions as to what narrative these figures would compose remain a mystery.  There is clarity with Ashrams manufactured commodity, an exciting prospect how it may resonate but it does lack a genuine history that Hanson possesses depicting a specific place and culture in time.

It’s obvious Miami has changed since Art Basel’s arrival and there will be growth and prosperity in the years to come. What form will it take?  Raoli would have us believe that creativity is fueled by a perpetual need to deconstruct the environment around us in order to present a new idiom.  I like this. What concerns me is her top down approach. This campaign from the top to validate commodity as culture may succeed but I prefer a source rooted in epistemological heritage. One not relegated to a color.


  1. Very poignant. Not to state the obvious, but Swampspace certainly stands as an outpost in colonized, new Miami. Not many tap into the “oldness” quite like Oli.