In my opinion
No longer in photos, still in the heart
by Ana Menendez,
on December 7, 2005, Page 1B (Miami, FL)
changes roiling Miami have left behind few disinterested parties: For
every dissident of the new there stands an ecstatic prophet of progress.
Xavier Cortada's vision subscribes to
neither extreme, preferring to mark time's changes with the bemused
detachment of a doting parent. And in a weekend marked by visual
extravagance, Cortada's installation at Omni Art stood out as much for
its humanity as for its simplicity.
''Absence of Place,'' which ended
Sunday, explored the connection between time and memory by juxtaposing
photos of the new with captions of what used to be. The photographs,
displayed in plastic bags like evidence, documented both communal
memories of Miami and the artist's personal recollections.
Written beneath a photograph of the
Walgreens that now inhabits a former tire store: ''FIRESTONE.'' Beneath
a shot of an Office Depot: ``I first drank Vietnamese coffee at this
restaurant on Coral Way and 27th Avenue.''
WHAT'S NOT THERE
Taken as a whole, the installation was a
monument to absence: There were photographs of missing graffiti,
vanished restaurants and empty lots where buildings used to be. ''Lydia
was my junior high prom date to this hotel'' reads the caption beneath
the skeleton of a budding building.
The photographs were printed on
cardstock and aged to look like vintage postcards. And one of the
installation's strengths came from the play of image and context: At
first glance, it was easy to believe that the Office Depot had stood on
that Coral Way corner for decades.
It's just the sort of sly glance at
history (and its poor country cousin, nostalgia) that ran through the
entire project. It was impossible not to note that the 180 photographs
covered an entire wall of a downtown warehouse that is itself destined
to make way for the new.
But ''Absence of Place'' engaged without
preaching, a refreshing reminder that there is life beyond blunt
opinion, and that it is art that takes us there.
''I'm not sitting here lamenting what
there was,'' Cortada said Monday as he prepared to take down the
exhibit. ``It would be arrogant to think that a building of my childhood
is any more important than a building of someone else's childhood. . . .
I look at this wall as naturally as I see death.''
In the era of blockbuster exhibits that
draw huge corporate sponsorship -- The Herald's support of the King Tut
exhibit a case in point -- it is worth seeking out that art that
transcends the practical. To remember that the best art -- whether a
painting or a historic building -- is unconcerned with questions of
profit or ``usefulness.''
In rejecting an easy point of view,
''Absence of Place'' makes a larger one about the value of process over
destination and dialogue over certainty.
Art Basel brought a lot of frivolity and
commercialism to Miami, but it also opened a space for the imagination.
And cities no less than people cannot survive without an ability to
''Don't applaud, just think,'' gallery
owner Bernice Steinbaum admonished a crowd gathered for a performance
In his own way, Cortada was saying the
same thing. ''Absence of Place'' was as much about memory as about the
way time moves through us. A companion exhibit revisited a favorite
Cortada image, the mangrove seedling. The white silhouette was entombed
in concrete and surrounded by actual seedlings -- an echo of the
ecosystem Miami replaced.
But mourning would be premature.
Among Cortada's photographs was one of Bear Cut in Key Biscayne.
Australian pines once choked the beach. Then Hurricane Andrew came
through and wiped out the trees and the pine needle floor that, for
Cortada, so evoked the time of his adolescence. Today, the photograph
documents a more ancient memory: an open beach blanketed with mangrove.
To see his work go to: