Luzmariana Iacono: Miami as Text 2020-2021

Luzmariana Iacono in Doral, Florida, 2020

Luzmariana Iacono is a driven individual in her junior year at the honors College in Florida International University. She is double majoring in Marketing and International Business and is passionate about the entrepreneurial aspect of business. Artistic by nature, Luzmariana recently started her own career in the beauty industry as a professional Makeup Artist with a specialisation in Editorial and Avant-Garde makeup. She is trilingual and even if she has been living in Miami for less than a decade, she enjoys the culturally mixed environment and hopes to learn more about its history and hidden beauties through this course.   

Deering as Text

Image Taken and Edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0)
“Culturally Mixed”

By Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at Deering Estate, 9 September 2020

The Deering Estate narrates the story of a culturally mixed past through its two building structures and captivating surroundings. Charles Deering was a wealthy industrialist who, alongside his brother, remained stuck in the United States during World War I without any economic power over their family company. 

A lonely mind and soul becomes creative, so he decided to replicate his adventures in Europe by including bits and pieces of culture in every detail of the two buildings. Initially, Samuel H.Richmond had built a pioneer home for his family, but in 1900 an addition to the home was built and open to the public – “The Richmond Hotel” became the first hotel between Coconut Grove and Key West (Deering Foundation Inc). In 1922, Charles Deering decided to let his melancholic state of mind flow by constructing the Mediterranean revival-style Stone House (Deering Foundation Inc). The Spanish villa with Islamic influence was the beginning of Miami. The domes were of islamic influence, the replication of a Spanish mosaic using shells and ocean elements were beautifully placed in the ceiling outside the villa. The intricate details of serpents, seahorse, amongst other creatures in the capitals give off the Mediterranean feeling. 

From the outside, these buildings transport you to another era, and once you enter an overwhelming feeling of calmness mixed with mischief narrate the story of Charles Deering. There is a sense of tranquility once you enter the Christian room where two beautiful stained glasses illuminated from behind depict the history of Jesus – back then churches were the only place that were clean and pure enough to transmit peace among the chaos and illnesses that took place in Spain. Regardless of his religious inclinations shown throughout the villa, there was a hidden liquor storage room that smelled like danger – remember the Prohibition era? Well they survived it by illegally storing and drinking alcohol in the basement. Only after the passing of hurricane Andrew, people were able to discover this hidden treasure. Behind those walls and immense garden, between the Chinese panels and furnitures, the steel work on the doors, and the Islamic inspired domes, a story of art and culture is written. 

Works Cited 

“Deering Estate History: Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens.” Deering Estate, 26 Mar. 2020, deeringestate.org/history/.

South Beach as Text

Image Taken and Edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0)
“Beautiful, Dark Secret”

By Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at South Beach, 23 September 2020

Miami Beach, as beautifully seen in the movies and a dreamed vacation by many, is the place where people go to disconnect from the daily worries and connect to their fun, young-like attitude and enjoy the beauty that surrounds them. No one would guess that the way Miami Beach was born would create such disparity between the initial inhabitants of the land with those pioneers, like Carl Fisher and John Collins, who came to revolutionize everything. 

Carl Fisher discovered what he named Miami Beach (originally Ocean Beach) in 1910 in the form of a wasteland, full of mangroves and palmettos. He saw the economic potential of the area, and alongside John Collins, they began transforming it into a tourist resort by substituting the mangroves with buildings and bridges. However, in order to achieve this, they needed laborers and black people – yes, racism was palpable – just to shut them out right after all the hotels and restaurants were built. Segregation between black and white Americans was so strict that there was even a specific beach (Virginia Key beach) for them to go to since they were shunned from the rest. When Jews began settling in the area in the 19th century, they were also discriminated against as they were only allowed to live in the South side of 5th street; they even had to live with the reality that restaurants and hotels had signs such as “Gentiles Only” prohibiting their entrance. 

Out of this dark historical past filled with racism, discrimination, and exploitation we can now admire different art styles in the juxtaposing buildings. There is a mix between Mediterranean revival, MiMo architectural style, and Art Deco and they would not be able to be admired now if it were not for the activist and preservationist Barbara Baer Capitman. “South Beach’s Art Deco neighborhood was the nation’s first 20th century National Historic District” (Professor Bailly, 2020, https://johnwbailly.com/lectures/south-beach-walking-tour/). In the 1980’s, artists, activists, and preservationists fought in order to prevent money-driven business people and visionaries from erasing years of art and culture from the land with more skyscrapers.  

Art Deco is such a unique style because it was the first architectural movement that tried to resemble machines due to the curved edges and geometric figures. Buildings follow a pattern of three, as they have lines in their facade that give a sense of order and fresh outlook. Not only are these lines highlighted by stronger colors (such as dark blue in resemblance of the ocean), but the buildings also have “eyebrows” that give them a sense of three-dimensionality. Lastly, nothing screams Art Deco more than some vibrant neon lights that would make every tourist and resident feel like they are in another dimension – a fun, carefree view of reality. 

Miami needed places where people can just share unique moments by walking around, eating, and admiring artistic buildings and stores. Deep down there is a longing for the European lifestyle where people have places to enjoy the outdoors and socialize in pedestrian zones, which is why places like Lincoln Road and Espanola Way are usually crowded and lively. What once was a simple desolated area with small streets, cheap dining rooms, and stores later became a classy, enthusiastic, and inspiring place.

Works Cited

Bailly, John William. “South Beach Walking Tour.” John William Bailly – Art Society Conflict Lecture, 3 Apr. 2020, johnwbailly.com/lectures/south-beach-walking-tour/.

Bakehouse as Text

Biggest image taken by Andrea Sofia, smaller two images on the side taken by Luzmariana Iacono. Collage edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0)

“Art is Science’s translator” 

 by Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at Bakehouse, October 7th, 2020

When people think of Art, they almost immediately assume that it has nothing to do with the factual evidence that science can provide; but it has everything to do with emotions and the representation of an abstract reality. Meanwhile this can be up for debate, we know with certainty that art is much more than some paintings and sculptures. Art is a language, it has its own voice, and it can be the worldwide translator for Earth’s cry for help.

When visiting the Bakehouse Art Complex, located in Wynwood, my mind was blown at the fact that through clay we could communicate the ongoing problem occurring to Coral Reefs around the world. Lauren Shapiro is the leading artist collaborating with scientists to raise awareness to the environmental issues that are affecting coral reefs: climate change, and ocean acidification being the main factors. When participating in this project, it is inevitable to question “How can we solve this?” and just by asking the question our minds are already open to change.

The project itself consists of molding clay in the form of corals by utilizing silicon-based stencils from real, desiccated corals (which died a natural death and were not extracted for the sole purpose of art). We could incorporate color to our preference, and to create movement in the art piece we could make some pieces taller than the others. However, the best part of this project is when we place all of the corals into a wooden mural, juxtaposing their colors and shapes. Unfortunately due to Covid-19 the project slowed down in its process, but if enough people from the community sign up for their free workshops, the exhibition should take place in November 2020. It is an amazing experience that not only relaxes your mind and body when molding the clay, working it with your hands while listening to nature’s sounds, but it is also informative.

Rubell as Text

Images Taken and Edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0)

“Contemporary art – Can you handle it?”

 by Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at Rubell Museum, October 21st, 2020

Imagine waking up one day, deciding with your couple that you want to collect art and make a statement about social changes throughout the years, and stereotypical issues that have been affecting the American culture all these years. After collecting art pieces for over 50 years, that’s what the Rubell family had envisioned: a contemporary art museum that would attract tourism and celebrate Miami-based artists as well. There are 40 galleries filled with 300 works by 100 artists (Carway-Carlton, 2020 https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/things-to-do/arts-culture/museums/the-rubell-museum) and through each artist a different, uncomfortable story is showcased.

When entering the museum the first controversial topic that arises is “how does the American perfect family really live when no one is watching?”  Paul McCarthy is an American artist that often utilizes American myths and icons to tell a story, a satire, and utilizes the human body and animalistic figures to portray his message. His work is often seen as disturbing because imagine entering an Art museum and seeing a father next to a son humping a deer. Shocking right? His performance art is considered modern gothic. 

Another American artist that creates art out of the chaotic, distracted, and mundane american lifestyle is Purvis Young. He began drawing and later painting when serving his time in jail, he was convicted for a felony, and what makes him special is the fact that nothing and no one could stop his imaginative flow. He would paint with an idea in mind, but not an exact sketch, and his usual themes were pregnant women, angels (regular people), boat people (refugees), and funerals. He narrates the story of African Americans in the South during times of war, the Great Depression, and societal conflicts. His portraits do not represent the standard of “beautiful art” that people look for, but they make you feel something – confusion, pain, a sense of nostalgia – and not everyone is capable of appreciating that, as they feel something better could have been done to portray the same idea. 

Our society is so outspoken about giving women the power they deserve, trying to flee away from the patriarchal viewpoints that have ruled us in the past, and reinventing societal “roles.” But where are the actions that bring forth this thinking process? Where are we truly making the difference? if even a painting of a naked woman is too controversial for some. In the Rubell Museum, visitors are challenged to see how society unjustly classifies women based on their race and their attitude towards sexuality. They can admire the works of Tschabalala Self, Two Girls and Milk Chocolate, where women are posing naked as if to question the audience “Is this what you think of me? Is my body a sexual object to you?” Race and sexualisation of the feminine body are topics that are rarely given the proper importance because our society is so used to over-sexualising everything that we turn people into objects of desire. Another artist that stirs a conversation about women’ values being connected to their sexuality is Marlene Dumas. Her painting Miss January depicts a woman in a power pose position, standing tall, looking straight at you and not with a submissive look. She’s naked, she’s embracing her Diva role freely. But why is this so revolutionary and controversial? Because in the past women have always been painted (and treated as) the weaker sex, with an obedient look, almost inferior to men. Even if things began changing, this painting was the first one created by a woman and not a man, representing female empowerment and equality by a simple pose. 

The Rubell Museum showcases the works of multiple artists, conglomerating multicultural ideas into contemporary American art. All of these works tell a story, whether it be social inequality, women and their sexuality, the LGBTQ community, oppression, and economic changes. Art is not always meant to be beautiful, but it has to make you feel something, and it is usually the simplest statements that will get people to discuss them (like when the artist Maurizio Cattelan taped a banana in the wall at Art Basel in Miami Beach). As a famous quote states, beauty is in the eye of the beholder – so what do you see? 

Works Cited

Caraway-Carlton, Angela. Rubell Family Museum, 29 Apr. 2020, http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/things-to-do/arts-culture/museums/the-rubell-museum.

Deering Hike as Text

Image Taken and Edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0)

“Hiking through Time”

 by Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at Deering Estate, November 4th, 2020

Entering the Deering Estate is an out of this world experience – imagine escaping the traffic, the chaotic life in Miami to go on a trip with the past? Hiking through the Deering estate means going from one scenario to another, seeing pine trees in one area, and going through a swamp in the other just to continue the journey. The exposed roots in the swamp were there to make you trip as a way of saying “stop and remember who inhabited this place before” in fact, the Tekesta touched this soil before us and left their imprints. Some natural rocks can be found if looking attentively, they are shaped like leafs and if held correctly the thumb fits perfectly and they become a weapon. Given the lack of modern gear, those natural objects were used as knives to either cut branches, kill the prey, and excavate. It is also essential to notice how shells were found with two parallel holes where a branch could fit perfectly, and suddenly, these shells were another tool to excavate through the soil. 

Continuing through what looks like an eternal jungle, with the entrance similar to the one described by Dante’s Inferno, the life of Freemasons is documented through their carved symbol inside a water well. This mysterious well adorned by climbing plants makes you question what was once there, were dead bodies hidden there? Or was it used for their sacred rituals? Following through similar tracks, history narrates that under a majestic Oak tree lies the tombs of ancestors. The Oak tree is symbolic of life, so it is impressive to see the poetry of life and death in one place. 

During the hike it is important to recognize some important trees and plants, including the Gumbo Limbo tree recognizable by its red and peeling bark. This tree can cure you from poison and if one of its branches falls, another tree can spring from it. There is also an area covered by Pine trees that immediately transports you to Christmas time. However, while walking through those grandiose trees one needs to watch out for Poison Ivy as it will leave a rash (it can be recognized by its 3 leaflets). 

There are two different areas where it is important to let go of the fear of insects and submerge yourself in the swamp to learn more about Miami’s history. In one place, a crashed airplane can be noticed and learning its history, one will be surprised to discover that it was never reported. Luckily, everyone survived the plane crash but one can speculate that the reason why the incident was not reported was because the plane was transporting cocaine or any other illegal drug. In another area, while admiring the work done by acid that corroded the porous limestone (solution holes), there is a pipeline trail that tells the story of ancient civilizations in Miami. 

The Deering Estate is an environmental, archeological, and historical preserve that allows tourists to learn more about Miami’s history – the beginning of it. Cutler road alone goes back to 10,000 years of history! Hiking through this place is like going back to history and coming back anew. 

Downtown Miami as Text

Image Taken and Edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0)

A Walk to Remember”

 by Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at Downtown Miami, November 25th, 2020

Downtown Miami, at first glance, is all about living in the present – no reminiscing of past cultures and dwellings. The beautiful skyscrapers dominate the skyline and combined with the peaceful water view of the river, it’s the perfect getaway. If we try to ignore the chaos caused by traffic, and the noise of the forever under-construction sites, we can hear the cries of our geographical ancestors, the Tekestas, as they were wiped away from their own land. 

When speaking of the history of Downtown Miami, we must remember two names: Henry Morrison Flager and Major Francis Longhorn Dade. They both contributed to the construction of Miami and the re-civilization of it; Flager was known for bringing the Florida East Coast railroad system with the heavy work of the inhabitants of the area, only to banish them right after they were done working. He saw the potential and decided that in order for tourism to thrive, and to make commuting easier, he had to provide a transportation service. Julia Tuttle had a similar mindset, she wanted Miami to thrive and become the spot for people to admire and spend time in, therefore, she bought an extensive amount of land to better manage the territories. Major Francis Longhorn Dade, on the other hand, was involved in the Second Seminole War when he actually lost his life from the battle. It was such an historical moment that the county changed its name to “Dade”, not realizing that depending on the perspective on which the story is told, he was not such a hero after all. They were trying to remove and displace American Indians from what was considered the “white” settlements, full of riches. In simple terms, it was a genocide masked into a fair battle of power. 

The Miami Circle at Brickell Point is what mostly caught my attention as I consider it to be the only place where people could really reconnect with their terrestrial ancestors. It is a national historic landmark, and it feels like a sacred space because  it is surrounded by 24 holes that represent what once was a building where Tequestas used to spend most of their time in. Downtown Miami is truly a place full of surprises, the archeological findings brought alive by the need of creating new buildings that wipe down years of history are countless. It is thanks to them that we now have a sense of understanding of how much simpler life was, and how racial division played a role in its foundation.

Everglades as Text

Images Taken and Edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0)

Nature’s Call to Silence” 

by Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at Everglades, January 13th, 2021  

The first year I moved to Miami, I remember being asked “What? You haven’t been to the Everglades yet? You have to go at least once!” and I asked myself “what’s so special about a National Park?”. At first I was not convinced of going because I am scared of most wild life there is, and seeing crocodiles right near me was not in my plans, but I decided to give it a try by going to the airboat ride. I liked it, but not as much as actually going slugging. 

The adventure begins before the actual event, as the tour guides thoroughly explain the history of the Everglades and how Lake Okeechobee influences it. Starting in Kissimmee, Orlando the lake extends all the way down to Florida Bay bringing freshwater to the Everglades, depending on whether it is a period of high water or low water. There was a time when the lake and river overflowed, therefore, it was decided to restrict the flow by opening up canals that would direct the water towards the ocean and not inland. Those decisions seemed reasonable at the time, but now it is harder to manage water if there is a lack of it, and it is of poor quality. Sometimes we think we are doing society a favor, but maintaining a healthy ecosystem and not completely disrupting nature’s work could be the best solution to societal issues. 

Who would have thought that enjoying some quietness in the wilderness would have been so therapeutic? Trying to get as far away from the noise of the outside world seemed to be impossible, until we stayed silently observing – nature staying still – Cypress trees all around us, some birds chirping cautiously, and even if we did not see any crocodiles while momentarily invading their home, I am sure they were quietly waiting for us to leave. The water was cold, but it fit perfectly with the words of a local poet who got inspired by the same views we were experiencing.       

The silence around us hugged my uncertainties and gave me a sense of belonging that I have never thought I would experience by simply staying still.

Wynwood as Text

Image Taken and Edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0)

“Art Follows No Rules” 

By Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at The Margulies Collection, January 27, 2021  

When entering a museum, one expects to learn more about art while enjoying the beauty of it but a contemporary art museum challenges you to see life under a different perspective. Someone who is not familiar with Marcel Duchamp would be perplexed when seeing how a literal mess in the corner of a room can be considered art; according to him, the emphasis should be placed on the idea behind the masterpiece instead of on the aesthetic only. Learning more about Duchamp’s history and influence in the art world, I could not help but wonder 

“Why do humans like to complicate their lives by wanting to solve an enigma through art instead of just enjoying its beauty?” an unfinished, deconstructed piece will make you question its meaning, leaving visitors with more questions than answers. 

The Margulies Collection is interesting because there is a nice balance between artworks that can be immediately understood and others that are a complete mystery. For example, Anselm Kiefer’s installation “The Secret of the Ferns” is impactful because upon entering the room you are surrounded by pictures and two concrete structures resembling the gas chambers. It is inevitable not to experience a sense of helplessness and mourning when seeing such structures, remembering how cruel humanity once was. On a similar note, George Segal with his “Depression Bread Line” installation evoked a sense of loneliness and despair. Somehow I was able to connect that depressive outlook to what we are currently living with Covid. The pandemic and social distancing brought depression, and it seems like we are all just waiting in line for these tragedies to end. 

On the opposite spectrum, there is a random giant cube sitting in the corner of the room. It definitely does not evoke any emotion, but it does make you question what could possibly be the meaning of it. Sol Lewitt’s “Eight Unit Cube” is one of those installations that explain that empty space is part of the sculpture. How can space be art? It’s simply mind blowing to think that just because a famous artist decides to declare that space to be a sculpture, then it is one. What if someone decides to step in, they are not technically ruining the work but they are still “touching the art”. Ernesto Neto, on the other hand, makes visitors interact with the artwork by filling what seem to be huge tights with different spices. Getting close to them you can smell clover, turmeric, and orange amongst others. This is the aspect of contemporary art that I personally enjoy, being able to experience it. 

The Margulies Collection is one of those private museums that in order to be appreciated, they must be explored thoroughly and with a very informed tour guide. Even then, be ready to be left speechless and yet confused at the same time because some artworks will evoke strong emotions while others will just leave you perplexed.

Bill Baggs as Text

Image Taken and Edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0)

“Ocean Waves and the Wars in Between” 

By Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at Bill Baggs State Park, 10 February 2021

Drawn by the ocean waves, captivated by the sound of them crashing against the rocks, and submerging myself in the history of that imposing lighthouse. The history of Miami follows a simple pattern: indigenous people were originally living in a place, off the resources that the land could offer until the Spanish took control of the area and used it for their benefit. In this case, Key Biscayne is about 4000 years old, and it is incredible to think that the Tekestas were already living in the land while the island was still forming. They were safely living there until Juan Ponce de Leon decided to claim the “island” and name it Santa Marta to offer it to the King of Spain in 1513. He said that there was fresh water and for a period of time instead of fighting for the ownership of the land, they were trading food (tomatoes, potatoes, and tobacco) – Spain to Florida. However, the lighthouse became a symbol after being used as a political statement during the Seminole Wars. 

Indians were tired of being pushed out of their own land, so on July 23 in 1836 they decided to attack and burn down the lighthouse as a symbol of rebellion. For the Seminoles, this act was a political victory. During the Civil War, it was attacked as well, and it also suffered the destruction from the hurricane that occurred in 1926. After several reconstruction efforts, we can finally see the beautiful lighthouse as it is today. 

Yes, the history of the state park is interesting but nothing can compare to the feeling it brings. What mainly attracted me to this place is the beauty of the crystalline water, the soft and clean sand, and the breathtaking view. It brought back memories of my childhood in Sicily – the beach there is just as beautiful as this one, and learning about its history made me reflect upon the feeling of being an immigrant. The push and pull between wanting a better future and fighting for the sweet memories that a place can bring can all be enclosed in a simple ocean wave.

River of Grass as Text

Image Taken and Edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0)

“Lonely Road to Nature’s Beauty”

By Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at Everglades, 24 February 2021 

The Everglades never fails to amaze me. I have to admit it is not my favorite place in Florida, but it is definitely a must-visit for everyone, whether you are a nature lover or not. Its flora and fauna are interesting and whenever we get to visit as a class, I feel like I am in one of those National Geographic documentaries where they narrate the animals that could show up unexpectedly and that builds up the adrenaline. Music blasting, driving through an empty rural road, I learned that the Everglades is such a lunatic place because depending on the season (dry or wet) the whole scenery could change. It could either be filled with water, or it could be very dry with just a few puddles. However, one thing that stuck out to me was that it is kept controlled by setting up fires in order to achieve a mixed ecosystem and avoid letting specific plants overpower the land. For example, Brazilian Pepper is an invasive species in the Everglades and because of its overgrowth, native species were not growing as much; therefore, they decided to maintain a varied landscape by undertaking restoration projects. We admired a solution hole, which is a pit that formed in the past when sea level and the water table were lower than present levels, created by the erosion of limestone mixed in with rainfall. But the most exciting, yet not very pleasant, part of the experience was walking through the wetlands to find an abandoned house – the oldest house that pertained to a farmer back in the day. I can only imagine the type of life they led, entirely disconnected from the world in the middle of a swamp. In a way, this reminded me of quarantine life because you are stuck in the house unable to be in contact with the outside world; it quickly became lonely even if we relied on the internet for maintaining relationships and a virtual life.

Frost as Text

Image Taken and Edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0)

“Art is a feeling”

by Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at Patricia & Phillip Frost Museum, March 10 2021 

Every artist has a different underlying reason for creating something; whether it be the pleasure of showcasing their skills to the world, the need for expressing their wildest thoughts through a specific medium, or even to study more of a specific subject through art. In the exhibition “Accumulate, Classify, Preserve, Display” by Roberto Obregon located in the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art museum, it can be noted that his approach to art was not necessarily for aesthetic purposes. His work follows a similar pattern as Andy Warhol’s art, as he challenged the viewer to pay close attention to one specific subject that can be found in the every-day life – delicate roses. His minimalistic style does not convey the extensive study he has done before accomplishing one single artwork, as he spent over three decades working with 36 roses and dissecting each and every one of their petals. Personally, I consider his work more of an obsession towards the beauty of roses, but in the artworld we understand that they represent something more – they are the symbol for romance, eternity, and sexuality. 

The museum has a distinct personality of its own because following the showcase by artist Roberto Obregon, who has a very minimalistic style and quiet feeling to the room, there is an entire chaotic floor that makes you question “why is this all here?” It is a floor with no labels, just a collection of what seems to be a street market. I was reminded of the carnival I used to celebrate in Italy as I noticed the different masks and puppets, but I was more perplexed when I saw a mirror on the wall. I am right there, standing in the midst of a colorful mess seeing my own reflection. It was a smart decision to place the mirror right in the middle because as the discussion of portraiture arose Professor Bailly gave us a profound quote “Painting is supposed to defeat death (but) you live on with portraiture.” It is amazing to think that before photography we only relied on portraits to remember some important face and hopefully refer back to them while reminiscing about older times and events. Another challenging room was the one right next to it, following the same chaotic vibe but more organized as there was a collection cabinet displaying different objects together. I used to have a collection cabinet at home, and it served as a reminder of the different places I visited and as an adoration of my Catholic religion through an object representing the Holy Trinity. In this area of the museum, thanks to a wall full of masks I questioned whether or not religion should be included in art. It has been the source of inspiration since the beginning of time, just as much as culture has shaped the way in which artists portrayed themselves and showcased in their artwork. So why is it so controversial nowadays to commercialize or even exhibit a religious-based artwork in a museum? It is not the object itself that causes such an argument, but rather the manner in which it is displayed and viewed – not with respect and adoration, but with indifference. There is such a thin line between celebrating religion through art and unknowingly disrespecting other cultures, tribes, and holy figures; we must become more conscious of how we portray an artwork and question whether or not it could be considered an offense to other cultures.

Coral Gables as Text

Photo Taken and Edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0)

“City out of a Fairytale” 

 by Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at Coral Gables, March 24th, 2021

The intricate streets filled with roundabouts, no numbers shown as a reference but just names of each major street, the enormous buildings that look like castles, and the pedestrian-friendly environment that allows people to walk and dream around the city – Coral Gables is all of this. Who would have thought that such a beautiful city was envisioned by someone who used to pick and sell Guavas for a living? George Merrick was a young dreamer, avid reader of poetry books, who grew up to be a visionary businessman whose passion towards his projects was contagious. Coral Gables was considered a “Coconut Grove backcountry” because it was mainly a rural area, a diamond in the making, and George Merrick was in charge to plan and develop a city after his chosen mediterranean style. He formed the “Dream Team” composed of an artist known as Denman Fink, and two architects named H. George Fink and Phineas Paist, and Frank Button who was a landscape artist. Their different professions came together to form a very aesthetically pleasing city, where attention to detail and intentional spaces were created to reconstruct a typical Mediterranean city. Merrick wanted the community to disconnect from reality and enter a dream land which reputation was founded upon luxury and “the life of the party” ambiance. He went around asking people to trust his project and invest in a house that he would have constructed in the years to come, something that nowadays people would not be inclined to do. The Coral Gables Museum through its exhibitions, architecture, and programs is one of the must-visit locations to learn more about the history of Coral Gables. In fact, when we were walking through the different exhibitions I could read the story written in the walls and really picture how life was back then when Merrick was planning the city. However, in order to truly appreciate the luxury of Coral Gables one must visit the Biltmore Hotel. The highly decorated ceilings matching with the carpet, the chandeliers imported from Mexico that are taller than an average person’s height, and the fountains outside the hotel  create the perfect environment for an elegant evening and become part of a tourist attraction. There is also a tower right in front of the hotel which was constructed as a replica of the Giralda Tower of the Cathedral of Seville located in Spain. There is nothing that screams Mediterranean more than actual replicas of structures from European places along with the surrounding limestone buildings that give it a sense of old-style to the city.  

When I first moved to Miami as I was exploring the different cities, Coral Gables struck me because it is the most similar structure to my home country. I wondered why Americans love the Mediterranean style so much? Why is it so appealing to them and how come from a very tropical area one would want to construct something magical instead of exotic? I think I found the answer: it brings a sense of peace and hope. Life in Miami is chaotic, there is always traffic, people running around from job to job with no time in between to relax and focus on the moment. We are always stuck in traffic with a patience level equal to 0 and then we wonder why Europeans look much healthier and relaxed? Because they take time to enjoy a nice walk in a boulevard; they sit down to drink coffee while socializing with new people at a local cafe; they look at old buildings with their beautiful and intricate artwork on the walls and feel a sense of luxury and mystery. I think that the main reason why Coral Gables is considered a rich area, it is not only for its buildings, but also because people who live can at least attempt to lead a lifestyle that is more focused on the present – something that can be achieved by simply walking around a beautiful landscape and dreaming of a better future, just like Merrick had envisioned.  

Vizcaya as Text

Image Taken and Edited by Luzmariana Iacono (CC by 4.0).

“Vizcaya: where Extravagance meets Elegance” 

By Luzmariana Iacono of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, 7 April 2021  

Taken by surprise by a grandiose entrance, adorned by trees, and welcomed by steps made of fountains that go in descending order I find myself walking towards a villa thinking I am in a storybook settled in Italy. The Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is a must-visit place for those who want to visit a little bit of Europe in this tropical Miami. One is able to appreciate the Mediterranean revival architecture, French renaissance features and with Baroque style carefully chosen by James Deering with his team: Burrall Hoffman was the architect, Paul Chalfin the design director, and Diego Suarez the landscape architect. 

They say that someone’s house represents their energy and James Deering definitely left a mark with this villa as it is very egocentric and rich looking. The villa has a flow that goes from a very chaotic colorful room to a toned-down environment. What I find interesting is how it is divided and its hidden rooms and treasures. For example, in front of the office there is a room behind a fake library, and once you enter there you find yourself in a very elegant space with an enormous chandelier, couches, and vivid paintings. Back then making international phone calls was a mission, but James Deering had to be the owner of one in order to offer his guests an unforgettable experience. Near the room where people would gather and enjoy their time together dancing while overlooking outside the stained glass windows, there is a pantry with very clever features. The floor is made out of cork to isolate the noise, there is a food elevator to make food deliveries easier, and there is even a box that would light up whenever people needed room service (like a ring). There were 35 servants working in the house to maintain everything clean and classy so that when reunions would take place, guests would feel like they have entered another world. 

The gardens tell a story of older times, between the intricate labyrinth that allows people to get lost in the beauty of nature. I could picture two lovebirds coming from two different backgrounds (one rich, one a servant) fall in love and go on secret dates in the garden. There are sculptures and fountains all over, and there is even a space where one can admire the famous italian symbol of the “Mouth of Truth” which is a sculpture of a face that holds a mythical meaning. In several spaces both inside and outside the villa, there are little details that refer to myths or gods of older times, for example the god of wine is featured in the backdoor entrance where he is positioned in front of a bathtub that was filled with wine. James Deering wanted his guests to perceive Vizcaya as a party place where alcohol, music, and sex were the main focus. 

When walking around the house, I could not help but remain hesitant to accept that what in some places is considered sacred, here is solely treated as decoration. For example, there is a painting of the Virgin Mary in one of the biggest rooms but She is not seen as a religious figure. The emphasis is placed on worldly life pleasures and not on the divine, even if it is constantly imitated through the sculptures. I understand Spaniards wanted to convert Tequestas into Christianity and even if James Deering romanticized this idea and celebrated Ponce de Leon, he showcased the complete opposite. 

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