Vanessa Lopez: Miami as Text 2019-2020

Photo taken by Christian Rodriguez./CC BY 4.0

Vanessa Lopez is a sophomore majoring in English Education at Florida International University. Having a passion for literature and academia, she hopes to be an English professor. She is currently a Desk Assistant for FIU Housing. As a part of Art Society Conflict, she is looking forward to being exposed to unfamiliar areas of history and art.

Norton as Text

“Eleanor’s Gaze,” by Vanessa Lopez of FIU at Norton Museum of Art on September 22, 2019.

Photo taken by Javi Fernandez. Edited by Vanessa Lopez./CC BY 4.0

Hues of blue and yellow come together to create a soft whirlwind of Eleanor’s dress. I try to imagine Edmund Tarbell’s thought process in capturing her gentleness. Small splotches of blues, greens, and oranges here; and wisps of browns and yellows there. The more I look, the more I feel as if I have been whisked away to the spot in front of her.

I can hear the movement of the water, and I can feel the blades of grass brushing against my skin. I would look at Eleanor and be overwhelmed with jealousy. Her crown of baby hair dances with the breeze. She sits there calmly, a cloud of lace covering most of her milky body. I would wish to be as effortlessly dainty as her.

I’ve read that she was an aspiring singer from an established family. Would she just contemplate and hum a melody? Or would she be bothered by my presence?

Top left photo taken by Javi Fernandez. Top right and bottom photos taken by Vanessa Lopez. Edited by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.0

Despite moving onto the other pieces in the museum, my mind wanders back to that corner where she stays. She has imprisoned me in a cell of curiosity. I wanted to know more than the little, white sheet of paper on that wall.

I returned home and searched her name online, but there wasn’t anything new except the news of her death in 1975. She passed away at 94.

In the end, I accepted that all I would know of her is through Tarbell’s eyes. She is immortalized inside a golden frame, waiting to capture another with her gaze.

Deering as Text

“Nature’s Story,” by Vanessa Lopez of FIU at Deering Estate on October 2, 2019.

Photos taken and edited by Vanessa Lopez./CC BY 4.0

At the Cutler Fossil Site, I tower over the sinkhole that contained the bones of Ice Age animals and artifacts of Paleo-Indians. Even with a mammoth tooth weighing in my hand, I could not process what existed long before me.

The things our guide, Vanessa Trujillo, said were things imprisoned within a small section of a paragraph in a history book. Yet, I was seeing and touching its remnants right there.

I entered the sinkhole, and let nature consume me and convey its story. I stood where people hunted, drilled, dug, and struggled to survive. The dirt under my fingernails and the sweat running down the back of my neck quickly turned trivial.

Later in the day, we hiked in another area, on our way to see the Tequesta Burial Mound. In a pool of freshwater, we found pieces of pottery and marine shell that might have been left behind by the Tequestas.

Then we found ourselves in a solution hole, where there was much to look at. There were plants that resembled hanging moss running down, and a cactus extending out of a tree. On the ground, there were holes I was tempted to peer through.

Main photo taken by Ruth Shmueli. Background photo taken by Vanessa Lopez. Edited by Vanessa Lopez.

Eventually, we were at our destination. As much as I wanted to feel accomplished, there was not much to celebrate about. The Tequestas were negatively affected by European colonialism, and now, I can only see the pieces that were left behind them.

And yet, the “founders” and notable people of Miami covers these pieces well, and the result is many not knowing what we experienced that day. I am reminded of the strangler figs we found on the way there. These plants grow by “strangling” other trees, desperate for light.

But on the burial mound, a giant oak tree stood tall and proud. I looked up and admired the way the light falls upon its leaves. I left thinking that I wouldn’t allow anyone else to shroud it in darkness.                   

Wynwood as Text

“A Wall of Boxes,” by Vanessa Lopez of FIU at The Margulies Collection and de la Cruz Collection on October 16, 2019.

Photo taken and edited by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.o

Upon entering the room, Ibrahim Mahama’s “Non-Orientable Nkansa” immediately captured my attention. Observing it was like a game, where my eyes wander all over to find objects that stick out amongst the wall of shoemaker boxes. A rolled up rug, a backpack, a mismatched pair of flip flops…

When I step back a bit, it’s clear that it’s telling me a story of poverty. I think about Mahama’s process in collecting all of the materials to craft such a story, creating something more valuable and powerful. 

Such a phenomenon is also present in the art collector’s world. What I experienced at The Margulies Collection and the de la Cruz collection was something different than what I experienced at the art museums. 

On top of seeing what the artists are trying to tell me, I can also see what the collectors are saying. Just like how Mahama painstakingly collected hundreds of material to create something valuable, Mr. Margulies and de la Cruz’ collect these pieces to show what’s valuable to them. 

Left top photo and right middle photo taken by Javi Fernandez. Other photos taken by Vanessa Lopez. Edited by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.0

Learning the process of collecting and displaying art also brought me a greater appreciation of the art I was able to see. As technology advances, and as art pieces become more innovative, it makes the preservation and display much more difficult.

By the end of the day, I found that I was surrounded by people who were passionate about art and who wanted to share that. I knew that I had to come back and immerse myself into their world again. 

I want people to know more than what’s just a pile of boxes.

Vizcaya as Text

“Miami’s Secret Garden,” by Vanessa Lopez of FIU in Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and LnS Gallery on October 30, 2019.

Photos taken and edited by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.0

At fifteen, my first visit to Vizcaya was shrouded by some overwhelming feelings. I was there to have a photoshoot for my quinceañera, a tradition that celebrates a girl’s 15th birthday, marking her official transition to womanhood.

I remember sitting on a bench in the garden, getting my hair done, and attracting the gazes and cameras of tourists passing by. At first, the attention was overwhelming, but I realized how well I fit into the surrounding scenery: the perfectly trimmed bushes, gazebos, classical statues, fountains, etc… I thought Vizcaya was built for a princess.

It’s been about four years since then. I’m no longer the girl drowning in a poofy dress, with makeup cemented onto my face, and I’ve learned what was underneath the pretty aesthetics of Vizcaya.

Essentially, the sculpture of Dionysius standing at the entrance of the villa sums up what Vizcaya was built around. Or rather, what James Deering, its original owner, valued the most. Between two cherub-like figures, Dionysius stands, pouring out wine into the tub below him. As Professor Bailly explained, this represented the hedonistic nature of James Deering.

And this idea can be found throughout the property.

Photos taken and edited by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.0

One of the first things we encountered in the garden were the grottos entering the “Secret Garden.” These little caves were originally meant for religious reasons in Europe, but Deering had the intention of using them for the parties he throws. Right after, we found the “lover’s bench” in the Secret Garden, a supposed meeting place for couples.

Deering’s other abnormal ideas include a bookcases containing fake books in his study, a portrait of the Virgin Mary cut in half above the organ, a secret compartment for alcohol, the hanging of portraits of people he doesn’t know, and so on.

Furthermore, Deering blatantly romanticized the arrival of Columbus and other European figures involved in the colonization of the Americas.

It was clear that Deering utilized his money to borrow culture and to fabricate his own background or story, all within the backdrop of an extremely lavish lifestyle.

Photo taken and edited by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.0

None of this came as a surprise to me, but despite learning about the history, I couldn’t reject the feelings of nostalgia that lingered within me as we walked around. I wouldn’t describe what happened as a “loss of innocence.” Rather, I became more educated, and at the same time, began appreciating what I believe will be a hidden gem of Miami, and of my transition to adulthood.

Design District as Text

“Infinite Selfie,” by Vanessa Lopez of FIU in Institute of Contemporary Art Miami and Wynwood Walls on November 13, 2019.

Photo taken and edited by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.0

At Institute Contemporary of Art Miami (ICA Miami) in the Design District, Yayoi Kusama’s “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins” is on display. It is the first time that her well-known “mirror infinity rooms” has been installed in Miami, and visitors can experience it for only one minute.

 For 60 seconds, I had an intimate moment with a piece of art and myself. 

Drowning in hues of yellow and black polka dots, I immersed myself into Kusama’s world. However, I could not help but be unsettled by the loneliness and quietness in that room. I am also constantly being confronted by the multiple images of myself, and it further emphasizes that I am the only one in that room.

I snap a picture, and then I realize I am a part of the art piece too.

My experience at the Design District forces me to think about how we consume and interact with art. The neighborhood looks as if an artist has thrown up all over it, with its funky architecture and colorful street art.

However, upon entering Wynwood Walls, the atmosphere feels more claustrophobic and unsettling. Wynwood Walls feels as if it’s what people want Miami to look like. On top of the neighborhood being littered with luxurious boutiques and expensive cafes, the street art seems to focus too much on aesthetics. 

Its culture is simultaneously foreign and familiar, but I can’t help but take a picture here too.

I think it’s important to point out how the consumption of art changes in today’s world, especially with its emphasis on social media. With just the camera on your phone, you can be a part of art too.

Photo taken by Javi Fernandez. Edited by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.0

Miami Art as Text

“Miami is Art,” by Vanessa Lopez of FIU in UNTITLED, ART and CONTEXT Art Miami on December 4, 2019.

Photos taken and edited by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.0

The forty of us huddled against each other in the small booth of Gallery 1957, as we listened to Victoria Cooke’s detailed explanation of each of the art pieces on display. On top of having the privilege to have her time and learn more about the pieces, I was amazed to hear of her process of going to international art fairs.

According to her, it takes months to a year to organize setting up a booth at an art fair. On top of submitting applications and designing the booth itself, Cooke goes through the difficult and expensive process of shipping art pieces from Ghana to other various countries. 

At that moment I realized how Art Week in Miami isn’t as glamorous as I thought, and I was grateful that I was able to see amazing pieces directly from Ghana.

Pieces on display by “El Apartamento”at UNTITLED, ART. Photos taken and edited by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.0

This made me think about the processes that other artists from different countries have to go through to have their pieces on display. One country that I did not expect to appear in Miami was Cuba. 

Despite the heavy influence Cuban culture has on Miami, I don’t feel like I get to see “Cuba” and “art” in one place together. Seeing Ariel Cabrera’s paintings felt oddly familiar and nostalgic. I sent the pictures of the pieces to my mom and she was even surprised too.

During Art Week in Miami, I felt really out of place. If it weren’t for Art Society Conflict, I think I would have avoided these areas entirely.

However, as time passed by, we bonded more as a group, constantly finding more interesting and bizarre things from the art fairs we’ve visited. At this point, it feels like I’m too deep in. I feel as if I can’t get enough of seeking for more art in Miami.

Photos taken and edited by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.0

Bakehouse as Text

“An Artist’s Process,” by Vanessa Lopez of FIU in Bakehouse Art Complex and Emerson Dorsch on January 15, 2020.

Mette Tommerup’s “Love, Ur” installation at Emerson Dorsch. Top photo taken by Vanessa Lopez. Bottom photo taken by Abigael Derlise. / CC BY 4.0

The room was dominated by swirls of flashing colors. I was immediately captured by the long cloths hung over the wooden rack. All of these works belonged to Mette Tommerup, a painter and installation artist based in Miami. She was generous enough to invite us to her “Love, Ur” installation at Emerson Dorsch and her very own studio. 

Mette explained some of her works that came before this installation. Her recent project, “Ocean Loop,” consisted of placing some of her paintings into the ocean. Mette explained that, at this point, she was unsatisfied with her work and saw this as a “rebirth.” 

At first, such information was difficult for me to process. I couldn’t understand what was the purpose and her reasoning behind it. However, I began to find it inspirational. On top of it being completely out of the box, Mette was here to explain her process and thinking behind her work.

Mette conveyed her feelings candidly, and if she hated her work, she would say so. She didn’t bother sugarcoating anything, and that was admirable.

Photos of Mette Tommerup’s studio. Photos taken by Vanessa Lopez. / CC BY 4.0

Afterwards, Mette invited us to be a part of her “Love, Ur” installation and swiftly took off the cloths from the racks. I immediately felt excited and satisfied. I had a feeling that they didn’t only belong there. 

The room quickly filled with giggles and various conversation, as everyone tried to figure out how to manipulate the piece of cloth they got their hands on. One moment I was wrapped in it, and in the next, it served as a tent for the three of us. 

Afterwards, Mette invited us to her studio at Fountainhead Studios. Earlier, we had visited the Bakehouse Art Complex, and was able to see the studios that artists worked in. It was interesting to see how every artist utilized their space, and were very telling of each artist’s personality and style of work. 

Mette’s studio was mostly organized, and I was captured by every little detail. The bucket filled with rolled up papers, small oil paintings sitting on a basket, a container filled with tubes of paint, and of course, her current work in progress that took up the entire wall. 

We were taking a peek into an artist’s daily life and their workspace. We were seeing a piece of Mette. Most importantly, we saw the real side of the artist and their process.

Rubell as Text

“A Father and His Son,” by Vanessa Lopez of FIU in Rubell Museum on January 29, 2020.

Formerly called the Rubell Family Collection, the Rubell Museum relocated and opened its doors back in December. During our visit, Laura Randall, the museum’s archivist and associate registrar, was gracious enough to give us a tour around some of the galleries at the museum. The museum is home to 36 galleries, holding a variety of contemporary pieces.

One piece that captured my attention was Paul McCarthy’s “Cultural Gothic.” It was impossible for it to go unnoticed. It was a considerably large piece, consisting of three animatronics resembling a father, a son, and a goat. The loud humming of the machine that operated the piece’s animatronics also dominated the room.

Paul McCarthy’s “Cultural Gothic (1992).” Photos taken by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.0

Suddenly, the goat moved. What I saw was the goat moving back and forth, in a seesaw-ing motion. What accompanied it was the sound of a hammer banging repeatedly. It wasn’t until Laura mentioned the word “thrust” that I realized what was going on. As I walked around the piece, I noticed the son’s pelvis moving back and forth. 

Oh. I finally understood the whole picture. 

Before, the appearance of the father and son seemed picture perfect. Both the father and son seemed well-groomed, in their crisp button-up shirts and clean pants. What I understood of the piece accumulated to “fatherhood” or “growing up.” What I imagined was a normal, father-son trip.

Then, the piece turned grim and…frankly, realistic in today’s society. The piece now can still convey “growing up.” For many, this was an accurate depiction of what was being taught by fathers and today’s society to young boys: that everything’s meant to be conquested by men.

The unsettling face of the father and his hands on his shoulders indicate that the sexual acts performed by the son are encouraged. The western appearance of the father and son and their clothes indicate that this can happen within “normal” families in countries that seem to have more equality between men and women.

I’ve seen many pieces that address similar topics or more taboo subjects, but none address them in such an “in-your-face” way. Many have become jaded in today’s repeating conversations of feminism and gender equality. This piece is meant to wake them up.

Photos taken by Vanessa Lopez./ CC BY 4.0

MDC Printmaking as Text

“The Art of Printmaking,” by Vanessa Lopez of FIU in Miami Dade College on February 12, 2020.

Photo taken by Vanessa Lopez. / CC BY 4.o

Artist Jennifer Basile invited us to her Studio Art class at Miami Dade College. She was generous enough to let us utilize her space and her tools to create monotypes, a type of printmaking where you paint on a smooth surface that yields one good impression. 

Adding to the fact that I am not “artistically skilled,” the idea that we were making a one-of-a-kind print made me nervous. However, since we were working with black ink and plexiglass, it was quite forgiving and easy to cover up mistakes. 

In addition, since we all had one chance to create a print, we put our all into experimenting with different movements of brushes, tools, and patterns. Through this experience, I learned that it was important to let things go and just follow where the brush (or roller) takes you. The less I worried about the final outcome, the more creative and experimental I became.

Of course, the most exciting part about this process is the final step. After finishing your piece on the plexiglass, we place it into the press machine and turn the wheel, unveiling the finished product. I was both proud of my work and surprised to see the negative image of the inking that I had worked on for so long.

Top photo by Vanessa Lopez. Bottom photo by Ruth Shmueli.

Eventually, I realized that the thought of not being “artistically skilled” is close-minded. Our entire class, which consists of different majors and fields, were able to create interesting and even intricate pieces.

Deering Estate as Text

“Between Tranquility and History,” by Vanessa Lopez of FIU in Deering Estate Walking Tour on April 26, 2020.

Top photo taken by Ruth Shmueli. Bottom photo taken by Vanessa Lopez./CC BY 4.0

The culture and complexity of the Deering Estate is indescribable. Located along the coast, the Deering Estate aims to preserve the estate of Charles Deering, an American businessman, art collector, and philanthropist. The history of the estate goes back to 10,000 years, as evidence of the Paleo-Indians and the Tequesta can be still found on the site.

Back in October of 2019, I had the privilege to go on a hike to the Cutler Fossil Site and the Tequesta Burial Mound, an unearthed burial site. Vanessa Trujillo, the estate’s Conservation & Research Specialist, was generous enough to guide my class on these hikes. 

On top of directly interacting with its history, I was able to find more about the hidden nature of Miami. Throughout our hike, we found different species of plants and insects. What’s more interesting, however, were the solution holes, which are created from limestone dissolving due to a mixture of rainfall and weak acid. It was the first time I’ve seen such a thing.

Photos of the inside of Stone House at Deering Estate. Taken by Vanessa Lopez./CC BY 4.0

After the hike, my classmates decided to sit by the Boat Basin, which is unique for having appearances of manatees and other marine life. As I looked for any manatees poking out of the water, the fresh breeze cooled me down. I admired the rows of palm trees, and watched its leaves swaying gracefully. At that moment, I realized that I may be in one of the most tranquil places in Miami. I immediately thought that I needed to come back soon.

However, I think it’s necessary to mention that the estate was built during a time of racial segregation. The laborers and builders behind the estate were primarily African-American or Afro-Bahamian. On top of the working conditions being terrible, in 1916 there was an accident that caused four deaths and five injuries. 

I hope to come back to the Deering Estate soon and learn more about the culture and history built within Miami. From nature to the architecture of the buildings, there is so much to admire. 

Miami Beach as Text

“A Pastel Wonder,” by Vanessa Lopez of FIU in South Beach Walking Tour on April 26, 2020.

Photo of Vanessa Lopez at one of the beaches in South Beach. Photo taken by Christian Rodriguez./CC BY 4.0

Running from South Pointe Park to Dade Boulevard and 24th Street sits South Beach, an island filled with tourist attractions and an icon of Miami. It’s known for its Art Deco buildings and beaches, as well as holding important history and culture that’s central to Miami.

Upon passing by the Art Deco buildings, I felt as if I was transported back in time with its pastel rainbow of colors and geometric design. This neighborhood is unique and an essential piece of South Beach’s aesthetic. Designers and architects of Art Deco aimed for the buildings to appear as if they’re machines, and I believe that they’ve definitely achieved that look.

Within this neighborhood, many historical events took place. In the late 70’s, Barbara Baer Capitman fought for protecting this neighborhood through chaining herself to hotels. If it weren’t for her efforts and activism, Art Deco wouldn’t have existed. A memorial dedicated to Capitman sits in Ocean Drive today.

Gianni Versace, an acclaimed Italian fashion designer, had a villa in Ocean Drive. However, in July of 1997, Versace was shot and killed right in front of his home. 

Furthermore, the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU (JMOF-FIU) in South Beach is the only museum that holds Florida Jewish history and culture. Despite Jewish people being a large part of the Miami Beach community, they were discriminated against in the past. 

The history behind Miami Beach runs deeper, however, as African-Americans, Afro-Bahamians, and Seminoles had lived in the region for centuries. It also used to be an island consumed by mangroves and populated by various marine life. However, this habitat was destroyed for development, and blacks were banned.

This entire time, I’ve always thought that South Beach was no more than a lousy tourist attraction and a hub for nightlife. However, I’ve learned more about its abundance of history and culture, and I am now more appreciative of having such a unique place nearby. 

Author: Vanessa Lopez

I am currently a sophomore at FIU, where I am majoring in English Education and pursuing a certificate in Japanese Studies. I was born in Miami to Cuban and Nicaraguan parents, and grew up with a passion for English literature. Beyond reading and writing, my hobbies consist of learning how to graphic design and studying kanji.

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