Sydielim Chong: Mette Tommerup 2021

ARTIST QUOTE
“I like stripping down art to the minimum and the bare things. It’s all about the paint used, the way in which they mix, and knowing how to work with it. My art is about being free, not confined to a certain meaning or space.” – Mette Tommerup  

STUDENT BIO

Photo of Sydielim, taken by Jennifer Escalona. (CC by 4.0)

Sydielim Chong is a passionate 19-year-old student at Florida International University. Sydielim is on a pre-law track majoring in criminal justice while also applying a minor in statistics. Sydielim is a full-time tutor for Bright and Brainy Tutoring and also currently interns for Caserta and Spiriti Law Group. Sydielim also enjoys watching movies, especially thrillers, and loves going out on adventures in hopes of exploring new things all over the world. As a part of Art Society Conflict, she hopes to learn more of the valuable history behind Miami and the artistic culture rooted in the city.

BIOGRAPHY

Picture of Mette Tommerup in front of her exhibit “Made by Dusk” at the Locust Projects taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

Mette Tommerup is a painter and artist currently located in Miami, FL. Tommerup was born in Denmark and has lived in all sorts of different cities such as England, Pennsylvania, and New York. Tommerup moved to England at about seven years old where she attended an all-girls school. She ended up moving back to Denmark after about four years. Tommerup graduated high school in Denmark and then moved to Pennsylvania where she attended Indiana University and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. After graduation, Tommerup was indecisive as to what to do next. She thought of moving to Germany, however, it was not long before she realized it wasn’t exactly for her. Tommerup decided to move to New York City and pursue a Master of Fine Arts at the School of Visual Arts which she graduated with in the year of 1995.

Shortly after her graduation, Tommerup met her husband and they moved to Miami after the events of September 11, 2001. “One of the most tragic events I have witnessed. I remember seeing the smoke and the ashes- it wasn’t just a one-day thing, this was something that went on for weeks and weeks” said Tommerup in response to my asking what it was like to live in New York City during that time. After moving to Miami, Tommerup and her husband were expecting, yes, a baby! But not just one, TWINS! Tommerup explains to me how it was just a crazy experience having had three children in a matter of about 18 months. Yes, she got pregnant again once her twin baby girls were about nine months old, this time, she and her husband had a baby boy to complete the family picture.

Tommerup is currently represented by Emerson Dorsch Gallery meanwhile working on all sorts of projects and exhibits shown in many other museums and art galleries. The majority of her artworks involve contemporary art. “My artwork’s performance is mainly about freedom” says Tommerup.

PERSONAL IDENTITY
Sydielim: “When did you know you wanted to be an artist?”

Mette Tommerup: “When I was little, my mother would take me to museums, and I would just stand there and think to myself how much I loved it. I guess I just had an epiphany at an early age, art was my passion.”

Tommerup speaks about a professor she had, Ned Wert. Mr. Wert was a professor that Tommerup could always go to, she says. “This professor of mine just handed me and two other students, and friends of mine, the keys to a house he told us to use as our studio.” Tommerup states that Mr. Wert had a huge impact on who she is today because he was the person that helped, pushed, and believed in her. 

When talking about her artwork, Tommerup states that it is all about having and giving freedom to the viewers. She enjoys not putting any limitations on her art when it comes to the possibilities. Tommerup is huge on her artwork being free and unidentified, this way, she says, viewers get the chance to feel whatever emotion or energy they need to feel at that moment. She says her work is mostly made through what she is feeling at the moment and that is the same feeling she aims to give out through her published works.

CULTURAL IDENTITY
Mette Tommerup is a visual artist based in Miami, FL. And originally from Denmark, however, when talking to Mrs. Tommerup about the specific topic that is cultural identity, she says that the one project she really took any identity into consideration was “Made by Dusk.” Made by Dusk is a new large-scale installation by Miami-based artist Mette Tommerup inspired by the Nordic Goddess, Freya, the untamed goddess of love, war, beauty, gold, and transformation. 

For this exhibition, Tommerup emphasizes that she was completely fed up with the way women’s rights have always been underestimated. This entire project was motivated by the fact that Tommerup felt rage and anger in the year 2020 and everything that came with it. That being everything from political views to human rights movements.

“This performative story began years ago with a narrative of how my miniature seascape paintings, with humble wills of their own and capable of conscious choice returned to their source—the sea. In subsequent shows, Ocean Loop and Love, Ur, the narrative grew, and the paintings returned and explored life on land. For the upcoming Made by Dusk, the paintings have their sight on the sky, specifically dusk, when light turns to darkness. This performance furthers the concept of paintings as “actors in their own right” as they push for reconfiguration through process and abstraction.” Says Tommerup.

Besides that, we circled back to the fact that she wants her art to make her fans and viewers feel free and not be confined to any feeling, thought, or emotion when looking at her work. Tommerup is a woman who takes much pride in the fact that there is no specific “meaning” behind her work.

SUBJECT OF ARTWORK
Mette Tommerup is a painter and storyteller who uses sincere and humorous themes to portray her pieces, whether digital or painted on canvas.

“Raw uncut canvases and pigments, the foundation of my recent works, came from the sea and the earth. The rawness of the materials marked by these natural elements offer viewers entry to an underpainting of tactile corporality.” Says Tommerup.

Tommerup and I engaged in quite a conversation about what it means to be “successful” and she says how being successful can be one of two things. For one, a person can be successful just through the simple things that bring happiness, such as her three children, her family, her friends, and of course all of the amazing opportunities she has been given. On the other hand, success also comes from the money and luxuries that having money brings. Through this conversation we basically got down to the agreement that Tommerup has had a more than just typically successful life and career. Tommerup consistently mentions how grateful she is for all of the opportunities she has been given as well as the support system she has had throughout the years.

FORMAL ELEMENTS OF ARTWORK
Tommerups artwork consists of spontaneity and freedom. As discussed throughout this entire project, Tommerup is determined to always have her work make the viewers feel free to think or feel what it is they need to at that moment.

Tommerup says that when she is creating her art, she usually already knows exactly what it is she wants, how she wants it, and how to get it. She mentions that this is important for her because once she starts, if she messes up, then she would have to start all over in order to get exactly what she envisioned since the beginning.

EXHIBITION AND PROJECT HISTORY
Tommerup is currently represented by Emerson Dorsch Gallery. Her work is also a part of permanent collections for multiple museums such as Frost Art Museum and Perez Art Museum, both found in Miami. In New York City, Tommerup has shown at the Chelsea Art Museum, Exit Art, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York has honored Tommerup by purchasing her work through the Art Purchase Program. Miami Contemporary Artists, Miami Arts Explosion, 100 Degrees in the Shade, and Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze are only a several of the many articles about the artist herself. Tommerups’ exhibits have been reviewed in Art in America, Artnet.com, as well as the Miami Herald, to list a few

Sydielim: “In reference to being an artist, what would you say was the ‘best night ever’?”

Mette Tommerup: “I think the best night would have to be the night I won an award at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. I remember the chills I got that night just having seen the amazing people I was surrounded by; it felt surreal”

STUDENT PERSPECTIVE
I decided I wanted to work with Mette Tommerup when I first visited her exhibit at the Locust Projects with my class. I was listening to her speak about the project, what it meant to her, what her purpose was for it, and I instantly clicked with just about everything she said.

Truthfully, I had never really sat down and talked to an artist and try to understand what they do or why they do it. Talking with Mette Tommerup changed that completely because I can now understand the passion behind all the work that is being done. While visitors of art museums and galleries walk in and think something is beautiful, we never really understand just how much time, work, and effort goes into that beautiful painting, sculpture, drawing, photograph, or project.

Tommerup and I talked about many things including how this pandemic has shaped each of us. “During this entire year I felt a lot of rage because of everything that was happening. It was an eventful year, and that rage fueled my motivation for ‘Made by Dusk.’ It was a project in which I got a bit political, although I don’t usually tie in those elements into my work- but I just felt that women needed to be heard and that I needed to let go and all that emotion, rage, fury, and inspiration went into that exhibition.”

Working with Tommerup was wonderful, definitely an experience I will never forget. She was honest, genuine, and extremely helpful. We bonded over coffee while doing this interview which ultimately went beyond just questions and answers, but I got the chance to have a conversation with her. We went back and forth for about two hours during this “interview” which only ended up being a great talk with a great woman, one which I will never forget.

Sydielim Chong: Art Service 2021

Mette Tommerup: Preparing for the Next Project.

STUDENT BIO

Picture of Sydielim Chong taken by Jennifer Escalona. (CC by 4.0)

Sydielim Chong is a passionate 19-year-old student at Florida International University. Sydielim is on a pre-law track majoring in criminal justice while also applying a minor in statistics. Sydielim is a full-time tutor for Bright and Brainy Tutoring and also currently interns for Caserta and Spiriti Law Group. Sydielim also enjoys watching movies, especially thrillers, and loves going out on adventures in hopes of exploring new things all over the world. As a part of Art Society Conflict, she hopes to learn more of the valuable history behind Miami and the artistic culture rooted in the city.

WHO

Mette Tommerup

Picture of Mette Tommerup taken by Sydielim Chong of FIU. (CC by 4.0)

I chose to volunteer with Miami-based artist Mette Tommerup. Mette Tommerup was also the artist I interviewed and upon speaking with her for the couple of hours I did, I instantly felt a connection with her. I wanted to do something for her and with her.

Mette Tommerup was born in Denmark in 1969 and is an artist who uses both significant and critical perspectives to portray her interactive and handcrafted pieces. Tommerup’s artwork has been in many public and private collections, including The Bass, The Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), and The FIU Frost Museum of Art. Mrs. Tommerup has a bachelors and a masters of fine arts and, from a very young age, has known she had a connection with art and wanted to pursue a career in the field.

WHY

I selected this opportunity when I was coordinating with Mrs. Tommerup to meet up for our interview that I had asked her to do for another project when I first met her, at one of her exhibitions at the Locust Projects, and she had mentioned that she needed some help with a couple of things around her studio in preparation for her next big project. Truthfully, I had not found anyone or anywhere to volunteer with/at and when Mrs. Tommerup told me about this opportunity, I was just happy that I would be able to complete my semester project. However, it was once I met with Mrs. Tommerup for the interview, that we had a long conversation about so many things. We talked about her childhood, her life as an artist, what inspired her, some of her art, COVID-19 and how it has affected both of our lives, and she even had questions for me. It was at this point that I became so excited to help her and to work with her because when I spoke to her it wasn’t just a question-answer conversation. We genuinely had a good time talking together and even bonded over some coffee from Starbucks.  

HOW

I came across this opportunity in a very random and unexpected way. When my class took a trip to the Locust Projects to view her exhibit “Made by Dusk”, I absolutely fell in love with her work and I decided to interview her for one of my semester projects. Once we set up the interview, she mentioned needing some help with some things around her studio and I jumped at the opportunity since at this point, I had not found anyone or any place to volunteer with for the completion of this project. Once I actually met with her and had a conversation with her, I realized how truly amazing she is, and I became genuinely excited to work with her and help her out.

WHERE & WHAT

April 7th, 2021

Today, I actually went to Mette Tommerup’s studio for the first time. This was the day in which I interviewed her for my other semester project. I was with her for about an hour and a half just doing the interview and then about another hour and a half while she was explaining to me what she has in the works and how I can be of help to her within the next couple of days.

Picture of artist, Mette Tommerup, in her studio posing in front of one of the pieces from her exhibit “Made by Dusk” taken by Sydielim Chong of FIU on April 7th, 2021.

April 8th, 2021

On this day, I came into the studio for about two hours. Mette had told me she needed some help covering up some canvasses and that’s what I did. It wasn’t too much, and we had a great time anyway. We talked some more about what she is working on while covering up canvasses.

April 9th, 2021

Today, Mette and I met up at her studio again. She needed some help cleaning up the studio and preparing all the materials for her next project, so we worked for a bit on that and then went for coffee together.

April 10th, 2021

Today was a more productive day as Mette and I finished cleaning up the studio and setting up the materials. Mette was able to start brainstorming as to what she wanted to do. It was a really fun experience being able to work with her and seeing where she gets her ideas from and how she uses them to make something out of it.

April 11th, 2021

Today was the last day I met with Mette Tommerup. It was a great experience, but I have to say this day was the saddest because I genuinely enjoyed working with her and helping her. She and I got along great and I will definitely miss her. I let her know that if she ever needs anything that. She can always call me, and I’d be there.

WHEN

SUMMARY

My experience working with Mette Tommerup was beyond any of my expectations. Mrs. Tommerup was always genuine, kind, and willing to help and teach me things when I didn’t know them. From the first time I met her and saw her artwork I assumed she was a spectacular person and now I can confirm it as well. She is truly an amazing artist and I applaud her for everything she does. While working with Mrs. Tommerup, I realized first-hand the work and dedication it really takes to be a successful artist, a recognized one, at that. The couple of days I spent working with her and helping her are some of the days I will always look back to and cherish. Although the work we did and the things I helped her with weren’t much, what I truly got out of the experience was better. I got to meet and truly get to know an amazing artist, her backstory, and see all the work and heart she puts into her work. This was truly an experience I will never forget.

Sydielim Chong: ICA Miami 2020

Institute of Contemporary Art

Student Biography
Picture of Sydielim taken by Mileidys Chong, 2018 (CC by 4.0)

Sydielim Chong is a passionate 19-year-old student at Florida International University. Sydielim is on a pre-law track majoring in criminal justice while also applying a minor in statistics. Sydielim is a full-time tutor for Bright and Brainy Tutoring. Sydielim also enjoys watching movies, especially thrillers, and loves going out on adventures in hopes of exploring new things all over the world. As a part of Art Society Conflict, she hopes to learn more of the valuable history behind Miami and the artistic culture rooted in the city.

Geography
Photo of the front of the Institute of Contemporary Art taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is located in the Miami Design District right next to Wynwood. This is an area previously defined by low median income and hence, an area characterized by gentrification many years later. Although this may hold negative connotation at first, I feel that with one of ICA’s initiatives being that it holds art done by local and upcoming artists, the institution serves as a beacon of advancement for the people currently and previously living in this area instead of one that symbolizes the country’s growing wage gap. The institution serves as a bridge between the people of the community and its own, home-grown artistic expression. 

Additionally, by being located near Downtown Miami, the site of Art Basel Miami, the institution positions itself to aptly accommodate the outpour of art enthusiasts from the annual convention thereby furthering the platform it is to further the work of upcoming artists.

History

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) first opened in 1996 under the Museum of Contemporary Art in a building designed by Charles Gwathmey. Funded by Norman Braman and his wife, the ICA is dedicated to providing a platform for local, emerging, and under-recognized artists. The ICA most values advancing art and it being connected to our modern-day reality.

In 2014, due to municipal concerns, the board of the museum filed a lawsuit against the city for the right to relocate, leading to the development of the Institute of Contemporary Art in 2017 at the current location in the Design District of Miami. The ICA currently resides in the Miami Design District which is fitting considering the fact that this area of Miami highly appreciates artwork and underground artists which goes hand-in-hand with the ICA’s goal.

Mission

The mission of the ICA is solely to get under-recognized artists more recognition in order for them to continue their journeys. The ICA is composed of dozens of exhibitions of artists one has probably never heard of, and that is the exact point of the museum; to get visitors to discover new, local, and underrated artists.

The ICA also promotes the advancements of experimentation in contemporary art through promoting the sharing of art and concepts throughout the city of Miami and worldwide. This is done by a dynamic year-round schedule in which exhibitions, works, and collections are presented and rotated allowing for a multitude of artists and their works to be showcased. By having a rapidly shifting collection visitors are encouraged to come multiple times a year thereby maximizing the exposure given to emerging artists.

Access

Admission to the Institute of Contemporary Art is free of charge as their mission is to get local and up and coming artists the recognition they deserve. Though admission is free, the ICA does require that visitors reserve their tickets in advance, thus making it easier to admit visitors in by simply scanning their reserved ticket upon entry.

One-day admission is free, though they do have a membership which costs $50 annually. This membership includes a personalized membership card, invitations to VIP events such as opening receptions for new exhibitions, exclusive networking events, 20% discount at ICA shop. Reserved seating at all ICA public programs, free parking, exclusive discounts in the Miami Design District, and much more. With proof, artists, students, educators, seniors, and military personnel are eligible for this membership at $20 off, making it only a $30 annual fee.  

Collection

The ICA has over 100 permanent artworks, most of which are donated to them by other museums or by artists themselves. Despite having so many artworks in their hands, they aren’t all on display. The institute makes it a point to consistently rotate around art, this way, their mission of getting under-recognized artists more attention is always prioritized. Though they do re-exhibit the artworks they own, it is a very small percentage of permanent artworks that are on display. When I visited the museum, there were about 7-8 artworks from their collection on display. 

I Want a President” by Zoe Leonard

Photo taken by Sydielim Chong of letter by Zoe Leonard. (CC by 4.0)

One of the permanent works at The ICA is Zoe Leonard’s, “I want a president”. The text work is a poem in which Leonard longs for a president characterized by the experiences of a populace instead of that of the elite. The poem was written in 1992 alongside poet Eileen Myles’s campaign for U.S. president against opponents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Leonard writes of numerous longings for a president candidate including, “I want a president with no airconditioning, a president who has stood on line at the clinic, at the dmv, at the welfare office and has been unemployed and layed off and sexually harrassed and gaybashed and deported.” 

The work highlights the divide between U.S. government officials and the governed and serves to bring attention to the growing divide between a people and its political representatives and leaders. Written at a time when political awareness was at a peak due to the AIDS epidemic, the work served as a call to action to the people to hold elected officials accountable. Interestingly enough, the work is still cited in today’s political climate and even contains wording relevant to the recent 2020 election with “I want a president who isn’t the lesser of two evils.” The work expresses the sentiment held by the common people today and serves to bring attention to the notion that our elected officials are removed from our experiences by a growing margin everyday. Personally, I feel the work is very fitting as a part of The ICA’s permanent collection being that the institute aims to further under appreciated artists in the same manner that this work speaks for those that are underrepresented. 

“March For Our Lives” by Keith Mayerson

Photo of artwork “March for Our Lives” taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

The ICA also features the work of Keith Mayerson. Particularly that of “March For Our Lives” and “Rome”. Mayerson’s work is characterized by pieces that aim to immortalize important and polarizing moments and figures from U.S. history. The work “March For Our Lives” depicts the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas School shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez in her speech at the March For Our Lives demonstration of March 2018. Particularly, the work aims to capture Gonzalez during the six minutes and twenty seconds of silence, the same amount of time in which the shooting took place, she held in honor of her fallen classmates.

“LeRage” by Arthur Jafa

Photo of “LeRage” taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

Arthur Jafa is a filmmaker and artist that seeks to depict and orchestrate through his art the connection between visual arts and blackness. As per the words of Jafa, he aims to “make black cinema with the power, beauty, and alienation of black music”. The work depicted above, LeRage, is a life size print of the Marvel Comics character The Hulk. Typically a creature characterized by a vivid green skin, Jafa’s iteration features a much darkened skin tone to serve as commentary on cultural perception and blackness. This work, strongly drawing on Jafa’s interest in science fiction, illustrates for its viewer the intricacies associated with black representation and the black experience in society through the vehicle of The Hulk character.

Exhibitions

At the time of my visit to the ICA, two temporary exhibitions were being presented.

Tomás Esson: The GOAT

Dates on display: July 8th, 2020 – May 2nd, 2021

This exhibition was actually the first solo museum exhibition of Cuban painter Tomás Esson featuring works spanning across the artist’s 30 year career. It is also interesting to note that his earlier works were also presented via reinterpretation at the exhibition. 

Esson’s works feature an almost chaotic energy starring mythological creatures, political commentary, and sexual representation. It is for that reason, and for his eagerness to call out hypocrisy within Cuban society, that his first exhibition in Havana, Cuba in 1988 was prematurely shut down by government officials. 

Although a large percentage of Esson’s influence was derived from his living in Havana starting with his birth in 1963 and subsequent study at Instituto Superior de Arte, the works spanning across his celebrated career feature influences from Miami and Paris as well, both of which were homes for Esson at one point or another after his departure from Cuba in 1990.

Photo of “Patria o Muerte” taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

As depicted above, the works displayed featured mythical creatures in sexual embrace along with the repeating motif of a silver talisman composed of glistening flesh. After his departure from Cuba to New York in 1990, Esson continued the general theme in which he previously composed his works coming up with new and innovative ways to express his common themes. His works from this period also demonstrate his development as an artist and are often able to be easily identified in regards to the timeline of his career. His moving to Miami in 2015 saw a shift in depicting the flora of the city with the sexual themes he so often explored.

Allan McCollum: Works since 1969

Dates on display: March 26th, 2020 – January 17, 2021

Interestingly enough, this exhibition, like that of Esson’s, was also a first for Allan McCollum as it was the first museum retrospective held in the United States for the artist. The exhibition at the ICA at the time of my visit featured works from all across the artist’s five decade long career.

Photo taken by Sydielim Chong of artwork by Allan McCollum. (CC by 4.0)

McCollum, in his works, explores the relation between his subject and its uniqueness, context, and value in society as a parallelism to the museum it may be presented in being that the artwork is also a part of the museum’s collection. McCollum focuses on the notion of a collection as a vehicle by which we may come to understand how we collect and value various material possessions, often times obsessively. His most early works in the collection feature large, repetitive presentations of common consumer goods such as dye and bleach in order to create a reiterated piece of art as a whole. This is done to reflect on the collections that common people may collect such as that of sports memorabilia or family photos. In works such as that of The Dog from Pompei (1991), McCollum explores the relation between copies and originals by way of displaying numerous casts of the famous fossil from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in the year AD 79.

Special Programs

The ICA has four public events completely free to the public. These events and programs are a way to build art within Miami and bring artists and the community together.  The signature public programs of ICA Miami both facilitate the diversity of information and promote creative development. ICA has a variety of programs which are all free to the public and consist of bringing people together in the world of free expression, creativity, and art as a whole. Below you will find just a couple of the many other special programs ICA offers.

ICA’s Family Day:

One of ICA’s most popular programs is ‘family day.’ Family day, currently, is held on the third Sunday of October through December. During family day, the museum digitally showcases a variety of animated films.

ICA Ideas:

ICA’s Ideas program is dedicated to arising discussion within the community based on artists and their artworks. This program is known for inviting acclaimed artists to speak with the visitors about their artworks.

Young Artists Initiative:

Another one of their many programs which caught my attention was their young artists initiative program. This is a program in which students in high school with an interest in art can explore a practice in which they get to meet artists, participate in exhibitions, and even create artworks to expand their portfolios.

Visitors

Interview with visitor, Huzaifa Bin-Rahman, 20, Miami resident.

Have you been to this museum before? If so, what brings you back to this museum?

I’ve been to this museum once before, this is my second visit here. I haven’t been to too many other museums, but I’d say this is definitely one of my favorites. It’s in the design district near Wynwood so it’s definitely in the right spot for the type of art it presents. The feel and vibe of this place is definitely one of modernity which I can most definitely appreciate. Both times I’ve come here I’ve felt welcomed and encouraged even to look around as opposed to being in some sort of high-brow environment. I respect and support local artists and creators for their drive and passion for what they do and I feel that ICA really does provide a platform for their work to be displayed. There’s always new pieces so that definitely has me coming back and I can see myself coming back here a lot more in the future.

Are you an artist? If not, what interests you most about art? 

I, myself, am not an artist but I do appreciate art whether its from the Byzantine Empire or if its from an artist located right here in Wynwood. I hold them to be in the same regard and I appreciate the creativity, design, and messages that every type of work seeks to hold.

In your own words, how would you define art?

I think art is self defined. I think art can be a picture that you took from your iPhone that you really like the aesthetic of or it can be the Sistine Chapel. I feel art is the vehicle for  the expression and description of a society no matter the scale at which it’s done. I definitely appreciate all types of art not necessarily just because of the way it looks but due to knowing the meaning, message, and goal behind it alongside knowing the effort that an artist put in to precisely capture and convey the emotions they felt.

Would you say this museum is trying to convey a certain message? If so, what?

I think that by positioning itself as a platform for emerging and upcoming artists as well as by being in the Design District near Wynwood in Miami the museum presents and defines itself as a vehicle for showcasing talent in Miami that may not necessarily be very well-known. By being a more interactive space as well I think the space becomes inter dimensional by encouraging its visitors to interact with the works which presents a message that art is not only what is presented as high brow or “art” in a more noble sense but rather what the viewer makes of it by interacting with it and viewing the art in a deeper sense. This allows for a message that art is more accessible to the masses than previously deemed by presenting art that is for the people, by the people.

Portrait

Interview with Senior Gallery Associate, Grace Almanza

How long have you worked at ICA?

I’ve been with ICA Miami for a little over two years now. This past Miami Art Week would be my third with the museum. 

What is your favorite collection or art piece and why?

My favorite art piece on view is Unspecified Promise by Allora and Calzadilla. While it is not part of our permanent collection, it is a semi-permanent fixture in our Sculpture Garden. Allora and Calzadilla are an amazing conceptual artist duo. I love this piece because it is very personal to the artists themselves, conveying a general sense of loss and hope, while also speaking on how the United States in particular has greatly impacted the political, economic, and social realities of countries like Puerto Rico. The sculpture itself is made up of a construction loader that has been cut in half to be attached to thirty tons of black granite.

Would you say COVID-19 is negatively affecting the mission of the museum?

ICA Miami’s mission is to always foster the exchange of art and ideas throughout the Miami region. We strive to promote continuous experimentation and new perspectives within contemporary art. COVID-19 has not directly affected our mission, but we are very much committed to making the museum experience as safe and healthy as possible for all of our staff, guests, and artists. 

How has working here changed your views on art and life as a whole?

The art has definitely changed my overall perspective on life. ICA Miami exhibits such a unique and eye-opening batch of artists. Every artist that comes through, from Eric Paul Riege to Judy Chicago to Paolo Nazareth, always teaches you something new. 

Summary

Overall, I found my visit to The ICA to be very informative as well as eye-opening in the sense that I was able to gain a feel for art that is not quite often recognized nor appreciated. I laid my eyes upon works that were the first of many for numerous talented individuals and I can very much appreciate the artistry and mission statement behind the ICA and the individuals it seeks to forward within the art world. I also very much appreciated the location it was in being that it represented a sense of new horizons for the city of Miami and a sense of the upcoming innovation and ingenuity offered by generations yet to come. Further, I found the employees and staff of the museum to be quite passionate about their line of work as well encouraging of others to forward themselves within the work to truly gain a sense of understanding of the artistry being presented. The only nuisance that I can possibly think of is that I wish the museum’s permanent collection and facility was larger in order to maximize the mission statement that the ICA holds.n However, overall, I find that the museum is one to be most definitely recommended and one that I can see myself coming to for years to come.

Citations

Programs. icamiami.org/programs/.

“Visit.” Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, icamiami.org/visit/.

Sydielim Chong: Art Service Project, Fall 2020

Doral Contemporary Art Museum and Manolo Valdés’ Exhibition: “The Legacy”

Student Bio
Photo taken by Mileidys Chong in Toledo, Spain, June 2018. (CC by 4.0)

Sydielim Chong is a passionate 19-year-old student at Florida International University. Sydielim is on a pre-law track majoring in criminal justice while also applying a minor in statistics. Sydielim is a full-time tutor for Bright and Brainy Tutoring. Sydielim also enjoys watching movies, especially thrillers, and loves going out on adventures in hopes of exploring new things all over the world. As a part of Art Society Conflict, she hopes to learn more of the valuable history behind Miami and the artistic culture rooted in the city.

Who

I chose to volunteer with the Doral Contemporary Art Museum because I had read online that they were doing a collaboration with the famous Spanish artist, Manolo Valdés. Manolo Valdés resides in New York, New York, however he is having his largest outdoor exhibition called “The Legacy” right here in Doral, FL.

This opportunity interested me because of the fact that Valdés is originally from Valencia, Spain. I went to Spain two years ago and vividly remember the role that art took on the communities, the streets, and the province overall. I thought it would be fun and not to mention cool meeting and getting a chance to volunteer for a Spanish artist like Manolo Valdés as well as DORCAM who is sponsoring the entire thing.

Why

At first, I was simply looking for someone or some place to volunteer at for the means of this project. However, I chose DORCAM, specifically, for the experience and chance to work with and meet Manolo Valdés. The exhibition “The Legacy” caught my attention because it’s composed of about 18 pieces of huge sculptures that will be spread out around the city of Doral. I thought this was cool because it is something that would bring people together to enjoy a new chapter of art in Miami.

The fact that I would be one of the first people in the city to view this exhibition truly made me more excited to be a part of this experience. Furthermore, one of the main things that attracted me to this opportunity is the fact that Manolo Valdés was born in Valencia, Spain. In 2018, I was able to go with my family to visit and tour Spain among other European provinces.

Photo taken by Sydielim Chong in Spain, June 2018 (CC by 4.0)

The picture above is only one of the many photos capturing the true nature of art throughout the province. As pointed out, Spain, like other provinces in Europe has an extremely artistic historical context to it as it was one of the first places where many artists were first discovered, specifically, during the Spanish renaissance. Due to my having been to Spain, the opportunity to meet and see the work of Spanish Artist Valdés seemed like one I couldn’t possibly pass up.

How

I loved this experience, not only because it was fun, but because it gave me a chance to really begin to value and appreciate art as well as artists. Seeing Manolo Valdés’ work in person truly helped me understand the meaning behind his artworks and sculptures as well as what it means to be an artist. As far as exhibitions go, I only ever saw them in movies. I was really excited to volunteer with DORCAM because I got to see the artwork firsthand and well as attend my first exhibition. This experience was one that really opened my eyes when it comes to just how much artwork is appreciated, even right here where I live.

Where & What

December 5th, 2020.

On this beautiful, sunny, Saturday morning I woke up and jumped out of bed. Since I first heard about this opportunity, I had been so excited, and it was finally here. Anyways, I had to be there at around 9:00am to help prepare for the launch of the exhibition. The opening ceremony was at Doral Central Park. Once I got there, I met with Dainy and we started to set up. First, we had to help set the tent, we were sharing a tent with the city of Doral. I found this fun because I got to organize all the cool little things they were giving away to the visitors.

Photo of tent and stand at the event taken by Sydielim Chong (CC by 4.0)

The picture above shows the tent along with all the goodies the city was giving away to visitors. The goodies included face masks which were donated to us by one of the sponsors of the event, South Baptist Hospital, hand sanitizers, water bottles, and little bags to hold everything in. The museum also provided booklets that included information on Manolo Valdés, his exhibition, and the museum itself. The booklet also included a little map showing where all his sculptures are going to be spread around the city of Doral.

On this day was the opening ceremony and once I got there, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I would not be meeting the artist himself. While I was more than happy to be a part of the big day and to be one of the first people to see this exhibition, I had also been really excited because I thought I was going to meet the man himself. Unfortunately, due to his age and him being high risk, COVID-19 did not allow for him to be with us that day. However, the ceremony was still just as special.

Photo of Mayor and colleagues cutting the ribbon at the ceremony taken by Sydielim Chong (CC by 4.0)

The ceremony began with the mayor of Doral, Juan Carlos Bermudez, thanking the museum along with all the sponsors of the event and then going on to cut the ribbon and officially kick off the start of the event.

Once the Mayor cut the ribbon, there was a special performance of two dancers, then a rock band came to perform music for everyone there. Afterwards, there were two trolleys who came and picked up people taking them to all the other parks in Doral in which the rest of Valdés’ sculptures were being placed.

December 6th, 2020.

On December 6th, I pretty much got to the park and once again and helped everyone set up the tent. This day was a bit simpler, it was mostly just about being there, being happy, and sharing the details of what was happening to all the bystanders.

Throughout the day I stood at the tent and helped give out more goodies to the public as well as explained to everyone who asked what we were doing, what these sculptures and exhibition truly meant for the city, and how this is free to the public and is all for their enjoyment.

Photo of Manolo Valdés’ sculpture taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)
When
Screenshot of approved hours on MyHonorsFiu.
Summary

Truthfully, when I was told I would be helping with the opening of this new exhibition, I thought it would consist of a lot more work. I never would have thought it was going to be as easy and fun as it was. Dainy, the volunteer coordinator who was with me the entire time, would constantly repeat to me to just enjoy myself and that all she wanted me to do was help out with the tent and for me to have fun.

I couldn’t be more grateful for the chance I got to be there those days and volunteer with DORCAM. I will definitely be going back to volunteer with them more as they really made sure I was truly getting the full experience of my first exhibition. The only thing I would have changed would be the fact that Manolo Valdés himself wasn’t there, however, I had an amazing time participating and just getting the chance to view his art.

Sydielim Chong: Miami as Text 2020-2021

Photo taken by Jennifer Escalona (CC by 4.0)

Sydielim Chong is a passionate 19 year old student at Florida International University. Sydielim is on a pre-law track majoring in criminal justice while also applying a minor in statistics. Sydielim is a full time tutor for Bright and Brainy Tutoring. Sydielim also enjoys watching movies, especially thrillers, and loves going out on adventures in hopes of exploring new things all over the world. As a part of Art Society Conflict, she hopes to learn more of the valuable history behind Miami and the artistic culture rooted in the city.

Deering as Text

“The Unknown” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on September 9th, 2020.

The Deering Estate is one of Miami’s oldest historical pieces of land. Once having crossed the wooden gates at the front of the property, it’s like going back in time. The Deering Estate is made up of over 400 acres of land, two houses, and tons of preserved wildlife and nature. One of the first things noticed upon arriving are the two houses as they look nothing alike. Used by Mr. Deering and his wife as the “main house”, the Stone House has a more contemporary and medieval look and feel to it. The Stone House was designed to represent the different places Mr. Deering himself had traveled to and made connections with. Simply looking at it will take you back in time through history. The rooms inside of the house were specifically made in order to represent different religions and cultures. The first room to the left when walking into the house has no doors, instead a black and gold gate, like those used in Spanish culture. Mr. Deering used this room as an art gallery, putting up over half a dozen artworks which he collected throughout his trips to Europe. Looking up at the ceiling, Mr. Deering had the constructors manufacture special tiles that represent everything seen in Miami, from dolphins and seahorses to leaves and palm trees. The second room to the right of the entrance is a study. In contrast to the art gallery which was bright and prestigious, Mr. Deering’s study was a dark room filled with books, a desk, and art, including a portrait of himself. Mr. Deering specifically designed this room so that if there were any fires in the room, it can be withheld in order to preserve the rest of the house and the artwork in it.

Right by its side, there’s the Richmond Cottage which was used by Mr. and Mrs. Deering as a winter home. The Richmond Cottage has a modern and classical look to it. Although classical and modern are contrasting types of houses, this is what made the Richmond cottage special in a unique way. The cottage entailed smaller rooms with more detail. When walking into the cottage, the first room seen is a simple room, a fireplace, a table, and a counter stored with food. The Deering’s stored this food because back then there weren’t any local markets in the area. The next room consists of a prepared dining table. On the walls hang more of his beloved artwork as well as the head of a deer. Being that everything in the cottage was smaller, compared to the Stone house, made the cottage seem like a perfect fit for a winter home as it made everything seem warmer the minute you walk in.

Each house was designed and manufactured to represent the history of Miami and show that the city of Miami has always been a mix of religion and cultures from all around the world.

The Stone House basement, perfectly reconstructed to imitate the original.

One of the most interesting things about this historical property is that it has made its way through time, all the way from the 1900’s to 2020. The state of Florida has tried to preserve the land and the houses by making copies of the original artifacts since after Mr. Deering passed away, most of his belongings were sent to a Museum in Chicago. The one thing that was kept exactly the same until 1992 when hurricane Andrew hit Florida, was a neat room in the basement. This room had been hidden for over half a century as it was behind a huge safe. The Stone House was built during the prohibition era and Mr. Deering was clever enough to make a room, hide it, and keep it stocked with alcohol that was shipped out to him from other countries. This detail shows how Mr. Deering was smart and at the end of the day, did what pleased him and what he liked. This safe room wasn’t found until 1992 and even then, the state of Florida had to fly someone out from another country just to get the safe open because it was that difficult. Mr. Deering was a bright man, a man who loved the world, he loved living his life, and a man who always appreciated art, culture, the environment, and religion. It is because of Mr. Deering’s appreciation for the simple and good things in life that the people of South Florida now have a beautiful piece of history to turn to when the facts of our roots have been forgotten.

South Beach as Text

“Cultural Massacre” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on September 27, 2020.

You would be shocked to find out that a place that seems like one of the most natural and rich places in the world, was actually torn, beat, and renovated in order to be what it is today. South Beach in Miami, FL is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, however, not many know the true history behind it.

The Jewish Museum of Florida; photo taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

Florida, the first of American territories to be discovered and settled, didn’t allow Jews to settle until the early 1760’s. In Miami, Jews were only allowed to live south of 5th street. The segregation of Jews in Miami was “normal” back then.

Carl Fisher, who was considered the “father of Miami Beach,” refused to sell any property to Jews as he turned the swampy stretch of mangroves into what lies there today, Fisher Island, a beach resort. Furthermore, in the 1930’s many advertisements for these beach resorts and hotels would use slogans such as “Always a view, never a Jew” (Remembering Miami Beach’s Shameful History of Segregation and Racism, 2016)

Interestingly enough, in the same way that Jews could only live south of 5th street, African Americans were not allowed to reside on South Beach as it was predominantly white. While whites would use African Americans for their talents, such as singing and dancing, and have them perform at their restaurants, hotels, and night clubs, after their shift was over, they would simply have to ride out of town and stay at a hotel or rent a home in what is now known as “Overtown, Miami.” The majority of the population in this city is now African American and the reason for this is because back then, African Americans had no choice to but to reside there as it was the closest city to where they worked but were now allowed to live or stay.

Once taking a stroll through South Beach and doing some research, ,you will come to find out that it was not always like it is now. Now, people go to South beach because it is representative of all cultures and races, because as soon as you walk in, you feel at home. However, this was not always the case. Miami is a massacre of mixed cultures, identities, and personalities and that is what makes Miami so special.

Bakehouse as Text

“Together for Corals” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on October 11, 2020.

Coral reefs are one of the world’s most active and complex habitats and are often overlooked. Coral reefs supply a massive range of marine life with shelter and food, they help protect our marine coasts by reducing wave energy from hurricanes and storm, and also attract residents to enjoy activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving, which also provides a great source of income.

Florida is the only state in the United States with shallow coral reefs formed along its coasts. Today, many coral reefs have experienced a health decline due to factors such as water pollution, climate change, rising temperatures in oceans, and coral disease.

Imitation of the coral reefs; photo taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

Above is a picture of a coral reef imitation put together by the class of Dr. John William Bailly of Florida International University on October 7th, 2020. This picture represents what can be done if everyone were to understand the importance of keeping the coral reefs safe and healthy. This picture symbolizes teamwork, dedication, and love for the planet and the ground we walk on.

As aforementioned, coral reefs are at risk and this is something that society can help. “It starts individually” words by Lauren Shapiro, the artist and the voice behind it all. When one takes the first step in preserving the nature, the rest will follow.

Rubell as Text

“Collecting and Inspecting” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on October 25th, 2020.

I’d never thought about collecting art. Sure, I like going to museums and viewing artwork as I try to understand what the artist is trying to portray through the piece. However, even with having friends who are artists, the thought of actually buying art never came to mind.

That is, until I went to the Rubell museum and met the woman behind it all, Mera Rubell. Mrs. Rubell spoke to me as she tried to get my class to understand the importance of collecting and valuing art. After this conversation is when I went back around the museum and really tried to understand the beautiful pieces that were right in front of my eyes.

Photo of photo by Zhang Huan; taken by Sydielim Chong (CC by 4.0)

The photo above represents the over-crowdedness Huan faced as a child. This piece of artwork really caught my attention as it made me think of all the children who aren’t as lucky as I and many others have been with life. As soon as I look at this photograph, the first word I think of is ‘desperation.’ Desperation because of the look on his face, desperation because of the bugs all over his body, desperation because, looking at this picture, anyone could tell this man is tired and desperate for better.

After speaking to Mera Rubell, this is the picture I thought of. This piece of art, out of all the ones in the entire gallery, was the one that truly spoke to me. This piece made me feel the most grateful to be myself while also teaching me that although I may not have it all, in somebody else’s eyes, everything I have could be “all” they’ve wanted.

Deering Hike as Text

“Miami before Miami” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on November 8th, 2020.

The Deering Estate is known for its historical context and beautiful architecture. Having only been there once before, I didn’t get the full experience as to how eye-opening it could be. Events I never knew happened, places I never knew existed, all in one location- the Deering Estate.

Although personally, I did not make it through the entire hike, what I did get to experience was definitely breathtaking. Beginning with the wide range of plants, nature, and wildlife and ending with the history and architecture throughout the Deering Estate. Because of this, I got to see firsthand a glimpse of Miami before Miami.

Photo of Tequesta tool; taken by Jennifer Quintero of FIU (CC by 4.0)

Nightclubs, beaches, and spring break- these are what most people think of when someone says “Miami.” However, what people don’t know is that Miami has a history and places filled with it, places such as the Deering Estate.

Originally, the land was occupied by Paleo-Indians, the Tequesta, and the Seminole. Though difficult to believe, the Cutler fossil site is what revealed where the Paleo-Indians used to live. It is proven that the Tequesta also inhabited the estate through the symbols and artifacts found throughout the hike. For example, the picture above is of a shell the Tequesta used for carving, protection, and hunting.

Sometimes it is hard to believe the Miami we live in today was home to others in a past that was very much different than what we experience today. Before this class, I never knew nor would have imagined this much history in my hometown. I look forward to experiencing more and learning more of the city I was born and raised in to where one day I can educate the people around me as well.

Downtown Miami as Text

Progress in Miami” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on December 6th, 2020.

Walking through the streets of downtown Miami, one comes at a crossroads in time. From its architectural landscape comprised of buildings erected during the 60s throughout the 80s to the high rises constructed to scratch the itch that is evolution to its over spewing of development and construction to nearby areas such as that of Wynwood, the area possesses a sense of new horizons and modernity at every crosswalk.

Photo by taken Lorena Cuenca (C.C. by 4.0)

The picture of the Spanish style building above is just one of many in the Downtown Miami area. Just looking around the area, the culture in each becomes obvious to anyone. Downtown Miami represents the juxtaposition of Spanish style buildings right next to the glass front empires holding a distinctive sense of the ethnic melting pot that is Miami. Walking through the streets, one can hear Spanish, Creole, French, Hebrew, Arabic and just about any other language from every walk of life.

To me, the city represents progress from the beacons of wealth and cultural exhibits sprung ever day. To me, the city is what motivates, inspires, and drives me to become the version of myself characterized by abundance, self-improvement, and overall titan of industry, politics, culture, and art. I see a multitude of paths defined for me here every day with the city posing the question as to which path I want to take and to the conducive environment for which it will provide.

Everglades As Text

“Preservation” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on January 24th, 2021

Established on December 6th, 1947, Everglades National Park in Florida city is made up of 1.5 million acres which is home to a variety of rare and endangered species such as the American crocodile, the manatee, and the Florida panther.

While the rest of my class took a field trip to the Everglades on January 13th, 2020, I stayed home due to my sensitivity of outdoor areas which are prone to insects that I’m allergic to. However, being that I stayed home, I got the chance to watch videos, read articles, and educate myself a bit more on the history of the national park.

To my surprise, the Everglades is home to one of the largest wetlands in the world. Nine different habitats have been found including the pine rocklands and marine waters. However, the park is best known for its mangroves and freshwater slough that draws water from Lake Okeechobee outward. Truthfully, I’m not a person who likes to be outdoors too much, I’ve always been scared of insects because of my allergies. Therefore, the Everglades has never caught my attention too much.

Photo by Lorena Cuenca. (CC by 4.0)

Though I have never been one to be “amazed” by the outdoors and nature, once I saw the pictures my friend and classmate, Lorena Cuenca, sent me, this specific one caught my attention. I love the picture above because not only is it beautiful, but I think really shows the true mystery and all things unknown about the outdoors, wildlife, and nature overall. I can easily say that one of the very few things that really interest me about nature is the mystery behind it all. No matter how much is discovered and how much is seen of nature and wildlife, I believe that we will never truly know the most of it.  

Margulies as Text

The Collection that Speaks” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on January 27th, 2021.

The one thing I have always loved about art is the sense of truth behind it. Visiting the Margulies collection was undoubtedly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in connection to art. While I’ve always loved going to art museums and diving into what possibilities exist within an art piece, I have never felt so impacted by anything the way this collection impacted me.

Throughout the collection we see various types of art; art made through advanced technology, sculptures, paintings, and even just dozens of plain and simple pictures. However, what stood out the most to me was the history behind most of the pieces Mr. Margulies has collected.

Photo of group of 250 figures taken by Sydielim Chong of FIU (CC by 4.0)

For instance, this enormous piece by Magdalena Abakanowicz. When I first looked at this piece, for some reason, my mind immediately shifted to the Holocaust. This piece represents a combination of 250 adults and children who are beheaded and some even without arms.

Initially, my thoughts were all over the place. I could have thought of about 4-5 different reasons why the artist did what she did with the piece. Yet, the one perception that stuck with me was that they were beheaded in order to depersonalize them; to the Nazi’s, these people were not humans and were not worthy of anything. In addition, because the Nazi’s separated all families without care, I believe that the fact they have no heads also represents the fact that they were alone.

This piece and the many others that have deep messages such as the one above are what really spoke to me throughout my time at Margulies’. I love the wide variety of pieces Mr. Margulies has collected and truly hope to be back soon to find myself studying a couple more.

River of Grass as Text

“More than water” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on March 1st, 2021.

And here I am, once again, writing my blog post about a trip I didn’t get to personally experience. I have to say, I wish my allergies would cooperate and let me enjoy the wonders of my class. Although I do enjoy doing the research and looking at the background of what my class did, I can’t say I enjoy being home doing the research while my classmates go out and have fun, take pictures, and dive in solution holes.

Picture of solution hole in the Everglades taken by Lorena Cuenca of FIU (CC by 4.0)

The picture above is one of the solution holes in the Everglades, yes, the one my amazing (crazy) class got to swim in. Solution holes are formed over time when limestone is dissolved. This process is caused mostly by a mixture of rain and the acid produced by decaying leaves. What seems the most interesting to me is how random they appear. You’re walking and see a big hole filled with water and you’d think maybe it was just raining, but the truth being this is just one of the many beautiful wonders that nature gives us to look at, enjoy, and learn about.

Frost as Text

“Hearts” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on March 14th, 2021.

Despite the fact that the museum was placed inside a school I’ve been attending for nearly two years now, I had never gone before. My visit to Frost Art Museum was an unforgettable experience, one in which I was able to learn about art in a deeper context than just paintings or drawings. I remember first walking into Roberto Obregón’s exhibit. I looked around and saw all these roses, petals, and just dozens of pictures and drawings of roses. I had the opportunity of being guided through the exhibit by Amy Galpin, one of the workers for the Museum. Galpin was able to, in a way, explain to me and the rest of the class the reasoning behind Obregòn’s work. She explained that roses were Obregón’s “obsession” in a certain way.

What most caught my attention throughout the lecture and discussion was the fact that Obregón preserved and kept the same 36 roses for over 3 decades. He believed that roses were interesting and wanted to study them and through this, the exhibit I visited came to life. I’ve never thought of roses much unless it was in connection to love or maybe valentine’s day, however, Galpin asked us what we thought about when we thought about roses and many of my classmates brought up some interesting points. This question basically led most of the discussion as it brought up many different topics to speak about, all in relation to the exhibit.

Picture of Roberto Obregón’s artwork by Sydielim Chong (CC by 4.0)

One of the most interesting things Obregón did during his time working on these roses, was that he would tear out all the petals of each rose and number them. This helped him see how many petals are in each rose. In the picture above you can see the “2” engraved in the middle, this shows that it was the second petal ripped from the rose.

This picture in particular caught my attention because I thought it was funny that the petal was shaped like a heart. Given that the rose is probably the most popular flower to be given out under romantic circumstances. I looked at it and instantly thought of love and romance and even first dates. It was at this point when I finally realized that a simple rose or roses, in this case, wasn’t obsession but pure genius. Obregón’s hobby was doing this. As the name of the exhibit says “Accumulate, Classify, Preserve, and Display.” Obregón’s passion and dedication is truly something I will never forget, if even possible. At the end of the tour through this exhibit I realized that there are so many different interpretations to everything, even the simplest things in life.

Coral Gables as Text

“Past Life” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on March 31st, 2021.

During this entire trip to the city of Coral Gables I learned a lot of where the city came from, what it used to be, and how it came to be what it is now. Throughout the trip we visited many places relevant to the history of the city some being the Coral Gables Museum which used to be a fire and police department back when the city first opened its doors. We also visited the Coral Gables city hall, a bookstore which used to be a medical center, we walked down Miracle Mile, went to the Biltmore hotel, and more.

Picture of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, FL. Taken by Sydielim Chong of FIU. (CC by 4.0)

Aside from all of the interesting buildings we visited throughout the day, what most caught my attention was truly the Biltmore. I have always heard about it and it first peaked my interest when I heard it was haunted, so I’ve always wanted to visit.

The Biltmore hotel was built in 1926 by George Merrick, often heard of as the founder of Coral Gables. The hotel soon became known for hosting extravagant fashion shows, banquets, charity events, and water shows in the world’s largest pool. My class got a private tour of the hotel in which we got to see the pool, the ballrooms, even the bell tower (from afar). Once World War II began, the Biltmore was converted into a military hospital by the government. After the war, it went on to serve as a veterans’ hospital. The Biltmore would then become the first site of the University of Miami in 1952. Not long afterwards the Biltmore became abandoned. The property was returned to its former success and reopened in 1987. The Biltmore was added to the National Historic landmarks list ten years later.

The Biltmore was truly as beautiful, historic, and amazing as it sounds and just visiting made me never want to leave. I plan on going back soon in hopes of learning more about the history of the building and how it is doing presently.

Vizcaya as Text

“Europe in South Florida” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on April 10th, 2021.

As sad as it was having to go on this trip knowing it was our last class together, I cannot express how much I loved visiting Vizcaya. One of the most popular tourist attractions right here where I have lived my entire life, and yet, I had never gone before.

Vizcaya is one of the oldest buildings in the city of Coral Gables, it was James Deering’s estate. It was built in the early 1920’s and was James Deering’s idea in attempt to “bring Europe to Miami.” At the time, Coral Gables was not anything close to what it is today; there were no buildings and barely any people. Coral Gables, at the time was not even established as Coral Gables, it was established in 1925.

The villa was incredibly big, there were rooms for everything, and Deering really thought to incorporate even the rarest and unthought of things into Vizcaya. For example, in the pantry on the first floor, there is a chute that can elevate food to the second floor, making it easier for his servants to feed him or send him anything at all to the second floor. The entire time I was there my jaw dropped lower each time I stepped into a different room, not to mention the garden, secret garden, pool, maze, and incredible view from the front of the house.

Photo of room in Vizcaya taken by Sydielim Chong of FIU. (CC by 4.0)

I have to say that my favorite thing out of all in the entire villa has to be the architecture and style in which things were built. The villa was developed in a Mediterranean Revival style, incorporating Baroque, Italian Renaissance, and Italian Renaissance Revival elements.

Seeing the villa actually inspired me and gave me ideas on things I would like to have in my home in the future. Some things include a chute (definitely), a personal library, an enormous balcony in my bedroom overlooking water, among many others. It was truly an experience I will never forget and I plan on going back soon!