Back in 2001, when I first moved to Miami, the University of Miami Art History professor and writer Paula Harper was crafting a piece for Art in America about the latest crop of artists who were making a huge splash, and had a show at MOCA called “The House at MOCA.” It was the first museum show to highlight the young, emerging talent of Miami, and Paula told it to the world. Labeled at times the “hot house kids,” they would indeed be an integral part of the burgeoning art scene here, on the cusp of the arrival of Art Basel.
Paula would continue to be a booster but also a critic of this new scene, and helped me navigate it as well, with her always intelligent, clever commentary and precise eye. Paula died on June 3, and Miami will miss her great spirit and her much-needed voice, as critical as it sometimes could be.
Although her death will leave a huge gap, her fascinating life is worth celebrating, and remembering.
After graduating from Hunter College of the City University of New York with an M.A. in art history, Paula would go on to gain a Ph.D. from Stanford and then join the faculty of what today we know was one of the cutting-edge universities of art at the time, the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where she became a pioneer in the feminist art movement. She transplanted to Miami in 1982 to teach at U.M.
Since that time, she curated shows, both here and elsewhere; wrote catalogues; and contributed numerous articles to Art in America that highlighted for the nation, among many others, the talents of Purvis Young, Teresita Fernandez, Glexis Novoa and Edouard Duval Carrie. Her last article was about our favorite barrier-busting filmmaker, Clifton Childree. Along the way, she also taught many of our artists and mentored others. She zipped around in a red Mazda Miata, and played poker in a group that I was a part of. She always left in time to watch Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” She will be mourned, but her full life and impact remains.