Two artists who have work up in Miami — one with a museum show, the other a single installation — have nonetheless an interesting common thread that reveals something about the current arts landscape of this complicated, diverse terrain.
Both Mark Handforth, who has a large, mid-career survey filled with large sculpture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Paul Stoppi, who has a singular installation at a quirky gallery, were born in other countries; tread an international path to Miami; and whose works are seen as often, if not more so, in other locales.
Starting with Handforth, who is considered part of the first wave of contemporary artists to garner acclaim far outside our South Florida borders back in the 1990s. Fifteen years ago, Handforth was the first Miami artist to be highlighted in a solo show at the newly minted Museum of Contemporary Art (a Knight Arts grantee). Today, 25 of his works have been gathered from across the globe for the impressive and amazing “Mark Handforth: Rolling Stop” exhibit. It includes an intense, floor-to-ceiling neon sun that lights up every other sculpture in the show, including a huge wishbone, a giant lamppost with a snake-like body and the big black clothes hanger that greets the visitor. “Rolling Stop” is a play on road signs and the signals that guide our everyday life and the other detritus of our surroundings.
But back to the artist. Born in Hong Kong, raised in Britain and educated in London and Frankfurt, he and his German-born wife Dara Friedman moved to Miami in 1992. But since his Museum of Contemporary Art show, he has been seen far more often in major museums elsewhere, from the Whitney and Hirschhorn to the Art Institute of Chicago and Dallas Museum. His gallery is Gavin Brown enterprise of New York.
The Jamaican-born Stoppi studied architecture in London and then turned his eye to photography, shooting images of a special love, planes. Since the late 1990s, he has shown in local shows, such as the seminal “globe miami island” at the Bass in 2001, the first-ever historical and contemporary Jamaican exhibit at Pan American Art Projects, along with a solo collaboration there last year. But he shows as often in Kingston and is in collections outside of the U.S. Now he has an interactive sculpture in a group show about exploring the qualities of light at the Maor Gallery, an illuminated “cloud” made of various reflective acrylic that cocoons the visitor when stepping under it. As the sculpture descends over your body, the perception is of ascending toward light.
Maor is described as based and guided by Jewish spiritualism, and why Stoppi is showing at this gallery adds another interesting twist to the artistic tale of Miami.
“How did I get in the show at Maor, that’s a funny, good question,” explains Stoppi. “Considered objectively, it is a bit odd for me to have the project room for Basel at the back of an Orthodox Jewish gallery showing mid-career painters — yes I can see the oddity!” But this is the story:
“Arguably, the process started when I was a wee lad in Jamaica and my dad took me to visit his friends. I was about six and all I remember was the stoplight in their living room that randomly changed colors. I was transfixed and baffled; someone mentioned ‘art’ as an explanation, but nothing further,” he saus.
“Fast forward to 2002, I’m living in Miami, plying my art and was re-introduced to Tina Spiro.” Spiro once ran the Chelsea Galleria in Wynwood, now defunct, and has moved back to Jamaica; she’s in the Maor show. “I realized that it was her living room where I had my first brush with conceptual art. Her husband and my father are friends. Tina and I have showed several times together,” he says.
“We had a combined, two-man show at the Mutual Gallery in Kingston last year. Some of her paintings in the show at Maor came from that show, but I wanted to do something different. Partly because the work I showed in Kingston had already been shown in Miami. But I really wanted to make something where the medium didn’t dictate the story. It’s a challenge I face as a photographer. So I forced myself to make something fresh.”
If nothing else, Miami constantly has a fresh take on what makes a community.
“Mark Handforth: Rolling Stop” at Museum of Contemporary Art, 770 N.E. 125th St., North Miami;
Paul Stoppi in the “Edge of Light,” Maor Gallery, 3030 N.E. Second Ave., Miami; maormiami.com.