Sunday, September 09, 2007

Miami: Hobbled by the visionless since 1981*

Today's Miami Herald ran a story on its front page called "Where Art Thou?" It's about the county's missing art in public places. At least 20 works valued at over more than $860,000 are damaged or missing. 10 percent of the collection (87 pieces) are missing outright. Without any major sleuthing on the reader's part it appears to us that the answer to the Herald's question can be traced to two people: husband and wife Ivan Rodriguez and Vivian Donnel Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez is the current director of Art in Public Places, assuming responsibility in 2000. His wife was the public art director from 1991-2000. In any other community this kind of blatant nepotism might raise an eyebrow or two. Not here. It appears that the merits for many top county jobs are not based on competency, but rather upon who you know. Regarding Ms. Rodriguez' competency, Mayor Calros Alverez forced her to resign from her most recent county job as its parks director. It also appears nothing came up missing in our public art works until Ms. Rodriguez assumed command because, according to Cesar Trasobares, director of the program from 1985-1991, he couldn't "remember art ever missing from the collection."

Until Hurricane Andrew. The Rodriguez' blame our lost art on the hurricane and an incomplete electronic database Trasobares created upon leaving office that "crashed." Ms. Rodgriguez is quoted as saying she had inherited "an inventory that was on some sort of disc."

The article raises a few questions and memories:
  • We don't remember that many county offices getting damaged during Hurricane Andrew, so why blame the loss of our public art on it? We suspect somethng else is up with the missing stuff.

  • Didn't Trasobares keep a back-up disc as insurance against incompetence and natural disasters?

  • Has anyone checked the Rodriguez home? (Not that they would abscond with the art, perhaps they are just borrowing it for awhile and plan on returning it before Ivan retires this year and forgot about it).

  • And what's with Cindi Nash, chairman of the independent Public Art Trust which approves artwork and expenditures? What does she know that we and the county don't know? Depite a county audit to get to the bottom of the missing art, she is "satisfied that missing art is no longer a problem for the program." She says they have it under control now, that "things haven't gone missing in a lot of years."

  • In the article, it briefly mentions the 1982 brouhaha created by then Eastern Airlines CEO and ex-astronaut moon orbiter Frank Borman who nixed the county's plan to buy James Rosenquist's huge (17' x 46') mural Star Thief for a new MIA wing because he hadn't seen anything like that in space. We like his more succinct response we remember from TV, perhaps the world's first sound bite, which was not quoted in the Herald: "That's not what space looks like, there's no bacon in space." Bowing under the supreme spaceman's pressure, the county decided Frank knew best and passed on forking out the $285,000 asking price. In 1997, Star Thief was auctioned for over $2 million and now resides in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. What piece of our public art can be said to have increased in value like that? Hell, with enough Rosenquists, we could have paid for the construction of MIA's south wing.

  • The article also mentions Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels but doesn't mention part of its history. After its installation, it had to be shut down because it turned out to be a hazard to the blind (potential impalings) and handicapped. It remained shut down for years and was left to deteriorate until its recent "rediscovery."
  • And, of course, how can we forget the most recent Art in Public Places guffaw when developer Raúl Masvidal tried to hoodwink the county by slipping in a $150,000 sculpture he kept for himself while ostensibly purchasing another for the public housing headquarters he never built. By the way, the names of the sculptures have something in common with the Rosenquist piece: their titles are all space related. Masvidal's "official" piece, a towering painted bronze sculpture of tea cups, is called Space Station. The "unofficial" piece (the giant watermelon slice earmarked for his backyard) is called Mars. Perhaps this should be taken as some sort of omen for artists submitting to Miami-Dade county: what ever you do, never ever name your work after anything space related because it will only bring misfortune and public disgrace.
UpDate (9/1/08): Mars, that $150,000 21-foot slice of bronze watermelon by famed artist Julio Larraz, is sold at auction for...$100. Arizona Federal, who loaned money to Masvidal, forced the auction and was the only bidder. We can only hope the fruit's new owner will donate the piece to the county so that it can be placed in the lobby of our Government Center as a reminder to bureaucrats and politicians alike that there is a price to pay for dining at the public trough. Well, financially it might just be a slap on the hand, but your name will long live in ignominy for any appetite for getting rich off the sweat of the common man.

*Officially for this posting but probably much longer.

1 comment:

Steve ("Klotz" As In "Blood") said...

Here's the comment I liked (from the article):

Jill Manton, San Francisco's public art director and chair of the Public Art Network, a subgroup of Americans for the Arts, says missing art has never been a topic of discussion at PAN conferences and other meetings.

"Either it's not being talked about or it's not a common problem, she says.

Further confirmation that we're special here.