Another holiday season has passed, and we still couldn't afford to stuff our loved ones' stockings with museum-quality paintings or sculptures. Fortunately, there are so many good local art shows on tap that you won't have time to fret about who left you off their gift list.
From a French surrealist master to historic Negro League paintings to the emerging photography of rapidly changing China, there's still plenty of time to celebrate local exhibits that are angst-free and will soothe in the new year — all without the soul-withering worries of maxed-out credit cards.
Few artists complicated the issue of the value and authenticity of artworks as did Marcel Duchamp, whose concept of the "readymade" — ordinary objects like toilet bowls and perfume bottles presented as art — changed art history.
Miami local art January 2012
"Focus Gallery: Marcel Duchamp," on view at the Miami Art Museum (101 NW Flagler St., Miami) through March 18, offers an insightful look at the work of the French genius who expanded notions of what an artwork could be and reoriented how we understand art today by removing the barriers separating art from everyday life.
"The exhibit represents an exceedingly rare opportunity for Miami audiences to encounter the work of this seminal artist," says Rene Morales, MAM's associate curator, who organized the show. "It is intended primarily as a kind of 'Duchamp 101,' a primer or introduction to this massively influential yet highly inscrutable body of work."
Visitors can see Duchamp's iconic edition of Box-in-a-Suitcase, part of the museum's permanent collection. The piece is Duchamp's own miniature retrospective of his work and is complemented by a handful of his pieces borrowed from the Ringling Museum in Sarasota.
Morales says the exhibit questions the notion of whether the readymades Duchamp reproduced later in life were a cynical moneymaking venture for the artist or an extension of his vision.
"It's clear that he approached the process of making replicas of his earlier works as an opportunity to expand upon, complicate, and even contradict (in a tongue-in-cheek way) some of the ideas that underpin the originals, redoubling his iconoclastic gestures vis-à-vis artistic authorship," Morales says.
Some of the other works displayed include a glass bauble filled with "Paris air," a typewriter dust cover, and a hat rack — which the artist could have easily gotten straight from a department store but chose instead to hire craftsmen to re-create painstakingly. By doing so, Duchamp was able to further emphasize what he called the "infra-thin" differences between the original and the copy, and between the handmade and the mass-produced.
Morales observes that the process was Duchamp's way of "re-issuing" his challenge to the traditional assumption that there is an inherent difference between artworks and regular commodities and between aesthetic objects and utilitarian ones. Call 305-375-3000 or visit miamiartmuseum.org.
At the Freedom Tower (600 Biscayne Blvd., Miami), you can almost smell the scent of freshly mowed grass and hear the call of peanut vendors sweetening the air as Kadir Nelson transports viewers to the glory days of the Negro League when Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson ruled the field.
Nelson's "We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball " on view through January 7, features nearly 50 oil paintings capturing African-American baseball history from its beginnings in the '20s until its decline in 1947 after Jackie Robinson crossed over to the majors.
The artist's paintings are illustrations from a book of the same title he spent eight years researching as a tribute to the unsung athletes who overcame discrimination and daunting hardships for their love of the game.
Nelson's historic snapshots capture images of African-American teams: squads arriving for games on wooden trains, pitchers sitting in the bullpen, a legendary face-off between pitching ace Paige and slugger Gibson, and signs trumpeting the Jim Crow laws that players had to endure on the road.
The traveling show's title is derived from a quote by Rube Foster, a pitcher-turned-manager who created the Negro National League. "We are the ship; all else the sea," Foster proclaimed when he declared the new league independent from the bigs.
Foster's Negro National League boasted eight independent teams — the Cuban Stars, the Detroit Stars, the Chicago American Giants, the Chicago Giants, the Kansas City Monarchs, the St. Louis Stars, the Indianapolis ABCs, and the Dayton Marcos — and Nelson re-creates them all in colorful style.
Nelson's muscular players evoke a stirring account of a bygone era and pop off the canvas with a powerful presence that helped propel his tome to the New York Times best-seller list. Call 305-237-7700 or visit mdc.edu.
Perhaps no place on earth has spun more off its traditional axis due to the sweeping changes of globalization than China, which in recent years has been transformed from slumbering dragon to one of the most vital countries on the planet.
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In "China: Insights," on view at the Lowe Art Museum (1301 Stanford Dr., Coral Gables) through January 15, seven photographers from mainland China display more than 150 works capturing their nation's rapidly evolving landscape — and reflecting varied elements of their culture that are emerging or vanishing today.
Though the seven photographers — Chen Yuan Zhong, Hua Er, Jia Yu Chuan, Li Nan, Yang Yan Kang, Yu Haibo, and Zhang Xinmin — earn their livings as either freelance or staff photographers for numerous publications, little of their work has appeared outside their homeland.
At the Lowe, the group's themes include country folk leaving traditional homesteads for the bright lights of China's big cities, gender and identity issues, prostitution, the emergence of a thriving club and music scene, and a shifting urban citizenry in light of recent economic changes.
Just as China is discovering an ever-widening path on uncharted ground, the artists' works take divergent tacks on the subject matter, ranging from classic documentary to unexpected experimental styles. The result is a grab bag of images that lift the veil on a vibrant culture still as exotic and inscrutable as it is grand. Call 305-284-3535 or visit lowemuseum.org.