Wilfredo Lam's Leda and the Swan
Wilfredo Lam's Leda and the Swan

Private collection explores erotic instinct through art

As if extolling eroticism as a function of the gaze, Milagros Maldonado appears eager for thousands of hungry eyes to experience the same pleasure she enjoys from the works in her collection.

"Beyond the Erotic: From the Collection of Milagros Maldonado," on view at her 25,000-square-foot retrofitted Dorissa Building art space, features scores of works owned by the Venezuelan art activist, who is also founder of the Miami Biennale scheduled to open in November 2012 .

On view is an eclectic array of works including paintings, drawings, photographs, mixed-media pieces, and sculptures as well as a selection of works by 20th-century masters such as Man Ray, Roberto Matta, and Wilfredo Lam. Oddly missing from her entrée to the Miami art scene are video or sound pieces or the elaborate installations typically found in the other big private collections around town.


Beyond the Erotic

Through June 30, at Dorissa Building, 2751 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-576-2914; miamibiennale.org. Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Curated by José Antonio Navarette, the exhibit seeks to explore the erotic nature of art-hoarding and the dynamics behind building a cohesive collection, according to an excessive amount of wall text plastered throughout the show. Another distraction that unintentionally sends shivers up the spine are the numerous works hung askew, while some of the larger wall-sized digital prints appear warped.

Maldonado, who snagged an art history degree from the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma in 1974 and later mounted shows featuring the work of Richard Serra, Sol Lewitt, and Joseph Beuys in Italy, began collecting during the early '80s after moving to Paris.

At first, her interests focused on expatriate Latin American artists living in that city. She later expanded her vision to include works produced from the 1920s to the present day by an increasingly diverse group of international artists.

Maldonado — who traces her family back to Spanish conquistador Juan de Maldonado, founder of the city of San Cristobal in the Venezuelan Andes in 1547 — says the scope of her collection has evolved to reflect "a historical recollection of identity through a feminine vision and a Latin American perception of contemporary art." In short, the lady says she knows what she likes when she sees it, and that's her point.

Her exhibit is organized into four distinct sections. One features landscapes, real or imagined. Another includes mostly portraits, while yet another showcases the diversity of Maldonado's divergent interests. The last one is devoted to eroticism.

Those include works by artists such as El Anatsui, Consuelo Castañeda, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Atelier Morales, Marta Maria Pérez-Bravo, Francisco Toledo, Edouard Duval-Carrié, Yao Lu, Armando Reverón, Dionisio González, and José Gamarra.

On display is everything from Anatsui's Meeting of the Elders, a spectacular quilt-like confection crafted from bottle caps and copper wire that swallows an entire wall, to Cardoso's delicate Butterfly Drawing arranged in two concentric circles from iridescent azure insect wings.

There is also a photo of Frida Kahlo by Leo Matiz, beguiling pictures of Malian beauties by Seydou Keita, and even a fetching portrait of Maldonado herself snapped in 1970 by Claudio Abate in Rome.

But the exhibit's historical gems are tucked into a back room in the final segment dubbed "Erotic Instinct," from which one would presume the exhibit takes its name.

Here you will find some of the show's biggest names, including Francis Picabia, André Masson, Leonora Carrington, and Man Ray as well as others linked to surrealism such as Roberto Matta, Emiliano di Cavalcanti, and Wilfredo Lam.

The grouping features work produced between the 1920s and 1970s exhibited next to much later pieces by Tilsa Tsuchiya, Luca Pignatelli, Luis Caballero, and Michele Oka Doner created as recently as 2007.

Check out Man Ray's picture of his longtime lover and muse Kiki de Montparnasse, the Kim Kardashian of her day. The cabaret singer and artist's model was mostly famous for being famous among the bohemian enclave that then haunted Paris's Left Bank.

Like other artists of his era, Ray drifted from Dada to surrealism with ease, snapping hundreds of photos of the woman he reinvented over and over again. In the portrait of Kiki from Maldonado's collection, the fetching brunette exudes a raw sexuality and is posed nude with one arm cradled at an angle behind her head, while the other lies strategically across her muff. Legend had it that Kiki could only grow pubic hair when she was in love.

When she published her memoir in 1929, it was banned as obscene in the U.S. In its preface, Hemingway wrote that Kiki dominated the Montparnasse era more than Queen Victoria ever did hers.

A fervent admirer of de Sade, Masson was a surrealist whose erotic drawings often combined sex and violence and hinted at what he considered the religious depths of eroticism. Hunted as a degenerate by the Gestapo and forced to escape to New York during World War II, Masson was detained by U.S. customs agents who discovered his stash of erotic drawings, labeled them pornographic, and tore them to shreds before the Frenchman's eyes.

His modest ink-on-paper drawing on display depicts a nude woman aggressively copulating on an ornate chair with an anthropomorphic being. The strange figure's head appears like a flower, its turgid pistil squirming toward its conquest.

Le Chant des Oiseaux, an intriguing legal-pad-sized oil-on-panel by Carrington, one of the last living surrealists of her era, conjures the hostile dance between the life and death instincts. In it, the figures of a nude man and woman are portrayed locked in an uneasy embrace, each clutching the other's decapitated head. In 2005, Carrington set a record at auction for the highest price paid for the work of a living surrealist painter.

A large canvas by Lam depicts Leda and the swan at the time of their sexual consummation, as a terrifying horned spirit watches from a jungle clearing. The Cuban artist's opus flickers with an eerie feverish glow, as Lam's pendulous-breasted Leda surrenders to the passionate thrusts of Zeus disguised as a stylized swan. Lam re-envisions the classical myth as the mating between the Afro-Cuban deities of his tropical island and the unbridled forces of nature.

Although the collection will strike some as conventional and the presentation as uneven, it does boast many works not typically seen here outside a museum, and several on display in the section on eroticism, despite being denied pride of place at the entrance of the space, alone are worth the trip.


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