The honest question should be: Who really appreciated Purvis Young's work before his death at the age of 67 in 2010? The answers will surely be gushing with the hallmarks of insincerity and indignant self-righteousness of those who will claim to have been on the Young wagon before anybody else.
And maybe I'm being a bit harsh; Young's work has its fair share of local admirers alongside the colorful cast of celebrities who have collected his work. But the reasoning behind that opening salvo is because there hasn't been an honest showing of Young's radical and politically charged work.
Guccivuitton might go the cheeky route in their latest exhibition, "Quiet Riot," a themed exhibitions of Young's career. But as one of the very few self-reflective exhibition spaces in Miami, it makes sense to entrust them with an event that heralds the artist's legacy and mirrors the spark of his creative output.
Take this quote from Young: "There a lot of things I know. I keep my mouth shut and paint." Now take this bit from Jarrett Earnest's Miami Rail interview with Guccivuitton founders Aramis Gutierrez and Loriel Beltran: "I didn't fully get the irony of the name until I attended an almost empty 'collectors night' there, hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami. When I asked a museum staff person why it was so sparsely attended, she said 'we think a lot of our members drove up, looked at the neighborhood, and kept driving--I mean we've had members not come to events because there wasn't valet, so you can imagine they aren't ready to stop in Little Haiti!'"
Is it cheeky to point out that in honor of Black History Month, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami has "Under the Bridge, Beyond the Beach and Above the Muck: The Art of Purvis Young"?
It's time for Miami to take serious stock of Young's legacy -- to treat him as a complicated artist, and not the cinematic stereotype of a "magical Negro." This is not a criticism of MOCA's retrospective, the museum has shown itself more committed to complicated narratives than most of Miami's institutions. But rather, a counterpoint to how the local art scene has evolved -- perhaps much faster than the existing infrastructure can withstand -- but certainly in a way that's left it scrambling to grapple with its roots.
What could be more legitimate and more related to Miami's true nature than the self-made Young? His work was informed by numerous avenues, but always dealt with the physical and cultural destruction of Overtown, a landscape-transforming societal ulcer in the name of "progress."
Guccivuitton's take on this comes from the historical cornerstone of the McDuffie Riots, and through the recent demonstrations surrounding the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. "The title of the exhibition comes from a unique revolt that occurred shortly after South African anti-apartheid Nelson Mandela's visit to Miami was snubbed by Cuban American officials due to his refusal to repudiate the Castro regime," Guiccivuitton says. "Seen as a diminishing gesture to the longstanding issue of race and discrimination in America, what resulted was an almost three-yearlong nationwide black boycott of the Miami tourism industry, dubbed as a 'Quiet Riot,' which cost the city millions and raised African American pride."
In honoring Young's work, Guccivuitton is paying respect in a neighboring community that has unfortunately carried the stigma of Young's own Overtown.
Guccivuitton might not be on the hip part of NE 125th Street, or next to a police station for that matter, but this exhibit certainly commands a stop. Let's not worry anymore about where one sits on the Young wagon, let's move on with a continued enrichment of Miami's art scene, knowing and respecting its roots.
The exhibition opens with a reception on Saturday, February 21, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Guccivuitton, 8375 NE Second Ave., Miami. The exhibition will be on display through April 4.
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