Flocks of quinceañeras in puffy, blinged-out dresses fill the gardens of Villa Vizcaya all year round. Fortunate couples celebrate their nuptials on the museum's stone steps, immortalizing their special day in the glamour of a bygone era.
Romance abounds at James Deering’s former estate, first opened in 1916. Even the name is part fable. Deering chose aesthetics over accuracy when tagging his whimsical paradise. The rich bachelor intended to name it after the explorer Viscino, Ponce de Leon’s secretary who lent his name to Biscayne Bay, but that name wasn’t as pretty. The wealthy industrialist left behind a legacy of imagination riddled with fantasy and beauty.
In honor of the estate’s centennial, the current exhibition "Lost Spaces and Stories of Vizcaya" perpetuates Deering’s aesthetic legacy.
The show is curated by Gina Wouters and features 11 artists who were selected from 100 applicants. They were given historical information and asked to narrate the forgotten stories and spaces of Vizcaya through visual art. The craftsmen reimagined the lives of the villa's former inhabitants through a modern lens, installing creative representations from various genres throughout the estate.
The finished pieces preserve the legend of this luxurious waterfront dreamscape with neon signs, musical sounds, hand-woven tapestries, photographs, and film. The exhibition has two phases. Phase I is currently on view through May 2017 and features Duane Brant, Amanda Keeley, Juraj Kojs, Lucinda Linderman, David Rohn, Magnus Sigurdarson, and Frances Trombly.
Kojs’ sonic installation recreates the sound of water passing through a moat. Deering initially filled it with water, emulating castles in Europe, but the coral limestone soaked it up, so he filled it with cacti instead. Brant installed a white stripe designed to signal the length of the space.
European kings created maps of their kingdoms, and Deering followed suit. Those that highlighted the property, however, are in poor condition, so they were removed from the space. Linderman recreated guides of Vizcaya from the 1920s, today, and fifty years from now. Through her works, the artist brings awareness to the threat of climate change, depicting Deering's paradise half underwater. She used pieces of plastic in her hand-made charts to allude to the environmental destruction caused by human carelessness.
Artist Trombly designed hand-woven modern bell pulls of silk and pastel colors, which are displayed in place of the historic ones used to summon servants. Rohn created self-portraits of the former staff. The framed photographs are located in various rooms including one of Deering's bedrooms, where a picture of a young man rests on a table, alluding to suspicions of the wealthy bachelor’s interest in men.
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In the museum’s only unfurnished exhibition room, a film projector displays a telenovela with modern actors on its white walls. The romantic drama, created by Sigurdarson, explores how fabulous life may have been for a businessman and his guests — and the affairs that may have ensued at the secluded spot.
Lastly, Keeley's installation includes two neon signs with a translation of the Latin quote inscribed in the main house: “Take the gifts of the hour. Put serious things aside.” The quote was a call to guests, inviting them to drink wine and let loose.
These artworks each tell a story within a story. They reimagine a forgotten tale, creating a modern rendition of a historical fable steeped in the artistic imagination. They take visitors on a fantastic voyage, as only art (and wine) can do.
"Lost Spaces and Stories of Vizcaya"
Currently on view until May 2017 at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Phase two will be on view starting December 2016. The exhibition features artists Brookhart Jonquil, Mira Lehr, Yara Travieso, Kerry Phillips, and Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova. Visit vizcaya.org.