Last Friday, a pack of sagging suburban Cuban-American couples flooded an elegantly designed cubbyhole in the Aventura Mall to pay tribute to Lladro –the famed Spanish tchotchke baron. The hand-crafted porcelain figurines are cherished from Bermuda to Bangladesh. Indeed, when U.S. forces stormed Uday Hussein’s pleasure palace, news crews discovered an extensive collection.
The mall location has been only open for a month or so. Last Friday Maria Jose Lladro came for the unveiling of a new line inspired by decadent painter Gustav Klimt. The room seemed to swell with buyers –almost to the point that elbows became a severe liability. A waiter stationed in a far off corner brought plates of calamari and chipped Grand Padanna Parmesan to the more well-heeled browsers, along with bottomless glasses of wine.
Inside the store, pricey figurines glowed upon back lit, snow white shelves. There were kittens and puppies, infants and shiny parents, all of whom seemed to cry out: Buy me. A little plastic placard next to a row of courtesans and comedia actors read, “Utopia: Utopia is a place where we can find things that make us happier…”
The store echoed with frenzied Spanish; women’s eyes lit up with a mania that I’ve only ever seen in hyperactive eight–year-old boy let loose in the GI-Joe aisle of Toys-R-Us. Dutiful husbands smiled proudly behind them –another artistic notch in the ol’ belt.
But it was hard to see where, exactly, they were hiding the art. Take the garishly adorned porcelin monstrosity entitled “The Gondola of Love.” The football-sized figurine portrays a young lady riding a Walt-Disney-like pastel gondola under a florally adorned gazebo. She looks happy. She ought to be. According to an adjacent placard, she is one of just (gasp) 3,000 copies. Perhaps, for this reason, she costs $5, 100.
But they’re all pretty steep. A fist-sized item called “puppy parade” sells for $765. I’ll leave that one to your imagination.
“I am crazy about Lladro," said Consuela Levy, who had arrived decked in her finest jewelry and pastel clothing. “I have all the horses, I have the lady of the rose, I have the Virgin Mary…I have like ten or twelve Lladro.”
Rudolfo Levy, a retired engineer, jumped in. “We have been collecting them for many, many years,” he said. They had purchased the figurines at outlets in New York, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Washington D.C. Rudolfo added that they might buy something today…and ah, here it is.
A smartly dressed saleswoman arrived with a porcelain Jesus on a cherry wood cross. Rudolfo eyes it carefully. It cost $650 –just like Jesus would have wanted.
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Not far away, Maria Jose Lladro was being fawned over by latin news stations. A reporter from Ocean Drive clutching a Louis Vuitton bag waited patiently with a digital voice recorder.
She was a pleasant woman, tall with short blond hair and a pale Castilian face. When asked if Lladro should be considered art, she paused.
“I think so,” she answered. “If you ever come to Valencia, you will see the [craftsmen] are artist people. To make this type of sculpture is not easy. We are not making the product like china. In the factory, you feel the artist.”
Behind her, the commodity fetish fest had whipped itself into full frenzy. The wine had begun to take its effect. Mothers dragged their children toward the register to sign hefty bills of sale, placing now empty wine glasses down on the counter and folding their copies neatly into the secret pouches of their purse. --Calvin Godfrey