Adler Guerrier was born in Port-au-Prince in 1975. He moved to Miami 12 years later with his father, an electrician, and his mom, who now works as a local school crossing guard. He grew up in North Miami and attended the Design and Architecture Senior High School before graduating from the New World School of the Arts.
While the ink on his diploma was still fresh, he grabbed the art world's attention as part of the groundbreaking Freestyle exhibition organized by the Studio Museum in Harlem. By 2008, his work was featured at the Whitney Biennial in New York, placing him at the forefront of a rising crop of fresh Miami art stars.
Now the Pérez Art Museum Miami, in just its fourth major public show, is presenting "Adler Guerrier: Formulating a Plot." It marks the first museum survey of the artist's works from the past 15 years. There are photographs, prints, videos, mixed-media installations, and a new site-specific architectural intervention that soars floor-to-ceiling and mirrors the decorative cinder blocks used to build many of the Magic City's homes.
PAMM couldn't have chosen a better narrator to convey a vision of Miami at the crossroads. He's an urban wanderer whose work brings to mind Jimmy Breslin's comment about "8 million stories in the naked city."
In Untitled (Loss/Entry/Return), a 2005 series of three photos paired with three prints on paper, the silhouette of a solitary figure can be seen scanning the horizon with binoculars. Nearby, box-like structures appear as if geographic landmarks. Together the elements of print, drawing, snippets of text, and collage add to the enigmatic nature of the austere compositions.
Close by are some of the earliest works from the artist's Flaneur series, which was shot between 1999 and 2001. In the 12 photographs, snapped in Miami and New York City, the artist appears shot from behind gazing toward the far distance during the act of anonymously roving through a sprawling metropolis. These works give the impression of discovering an unknown place. "I often walk, ride a bike or bus, and drive when I'm working," says the artist. "For me, traveling is a mode of observation."
Some of his photos depict uninhabited urban stretches after night has fallen, busy streets, and private homes. You can almost detect the scent of cigarettes and hear the clink of a cocktail glass or uttered profanity. "I enjoy films," the artist says. "Films make a place malleable. They can make an unknown corner... either threatening or beautiful."
The title of his exhibit comes from the transcript of a 1968 court case involving Amiri Baraka, a radical black poet and writer. A judge accused Baraka of being a "participant in formulating a plot" that helped provoke the 1967 Newark riots with his poem "Black People!"
For his show at the Whitney, Guerrier created an installation called Untitled (BLCK — We Wear the Mask). In it, he depicts the aftermath of the Liberty City riots that coincided with the 1968 Republican National Convention in nearby Miami Beach. One of the works is a drawing of a billboard on fire with the flames rising from the words "Liberty City." He also evokes the memory of the 1980 Liberty City disturbances. "The McDuffie riots were sparked as a result of police brutality," he says. "But my work deals with the civil rights struggles of 1968, the year that Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated."
Not far away, a massive collage on a wooden panel conveys a sense of Miami's intensely contested political battles. It is festooned with the remains of campaign placards that sprout up all over town during election season like mushrooms after a summer downpour. There is one reelection sign for former Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones for District 5 and another for a District 2 candidate for School Board. Also in the frame is a hand-scrawled sign declaring, "I will buy your house for $cash$ now."
"In a way, these signs are about empty campaign promises," he says. "The reality is that elected [officials speak differently] than they did to get in office."