Miami's Museums Up the Ante for Basel Week

A full two decades before the Swiss rolled into town and put Miami Beach on the international art scene's radar, two artists wrapped 11 islands in Biscayne Bay with nearly 7 million square feet of shimmering pink fabric.

See also: Art Basel Miami Beach 2012 Art Fairs and Gallery Guide | Basel 2012 Map (PDF)

"For those of us who lived in Miami in the 1980s, we remember so well Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Surrounded Islands," says Brian Dursum, the Lowe Art Museum's director and chief curator. "One could argue [it was] the catalyst that set Miami on the path to its current role in the contemporary art scene."

Like many Dade museums, the University of Miami-based Lowe is upping its game during Basel week with "Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Prints and Objects," a survey of more than 40 years of the pair's versatile career, from 1962 through 2004.

"While Christo and Jeanne-Claude's environmental installations aren't permanent, the works of art on view at the Lowe document the years of planning that go into the final installation," Dursum says.

The exhibit includes photos of the artists preparing Surrounded Islands, lithographs of a similar project at the Arc de Triomphe, and sculptures. (Through January 12 at the Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, 1301 Stanford Dr., Coral Gables; 305-284-3535; Admission costs $10 general and $5 for students and seniors.)

Few museums have done more to rise above the Basel-week racket than North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art. This year, MOCA presents "Bill Viola: Liber Insularum," marking the video pioneer's first U.S. museum survey since 2003.

Viola's sensory-engulfing opuses typically explore the concepts of birth and death with a nod to both Eastern and Western art, as well as mystical, spiritual traditions. MOCA's exhibit was inspired by a 15th-century Florentine cleric's tome recording the six lonely years he spent wandering the Aegean. Viola departs from that compass point, using the tale as an allegory of our lives wandering a transforming global landscape.

"The videos are clear proof of the power of art to make us empathize with the suffering, pain, joy, and sense of peace of others," says Bonnie Clearwater, MOCA's executive director and chief curator. "They help us cope with our own feelings of isolation and mortality." (Through March 3 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 770 NE 125th St., North Miami; 305-893-6211; Admission is $5.)

Last January, the contemporary arts community was shocked when Los Angeles-based talent Mike Kelley was found dead of an apparent suicide in his South Pasadena apartment. Kelley was a master of the abject, known for his haunting commentary on the anarchy of youth culture.

The Frost Art Museum features the late artist's impossible-to-pigeonhole works in "To Beauty: A Tribute to Mike Kelley — Selected Works From Private Collections." The collection bursts with pieces that transcend traditional mediums, like a series of children's stuffed animals sewn onto hand-knitted afghans.

"[The] exhibit... offers our visitors an insight into the mind and talent of this renowned artist," says Carol Damien, the museum's director and chief curator. "He has become one of the icons for contemporary art." (Through February 24 at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at FIU, 10975 SW 17th St., Miami; 305-348-2890; Admission is free.)

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Carlos Suarez De Jesus