MOCA Turns 15 With Tracey Emin, Mark Handforth, and More Miami-Loving Artists

This past weekend, the Museum of Contemporary Art celebrated its 15th anniversary in grand style with a dinner, party, and series of conversations with many of the artists that have played roles in MOCA's history.

"The celebration is a marvelous tribute to 15 years of MOCA's extraordinary history," said executive director and chief curator Bonnie Clearwater. "It's a wonderful way to kick off an exciting future, and the building expansion that will enable us to show more art and provide even more education programs for the public."

Under Clearwater's guidance MOCA has become an institution of

international importance. The most recent, lauded exhibition was

"Rolling Stop," by Mark Handforth, who returned to MOCA 15 years after

his first solo show in 1996. For Handforth, taking down his show just

prior to the celebrations was a sad experience. "The show here meant a

lot to me. This is kind of my studio, to me, in Miami, rather than a place

where I show normally. So it's a little bit like a way of connecting your

work in process with the place, and I have been connected to MOCA for

all these years. It makes so much sense that the show would have been

here. It was actually a really nice recap about everything that has

happened over those years."

Decorated by David Stark, the walls of MOCA were transformed into a

narrative of its 15-year history of championing emerging artists. Stark

created an abstract grid of 20,000 images as a "radical tribute to the

amazing artists and cutting edge thinking that has made MOCA into the

singular voice in contemporary art and culture that it is."

The dinner for 450 guests honored Alberto Ibargüen and the John S. and

James L. Knight Foundation, and was followed by an after party in a

specially created space featuring neon letters spelling out "Paradise," based on the

famous installation created by Jack Pierson and acquired by MOCA in

1996. With the DJ spinning an '80s soundtrack, party guests enjoyed

cocktails and desserts while mingling with artists, collectors,

beneficiaries, gallery owners, and prominent Miami citizens.

Bringing the celebrations to a close were the Artist to Artist

conversations with luminaries including Richard Artschwanger, Tracey Emin, and

Ragnar Kjartansson from Iceland, who performed "Du holde Kunst," at the

dinner, singing Franz Schubert's "An Die Musik," while accompanied by a

musicians and showgirls with big feather fans.

The artists represented a wide spectrum of past exhibitions. Tracey

Emin, Isaac Julien, and Jack Pierson were invited to discuss narrative in

art and ideas of Miami. Emin also revealed some ideas for her first U.S.

solo show at MOCA in 2013, which, according to the artist, will feature

"the most neon signs" she has ever done. Of Miami, Emin says "Being

British, we have a magic idea of what Miami may be like. So Miami is a

destination, but for me it is much better to come here for work, for a

real reason, not just a holiday. I really like it here. I feel good here.

Even when the weather is bad, I like it. I like the storm clouds coming

in, I like walking along the beach. The people seem slightly

dysfunctional. That's an understatement, but that, to me, seems quite

real. I like coming to Miami. It seems quite real here and the people

seem very real and they are very, very friendly."

Miami-based artists Daniel Arsham, Naomi Fisher, Dara Friedman, Mark

Handforth, and Jorge Pantoja conversed about concepts and perceptions of

Miami, as well as the Miami art scene and developments over the past 15

years. Fisher added ,"MOCA is just such an incredible place, putting on

shows that you can't see anywhere else in the world, and definitely not [anywhere else] in Miami. I am really proud to have shown work here. I'm constantly

inspired by what Bonnie is doing here."

Over the past 15 years MOCA has been instrumental in the development of a

strong art scene in Miami. The institution also has made a difference

to North Miami by bringing art into the public domain. For his recent

exhibition, Handforth installed "Electric Tree," in North Miami's Griffin

Park, which he's now donated to remain in North Miami permanently, while

"Weeping Moon," has been acquired by MOCA for its permanent collection.

Congratulations to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the dedicated

staff, supporters and visionaries who keep MOCA's essence alive, well

and expanding. Here's to another 15 successful years!

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Heike Dempster