The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) sits on a busy thoroughfare along NE 125th Street in North Miami. Its open courtyard leads to a uniquely shaped edifice that resembles the letter M. Behind it, the letters MOCA are painted in thick black type on the wall.
Currently on display on the large, formerly bare wall abutting the fountain is a monochromatic mural by local artist Reginald O’Neal. Titled As I Am, the work depicts the artist’s personal history of growing up in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. The prominent placement draws your attention and holds it. As you drink in every brushstroke, every historical reference, every hidden message, you quickly realize you’re enjoying this work of art before even entering the museum itself.
O’Neal’s mural is the first of five public art pieces to be featured as part of the museum’s new Art on the Plaza series. The temporary installations will each be on display for a handful of weeks at a time, one making way for the next. The series kicked off in late January and runs through November.
MOCA executive director Chana Budgazad Sheldon says the inspiration for Art on the Plaza came from a project with Miami-based artist Carl Juste last year.
“It was something that we wanted to offer the community while the museum was closed and during a generally difficult time,” Sheldon tells New Times. “And that really was the inspiration for continuing to do this program.”
The project, she says, has evolved and taken on a new life of its own. For Art on the Plaza 2021, MOCA put out a limited call to artists and commissioned five pieces to be displayed around the museum’s front courtyard. Sheldon says she leaned on the expertise of Miami-Dade County’s Art in Public Places curator, Amanda Sanfilippo, in helping to organize the program.
“We think that having art in public spaces in North Miami is really important, and we had such a great response to putting art in the public space when Carl did his piece, so we’re really excited to keep this going,” Sheldon says.
O’Neal’s mural will be on display through March 7, after which it will be taken down to make way for AMLgMATD’s pandemic-inspired installation, which opens on March 19. A collaborative piece by Morel Doucet and Stephen Arboite will be up from April 30 through June 27, followed by Nice N’ Easy’s takeover from July 9 through August 22. Closing out the series: a sculpture by Najja Moon that will on display from September 3 through November 14.
Sheldon says the artists were asked to reimagine the space in front of the museum.
“Throughout the year, we’ll see different ways the plaza is being engaged with, starting with Reggie’s As I Am mural being on the fountain, to later AMLgMATD’s intervention in the palm trees, and to actual work in the fountain by Nice N’ Easy,” she explains.
The beauty of the series is that it makes art accessible to everyone while also enticing art lovers to visit the museum. The current exhibitions at MOCA — paired with O’Neal’s outdoor mural — are worth the trip for a safe, socially distant afternoon in North Miami.
Raul de Nieves’ “Eternal Return” will transport you to a marvelous land of whims and sequin, whereas “Life and Spirituality in Haitian Art,” curated by Francine Birbragher, will take you on a journey of identity.
Says Sheldon: “MOCA’s Art on the Plaza is really about expanding what the museum is doing beyond the walls of the museum, making the artwork accessible to the community, and giving people some inspiration during their day.”
Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami. 770 NE 125th St., North Miami; 305-893-6211; mocanomi.org.
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