Every year, high-school students from across the nation travel to Miami’s National YoungArts campus to present their work. For a week, these aspiring artists take part in workshops, master classes as YoungArts winners — a distinction that comes with funding apart from recognition.
The winners gain access to tutelage from distinguished artists in the field, along with grants to fund their endeavors. And they often go on to become masters in their chosen disciplines. Well-known YoungArts alumni include actors Viola Davis and Kerry Washington and singer Josh Groban. Local alums include artists Daniel Arsham, Hernan Bas, and Naomi Fisher.
Now it's time to see what this year’s crop of winners has produced. According to curator Rosie Gordon-Wallace, their work draws from a wide range of influences.
“Many of the works in the visual arts selections questioned domesticity, masculinity, conflict, race, legal injustice, and religion,” Gordon-Wallace says. “These brilliant young minds are not very playful, but who can blame them? We live in complex times, and our young minds are responding with artistic images that push the querying visually.”
The resulting group show brings together a wide range of artists working in mediums as diverse as painting, photography, video, sculpture, installation, and performance art, yet the majority of the pieces are imbued with a social consciousness that’s a product of the times. The decidedly “woke” exhibit displays pieces that tackle themes as heady as violence against women in a patriarchal society, objectification in advertising, and, one of the most prescient subjects, an unpacking of masculinity.
In the #MeToo era, it seems that no artist is immune to the transformative revelations that continue to upheave the entertainment industry. Photographer Alexander Wong’s images confront traditional notions of masculinity in a Jamaican context. His subjects are shown closeup with bleak and introspective expressions, playing off the number of shadows cast by the chiaroscuro lighting.
“My overall goal for this series was to create a reminder... that not just masculinity, but gender roles as a whole are slowly changing,” Wong explains. “Hopefully, [it’ll be] for the betterment of gender equality.”
In a similar vein, painter Juniel Solis appropriated images from the gender-blind clothing brand Palomo in his piece Los Pajaritos. The canvas, like the brand, looks to upend traditional gender norms by presenting typically frilly and feminine dresses on men. Solis’ interpretation renders a painterly brushstroke on the original image for a piece that not only addresses notions of gender but also questions the potency of advertisement in the digital age.
Painter Nicolas Glenn has also borrowed from pop art to create his tongue-in-cheek canvases. His pieces marry text and image, creating a painting suffused with strong and direct messaging. Often resembling a piece of advertisement, his paintings address the commercial exploitation of the body in the media.
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“I’ve always been pulled in by clever logo design and strong graphics,” Glenn explains. “So the flat colors, obvious brushstrokes, and text use in my pieces are my way of paying homage to graphic design.”
Glenn, Solis, and Wong are only a small sampling of the many artists with work on display at this year’s YoungArts Miami. The show, like the foundation, highlights some of the most talented up-and-comers in the art world, and if this exhibit is any indication, they have plenty to say.
YoungArts Week. Friday, February 23, through April 27 at National YoungArts Foundation, 2100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-377-1140; youngarts.org. Admission is free. An opening reception will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, February 23.