Haitian-American artist Edouard Duval-Carrié has a message for Maximo Caminero, the local painter who deliberately shattered a million-dollar Chinese vase last month to protest the new Pérez Art Museum Miami's "lack of support for South Florida talent."
Paris, where Duval-Carrié once lived and worked, is a much tougher town.
"If Caminero thinks it's tough making it in the art scene here, he would have probably thought of blowing up Paris," Duval-Carrié cracks. "To get your work shown at the Louvre, you have to be dead ten times over."
Indeed, Duval-Carrié, who resides in Miami, is living proof that Caminero was wrong. His new show, "Imagined Landscapes," opens at PAMM this Thursday and runs through August. It features a beguiling series of mural-size paintings and chandeliers that evoke a grand ballroom of a baroque mansion. Executed in black and silver glitter and complemented by subtle splashes of sultry, Caribbean-inspired hues, his work depicts lush landscapes that convey a mysterious tropical Eden.
The 59-year-old Duval-Carrié was born in a Port-au-Prince dominated by political strongman François "Papa Doc" Duvalier. As a young boy, he began taking classes at the city's Centre d'Art before his family relocated to Puerto Rico when he was 9. "My family moved there to flee the political oppression of the Duvalier dictatorship, and that's where I learned to speak Spanish," the artist says while relaxing in an ornate, red-and-gold-gilded chair at his capacious Little Haiti studio.
Behind him, shelves spill over with hundreds of art books, bronze sculptures from Benin, ceramic pottery from Mexico, tapestries from Tibet and India, and other objects from his world travels.
"From Puerto Rico, where I lived until I was 15, my father... moved us back to Haiti," he says. "Later, I traveled alone to New York, where I attended John Bowne High School in Flushing Meadows."
After graduating, he joined an older brother, Robert, who was living in Montreal. There, Duval-Carrié studied at the University of Loyola. Around that time, Robert returned to Haiti to help run the family business. He was arrested there and spent a year and a half in jail until the Carter administration helped negotiate his release. "I can't tell you what they detained him for," the artist says. "Back then, the government would arrest anyone on trumped-up charges. The way I dealt with what was happening at home was to include the insanity in my paintings."
In 1979, Duval-Carrié created an iconic painting in which he depicted Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the dictator's son and also a murderous leader, in a wedding dress. Then he included Baby Doc, along with an army general and other symbols of the repressive regime, in a torture chamber.
As his career progressed, Duval-Carrié established himself as an artist of international reach. Soon he was invited to attend the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris during the bicentennial of the French Revolution.
"I studied there from 1988 to 1989 and was that guy from Haiti they came looking for when they did an exhibit on the Caribbean," he recalls.
Afterward, he stayed in Paris for a few lean years. It was difficult to break into the mainstream art scene, so in 1992 he moved to Miami with his wife and two infant sons to raise a family and be closer to Haiti. "We thought it would be a safer place for our boys and bought the first house we saw on Miami Beach. "I've lived there ever since, and the local art community has always embraced me."
Gutierrez Fine Arts on Key Biscayne (and later in Miami Beach) soon picked up Duval-Carrié's work. After Gutierrez closed, the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in Wynwood represented him for nearly a decade. "When Bernice moved to Miami from New York, she showed up at my studio with a huge box filled with about 200 brownies and immediately became my dealer," the artist says. "She was very good to me always." These days, Duval-Carrié is represented by Pan American Art Projects in Wynwood.
Through the years, Duval-Carrié has had several local museum shows, including early exhibits at the Center for the Fine Arts before it became the Miami Art Museum. During the past few years, he has curated numerous editions of the "Global Caribbean" exhibits at Miami's Little Haiti Cultural Center, which is adjacent to his studio. The project has involved extensive travel and research throughout the region.
The artist made a career out of employing traditional Haitian iconography to address the historical and contemporary tribulations suffered by his homeland. But his new show at PAMM, which he worked on for a year, marks a departure from his Haitian-centric works of the past to reflect more of a pan-Caribbean worldview of the historic problems confronting the region.
"The Southern United States, all the island nations, and other countries in the hemisphere are linked by the same history," he says. "It includes everything from colonial plantation economies to genocide of the indigenous populations to slavery, revolutions, failed states, and dictatorships. And they have each and every one been exoticized as tropical Edens by colonial profiteers. That even goes on today to fuel the tourism industry."
For the PAMM exhibit, Duval-Carrié conducted research during an academic residency at Duke University and extended studies at Brown University. His works all reference 19th-century paintings executed in the Caribbean and Florida by artists such as William Heade and Frederick Church to promote economic development in the region.
In one of these works, After Bierstadt — the Landing of Columbus, Duval-Carrié demonstrates his profound wit and knack for visual punning by re-imagining the Hudson River School painter's classic interpretation of the discovery of the New World. The painting shows Marie Antoinette, Mickey Mouse, Mr. Potato Head, and Batman arriving by rowboat in a tropical cove next to Columbus.
In the background, a gunboat, the type often seen patrolling the coast of Haiti during U.S. occupations, appears. It's a reference to the long history of foreign invasions of the Caribbean and the global reach of American pop culture.
"Once in a while, you have to step back and take a look at what's happening here," the artist muses. "People forget that 80 years ago, Miami was a swamp infested with mosquitoes, and now we have a truly world-class museum. We can't just think we have it all at our feet without considering the history of how we got here."
Duval-Carrié calls Caminero's vase-smashing protest against PAMM "absurd."
"The museum not only conducts annual showcases of local talent, but its curators regularly conduct studio visits with Miami artists," he observes. "My biggest fear is that his act will jeopardize the relationship between the public and the art. I hope PAMM won't be forced to place a security guard in front of every piece on display because of one individual's misguided actions."