Longform

Art As Pageant

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But a number of other art projects he hoped to showcase in Miami never materialized. Invited here in 1982 to participate in the New World Festival of the Arts, he planned a banquet honoring Santeria gods, with foods traditionally placed on Afro-Cuban altars. He also hoped to produce a festival at Vizcaya celebrating Seminole culture. Those and several other projects never got off the ground.

Asked why, Miralda sighs, mumbles something about people and bureaucracy and fear, and then quickly changes the subject.

As artist Cesar Trasobares recalls, the charismatic Catalan artist's ideas were just too abundant for the festival organizers to bear. "It was a matter of Miralda's ambition going way out," recalls Trasobares, who was formerly the director of Dade County Art in Public Places. He and Miralda have since become close friends and occasional collaborators. "I think they assumed he was going to propose something small, like design a ribbon to cut for the opening ceremony."

But Helen Kohen, who accompanied Miralda during much of his visit to Miami, remembers it a little differently. "It was as if Miralda had come from Mars," she says. "He was never able to do anything he wanted here because nobody understood."

Kohen clearly remembers being present at one surreal meeting Miralda had with the management of the Fontainebleau Hotel to discuss his proposed Fontainebleau Deco Cake. Local Cuban pastry chefs were to have constructed edible replicas of Miami Beach buildings, which were to be displayed in the hotel lobby. "Here was Miralda wearing something like one pink shoe and one orange shoe and a funny shirt and a ponytail, trying to explain his idea to these guys in three-piece suits," Kohen says. "He was totally serious, but they didn't understand each other."

Kohen points out that after just a few days in Miami, Miralda had the prescient notion of celebrating the Art Deco structures. This was almost a decade before the renovation of South Beach, when the area was still a habitat of crack dealers. "Here was Miralda proposing to present these buildings in pretty colored cake icing years before anyone thought of restoring them and repainting them in pastels."

Miralda did create a mermaid-shape table laden with seafood and caviar for the New World festival opening. He was asked to re-create the installation during the festival at the Lowe Museum, but the museum director refused to allow him to display the seafood because of the smell. He had to use pastries instead.

Working outside the commercial art world network in any city, Miralda must depend on sponsorship by cultural institutions, government entities, and corporations to realize his projects. He has thus come to see time spent cajoling bureaucrats as an integral part of his work. "Miralda's more daring projects are absolutely unconventional," Trasobares explains. "Just try convincing people to support them and see how many laughs you get."

Miralda himself cheerfully acknowledges that people have often written him off as a nut. Long fascinated by the rituals surrounding death, he once had an idea for a suicide travel agency that would assist people in getting to the destination where they wanted to kill themselves. He found no backers for that one.

He started and abandoned many other projects for lack of funds. Often when works have had political themes or have somehow been critical of the status quo, sponsors have backed out at the last minute with little explanation. In 1980, for example, Miralda planned a holiday exhibition at the Nationalgalerie in Berlin featuring a Christmas tree made of sausages, which the artist described as alluding to "the analogy between cutting down trees and slaughtering pigs as rituals typical of the winter solstice, and Christmas as a ritual of the consumer society." After the invitations had been sent out, the gallery unexpectedly canceled the exhibition.

Miralda was also disappointed when one of his ideas for the Honeymoon Project, a peace pipe nearly 40 feet long, had to be abandoned. The pipe, which Miralda saw as a provocative symbol of the meeting of the Old and New worlds, was to be sponsored by the California Institute of the Arts. But the Native Americans who were asked to participate wanted nothing to do with anything related to a celebration of Columbus's "discovery" of America. "I've learned that you have to be able to convince people, and to fascinate," the artist says. "And you have to be very accepting and very flexible in order to make things work."

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Judy Cantor