Longform

Art As Pageant

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But Miralda's ability to shepherd thousands of participants when staging something as bizarre as the imaginary marriage of two monuments is testament to his determination. Video footage from the time captures boisterous revelers at some events, along with confounded passersby. Sarcastic newscasters constantly mispronounced Miralda's name, and some people they interviewed expressed anger that art had trespassed into territory where it supposedly did not belong. "I hate to see someone get away with something like this," groused a man interviewed at the presentation of the Statue of Liberty's engagement gown, presided over by New York Mayor Ed Koch and city officials from Barcelona.

"Logically, whatever you do there's going to be criticism," Miralda says with a smile. "And that also becomes part of the project itself." From his point of view, the mere fact that so many people participated in the Honeymoon Project qualifies it as a success. The publicity provoked many school teachers to take their classes on field trips to the Columbus monument and to discuss Spain's relationship with America. And when Miralda announced a contest for the best love letter written to either Liberty or Columbus, bags of mail arrived at his door. "My work isn't about instant gratification," he stresses. "It's something much more elliptical. The satisfaction comes slowly, like when you finally see 3000 love letters people have taken the time to write to the Statue of Liberty."

The first thing Miralda is likely to do when he visits a new city is go to a food market, and any time he is bored or blue the cure is a trip to the supermarket. On a recent morning, he headed to the Miami produce market in Allapattah, where he amused himself for several hours taking pictures of bundles of sugar cane, squash in net bags, and sacks of rice. He also chatted with vendors from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. Next he stopped at a store in Little Haiti and bought an armload of tropical fruit sodas, choosing them for the bright-color graphics on the cans.

Miralda shares a high-ceiling Miami Beach townhouse on Espanola Way with Guillen, a space that also serves as his studio. The kitchen counter is covered with carefully chosen foods, folkloric souvenirs, and household saints from different countries. Miralda gleefully points out some of his latest purchases: a carton of Soy Dream soy milk with a rather erotic picture of splashing white liquid on the cover; phallic Gerber Graduates chicken sticks for babies; instant soups by a company called Fantastic Foods.

He has been hired by the organizers of the next World's Fair, to be held in Hanover, Germany, in the year 2000, to design the exposition's nutrition pavilion. While this is an appropriate position for the artist to hold, given that he has been involved with both food culture and large groups of people for so long, he is an unusual choice considering the official, international character of the fair. Miralda has made a scale model of the pavilion, which will include a winding passageway shaped like an intestine, a "garden of edible delights" growing on a compost wall, a display of potato clocks he is working on with a team of Finnish scientists, insect delicacies, and (if animal rights activists will permit it) an exhibit of grazing cows.

One feature of the pavilion will be a large screen on which recipes will be projected. In an attempt to create an archive of traditional dishes from all over the world, Miralda has begun gathering these recipes, establishing "bureaus" in different cities. The installation at MAM featuring the tongue photos will serve as one collection site. People can also send recipes to the www.foodculture.com Website.

"What we're looking for is the inner life that recipes reveal," says Maricel Presilla, a food historian who is assisting Miralda with the project. "They're like road maps and codes. It all goes back to the definition of what a recipe is and what a grandmother is. A grandmother is not just a woman of a certain age, she's someone who is a link between past and present. She's the person in the house who keeps the fires of tradition burning, and that person could be young or old. 'Grandmother' is really a metaphor."

Miralda's idea has already been met with enthusiasm by customers at Big Fish. On the afternoon of the photo shoot, one Peruvian woman showed Miralda her great-aunt's recipe book, handwritten in a beautiful script, while the artist oohed and aahed. At another table a man from Spain eagerly shared his recipe for fried anchovy spines.

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Judy Cantor