Art in Public Places Has Gone into Overdrive in the Gables in Recent Years. But What About its Galleries, and the Artists Who Actually Live Here?
If you go to the City of Coral Gables website and put “Art Galleries” in the search bar, the first thing that comes up is “Where to Go.” Click on that page and you will find descriptions of places like the Venetian Pool and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. There is also is a paragraph entitled Fine Art Galleries. It starts, “Coral Gables is an art lover’s paradise. Known as one of South Florida’s premier centers for the arts, the City is home to dozens of art galleries.”
That statement, by any measure, is now wildly outdated. Once home to more than 40 galleries, the City Beautiful now has a mere handful – perhaps only three truly legitimate and functioning galleries. And just as error filled is the second listing on the Art Galleries landing page: Coral Gables Gallery Night. Click that, and you can get to a map that shows 22 separate stops for that once vibrant Friday night event. Of those 22, a half dozen aren’t galleries, but places where they might have hung paintings that night – the Coral Gables Adult Activity Center, for example, or Books & Books. Of the remaining 16 listings, only five locations are still active, and only three of those are what you would call a true art gallery: ArtSpace Virginia Miller Galleries, Cernuda Arte and The Americas Collection.
The good news is that these three are all superb galleries, representing top artists: Cernuda, with its impressive collection of Cuban art; The Americas Collection, representing artists from Central and South America; and ArtSpace, with its displays of American and European artists, along with Latin Americans.
As for the rest, even before the pandemic, Coral Gables had already become prohibitively expensive for the large spaces that galleries typically require. And when the pandemic hit, adding insult to injury, we lost Conde Contemporary, Tranter-Sinni Gallery, Rojas Ford Fine Art and ArtLabbé – though the latter may eventually reopen.
“The heyday for galleries in Coral Gables was in the 1990s,” says Virginia Miller, who has owned and operated her ArtSpace on Madeira Avenue longer than any other gallery. Miller recalls how Gables Gallery Night was first launched in 1980 and then fizzled in the face of a national economic downturn five years later. Then, it was relaunched in 1991 with five galleries on board. “Gallery Night became so successful it attracted [scores of] galleries by the end of the decade,” says Miller. “[But] rent increases and a need for larger spaces caused many of the galleries to move to less expensive areas or, in some cases, to purchase large, inexpensive warehouses and former showrooms. The three galleries that have survived in the Gables the longest own their own buildings and are not subject to the whims of landlords.”
Miller, like her colleagues at The Americas Collection and Cernuda Arte, initially shut down during the pandemic, shifting to online sales and then slowly reopening for individual clients. “This year the gallery has been open by appointment only with masks required [as we] continue to market our artists’ artwork on the internet,” she says.
At The Americas Collection, a similar pivot took place, says owner Silvia Ortiz. “Covid came unexpectedly, at a time when art was moving in Miami. It has not only affected us and other galleries, but the art world as a whole. We thought we’d be back in two weeks, but it’s been a year since the pandemic started,” she says. “We were able to stay in business only by reinventing ourselves and getting creative. We continue to spread the word through social media … and by combining virtual with guided tours.”
Ramon Cernuda went one step further, driving works of art by truck directly to clients, and letting them pick what best suited their homes. Now his two gallery buildings on Ponce de Leon Boulevard are back open to the walk-in public, with each showroom currently showcasing the work of a particular Cuban master. Currently, one building has an exhibit of paintings by René Portocarrero while the other has a show by Roberto Fabelo. “We have decided to do focus exhibitions in the two buildings on a particular artist and we have been happily impressed with the results,” says Cernuda. “Things are moving along very nicely. People are coming back to the gallery.”
Indeed, despite the dearth of galleries in the Gables, those that remain are quite optimistic. “The new and fresh influx of all the people moving into South Florida has created a new demand for art in the recent months,” says Ortiz, whose galleries show artists from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador and Cuba. “The future seems bright for galleries in Coral Gables as new developments arise.”
Having said that, there seems little the city can actually do to attract more galleries, with the exception of subsidizing them – something it is not keen on doing beyond the ways it already helps small businesses. “I think that the city is doing a lot for small businesses in general and is continuing to support our art organizations that present programming in Coral Gables,” says Catherine Cathers, the city’s Arts and Culture Specialist. But that is not the same as subsidizing rent. “That’s really up to the property owners,” says Cathers, though there are exceptions. The city is currently leasing a temporary space at 290 Miracle Mile to Ninoska Heurta, a pop-up gallery of ultra-contemporary art, at a reduced rate.
Cernuda suggests an outreach to the leading galleries in New York and European capitals, encouraging them to open second outlets here for their high-end clientele. “The gallery scene is part of the Gables, it has a historic presence here and enriches the community. It helps restaurant businesses and brings in a quality traffic of potential clients who are significant spenders. If we could have a good half dozen galleries here, that would make a difference. The city has to support these.”
What the city’s business community has begun to support, ironically enough, are the individual artists who actually create works of art. Beginning with its “Studios on the Mile” project last fall, the Business Improvement District, working with the strip’s biggest landlord Terranova, is creating pop-up, temporary and affordable spaces for painters and sculptors in empty storefronts. Now, some – like Red Herring pottery – have opted to stay, while others are setting up anew on the Mile, thanks to rents lower than those pre-Covid, at least temporarily.
Among those debuting a gallery-studio in a paseo on the Mile is Gloria Lorenzo, a city resident for 23 years who trained in ceramics and fine arts at Cuba’s top art academy and is known locally for paintings and sculptures that meld geometry and earth tones in dynamic abstractions. “I used to have my studio in northeast Miami. It was far to drive to [and] there was no A/C there,” says Lorenzo from her new, air-conditioned space at 245 Miracle Mile. These days, she loves welcoming guests to the bright gallery and even explaining her latest technique, applying cement over wire and foam to make sturdy sculptures and murals that endure outdoors. Lorenzo hopes city leaders can find ways to make both studios and housing more affordable for artists long-term, “so Coral Gables can flourish as a standard-bearer for art and culture.”
What follows is a look at three artists living and working in Coral Gables who’ve opened a studio or moved to the city recently. They join others profiled years ago by this magazine including Cuba-born Ruben Torres Llorca, known for painting, drawing, sculpture and collage with social commentary and wit; Jamaica-born Jacqueline Gopie, whose joyful paintings of children at play challenge media stereotypes of Black and brown people; and Cuba-born Aurora Molina, known for fiber art and soft sculpture, often with social commentary. Molina, a Gables High graduate, also shares an artist space on Miracle Mile today.
BORN: JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA, 1952.
EDUCATION/TEACHING: MFA, Massachusetts College of Art; Advanced seminars, Yale University; BFA, State University of New York. Certified mindfulness teacher.
Known for: “Heaven on Earth” painting series. Author of the book, “An Artful Path to Mindfulness” (New Harbinger, 2020).
EXHIBITS/COLLECTIONS: Shows include UMassachusetts; United Nations; F.A.T. Village and African-American Research Library in Fort Lauderdale; Maor Gallery in Miami. Held in the South African Parliament, among others.
IN CORAL GABLES: Home studio since 2020. Immigrated to South Florida in 1978. Founded Mindfulness-Based Self-Expression and has taught it at Mindful Kids Miami, Baptist Health, UM and others.
IDEAS ON ART: “The act of making allows me to explore my vulnerability and fleeting presence of life. I am interested in the times where the walls that seem to separate us dissolve. I paint as a metaphoric living, breathing process that holds and releases dynamic tensions where earth and sky dance together as interchangeable parts of the whole. Currently, I am working on an immersive, interactive, multi-media installation expressing the immense beauty and profound inhumanity in our world.”
CARLOS ALBERTO QUINTANA LEDESMA
BORN: HAVANA, CUBA, 1966.
EDUCATION/TEACHING: Studied briefly at San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts in Cuba, largely self-taught. Lived many places: Spain for 11 years, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, China, New York, Miami.
KNOWN FOR: Large-format oil paintings with expressive figures, or groups of figures – often bald, sometimes mythological, using layers of color and texture.
EXHIBITS/COLLECTIONS: Solo exhibits include Madrid, Miami, Shanghai, New York, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Mexico, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Germany. Held at Rubin Museum of Art, New York; National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana; Gary Nader Collection, Miami; among others
IN CORAL GABLES: Working in a second floor studio on Miracle Mile this year.
IDEAS ON ART: “How do you explain the unexplainable? Besides my studies and practice for years, there are other forces that move this. When I paint, I have a party celebrating color, enjoying the freedom to place color on canvas – in layers, strokes, blotches … to represent what happens in life. Life is questions. I don’t have the answers. I make some affirmations and observations. I use references from classical art, universal art, from art history. You draw your own conclusions.”
BORN: SANTA CLARA, CUBA IN 1954. .
EDUCATION/TEACHING: BFA, MFA at San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts, Cuba.
KNOWN FOR: Paintings, sculptures, and ceramics that combine geometry and earth tones in dynamic, abstractions, without human forms. “Use your imagination and feelings to see what it is.”
EXHIBITS/COLLECTIONS: Solo shows in Miami, Spain, Cuba. Group shows include Coral Gables Museum, Art Miami, Havana, Barbados, Arizona. Held at Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables; National Museum of Contemporary Ceramics, Havana; Manuel Rendon Hall, Ecuador; others.
IN CORAL GABLES: Gallery/studio at 214 Miracle Mile starting this year. Lives in Coral Gables for 23 years.
IDEAS ON ART: “Art is part of my nature. It’s life force, communication, as simple and profound as breathing. When I create, I let the subconscious enter my work. It’s powerful. We’re a store of information and emotions that give form and color to what’s intangible. It’s like painting and sculpting poetry. My experience with viewers has been very gratifying, because each person interprets and feels the creative energy of the work, also creating as they interpret.”