Owned by Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, the vast number of works housed in the De La Cruz Collection located in the Miami Design District is a gem that is home to some of my personal favorites from Félix González-Torres and Ana Mendieta, sprinkled within a large selection of contemporary art. It opened its doors on 2009, coinciding with that year's Art Basel festival. As part of the top 200 art collectors list by ArtNews, the couple estimates the number of pieces within their collection to be around a thousand, many of them featured at the 41st ST building in Miami.
On their website, they've included some personal quotes about how they see their work in collecting and sharing art that they consider important.
Before we even enter the building, a large Felix González-Torres billboard rests above the doors that lead into the collection. The work, Untitled, 1995, is probably hard to recognize at first; it certainly was for me as I assumed the empty billboard signified a change in exhibit promotions or a brief lapse in content for the gallery. Yet, as most of González-Torres's other work, the billboard represents a simple and fleeting moment captured and elevated through an eternal adoration. The bird is just barely visible among the vast negative space that surrounds it, and its quiet serenity can easily be overlooked. The artist had used birds throughout his career and I see it not as a motif of loss or an inability to hold on to a precious moment (as much of his work is interpreted to be), but as an optimistic exercise in freedom to preserve a state of calmness. This billboard is warm welcome into the De La Cruz collection that I wish I had recognized in the moment.
On the first floor of the large building, patrons are greeted by Glenn Ligon's large neon hand (Notes for a Poem on the Third World (chapter two), 2018) paired with González-Torres's hand photograph (Untitled, 1992). The two mirror each other in form and perhaps represent a welcoming hand extended to to the guests?
Ligon's art, which works through themes of American history, literature, and social commentary includes many neon pieces that engage more directly with political text, such as Double America, 2012 and Warm Broad Glow, 2005.
Also on the first floor are a few of Ligon's paintings, including Stranger #48, 2011, a large 72 x 62 in. canvas made with oil stick, acrylic and coal dust. The black canvas caught my attention as its dark contrast against the white walls drew me in and the textured detail was revealed to me. The text that Ligon uses looks rough and is hard to decipher, but is pulled from James Baldwin’s 1953 essay ‘Stranger in the Village’, which explores the writer’s experience as the only black man in a small Swiss town.
Ligon also happens to be the artist who was commissioned to create the neon text visible in the event cafe of my alma mater, The New School.
On the third floor of the De La Cruz collection, we are invited to participate with two González-Torres take aways, “Untitled,” 1989/1990 (two stacks) and “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991. The latter "is an allegorical representation of the artist’s partner, Ross Laycock, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991. The installation is comprised of 175 pounds of candy, corresponding to Ross’s ideal body weight." As guests take pieces of the candy, the work parallels Ross's weight loss leading up to his death.
Taking a piece of candy to taste, and another to store as a souvenir for my own private art collection, I thought of González-Torres's wish that the diminishing pile be replenished in a metaphorical effort to give Ross an eternal life; a beautifully simple endeavor that once again reflects on his desire for preservation of life over commemoration of death and loss.
Finally, I made my way into the back corner of the third floor to see the largest collection of Ana Mendieta's work I had ever seen. On the far back walls were her Silueta photographs from Mexico (1973–77). Part self-portraiture, part land art, part performance work, Mendieta sculpted nature around her silhouette to create impressions of herself within and of the earth. As I observed the photographs, I listened to one of the staff members recount brief details of her death. I was flooded with an eerie sensation as I connected her work's theme of cycles in life and death to a premonition to the end of her own life.
Along with her Siluetas, the collection featured her famous Body Tracks, 1974. This work is multilayered, and to me presents a powerful opportunity for deep artistic analysis. First, Mendieta performed the act of movement and gesture within a space. She took blood on her hands and bowed along the wall, in an almost ritualistic way, to create a handprint that smears across the fabric. The mark is intentional, but can never be recreated. The body only moves in a specific way once, thus her many repetitions of this performance create marks that reference but never mirror each other. As a performance, the work is ephemeral. Next, once the marks are done and the artist is disengaged, the fabric itself becomes an artifact left behind; a painting that relates to a trace of an event and to the visceral yet stagnant image of blood and the body, becoming a vehicle for interpretations as to what gestures could've produced the tree-like marks. Those fortunate enough to see the blood smeared on the fabric in person feel its presence as painting and object. Finally, the work now exists as a documentation or a recording of an event that once held time and place as performance and then object. It has shifted to signify evidence of a moment in time, but the documentation itself is timeless. What is left of Body Marks is not the body or the marks, but the symbolism and iconography of Mendieta's vision.
I am already planning a second visit down to the De La Cruz Collection. At first glance, I wasn't involved as deeply in the works and feel that I need a closer encounter with each artist featured in the galleries. Also~ nearby are the Institute of Contemporary Art of Miami and a variety of public art projects within the Design District worth a closer look as well.