Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sunday Reading

Art in Miami: The city is becoming an art mecca.

In Miami, art matters.

It matters beyond this week’s Art Basel Miami Beach, when the largest contemporary art fair in the hemisphere comes to town, bringing for the sixth year a whirlwind of international art collectors, respected curators, museum directors and some of the world’s most distinguished artists and galleries.

Quietly at first, but in the limelight now thanks to Basel’s glam, Miami’s booming visual-arts scene in the last decade has been transforming the character of the city from a mecca of fun and sun to a leading cultural destination. Art is helping to define Miami’s identity, shaping its soul at a crucial moment in the region’s development.

“There is a sort of shift going on in Miami right now,” says Miami Art Museum Director Terence Riley, whose charge is to build a serious collection and a new, state-of-the-art home for MAM at Bicentennial Park. “We used to think of it as a retirement city, a city of exiles, a city of transience. But today there are more and more people who consider this their long-term home, who want to help enrich it for themselves and for their children. They are very invested in the cultural life of the city.”

Consider the landscape that art has created in a five-mile radius of the city center:

In gritty Wynwood, art galleries transplanted from Paris share an avenue with an inner-city elementary school packed with children uniformed in baby blue. The gallery walk on second Saturdays floods the district with art lovers every month. Car repair shops, roaming chickens and discount clothing outlets shoulder the same neighborhoods where the world-class Margulies, Rubell and Cisneros Fontanals art collections are housed — all open to the public.

Blocks away from Wynwood, a midtown is rising, flanked by the Design District and its art and home-design galleries. In downtown, the city’s signature building, Freedom Tower, has been exhibiting museum-quality art — the Spanish master Goya, the contemporary Canadian sound sculptors Cardiff and Bures Miller, and timed to coincide with Basel, a show of Miami artists gaining recognition in the international art market.

“Art connects people and creates community,” says artist Wendy Wischer, a longtime teacher at the New World School of the Arts whose works reflecting on the impact of surroundings and technology are selling so well that she has given up her day job. “When I go to gallery walk in Wynwood these days, I don’t know half the people. Art is bringing all these people together. It gives them somewhere to go, something to see, and that builds community.”

There is more to come.

Including plans for the new Miami Art Museum to be built along the shores of Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami.

The new Miami Art Museum has the potential to be a breathtaking, beautiful building, one that could simultaneously express new ideas about architecture and its place in the environment and pay homage to the rhythms, climate and patterns of Miami. The design proposal unveiled Friday is pretty enthralling. It is both daring and familiar: an airy, elegant, ethereal pavilion that captures the sunlight and embraces the bay breezes.

The architects for the new MAM, the Basel-based Herzog & de Meuron, are known for their ability to take a fragment of nature — the composition of a leaf, the structure of a root — and reinterpret it, abstractly, as architecture. And indeed that is the case in the proposed design for this $220 million museum to be located in the northeastern corner of what will be called Museum Park (the current Bicentennial Park).

– Obamamania is Back: Two op-ed examine what is sparking the renewed interest in the senator from Illinois.

– Maureen Dowd: Customarily in presidential races, Americans seek a patriarchal figure, a strong parent to protect the house from invaders and financial turbulence.

But with Barack Obama, this dynamic seems reversed.

He seems more like a child prodigy. Those enraptured with his gifts urge him on, like anxious parents, trying to pull that sustained, dazzling performance out of him that they believe he’s capable of; they are willing to put up with the prodigy’s occasional listlessness and crabbiness, his flights of self-regard and self-righteousness. Despite his uneven efforts and distaste for the claws of competition, they can see he is a golden child, one who moves, speaks, smiles and thinks with amazing grace.

His advisers and fund-raisers have pressed him to go fortissimo. Many voters with great expectations are hovering, hoping for a crescendo.

Except for panicked Clintonistas, everyone seems eager to see if the young pol can live up to his potential. Responding to his more combative style, the press has relaunched him, giving him a second chance to shine, on this week’s cover of Time, in the pages of The New Yorker, in the up arrow of Newsweek, which now declares him “poised to be the comeback kid,” and at The Times, where young female assistants lined the halls on Wednesday to watch him glide into a second meeting with editorial board writers and editors.

In The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan lays out what he sees as Obama’s “indispensable” capacity to move the country past baby-boom feuds and the world past sectarian and racial divides. “It’s November 2008,” he imagines. “A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man — Barack Hussein Obama — is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm.”

In Time, Shelby Steele agrees that a President Obama could show “that race is but a negligible human difference.”


And he got a benediction from Cornel West, the Princeton professor who took Obama to task earlier this year for not attending a national gathering of black scholars and civil rights leaders.

West tried to help Obama in his uneasy quest to claim his place in the black community, calling him “my brother,” “an eloquent brother,” “a good brother” and “a decent brother.” He urged the audience to put Obama in a historical continuum with the spirituals on the plantation and Apollo stars like James Brown and Billie Holiday. Black, he said, has variations. “We don’t expect Alicia Keys to be Aretha,” he said.

Obama threw in some lines meant to show his black fire, even if it’s a cool fire.

“I’m in this race because I’m tired of reading about Jena,” he said. “I’m tired of reading about nooses. I’m tired of hearing about a Justice Department that doesn’t understand justice. … I don’t want to wake up four years from now and discover that we still have more young black men in prison than in college.”

He said he’s running because of what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now.” Now can the prodigy muster that fierce urgency?

– Frank Rich: Part of the Republicans’ difficulty in countering Mr. Obama, should they have to, is their own cynical racial politics. For the most part, race has been the dog that hasn’t barked in this campaign despite the (largely) white press’s endless fretting about whether the Illinois senator is too white for black voters and too black for white voters. Most Americans aren’t racist, most Republicans included. (Those who are won’t vote for the Democratic presidential candidate even if it’s not Mr. Obama.) But the G.O.P., by its own doing, is nonetheless saddled with a history that most recently includes “macaca” and Katrina, Mr. Bush’s appearance at Bob Jones University in 2000 and the nonexistent black population of its Congressional delegation.

As the Republican leadership knows, this record is an albatross, driving away not just black voters but crucial white swing voters, too. Ken Mehlman, the former G.O.P. chairman, and Mr. Rove, as recently as in that Newsweek column, have implored their party to reach out to minorities. So have Newt Gingrich and Jack Kemp. But not even conservative leaders of this stature could persuade their party’s top 2008 presidential contenders to show up for a September debate moderated by Tavis Smiley for PBS at the historically black Morgan State University.

It’s not because those no-shows are racists; it’s because they are defensive and out of touch. With the notable exception of Mike Huckabee, most of the party’s candidates have barricaded themselves from African-Americans for so long that they don’t know how to speak to or about them. As sure-footed as these Republicans are in attacking the Clintons and Streisand — or in exchanging fire with Al Sharpton and hip-hop moguls — they are strangers to the mainstream multiracial and multicultural America exemplified by an Obama or an Oprah.

An Obama candidacy would force them to engage. Or try to. A matchup between Mr. Obama and Mr. Giuliani, who was forged in the racial crucible of New York’s police brutality nightmares of the 1990s, or between Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney, who was shaped by a religion that didn’t give blacks equal membership until 1978, would be less a clash of races than of centuries.

But there’s another, even more fascinating hidden story line in the 2008 campaign that speaks to the potential prowess of an Obama candidacy. Despite the thuggish name-calling of a few right-wing die-hards (e.g., Rush Limbaugh mocking “Barack Hussein Odumbo”), the dirty secret of a number of conservatives is that they are disarmed by Mr. Obama even though they know his record is more liberal than Mrs. Clinton’s.


Perhaps most striking is the case of Shelby Steele, the archconservative scholar who shares Mr. Obama’s mixed-race heritage. Though he has just written an entire book, “A Bound Man,” to argue (unpersuasively, in my view) that Mr. Obama “can’t win,” he can’t stop himself from admiring the guy throughout. Peggy Noonan wasn’t being tongue-in-cheek when she wondered in The Wall Street Journal last month whether Mr. Obama “understands the kind of quiet cheering he is beginning to garner from some Republicans.” In her view “they see him as a Democrat who could cure the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton sickness.”

Or at least they do in the abstract. Should Mr. Obama upend the Beltway story line by taking Iowa, the Republicans will have every reason to be as fearful as the Clinton camp is now.

– Battle Against Hate Crimes: The Toledo Blade says that the fight for civil rights is not over as long as hate crimes remain.

When it comes to science, we’ve made progress no one could have even imagined half a century ago. Yet it is sad that similar progress hasn’t touched people who hate others simply because their race, religion, or sexual orientation is different.

Nationally, the number of hate crimes rose by 8 percent last year over the year before, according to the FBI. That was bad enough; what is just plain embarrassing is that out of 7,722 reported incidents, 300 were in Ohio and 653 in Michigan.

No, attitudes and behavior cannot be legislated. But all of us still need to learn that it’s better to try to understand others who are different. And that it is morally wrong to hate someone who’s different and against the law to act on that hatred.

For those who think the struggles for civil rights mostly ended in the 1960s, these numbers are a bucket of cold water showing that this is hardly the case. Among the most notorious recent examples are the noose hangings, beatings, and jailing of students in Jena, La., where thousands of demonstrators convened to protest authorities’ handling of the racially charged incident. That sparked copycat incidents, an indication that there have been more hate crimes than just those reported to the FBI. Also, nearly a third of the local, county, state, and federal agencies that sent information to the FBI failed to report how many hate crimes they had.

All this has sparked marches reminiscent of the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s. First there were the protests in Jena; next, a march in Charleston, W.Va., that called on authorities to file hate-crime charges against whites in the torture of a black woman.

Civil rights figures have also demonstrated in Washington, demanding that the Justice Department – which doesn’t usually get involved in hate-crime cases involving minors – investigate and file charges in the Jena case.

There has been a lot of focus on how new U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey will deal with the issue of torture. He also should be pressed to enforce the law in hate-crime cases. Our nation has come so far that we cannot afford to needlessly move backwards.

– Doonesbury: Air and water.

– Opus: Snowbabes and priorities.