Plans for a public art exhibit in Florida derailed after the mayor accused two of the artists of being Communists
The curator of a major public art exhibit in Florida resigned after the local mayor claimed two of the artists spoke too favorably about communism and pushed for funding for the exhibit. Shortly after, the event collapsed.
At a marathon city council meeting last month, Vince Lago, mayor of Coral Gables, Florida, opposed the inclusion of artists Sandra Ramos and Cai Guo-Qiang in the “Brighten up the coral pine nuts“art exhibition. The newly elected official referred to interviews Ramos and Cai had given in the past in which he felt the artists were expressing sympathetic views towards the communist regimes in their respective home countries, Cuba and China (Ramos currently lives in Havana; Cai in New York.)
“I will continue to support the arts, but not at the expense of democracy and freedom,” Lago said at the meeting, a video of which is available online. “It’s very easy to comment on the case supporting communism and saying communism is a great idea, but they are here in the United States taking American money. In the end, that doesn’t bode well for me.
Following Lago’s comments, the committee voted to fund part of the 2022 edition of the art exhibition on condition that both artists be removed from the list.
Days later, the board of directors of “Illuminate Coral Gables” announced that the 2022 show had “been postponed due to extenuating circumstances beyond our control” and that its chief curator, Lance Fung, had resigned, according to Miami Herald.
In an email to Artnet News, Fung clarified that he had resigned “mainly because of the censorship of my work as a curator,” as did John Talley, the executive director of the Fung Fung Collaboratives company that helped Coral Gables. “However, we also knew we had to support the 20+ artists we worked with by not validating bogus claims and defending their First Amendment rights.”
Lago did not respond to a request for comment.
The first edition of “Illuminate Coral Gables” took place in February and March of this year. Eight site-specific projects, including video projections, sculptures and installations, were presented across the city.
Ramos and Cai both took part in the inaugural show, alongside artists such as Kiki Smith and David Gumbs. Ramos, a Havana-born artist now based in Miami, installed a 32-foot walkway made up of a dozen light boxes as part of the project this year. The artwork, she said, was meant to symbolize a bridge between Florida and Cuba.
For his part, Cai, a major international artist born in Quanzhou, China, and now working in New York City, transformed 27 pedicabs into interactive traveling sculptures, each embellished with handmade silk Chinese lanterns. The pieces belong to the current artist Fireflies series.
“I think the artwork is spectacular; he’s an amazing artist, ”Lago said of Cai. “But art doesn’t trump my personal beliefs, especially when you’re talking about public funds.”
Lago was prepared to increase the event’s budget from $ 100,000 to $ 300,000 before the postponement. “The art world offers this community an opportunity for dialogue,” the mayor said at the meeting. “Where my dialogue ends are the people who sympathize with oppression, tyranny.”
Fung, meanwhile, disagreed. “With 100% certainty, I think the two artists are not Communist sympathizers,” the curator told Artnet News. “In addition to being passionate, visionary and talented artists, they have become good friends of mine. They are compassionate, intellectual and humanitarian people. All of these attributes, and more, led me to the decision to seek their support by being a part of “Illuminate Coral Gables”.
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