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Karen Rifas in Miamiartzine

July 6, 2022

By Irene Sperber

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It’s a more favorable time for women in the arts. There was a long period when this wasn’t the case.

In 1985, women artists in New York organized The Guerilla Girls to shine a light on the imbalance of gender representation in the elevated art world, to fight discrimination against both women artists and artists of color (later broadening into many social issues). Ergo, let’s take advantage of the summer selection in Miami, an incubator of a pool of talented women brought into the sunshine via two local galleries, delve into the minds of today’s women thinkers, revisit old issues and launch into concerns of recent occurrences. The shows are different in content and theme, but offer a synergistic complexity to the topic of Miami women in the arts.

In Miami Beach, Oolite Arts on Lincoln Road currently offers “At The Edge” (co-curated by Dennis Scholl and Amanda Bradley) featuring six women abstract artists.
LnS Gallery, located in Coconut Grove opens “In the Company of Women: At Large” on Wednesday, July 15, presenting seventeen multi-disciplined Miami based women artists. (curated by Dainy Tapia).

Amanda Bradley, program manager of Oolite Arts provided an eye-opening tour of its new exhibition, “At the Edge.”

“Dennis (Scholl CEO and President of Oolite) and I got together and we noticed that in the past 5 or 6 years, a lot more female artists were working in hard edge abstraction, which historically has been a very male-dominated space,” Bradley said.”

Abstraction is not necessarily my language, I’m an artist working in photography, and although the works visually connect, they all focus on very personal and specific (ideas). Abstraction is the thing that gets you visually, but you have to spend time, dig in.”

Jennifer Printz’s (newer works) focus on the abstract forms of nature, cosmologies and printmaking qualities.

“They are cohesive and come together, the space between the lines is mathematically kept but the process (of printmaking) is not perfect,” according to Bradley.

I have to interject here. Many times (and I do mean many), when glancing at an art piece/show, I’m only mildly interested. Then I slow down, peer in.

Only then do I find my own thoughts; move towards an attention grabbing journey into ideas and awakenings. This is a small show, easy to swivel from artist to artist until a theme emerges. It’s helpful to latch onto someone else’s contemplations, add your own mind to the mix to circumnavigate myriad issues.

I appreciate the thought of imperfection being more interesting. I adopted a Japanese phrase some years ago: wabi sabi, a search for the beauty in imperfection and accepting the more natural cycle of life.

“Nathalie Alfonso’s work is very bold and very dark and all encompassing. Abstraction often gives a sense of perfection… often the viewer can’t find a deformity in the work. Abstraction can pull you into this open endless mind space,” Bradley explained.

Alfonso took 7 or 8 days on a lift to complete the sight-specific work. She focuses on labor from her experience cleaning houses when first arriving from Columbia, later doing install work in galleries. She then explored physical work in her own art practice.

Karen Rifas is one of Oolite early alums (see more on Rifas in the LnS part of this article below). Small works on paper hang on the wall, a part of her process to arrive at the large architectural piece front and center.

Devora Perez (who was a student of Karen Rifas) has 3 transparent rectangular panels of varying size and color that change perspective as you walk around them. I couldn’t help but think of how changing perspective on thoughts, actions, and circumstances, can alter viewpoint. “Perez is interested in the resistance against abstraction being so male-dominated,” shared Bradley. “I really love the way they cast a long shadow the first thing in the morning; this element was out of the artist’s control.”

We then go to Donna Ruff’s work. “Donna Ruff’s series of tiny intricate cutouts of newspapers are in response to the news that was coming out at the time, politics, natural disasters, war… ”

Bradley continued with my tour. I saw patterning coming into play with the religious nature of the cutouts resembling stained glass church windows.

Georgia Lambrau comes to her art from an architectural standpoint, originally from studies for site plans, which now is becoming more sculptural.

Take the time to visit this Oolite Arts exhibition, and while you’re there, head upstairs to the larger gallery. Oolite has stood the test of time and warrants continued visits.

Pivoting to the second gallery: the day I was to interview LnS Gallery co-owner and co-founder, Luisa Lignarolo on their exhibition, Roe vs Wade was overturned. The question of women’s rights took on a new urgency. “In the Company of Women: At Large” curator Dainy Tapia (from ArtSeen 365) underlines with her exhibition statement: “Most of the selected works are intentionally large to take as much space as possible for their creations since space is such a coveted commodity, especially for us women, literally and figuratively.”

Let’s start connecting some dots. Long-time South Florida artist Karen Rifas appears in both venues, a thread connecting the two gallery exhibitions and a direct link connecting a multi-decade span of women artists in Miami.

Rifas slices through space with colorful contemporary geometric patterning, utilizing myriad materials to accomplish her goals. The phrase “reimagined space” is often used to translate her work. A recipient of the Oolite Arts coveted Michael Richards Award, I wanted her take on contemporary art in Miami.

Karen Rifas: “The impetus for my (LnS) installation, “Entitled,” began at the end of 2021 when William Cordova and Lou Anne Colodny asked me to create a flag for their “Flag Project” to be installed temporarily above Bridge Red and Under The Bridge art spaces. At the time, women’s rights in Texas and Afghanistan were diminishing before our very eyes.

Installed at LnS Gallery is that same flag. My statement for the project is “From Texas to Afghanistan women’s equality is on the line. Women still need to band together to secure their rights. The stripes on this flag represent the endless effort – the colors are pink but bold.

“I originally planned that this glass-enclosed room painted in the same horizontal stripes of pink bands as the flag would be a place for all the women artists included in ‘In the Company of Women: At Large’ to gather, discuss their art ideas, concerns, and growth as woman artists today. For this exhibit, each artist has recorded the names of women that they wish to acknowledge, which will play on a loop throughout the duration of this installation.”

She continues: “Suddenly, with the decision by the Supreme Court, those pink bands of color can be read as constricting and our rights diminishing as we never thought possible. I speak as an 80-year-old who marched in Washington, along with tens of thousands of like-minded women in the 1970s, for the same causes that women throughout our country are again going to the streets. My read on the flag today is that we need to unfurl it, latch on to the bands that bond it together, and turn those shades of pink into a battle cry for our trampled rights.”

I interviewed Luisa Lignarolo for an overview of the 17 Miami women artists exhibiting. The opening on Wednesday, July 15 in the spacious gallery, LnS notably features Miami artists in all its shows.

Lignarolo: “One of the things I was going to open up with was what a timely interview to do this today.” (regarding the Roe v Wade decision). “You’ll see that many of the works have to do with that. One of the reasons my husband (Sergio Cernuda) and I wanted to open up the gallery (we’ve been in the art world for many years) was in hopes to create a bigger platform for Miami artists.”

Dainy Tapia had recently put together an exhibition in Doral Contemporary Art Museum on South Florida women artists, so they teamed up. “It was one of those natural fits (since) we had wanted to do women artists for some time; not just the women artist we represent (Jennifer Basile, Natalia Garcia-Lee, Yomarie Silva-O’Neal) but putting together a show that focused on a selection of the eclectic, in terms of creation, medium, subject matter.”

“Karen Rifas is the Project Room which takes precedence as a focal point to keeping our rights.” shared Lignarolo.

Participating artists span many decades of living, many perspectives. Chris Friday, a multi-disciplinary artist, is the other side of the coin from Rifas; a young woman who did not experience the daily reality for women before the mid-’70s. But Friday has the chops to firmly hold her own contemporary place. She has shown in many exemplary gallery posts, ie Spinello Projects, who etched their way into Miami’s upper deck early in the game. Toss in the revered Frost Museum, and Friday is on the map. She speaks to the social aspects of the now while Karen Rifas began amongst equal rights breakthroughs of the early 70s; abortion rights, equal housing rights, the right to her own credit card.

Lignarolo said: “Throughout our history, women have not had the opportunity to really be shown because of the people that ‘held the pen.’ We wanted to give that platform. Maritza Lacayo (PAMM assistant curator) opens up the show with her essay about space which was the point of the show… to give artists room.”

The dominoes are falling backward in women’s ability to rule their personal existence… there’s a lot to comprehend.

Start with a trip to these exhibitions, where circumstance and experience are picked apart as daily fodder for their work.

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