On the third floor of the De La Cruz Collection, several works by the late artist Carlos Alfonzo jump out at visitors — they are works filled with expressive symbolism and echo modernist ideals. Many visitors will be experiencing Alfonzo’s work for the first time, which founder Rosa De La Cruz believes to be a problem.
“I think it a shame that the people in Miami don’t know these artists better. If you stand right now outside on Calle Ocho and start asking do you know who Carlos Alfonzo is, who Felix González-Torres is, who Ana Mendieta is,” they wouldn’t know.
The newly exhibited works are part of a series of exhibitions and lectures coordinated by local artist and writer César Trasobares in collaboration with the De La Cruz Collection that will focus on the work of three significant artists who have close ties to Miami. The series began with Mendieta and will close with Gonzalez-Torres, but it is Alfonzo who likely has the greatest connection to Miami. As someone who fled Cuba in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, he expressed in his art an experience many in Miami are familiar with.
“I thought Alfonzo’s work spoke to a condition of a generation, the whole Mariel generation, [an experience] that was very specific but at the same time very universal that dealt with issues of exile, displacement, reconnection to a new country,” Trasobares said.
In Miami, Alfonzo pursued art passionately, working with painting, sculpture, drawing and ceramics — including two large-scale ceramic works commissioned for the Santa Clara Metrorail Station and the FIU School of Engineering. However, his career and life were cut short at age 40 when he died of AIDS-related complications, a few short months before his work was to be exhibited at the 1991 Whitney Biennial, a much-coveted goal for many artists. One of the works on display at the De La Cruz Collection, Witness, is part of a series called the “Black Paintings” that Trasobares says were painted months before Alfonzo’s death; the paintings, he says, reflect on “the changes of his body and mind as a result of living with HIV” and “expressed his deep spiritual involvement as he prepared for his impending, inevitable death.”
De La Cruz reached out to Trasobares, whose work is also on display in the collection, to help her coordinate the series. He knew and worked with Alfonzo, as well as Mendieta and González-Torres. The collection will be recording the lectures, which are free to the public and have seen as many as 400 visitors. De La Cruz says the goal is to create for future generations a library of resources about significant Miami artists from people who knew them well.
“We’re doing this because I think it is important that this be documented; this is something for the history of Miami and also for the history of our people. These are artists that were very much close to Miami who lived here part of their life,” De La Cruz said.
“You can’t lose history; when you lose history, that’s the worst thing that could happen.”