The art of collecting: Michelle Oka Doner at PAMM Miami

Miami’s beach is amazing. Aside from all those glamorous hotels, fancy cars and bouncy club music, there is a lot more to discover. At the beachside, there is a surprisingly large amount of nature to be found. No, I’m not talking about the tanned beach bodies, but about actual nature: pieces of coral, seashells, branches of seaweed. Even sea turtles make their nests in the grey sand of Miami South Beach.
After a day of sun at the beach, it’s time for some much needed culture! And where better to go than the wonderful Pérez Art Museum. This amazing building with its hanging planters, was built in 2013 by starchitects Herzog & De Meuron. Rather  unprepared I stumbled into one of the exhibition spaces and what I saw was impressive.
On view is the wonderfully titled exhibition, “How I caught a swallow in midair’ by Michele Oka Doner. Born in 1945 in Miami Beach, it comes as no surprise her work is largely influenced by the surrounding nature. Her sculptures, drawings, porcelain objects and paintings investigate the complexity of that bizarre nature. Her works evoke visions of animals, bones, plants, minerals and corals.
Walking into the exhibition, I was struck by the dark colors and dimmed light. It gives a sense of mystery, like I am going to be part of something special. Displayed are sculptures, drawings and her collections of her ceramic, bronze and silver pieces, mimicking nature, surrounded by shells, bones, seeds and stones. The more I saw, the more I was moved. Her work brought me back to my earliest childhood memories, a young boy sitting on a Dutch Beach. My little hands couldn’t stop exploring the sand, eagerly looking for that one special treasure of the sea. Those strangely shaped shells and stones caught my eye. They were picked up and treated in the most delicate way, as if these were precious gems. At my parents home, I still got a large collection of stones, insects, gems, shells, shards and bones – a result of a childhood of collecting.
This fascination for nature never left me. It only grew deeper. I simply cannot resist the urge to pick up interesting things. Coming to think about it, this habit even has become a very important part of my professional life. What difference is there between going to a thriftshop to search for that one special object and collecting seashells in the sand. I guess I’m still that little boy on the beach.
Michele Oka Doner: How I Caught a Swallow in Midair
March 24 – Sept. 11, 2016
Perez Art Museum Miami

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