Wolfsonian/FIU French Cultural Identity Exhibition

By Charles J. Kropke, November 17, 2011

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Each year, Dragonfly Expeditions is asked to convey its knowledge of the local arts scene into customized tours for groups visiting Miami for Art Basel.  Below you will see the foreword to one section of a customized program for a group interested in French art and design.

Starting on November 25, 2011, the Wolfsonian/FIU at 1001 Washington Avenue on Miami Beach will offer an ‘opportunité magnifique’ to visit this venerable, local institution.  This date kicks off ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity,’ an exhibition exploring French cultural identity through design produced from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Before continuing on to the subject of the exhibition, I would like to suggest that just about any time of the year is a great time to visit the collection created by Mitchell “Micky” Wolfson, Jr. and the institution that houses it.

Wolfson started collecting in childhood.  Young Wolfson’s keen eye for visual imagery fueled his passion until he totally dedicated himself to the assembly of his collection.  As his collection grew, he would send everything to an ornate and impressive fortress called the Washington Storage Company at 1001 Washington Avenue.  The “fortress” was an institution of a slowly disappearing era in Miami Beach history, the era when wealthy families would pack up their entire houses at the end of the “season” (usually around Easter) and head back north.  The Washington Storage Company would send crews to the departing family’s home and empty them of their contents bringing everything to the storage facility.  There, furnishings would be cleaned, repaired, serviced and stored until the family’s return the following season.  Mr. Wolfson took fair advantage of this convenient facility and sent a growing stream of his purchases there.  As the demographics of Miami Beach changed and fewer and fewer families stored their furnishings, Micky Wolfson’s collection began to take over.  By the 1980’s, Wolfson was being encouraged to buy the building.  Thus the Wolfsonian/FIU was born.

The ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ exhibition runs from November 25, 2011 through March 26, 2012 and is organized by Wolfsonian/FIU from the collection of France’s Centre National des Arts Plastiques (National Center for Visual Arts or CNAP). The opening of the exhibition will coincide with the celebration of Art Basel Miami Beach/Design Miami 2011. The Wolfsonian/FIU took an entirely new approach to curating the exhibition by engaging in a dynamic dialogue with French designers and design historians who collaborated with the museum on the project: matali crasset, Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak of M/M (Paris), and Alexandra Midal. Together they shaped a unique presentation of French design objects from the collection of the CNAP that express ideas about French national identity.”

Approximately one hundred and fifty objects will be exhibited, including furniture, industrial design, and craft, created by some of the most celebrated French designers of the past and present, including Pierre Paulin, Roger Tallon, Philippe Starck, and the Bouroullec Brothers, as well as others lesser known in the United States. Presented in nine narrative clusters, the exhibition is displayed within a network of related, yet unique, settings, and joined by viewing rooms for related films. The nine sections focus attention on individual designers, such as Roger Tallon and Philippe Starck; on important episodes in French industrial design history, for example, the seminal work of the research and development division of Thomson electronics in the 1990s; and on the influence of les villes nouvelles (new towns) built during the 1960s and 1970s.

This exhibition fits well with the Wolfsonian/FIU’s established reputation as a world-class collection of decorative and propaganda arts.  Although Wolfsonian/FIU focuses its collection exclusively on the period between 1885 and 1945, ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ is a natural extension to the museum’s focus on decorative arts and design with a more contemporary timeframe.

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