Miami Beach art gallery run by students emerges in South Florida

The small painting called ”Vessel” is powerful. A shirtless, brown-haired man with no pupils takes a bite from a red and yellow apple. His fingers clutch the fruit.

At Emergence, a new art exhibit at Florida International University’s art gallery on Washington Avenue, Elizabeth Pino’s masterwork sold for $800. It was her first sale.  

“Everything about this is a takeaway.” said Pino, a fine arts student studying for her master’s degree.

While the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum has housed international art at the university for 44 years, FIU’s newest independent art hub — the Miami Beach Visual Arts Gallery — is located at 1602A Washington Ave. It establishes a remarkable student presence a mere two blocks away from the home of the highly-regarded art exposition Art Basel Miami Beach.

The establishment allows M.F.A. students to become part of Miami’s flourishing art scene. For the show that started May 25, six recipients of scholarships provided by the Berkowitz Contemporary Foundation took part in curating, promoting and pricing their artwork. 

“Hidden I” and “Vessel” by Elizabeth Pino, oil on canvas. (Vittorio Parravano/SFMN)

The inaugural event resulted in great foot traffic that helped lead to the sale of Pino’s artwork. 

“Selling artwork… it’s actually something that you can dedicate your life to,” she said.

Drift I, by Brandi Long, embroidery and felting technique onto driftwood, up-cycled toilet paper and paper towels. (Vittorio Parravano/SFMN)

The show’s title, Emergence, originated with the students and was approved by the staff, said David Chang, renowned curator, professor and chair of the Art + Art History department at FIU. 

“Emergence symbolizes the process of coming into view… after the pandemic, after being almost all locked up in our studios,” said Chang, “That title, it became apparent, would describe this exhibition the best.”

Emma Ortiz, a 23 year-old FIU visual arts graduate student, added: “To me Emergence means growing up, gaining insight, working on yourself and approaching each day as a new gift.”

Ortiz’s art differs vastly from that of her peers. It utilizes vibrant colors and natural hues as a means of expression. She describes the creative process as “both rhythmic and intuitive,” and “being completely guided by my connection to color.”

“I’m not interested in painting the way that things are already seen in the world, instead painting the mood and the way that they’re expressed through color and form.”

“Summer” and “Still Life” by Emma Ortiz, Oil on unstretched canvas. (Vittorio Parravano / SFMN)

The concept for the gallery came from the Berkowitz Foundation and Brian Schriner, dean of FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts (CARTA). Schriner worked closely with Chang, as well as others.

“They’ll be building their personal brand, as artists, and have a physical location from which to exhibit,” Schriner said. “I don’t know any other art program in the country that affords their students that level of access in such a prominent location.”

A big role in acquiring the space was played by former U.S. ambassador Paul Cejas, who owns the building where the gallery is located on the ground floor. 

“Dean Schriner was very supportive and he worked with me [for] months and months and months in preparation for the initial concept, the organization, the current curatorial process, the staffing process,” said Chang.

One Day by Diego Waisman, tetraptych. (Vittorio Parravano/SFMN)

FIU hopes the gallery will host future exhibitions and become a staple in Miami’s art scene, providing future students with similar opportunities comparable to few other institutions. 

“Whenever you have a new happening, the world of art is looking at you,” concludes Chang. “So it’s absolutely a positive move. It lifts the art graduate program, the profile, the reputation of our students’ work and graduate program, the department, the college and especially the university as FIU moves up in its ranking.”

Be sure to check out the exhibit, which is scheduled until July 1. 

Hours: Wednesday to Friday: 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Fabio Lopez is an undergraduate student at Florida International University. He transferred from Miami-Dade College with an Associates Degree in Mass Communication. Currently, he is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Broadcasting. Lopez is an Assistant Director for the student-led newspaper PantherNOW Sports. He is also a communications intern for Inter Miami and a member of the FIU Honors College. 

Vittorio Parravano is a senior studying Journalism at Florida International University. He was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela and loves writing. He hopes to become an author one day.