The Sagamore Hotel literally was born as an art hotel the winter of 9/11. In December, 2001, Art Basel Miami, in its first year, was cancelled except for a riveting show curated by Robert Chambers at the Bass Museum.[i] New Sagamore owner Marty Taplin and his wife Cricket Taplin decided to host an art brunch to cheer up the still-nascent arts community, and Cricket transformed the hotel with art from her private collection.
“The hotel was empty. We rented furniture,” Cricket Taplin recalled (see more from our talk at the end). Her initial art exhibition was a big hit with the art world, and continues to appeal both to tourists and the cognoscenti, who now, fifteen years later, flock to her exclusive, invitation-only brunch and collection.
Around 100 works are on view on the first floor, indoors and out – sculpture, installations, paintings, videos, photographs, mixed media works, and prints. In addition to the first floor lobby, game room, video lounge, and pool areas, the stairwells and guest rooms feature original art. Here are a few sculpture highlights from this engaging collection.
At the hotel’s lobby entrance, two shinning metal figures made from ordinary garbage cans represent “Lady Liberty” and “St. Catherine”. Artist Pablo Cano created “Lady Liberty” in 2001 in homage to New York City and the terror attacks on 9/11. The earliest “St. Catherine” sculpture in 2000 depicts the martyred saint wearing a plastic hubcap crown wheel. Cano’s humor and wit transform humble materials.
Additionally in the lobby, Will Ryman’s 132-inch-tall untitled paper maché thin man stands next to the reception desk as Roxy Paine’s “Amanita Virosa Wall #4,” created in 2001, wraps around the top wall of the reception desk, inviting new guests to inspect the mushroom families occupying the lobby. This sculpture installation of psychedelic mushrooms evokes the days when Paine was a roadie for the Grateful Dead. Nearby, Cornelia Parker’s “Composition with Horns,” 2004 a sculpture of flattened instruments, hangs from the ceiling near a mesmerizing double-screen video by Leslie Thornton showing animals in nature next to their kaleidoscopic, abstract equivalents. A two-person “Swing” made of galvanized steel, resin, and fluorescent lights by Berthold Winter and Wolfgang Horbert hangs in the lobby. Nearby is “Threadbare,” 2013, a 16 mm. film projector wrapped in 16 mm. film by Luis Recoder and Sandra Gibson. On the far side of the lobby, above artsy functional chairs by Richard Artschwager and Alan Siegel is a 2015 Roberto Gómez sculpture made from acrylic paint; the abstract composition, “Untitled, Drape Series,” has clear complementary hues and a fluent, assertive presence. Making sculpture from paint mixes media in a literal way.
On the gallery walk to the pool, Leo Villareal’s “Sunburst” orange light sculpture and Tony Oursler’s video sculpture both have moving features while three wall sculptures/paintings by Emil Lukas and his larvae challenge notions about painting, sculpture, and process. Also nearby is the John Lopez “Life is Beautiful,” 2015 acrylic on panel relief in three shades of white. I was quite taken by its subtle execution: viewers must look hard to see the guns, artillery, and signs of war embedded around the empty words in the big white sign. Cricket purchased this right out of an undergraduate student art show at the New World School of the Arts, Miami’s visual and performing arts high school and college that is turning out top talent. This, along with Michael Tilson Thomas’s New World Symphony and music academy, was founded in 1987. The new symphony building with state of the art indoor and outdoor performance spaces exemplifies how Miami’s arts and culture have grown since 2001.
The pool area has some impeccably-installed large sculpture. The newest addition is Alan Sonfist’s “Fallen Limbs Rising,” 2015, an aluminum recreation of the hotel’s fallen tree branches with a time capsule containing seeds from endangered species buried beneath it. To its right, on a high ledge, Robert Chambers’ “Rotorelief,” 2002 seems ready to take off as its white body with spiraling black and white propeller on top seem part of the hotel’s white façade. On a ledge to the left, Cuban artist Jose Bediá’s sculpture “The Journey,” 2005, poses a man rowing from Cuba in water as if the boat were a paper airplane, representing the idea of movement and the fantasy of flying away. Sculptures on two sides of the pool include “Benchmark,” 2007 by Jane Manus that also doubles as a seating area, and the 10”-tall “Walkie Talkie, 1982,” by David Stoltz; the stainless steel sculpture represents a musical note that seems to be walking.
The Cricket Taplin Collection is notable for combining humor and gravitas to point to issues related to culture and nature. Other artists in the collection include Cerith Wyn Evans, Christine Borland, Elliot Erwitt, Garry Winogrand, Michele Oka Donner, Massimo Vitali, Jason Rhoades, Tony Oursler, Olafur Eliasson, Russell Crotty, Ebony G. Patterson, and Kathleen Graves.
Cricket Taplin began her curatorial career learning from and working with Martin Z. Margulies. Her husband Marty Taplin and Martin Z. Margulies owned the Margulies Taplin Gallery for 10 years and Cricket began her apprenticeship with them in 1988. In 1987 Marty Taplin bought the Sagamore hotel. Because of 9/11, the first Art Basel was cancelled and Cricket, Marty Taplin, and Martin Margulies, together with all the museums in Miami decided to have a big brunch to celebrate the inaugural Art Basel.
“Putting the art on the walls of the hotel was scary and personal. People enjoyed it, and it’s been a great experience,” Cricket related. “The media coined the name ‘Art Hotel’ because it’s a private and personal collection. And that became our moniker. We also have 3 TV channels in the rooms dedicated to video art. One channel has video selections from EAI – Electronic Art Intermix. Another channel has interviews with Miami artists and collectors. We also host special performances and events; Will Ryman, Massimo Vitali, Olaf Breuning, Pablo Cano, Spencer Tunick, and Yoko Ono have participated, to name a few. Art in the hotel makes people less intimidated about going into galleries and art spaces. I’m proud that we were the first ones to change attitudes about art: buy what you love, what you respond to. Don’t worry about the market.”
[i] “Globe Miami Island,” Bass Museum, reviewed in Sculpture, April, 2003.