MIAMI BEACH, Fla. ― The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU headlines Art Basel season with “Mira Lehr: A Walk in the Garden” featuring new work created by the nationally renowned eco-feminist artist. Celebrating her sixth decade as a pioneering artist on Miami Beach, the exhibition, which runs Oct. 15 to Feb. 3, features 10 monumental new paintings and 180 aerial sculptures that descend from the ceiling of the museum’s main sanctuary.
At the age of 85, Mira Lehr is creating more new works now than at any other period of her career. This new museum show for Art Basel Season emphasizes the artist’s reverence for nature and protecting the planet. The exhibition also honors the 60th anniversary of Lehr’s return to Miami Beach from New York, which led to her championing women artists.
“I am thrilled to celebrate my sixth decade as an artist in Miami Beach by showing my new work at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU for Art Basel season,” said Lehr. “Because this museum was originally built in the 1930s as the first synagogue on Miami Beach for Jewish residents who were discouraged from living north of Fifth Street, my story comes full circle as I look back on my own experiences as a Jewish child growing up in Miami Beach during the 1940s.”
Lehr recalls, as a child in the 1940s, walking by a sign that said “No Jews, No Dogs” on her way to school each morning. “During the years 1947-1950, my family lived in the northern part of Miami Beach where not many Jewish families lived at that time. I remember seeing that terrible sign every day on a building in a secluded neighborhood street and thinking: when I grow up I’m going to do something so great that will make the people who created this sign change their minds. It makes me realize that although signs like that are not allowed anymore, there is an undercurrent of anti-Semitism that has always existed in the world. I hope that this changes, as people become more evolved,” adds Lehr.
Now, more than 70 years later, the artist has created powerful new work that calls attention to today’s pressing issues ─ saving the planet and protecting the environment.
Prior to her return to Miami Beach in 1960, Lehr studied and worked in New York as an artist, where she became friendly with some of America’s most prominent artists including: Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler and Ludwig Sander. She studied with James Brooks, Ludwig Sander, Robert Motherwell and within the Hans Hofmann circle. When Lehr moved back to Miami Beach in 1960, she was shocked at the lack of an art scene in Miami, especially the plight of women artists.
“Women artists at that time felt stranded and hopeless in Miami,” said Lehr. “I was determined to change that.” She then founded Continuum in 1960, one of the country’s first co-ops for women artists who were excluded from the male-dominated art world. Continuum grew and succeeded for more than 30 years, shining a spotlight on Miami Beach’s fledgling art scene, well before Art Basel would impact the area’s cultural landscape. Lehr convinced many of the famous masters from New York to visit Miami Beach, where they led workshops for her league of women artists and helped foster the evolution of art in Miami.
Lehr’s new aerial installation of 180 sculptures was inspired by the beauty and majesty of the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU. “I want viewers to feel like they are walking through an aerial garden of luminous, reflecting sculptures,’ said Lehr. One of Lehr’s new series of sculptures for this exhibition is based on the seven kinds of plants mentioned in the Torah. “It will be a holy garden, that takes people out of the actual world and transports them onto a spiritual plane,” adds Lehr.
Mira Lehr is a graduate of Vassar College (1956) with a degree in art history, under the mentorship of feminist art historian, Linda Nochlin. In the 1960s, she collaborated with American painter Robert Motherwell. In 1969 she was selected by Richard Buckminster Fuller, the renowned American architect, author and systems theorist, to participate in the first World Game Scenario Project at the New York Studio School.
“Mira Lehr has created a spectacular new series of artworks specifically with this museum in mind,” said Susan Gladstone, the executive director of the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU. “The exhibition is a result of Lehr’s personal visit to this museum, after she spent time here and reflected upon the emotions and inspiration she felt. Lehr has combined her art with that of the stained-glass windows and the play of light they create together. The result is truly magnificent.”
Working with imagery from the natural world, Lehr creates layered abstract compositions with unconventional materials. The 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer referred to her as “the mistress of light.” The lush flora of her Florida home has a profound influence on her aesthetic vocabulary.
Art historian Irving Sandler describes her use of imagery: “What makes Lehr’s work different is the specificity of her references to nature. I was trying to think of any other artist working in this tradition who did it quite as explicitly as Mira does, and I couldn’t come up with one.”
She has been collected by institutions across the U.S., including the New Museum in New York, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, the Getty Museum Research Center in Los Angeles, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center in New York, the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach, and the Perez Art Museum Miami.