Roberto Lugo reshapes ceramics and the Wolfsonian museum.
Mariah Brown mural panel by Roberto Lugo PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU
Conventions surrounding the making of commemorative ceramics in America have felt exclusionary to many creatives. Philadelphia artist, educator and poet Roberto Lugo (robertolugostudio.com) agreed until he tackled the traditional neoclassical vase, plate and designs with an activist’s sensibility that re-presented ceramics as a viable contemporary art form. Melding inspiration from his family, celebrities, graffiti and hip-hop with classical approaches, Lugo creates artworks that purposefully confuse time periods while forefronting Black and brown histories as well as modern sociopolitical narratives. Relatable painting and object formats are infused with personal life, pop culture and past overlooked events to create vital history in the making.
For his first Florida museum solo project, Street Shrines, Lugo transforms the facade of The Wolfsonian-Florida International University (wolfsonian.org) museum into a visual commemoration that looks out to the bustling Washington and 10th avenues in Miami’s popular South Beach. Patterns inspired by traditional Chinese porcelain and blue and white colors recalling Dutch Delft pottery are the backdrop to hip-hop group Run-DMC, the late rapper Tupac Shakur as well as Mariah Brown, Miami’s first Black homeowner. Colorful flowers and domino game pieces are overlaid with portraits of Bahamian American actor Sidney Poitier, Bahamian American craftsman Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup—who is responsible for building many Miami homes—as well as construction scenes from Miami’s early development, which relied on workforce and expertise from the Caribbean community.
From left : Roberto Lugo, vase, “Prison Sequence Amphora” (2022); Golia (pseudonym for Eugenio Colmo, Italian, 1885-1967), plate, “Autarchia [Autarky]” (1938), Turin, Italy. Roberto Lugo, commemorative plate (2022) CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT, PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND R & COMPANY; COURTESY OF THE WOLFSONIAN-FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY, MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA, THE MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. COLLECTION; COURTESY OF THE WOLFSONIAN-FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY, MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA, THE MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. COLLECTION
Inside, Lugo integrates ceramics from the museum’s 19th and 20th century European and American collections within an exhibition of his own pottery creations. As an assistant professor at Tyler School of Art and Architecture, this approach is undoubtedly fueled by an acute awareness that traditional art canons are in flux and in need of updating. Merging past and present cultures and contexts, Lugo situates his work within the history of ceramic-making, positioning his family, heroes and ideas as ever relevant to the future. This embrace of ceramics within a status quo-challenging practice has seen Lugo’s art acquired by museums across America—from LACMA in Los Angeles to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to the Brooklyn Museum—formally integrating his work within museum collections.
Liudmila Viktorovna Protopopova (Russian, 1906-1981), teapot for the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory, Leningrad (1932). Blank made by the Imperial Porcelain Factory, St. Petersburg, 1897. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND R & COMPANY
On view through May 31, Street Shrines is a visual and cerebral commemoration to reunderstanding ourselves. Merging private and public spaces, Lugo shines a creative light on the tradition of ceramics and onto the surrounding streets populated by Miami’s many communities.
Photography by: Photo Courtesy: The Wolfsonian-FIU