Cultured Magazine

June/July 2015

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Michele Oka Doner is an acclaimed artist and author. Her work blurs the boundaries between poetry, art, design and architecture. Fueled by a lifelong study and appreciation of the natural world, Doner's artistic production encompasses sculpture, jewelry, furniture, functional objects, works-on-paper and large-scale public art commissions and can be found in museums and private collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Musée des Artes Décoratifs at the Louvre, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum, among others. Here, Oka Doner discusses her craft, growing up in Miami Beach and her future projects. Your visual language is universal, yet you acknowledge that Miami Beach, the city where you were born and raised, has had a significant influence in and on your work. What was it or is it about Miami Beach that has captured and continues to capture your imagination? Miami Beach was—and still is—a very unique place. The convergence of a compelling natural force to the east, the Atlantic Ocean, with a heated engine called the Gulf Stream rushing by, combined with the Everglades and Gulf of Mexico on the west all join to create a light that captures resounding sunsets, as well as a vibrant Miami blue daylight. There is big sky and a sense of infinity. Growing up on the beach, I was absolutely fascinated by the abundant marine life and blown away by the forces of nature, the powerful thunderstorms and storm surges that followed. I remember it as paradise, and I was able to wander, sample and store. What, if anything, do you think you discarded? Growing up, Miami Beach seemed always sunny and bright. That said, there was very little interest in the arts or intellectual capital. I don't think I discarded, but instead sought to add on, when I left for the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to study. Did you ever feel you or your work was marginalized, or that you were denied an opportunity because of gender? All women who wanted to participate in the larger dialogue had to steal the license! In a way, it was an exciting time, as well as fraught! Your work spans media and materials. You're acclaimed for your small-scale work, as well as your large-scale public commissions, such as A Walk on the Beach at the Miami International Airport. Now, with the recent commission by the Miami City Ballet for its 2015-16 season, you move from public space to the public stage. How did this new commission come about? Lourdes Lopez in her infinite, instinctual wisdom sought to honor her mentor, George Balanchine, by bringing his work to a new, younger generation. She wants to break ground, yet keep the classical gene. Lourdes wrote me a letter inviting me to join this worthy initiative and I responded to her siren call! It's great to have a siren at the helm of the Miami City Ballet. What are you most excited about for this project? I am most excited about setting the ballet in Miami, a site more known culturally for Miami Vice and Cocaine Cowboys. In addition to the Miami City Ballet premiere, you have another big Miami project in the works. Are you at liberty to tell us about that? Six days after the premiere of Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream next March, my solo exhibition, "How I Caught a Swallow in Mid-Air," will open at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. 138 CULTURED From public space to the public stage: a conversation with Michele Oka Doner BY CATHY LEFF OF A DIFFERENT NATURE

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