A Look in the Mira

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

On Thursday, the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami kicked of the season and tore down their walls for Mira Lehr and her monumental multi-media installation, “Tracing the Red Thread.” This was more than a one-woman show. Lehr transformed 23,000 square feet into a testament to the precarious beauty of Florida’s natural topography. There is a writhing mangrove swamp of steel fortified rope mirrored by monumental paintings, an ocean of reflecting jellyfish, coral reefs and light installations that can replenish them. USA Today and Artnet singled it out as a destination event. More than 400 collectors, artists and curators from all over the world came to its opening on Thursday. It has guts, heart and hope, runs until November 4 and then goes on tour.

A red thread weaves through the Mangrove “roots,” referencing the red thread in Greek Mythology that Ariadne left for Theseus to guide him through a dangerous labyrinth. Here, it symbolizes the way out of man’s maze of destructive practices and puts Mira in the middle of the Ecofeminism movement. “I just want the earth protected,” Lehr says. “And I think women sometimes are more connected to it and would do a better job running things.”

Marty Margulies, Bill Lehman, Brook and Tyler Emerson-Dorsch, Dennis Scholl, David Lawrence, curator Alice Momm, Jane Safer, Ursula Ungaro, Lucy SandlerBonnie Clearwater and Michael Spring were among the philanthropists and art luminaries who paid homage. New York Times and Art in America reporter and author Eleanor Heartney curated the exhibition.

Who is this hot new ecofeminist? An eighty-something grande dame who founded the Pritikin Center with her cardiologist husband, the late Dr. David Lehr. Coming of age in New York in the 50s, she was a Vassar girl, a Mrs. Maisel doppelgänger with a serious art habit. As a mother in Miami in the 60s , she remembers seeing herself reflected in a shop window. “I have a bubble hairdo with a standing weekly appointment, four kids in my car and a dog hanging out the window. And I’m thinking, ‘who is this alien?’”

In the late 60s, when Miami was in some ways a cultural wasteland, she found other socialites with secret art habits and founded the first women’s co-op gallery in Miami, the Continuum. They brought down Hans Hofmann’s star student, James Billmyer, to teach and New York art scene fixtures like John Chamberlain and Betty Parsons to lecture and chair shows by other local women artists. MGM Mogul Nicholas Schenck’s wife Pansy and Hialeah Racetrack president John Clark’s wife, Kay, never discussed the Continuum —because it was not a “social” membership. “The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were among the friends the Clarks would entertain on their mansion on La Gorce Island,” Mira remembers. “Kay never breathed a word that she was running out to paint with us every day.” The first to bring serious art to Miami, Lehr has been credited with paving the way for Basel.

As the red thread weaves through Lehr’s tropical flora, jellyfish and endangered coral reefs, Lehr’s experiences weave through Miami’s past, present and future. From her Spanish style Indian Creek sprawling waterfront home, she’s seen the town through many social and literal sea changes.

“Miami has had many different populations since I’ve gotten here,” Lehr says. “First it was very chic and the Jews and Gentiles were very separate. Blacks had to be off of Miami Beach by 5 PM. Then, it became a dumping ground for everyone’s Jewish grandparents. Then, when Jimmy Carter took them in, it became kind of a dangerous Marielito haven. Then the Art Deco movement brought in the fashion industry and it became very chic again. Little by little, it turned into a big city with a mixed population and Latin flavor. It’s very, very different from the old days when it was one kind of population at a time. Now, there are the advantages and problems of a large metropolis.

Those problems include pollution. It’s an issue Lehr has been addressing since the 70s, after she was one of 26 people accepted into a Buckminster Fuller program also lead by Ed Schlossberg, in 1969. “We decided, even in those days when it was not a popular idea, that to save the earth, fossil fuels had to go and energy was the thing we had to work on,” she remembers of that summer. “That time with Bucky shaped my whole opinion about the environment.” When she returned, she moved away from Abstract Expressionism towards painting “things in nature i liked. Bucky maintained man was our greatest natural resource and, given our vast reserves, would right the planet.” Mira still holds that positive message in the Red Thread, yet she has seen the waters change from her own backyard.

The sprawling Spanish home she moved into as a newlywed, is now devoted to her art. Where once she raised children and entertained, there are large scale canvasses and installation models. Rope sculptures punctuate her bougainvillea ringed courtyard. And paintings lie where children once slept. You can see the Fountainbleau from her backyard and a few doors down is a 23 million dollar spec house.

“At first the waters were pristine,” she recalls. “You could see the bottom and you could swim in Indian Creek. Now the water is murky and filled with debris from the boats. Every now and then there’s a huge influx of jellyfish which is a bad sign that the oceans are warming. The streets flood. It’s hot as hell. Species have been dying. There’ s an influx of iguanas who crap like dogs, are not indigenous and are not going away.”

But the mangroves remain as magnificent stewards of the land. “They are sanctuaries for sea life,” Lehr says. “They protect the shoreline and protect from storms. They are very beautiful, mysterious and very much a coastal feature of South Florida. Everything was created for this show to get people’s attention for loving what we have and trying to protect it from damage for future generations.”


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