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Art Exhibit Highlight's Islamorada's Modernist Legacy

Nancy Klingener
Artist Larry Poons in front of his work, 'A Step In The Way,' from 1993.

Art in Islamorada tends to focus on the subjects you might expect from a Florida Keys village that bills itself as "the sportfishing capital of the world." Popular subjects include the game fish that people pay thousands to pursue in Florida Bay and the deep Atlantic, as well as the palm trees and subtropical sunsets.

A new show in Islamorada, though, celebrates the work of two Modernist painters who lived and worked in the island starting in the 1970s. Painting in Paradise displays works by Larry Poons and Jules Olitski and  it's on display at The Moorings Photography and Art Gallerythrough April 1st.

Poons first came to the Keys in 1976, after delivering a lecture at Broward Community College, as it was then called. He wanted to go fishing so he headed south to the Keys, and rented a boat. 

After returning to New York City, he told fellow painter Jules Olitski about the place. Olitski, who died in 2007, bought a house in the Upper Keys community.

"For Jules and Larry, Islamorada was, if not intentionally, then by default, the 'un-Hamptons,' the 'not-Provincetown' — not only did Islamorada afford fishing, but also the sea and the air, the horizon, and daresay, isolation — isolation and restoration — restoration of soul and spirit," Jim Walsh wrote in the show's catalogue.

Beth Kaminstein, a ceramicist who has lived in Islamorada for decades, is curator of the exhibit. She knew Poons and Olitski when they lived and worked in the Keys.

All the works Kaminstein selected for the show were made in Islamorada.

"That was part of what I was looking for, as the curator. I think it helps define it,' she said. "It's part of our Islamorada history and I think it also defines their work, then."

The works are abstract and Poons, for one, rejects attempts to assign particular meanings or "stories" to them.

"There's no legitimacy to any of this. It's just visual," he said. "There's no words that make it more or less worthy. It's all visual."

Kaminstein said her favorite part of the show is the one wall that has works by both artists, hanging side by side.

"I think they talk to each other," she said. "Larry's painting was done first, by seven or eight years. But I think there's so much similarity. You can really see them in this, and I love seeing them side by side."

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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