Skip to Content

Quiet Riot

Rob Goyanes

"City Triptych," acrylic on wood, 56" x 34"
February 21st – April 4th, 2015

Paintings by the artist Purvis Young depict swirled worlds of burning cities, tanks rolling to war, man-sized roaches attacking man-sized men. They’re not on clean canvases — they’re on the warped, chipped, and beautifully assembled wooden flotsam found on the streets of Miami.

The artist, a black man born in Liberty City and who lived out his days in Overtown, was discovered by the bubbling art market in the roarin’-hot 1980s, when “outsider” “folk” art was in, and when minority oppression was boiling over into violent protest.

The show is a tight edit of Young’s massive output, the paintings on loan from major collectors such as the Miksells and Rubells. Only around a dozen works from his many thousands hang on the walls, and this curatorial move is the right one: each of them is given room to breathe, or in some cases, pant.

You can focus in on the stories Young was telling: those literal experiences of ghettoized blight, drug abuse, and sectarian uproar — what he saw till his very last day, in 2010, throughout his neighborhood — and the more figurative ones too; Don Quixote-like figures riding atop horses, ringed Saturnine planets rolling in some alternate universe.

The title of the exhibition, Quiet Riot, refers to the three-year boycott of Miami started in 1990 by a group of local black lawyers and backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and National Organization for Women, one which cost the Miami economy $5 million to $12 million after Cuban American officials refused to meet with Nelson Mandela because of his ties to Fidel Castro.

However, staged at a critical moment of awareness about the United States’ brutal policing, in 2015 the exhibition is a reminder that as the national economy heats back up, and as Miami develops ever further into the sky, a not-so-quiet rumble is always ambient.

1. Chicago Tribune, “Boycotts by Blacks Costs Miami,” 1991.