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The Miraculous Career Of Artist Mira Lehr

Lee Fryd

Artist Mira Lehr. (Courtesy Photo)

For those of a certain age who fear their best days might be past, consider the case of 85-year-old artist Mira Lehr. On the heels of a one woman show that transformed the 2,300 square foot Museum of Contemporary Art in Florida, she will now debut a multimedia tour de force at The Jewish Museum of Florida - FIU titled "Mira Lehr: A Walk in the Garden," to kick-off their Art Basel presence. In January there are one woman shows in The Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando and a Mindy Solomon curated one in Miami Beach's waterfront JCC. Serious collectors are reaching out to invest in her large works. And she's been asked to help with the Save the Sea Horses habitat campaign. Every day, it seems, she gets more such interest.

Lehr's Babablue I. (Courtesy Photo)

"People want to meet me," she muses. "I always hoped someday the work would be more recognized, but, I never expected it. At this stage, though, I'm very secure about what I am doing. The work is consistent; the imagery pared down to the essential. People recognize that."

"For 60 years, I worked very, very diligently and very, very meditatively. I was alone a lot, pursuing my ideas. I showed and was recognized to a certain extent. But, now, where I was more tenuous, I have concepts and convictions. I think universally: Why are we on earth? Are we alone in the cosmos?"

"I feel I give others optimism that they can keep going too, because I haven't faded and crumpled up. And of course, if you live long enough things do happen."

Age hasn't dulled Lehr's talent as a trendsetter. She was dubbed an ecofeminist, because, she found out, her environmental themes are very Gen Z. But, she has always been a leader. When Miami Beach was a sleepy, cultural wasteland, it was Lehr who gathered a group of women artists to release their socialite shackles — at least until cocktail hour — to form the first woman's coop gallery, called The Continuum. It provided a place to study, paint and bring the New York art scene, that Mira had left, to Miami Beach. Former Miami Herald art critic Helen Kohen called it the precursor to Basel, and the galleries and museums that followed. On another front, it was also Mira's idea to have her cardiologist husband, the late David Lehr, bring the Pritikin Center to Miami, a thriving institution to this day.

When the Jewish Museum reached out, Mira sat on its pews to meditate on the site. "All of a sudden, I had visions of the holocaust and the children who were lost," she told us. "So, this is in memory of all those souls. When I was a little girl I saw pictures in Life Magazine of all these Jews standing by a ditch and being shot. It was an unforgettable trauma. Then, when I'd walk to school, I'd pass an apartment building on my street that said, 'No Jews No Dogs.' That left a terrible scar. Antisemitism is not politically correct any more. But there are pockets of it all over. I'm afraid of a new rising tide, but hopeful man will evolve away from it."

Lehr's A Walk Through the Garden. (Courtesy Photo)

Lehr synthesized her themes into 180 aerial transparent site specific sculptures that hang from the former synagogue's high ceilings, catch the light from its stained glass windows and move in the breeze. "They're different tones of colors," she says, "so they're like jewels." There are ten new monumental paintings on the walls that reference nature. "It all plays together: the heavens above the holy garden," she told us. "In my panels, I reference the seven species of plants listed in Deuteronomy in the ancient gardens."

Her forms are created by burning the edges with gunpowder. "To me, it shows a tension between construction and destruction," she continued. "Things are created and then destroyed. It takes the bloom off the rose, in a way because you feel the underside with the beauty. And now, with the environment in danger, it's especially meaningful."

The show opens October 15 and runs through February 3, 2020.

For more information: jmof.fiu.edu.

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