Curator and Art Critic. Antonio is the grandson of Marta and Jesus Permuy
Karelia Martinez Carbonell
Martinez Carbonell is the president of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables
As we mark 20 years of Art Basel transforming Miami’s place in the global arts market, it is worth taking this opportunity to acknowledge the origins of the local art scene that grew organically to attract the major art fairs so popular today.
In 1972, the small burgeoning Cuban art scene of South Florida changed, though few at the time saw the full magnitude of what would emerge from those changes. This chain of events began when local Cuban artist Juan González was discovered almost overnight after being featured in New York’s 1972 Whitney Annual exhibition, quickly followed by a hit solo exhibition at the Allan Stone Gallery.
Before González’s “discovery,” he had asked his friends, Marta and Jesús Permuy, to assist him in finding an art studio. Miguel Jorge, an artist friend of the Permuys, located a first floor apartment unit next to his own place at 1901 Le Jeune Road in Coral Gables.
The property was an attractive setting on several levels. Built in 1926, the distinctive Mediterranean Revival style exuded the classic, European-influenced Coral Gables aesthetic. Additionally, its location was walking distance from the growing central business hub of Miracle Mile.
However, as fate dictated, González did not get to fulfill his lease due to his sudden career breakthrough in New York.
Enter the Permuys.
Marta and Jesús agreed to assume the lease and convert the unit into a fine art gallery. A novel idea at the time and a seminal moment in the history of Latin American art in the United States.
Permuy Gallery launched in 1972 as one of the first pioneering Cuban art galleries in the US. It introduced several key innovations that helped elevate that small art scene and lay the seeds for the massive international arts hub Miami has grown into today.
The gallery provided a platform for not only exhibiting but also selling art within both a professional and cultural setting. Free and open to the public, its wine and cheese Fridays would culminate in late night salon discussions. The spirit of these weekly events also helped pave the way for what is today Gables Gallery Nights.
A key figure in the early life of the gallery and its growing influence was Cuban artist Miguel “Mickey” Jorge, the Permuys’ friend who lived in the neighboring unit at 1901 Le Jeune.
Jorge studied at Harvard and counted members of the Spanish nobility among his collectors. He was affiliated with a group of artists who included Lourdes Gomez Franca, Dionisio Perkins, Gabriel Sorzano, and Margarita Cano. It was Jorge who connected this group to the gallery. Another important group active in the gallery was the Grupo GALA (“Grupo de Artistas Latino Americanos”) — the first professional Latin American artist group in Florida. GALA members included Rafael Soriano and José Mijares.
Other artists active in this early scene at Permuy Gallery were sculptor Rafael Consuegra and up-and-coming artist Emilio Falero, who was taught by Consuegra and Soriano and had two successful solo exhibitions at Permuy Gallery in 1974 and 1976. Juan González — the artist who gave up his unit to the Permuys to pursue his blossoming New York career — would also participate in group exhibitions at Permuy Gallery and attend in person during his visits to Miami. The gallery also featured work by artists in the famed Cuban Vanguardia movement, including leading figures Victor Manuel, Wifredo Lam, and Amelia Peláez.
This emerging Latin American art scene attracted the region’s VIPs as well as out of state participants and international visitors, as recorded by the gallery guestbook. Its notable participants included then Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré, Cuban literary director and art critic Mauricio Fernández, several prominent artists and business leaders, as well as emerging figures such as future art patron Marcos Pinedo and critic-curator Ricardo Pau-Llosa.
Many who first became exposed to Cuban art at Permuy Gallery would become life-long collectors and pass that passion along to other generations within their families.
Though the gallery ceased operations in 1976, its legacy on the Cuban and Latin American art market would become more evident with the passage of time. The year it closed also saw the launch of Re-Encuentro Cubano, the very first art fair in the US dedicated to Cuban art. The fair’s logo was designed by Miguel Jorge.
By the 1980s major traveling exhibitions took place that would spotlight the younger artists from this scene, such as 1983’s The Miami Generation (curated by Margarita Cano), as well as the broader Cuban exile art community, such as 1987’s Outside Cuba (co-curated by Ricardo Pau-Llosa).
During this period former gallery owner Marta Permuy had moved her art activities primarily to her private residence on Sopera Avenue — the home was designated a Coral Gables historic landmark last year — where she continued to support artists. In her final years she also aided rising stars such as Ramon Unzueta, Carlos Navarro, Josevelio Rodriguez Abreu, and Carlos Acostaneyra.
Fifty years on, these impactful legacies have now been codified with several honors. On August 24, 2022 the Coral Gables Commission passed a City Proclamation declaring Marta Permuy’s birthday of September 22nd as “Marta T. Permuy Day in Coral Gables.” A month later, on September 20th Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar entered a Statement into the Congressional Record memorializing Marta Permuy’s impact on Cuban art in the United States. Both these government recognitions gave mention of this early art scene at 1901 Le Jeune Road and its place in the local art community.
Finally, on November 16th, the 1926 building was unanimously designated by the Coral Gables Historic Preservation Board as a landmark for its cultural, historical, and architectural significance and contributions to the Coral Gables community.
Now more than ever, the almost 100-year-old property on Le Jeune Road reminds us that great things often come from humble beginnings — and that historic landmarks are not only about architectural style, an architect’s pedigree, or longevity. These places also serve as crucial beacons that immortalize our own human story, especially those most at risk of being forgotten.
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