As I left for the infamous Amertec building in Hialeah—a twenty-minute drive from Miami—worrying about the coming rain, a friend warned me: “Check first, the weather’s different there.”
Designed by Chayo Frank in 1969, when he was fresh out of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Architecture, the building is a curvy, organelle-shaped, surreally tropical structure. Depending on one’s perspective, it’s a futurist masterpiece or bizarre opus, a work of unique vision or zany accomplishment. Without question, it defies convention, both locally and, perhaps, in a broader way.
Frank was given the job by his father, who owned Amertec-Granada Inc. and needed an office space. The building sticks out amongst the barbershops, body shops, and botanicas, the Hialeah Italian Tile store, and the Mr. Neon. Its carnivalesque curling and extraterrestrial formation were made using a spray concrete method. I checked the door and found it locked; the inside looked real creepy.
Chayo Frank, Amertec Building; © Photo by Rob Goyanes
Frank, who markets his brand of art as “Wild Style Aesthetics and Concepts,” recently opened a show of sculptures, spanning 1969 to 2012, at the Miami-based gallery Guccivuitton. The small-scale ceramics are simple, masterfully crafted sci-fi creatures, multi-textured, genetically diverse.
Abstractly psychedelic, they assume the typology of other modernist organic sculptors such as Ken Price, yet they’re more mutated and appendaged. And like the Amertec Building, the sculptures are saying something about individuality, uniqueness, and the possibility for originality in unreal places and times (e.g. South Florida in a post-apocalyptic present that faces massive, near-term infrastructural issues due to flooding while billion-dollar condo buildings sprout up along the skyline).
Frank studied under Bruce Goff at OU. Highly influential, Goff was an early zealot of organic architecture, and heavily indebted to Frank Lloyd Wright’s advocating of site conditions and client desires as primary motives for building design. Goff influenced Frank’s aesthetic direction as well as his ideas about the singular role of the artist/architect. In an email correspondence with the artist, Frank wrote about Goff:
“He instilled in me to desire to delve within myself, to find, develop, and express my personal aesthetic proclivities, as a means for original self-expression. His influence nurtured my self-confidence to believe in the uniqueness of my aesthetic results.”
Elsewhere in our exchange I’d asked Frank about his involvement in the counterculture of Miami during the late 1960s. He says he wasn’t directly involved, but there are aspects of his work that strike the same chords: freeform philosophies, as they’re relegated to psychedelia genre tropes (biotic paraboloids and the like), and the idea that every individual, given the right circumstances, might flourish as a creative, self-actualizing organism.
Chayo Frank, #12B, 2012, at Guccivuitton; © Photo by Rob Goyanes
In a time when the belief in originality and uniqueness might be considered passé or moot (and for good reason: individuals and their creations are, after all, socially conditioned, materially situated, and historically enslaved), it’s good to remember that the circumstances for change and adaptation do occasionally come, whether spurred by individuals, groups, environments, or some combo thereof.
Frank’s sculptures at Guccivuitton say a lot about the aesthetics and political economy of tropical living; they illuminate the hierarchy of the exotic pastel object over a socially functional common, and signify the anachronistic idea of an individuated culture propelling a working, democratic ecology/society.
Despite this, seeing Frank’s Amertec Building and sculptures, one can’t help but suspect that these tropical conditions have in fact fostered strong individuality, culturally and socially. At last look, Chayo Frank’s sculptures are manifested possibilities for radical distinction, even if just for a moment, and if just for fresh style points.
(Image on top: Chayo Frank, #04D , 2004; © Photo by Rob Goyanes)