Indeed, Karen Rifas built her entire career in Miami, and that is remarkable. Most Miami-based artists who achieve this level have left this city to make a mark in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Paris or Berlin, and come back. She moved to Miami when she was 12 years old and met her future husband at Ponce de Leon Junior High School. While she was raising a family she was taking art classes at Kendall campus of what was then Miami Dade Community College, now MDC. She had good teachers, among them the late Robert Huff. As soon as her daughter got her drivers’ license, she signed up for a Bachelors of Fine Art track at the University of Miami’s Department of Art, where she later got her Masters of Fine Art. She focused on making installations that combined bronze sculptures with organic materials. She began building her exhibition history in 1987.
Her exhibition record maps the many shifting players in the Miami art scene, as she garnered support from galleries, institutions and small artist-run spaces, many of which have changed or closed over the years. If all goes well, the focus of her exhibition history will be her institutional shows, as it should be. Each one of these were important steps and achievements. Here I’m going to sketch out how Karen and I read through her CV recently with an eye toward Miami’s art history, which is created in the interplay between the people and institutions.