A Universe of Things: Heroes & Villains

This exhibition was drawn from the in-gallery show Universe of Things: Micky Wolfson Collects. and is one of five in a series of selections organized around specific affinities and relationships that emerge from The Wolfsonian collection.

Installation view, Universe of Things by Lynton Gardiner, photographer, 2019The Wolfsonian–Florida International University

Universe of Things: Heroes & Villains

Exploring museum founder Micky Wolfson’s history of collecting and singular commitment to preserving the material of modern life, A Universe of Things: Heroes and Villains takes the viewer into a Wolfsonian gallery, guiding them through some of the outsized historical figures and forgotten players who populate the museum’s collection. Commemorative works such as these are inherently celebratory, but while some of these sculptures depict people still remembered as heroes, the passage of time has forced a reckoning with the complex and even horrifying legacies of other figures. The Wolfsonian preserves objects such as these not to glorify these figures or their ideologies but to preserve their history and context.

Carlo Delcroix (c.1928) by Antonio G. Satagata (Italian, 1888-1985)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University

After losing his hands and eyesight in the First World War, Carlo Delcroix became president of the Association for Disabled and Invalid War Veterans and an enthusiastic supporter of Benito Mussolini and the Fascist Party. The marble version of this bust can be seen in the Casa Madre dei Mutilati in Rome, the national headquarters of the Association.

Mino Somenzi (c.1937) by Fernando Spiridigliozzi (Italian, d. 1943 or 1944)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University

Italian artist and journalist Mino Somenzi was influential in promoting Futurism, linking it to Fascism and to a broader Roman artistic legacy. In this 1937 sculpture, he is depicted as a victim of censorship at a time when Futurism was under attack by conservative cultural critics. He included an illustration of the work in his book Difendo il Futurismo [Defending Futurism].

Getúlio Vargas (1942) by Fausto Cardoso (Brazilian)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University

Brazilian populist politician Getúlio Vargas served first as that country’s president, then dictator, and then president again after being deposed in a coup. Known as “the father of the poor,” he favored social welfare and advocated for workers’ rights while being staunchly anti-Communist.

H.M. Haile Selassie (c.1937) by Sava Botzaris (Venezuelan, b. Serbia, 1894-1965)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University

The last emperor in the 2,000-year-old Ethiopian monarchy, Haile Selassie captured the world’s attention by leading the country’s resistance to Fascist Italy’s 1935 invasion. He became an enduring symbol of African resistance to foreign control.

Ritratto di Paola Ojetti [Portrait of Paola Ojetti] (1935) by Antonio Berti (Italian, 1904–1989) and Fonderia MarinelliThe Wolfsonian–Florida International University

Paola Ojetti was a writer, translator, and actress—a modern woman, but also the daughter of Ugo Ojetti, an illustrious and conservative art critic. Here she is depicted in an ancient format, associating her with Italy’s classical heritage.

Henri Philippe Pétain (1943) by Léon Ernest Drivier (French, 1878-1951)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University

A revered and aging hero of the First World War, Henri Philippe Pétain tarnished his reputation for generations to come when he served as the head of France’s puppet government under Nazi occupation.

Head of a Girl (1935) by Sargent Claude Johnson (American, 1887-1967)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University

This unknown young girl, with a stoic outlook and stylized features, was likely a neighbor of the artist. Sargent Claude Johnson was one of the most important artists portraying African-American subjects during this period.

Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., (2004) by Dorothy Haase (American, b. 1941)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University

In this sculpture by artist and longtime friend Dorothy Haase of Wolfsonian founder Mitchell “Micky” Wolfson, Jr. the viewer is asked to take in Micky’s rascally grin and decide: hero or villain?

Joe Louis (1940) by Ruth Yates (American, 1891-1969)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University

American boxer Joe Louis galvanized the public with his 1938 victory over Germany’s Max Schmeling to defend the world heavyweight championship. Americans celebrated the match as a struggle between democracy and fascism, good and evil, even while their country denied African Americans equality as citizens.

Profilo continuo del Duce [Continuous Profile of the Duce] (1933) by Renato Bertelli (Italian, 1900-1974)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University

Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922 as the head of Italy’s Fascist state and advocated nationalism, militarism, and state power. Often glorified in portraiture, this Futurist sculpture presents Mussolini’s profile in constant motion, an all-seeing, machine-like presence.

Māori Chief Topine Te Mamak (c. 1895) by Anton Teutenberg (New Zealander, b. Prussia [now Germany], 1840-1933)The Wolfsonian–Florida International University

A Māori chief, Te Mamaku led military and political resistance against British colonial power in New Zealand. He advocated for indigenous land rights, the preservation of Māori traditions, and equal justice under the law.

Credits: Story

Check out the rest of the exhibition through our four other stories: A Universe of Things: Aluminum, A Universe of Things: 1939, A Universe of Things: East and West, A Universe of Things: Women's Work.
A Universe of Things: Micky Wolfson Collects is organized by The Wolfsonian–Florida International University. The exhibition is made possible by the Cowles Charitable Trust, Funding Arts Network, Inc., and the Sain Orr Royak Deforest Steadman Foundation.

The Wolfsonian receives ongoing support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture; Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners; and the City of Miami Beach, Cultural Affairs Program, Cultural Arts Council.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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