These photos touched a place in my heart. Witness South Beach Miami in the late 1970s, when the area was inhabited by a colorful elderly Jewish community. Shtetl in the Sun: Andy Sweet’s South Beach 1977-1980 gets intimate with these candid ladies and gents as they frolic on the beach and in the art deco district.
South Beach was predominantly a Jewish enclave in the late 1970s and many of the residents were New York transplants and Holocaust survivors. More than 20,000 elderly Jews lived within a compressed area (like a modern-day shtetl). They banded together into a tight-knit community to help each other, and live life to the fullest.
Sweet was tragically murdered at the age of 28, and his work was almost lost forever, but was rescued thanks to the work of his sister, Ellen Sweet Moss, and her husband Stan Hughes who discovered a box of his photos. The exhibition will feature an intimate look inside the artist’s working process, with more than 60 images, plus original photographs that have never been shown, handpicked by Sweet’s family exclusively for this museum show.
“Andy Sweet was a true Miami Beach original. He possessed a talent and creative vision that was intrinsically linked to the zeitgeist happening here at that time,” said Susan Gladstone, the museum’s Executive Director.“ (he appears center in the photo above)
While in graduate school, Andy was part of a small faction of young artist-photographers who were discovering the creative possibilities of color imagery. His beach-ball hues perfectly described the vivid light and lively culture he explored and portrayed. Andy’s aesthetic was as fresh as his colors. He rejected formalist theory in favor of immediate and unmediated responses, of living it up and aligning himself with the people he knew he was privileged to photograph. Andy admired the work of Diane Arbus, and like her he rejected the notion of self-conscious art making.
“This exhibition is about more than just nostalgia, it’s about the life of a young photographer who was destined to become an important artist were it not for his sudden end at the age of 28.” “Many of his subjects exuded a sense of urgency to live out their lives to the fullest on South Beach—some of them were still laughing, dancing, and living before it was too late,” adds Susan Gladstone.
The exhibit opens March 19 and shows until June 23 at The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU (part of Florida International University), 301 Washington Avenue, in the heart of South Beach’s historic Art Deco District. jmof.fiu.edu
If you can’t make it to Miami, then do check out the book, Shtetl in the Sun: Andy Sweet’s South Beach 1977-1980, which houses his photos capturing the community’s daily rhythms in all their beach-strolling, cafeteria-noshing, and klezmer-dancing glory.