From Stem to Stern

Edouard Duval-Carrie illustrates a spiritual journey with his sculpture Spirit Patrol, a small ceramic boat decorated with the artist's personification of Vodou deities. Simply executed, Duval-Carrie's work alludes to the legendary journeys of the spirits of Haitian slaves back to their African homeland, a voyage said to occur every ten years.

Charo Oquet also chooses mythology as the subject for her painting "Big Heart," which depicts a formidable Mother Earth with a knife through her heart. She reaches for her babies, who are falling into the water below her, where several boats toss in the waves. Oquet's robust, earth-toned figures (with features of indigenous Latin American peoples) have the look of those found in Mexican murals. And her interest in feminist themes recalls the work of Frida Kahlo, updated to address her own concerns and current events.

As its title suggests, "Becalmed in Miami," displayed adjacent to the elevators on the library's second floor, takes a more whimsical approach to the marine theme. The nearly 50 artists included here were asked to contribute a small boat for the exhibit, and most responded with something made specifically for this show. Unlike the works on view in the auditorium downstairs, the ones here are very diverse, and wonderfully so. The library's call invoked responses that range from Pablo Cano's model steamship made from dog food cans to a stack of polyurethane cupcakes contributed by World Famous J. Johnny. Carol Todaro's Dadaesque work was assembled from parts of an antique iron; Teresita Fernandez constructed a surreal object from an aluminum gravy boat she filled with concrete. Janet Paparelli equipped a piece of driftwood with paintbrush oars, and Rafael Salazar created a fleet of paper boats from color Xeroxes. Steve Bollman formed a delicate chicken-wire vessel filled with white feathers; working in clay, James Harring sculpted a headless naked man kneeling in a tiny boat; and Fred Snitzer contributed an erotic abstract sculpture.

Inevitably, some of the works here can be related to the Cuban and Haitian rafters. These include Robert Chambers's wry, bicultural kitsch installation, which incorporates a "boat" made from a portrait of Jesus painted on a slab of wood, a compass, Coast Guard-issued drinking water and dehydrated chocolate nut cake, and a plastic Sesame Street Ernie doll with a bullet cartridge implanted in its head. Jaqueline R. Lipsky, on the other hand, chose to express her feelings about Miami's taste for immigrant-related images: "Help! Save me! I'm a Miami artist and I'm not Latin" reads a pink flag sticking out of her little rectangular boat filled with bottle corks.

While the second-floor display entertainingly surveys the diversity of an array of South Florida artists, the first-floor exhibition seriously explores themes quite specific to this region. With "Boat Images" and "Becalmed in Miami," Barbara Young A the library's curator -- has provided an unexpected antidote to the numbing sea of summer rerun group shows now on view in area galleries.

Elsewhere in the library's main branch, an update on the controversy surrounding Edward Ruscha's images of boats in the first-floor children's room (first reported in the June 15 issue of New Times). When the main branch was constructed a decade ago, Metro-Dade Art in Public Places commissioned Ruscha to create paintings throughout the interior of the building; the most notable of these can be seen in the rotunda. Subsequently Ruscha signed a 1987 contract with Art in Public Places to make works for the archway lunettes in specific locations in the library, including the first-floor children's room. Recently some main branch employees have contended that the paintings of silhouetted gray schooners Ruscha did for that room frighten young readers (he intended them to symbolize adventure). And in an effort to brighten up the back wall, last year one former staffer, with the library's blessing, painted her own jungle-theme mural on three of the vacant lunettes.

In July, Metro-Dade Art in Public Places director Vivian Donnell Rodriguez received a letter from Ruscha requesting that the cheerful jungle painting, done without his permission, be covered up. The mural violates the artist's contract, he pointed out, which specifies that the empty spaces in the lunettes are an integral part of his artistic concept. "He wasn't happy about it," relates Rodriguez. "So, in accordance with his contract, he has asked that the mural be removed."

For now the jungle mural remains on the back wall, competing with Ruscha's more subtle images. "The mural will be left there for the time being," says library spokesperson Lainey Brooks. Instead of just restoring the lunettes according to Ruscha's original instructions, Brooks explained, library administrators are waiting to speak with the artist about the situation. She adds the library wants to design a child-friendly room while simultaneously preserving the integrity of Ruscha's work. "They're discussing putting something else in the space," says Brooks. "They want to create an attractive space for the children that is harmonious with the artist's work and the desires of the artist. We will paint over it [the jungle mural], but we need his input on exactly what he wants there and what will go in the space.

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