Men and Women of the Cloth

One piece gets you right in the gut, so to speak: Mona Hatoum's Entrails, a fantastically gross carpet covered with sticky rubber intestines. The entrails carpet is laid on the floor; displayed across from it on a platform is Pin Carpet, stuck with a layer of pins so dense that it looks soft and lush, like a boy's crew cut or freshly cut grass. Hatoum, a Palestinian artist, infuses the common associations to the carpet in Middle Eastern society -- prayer mats, rug sellers, beds of nails, magic carpets -- with deeper, darker meaning. Neither of these pieces is easy to forget.

Some artists equated the idea of working with fabric with memories of childhood. Louise Bourgeois based her work -- basically a grim fairy tale about women's dependence on men -- on her father's long-term affair with her governess and her mother's acceptance of the situation. Bourgeois printed her story on a 148-foot voile scarf, which has been hung on a specially constructed curved wall that spirals around and ends with a small, claustrophobic chamber. There sits a large, rough-hewn wooden ball held by an iron clamp inscribed "fears." In an absurd but ultimately touching video that accompanies the installation, actors more or less act out the story.

A tent sewn from bright-colored silks sets the scene for Maria Fernanda Cardoso's rather surreal Cardoso Flea Circus. Inside there's the tiny circus ring, with a tiny tightrope, a "high dive" with a thimble below, a toy train and other equipment, some tweezers, and a magnifying glass. Look hard and you can see some black dots that appear to be dead fleas glued to the various apparatus. Watch the fleas on a video in which Cardoso puts them through their paces, including a "fatal" triple somersault (the flea misses the thimbleful of water at the bottom) and a tango on her thumb. Fascinated with the legendary flea circuses of the last century, in creating her own the artist seems to have tackled the project seriously and scientifically, to the point of putting the fleas on her arm at feeding time. Aided by the magic of videographer Ross Harley, she puts on a show that's amazing, ridiculous, and -- really -- suspenseful. While it recalls Alexander Calder's fantastic circus performances, Cardoso has said that for her the flea circus is a metaphor for the senseless deaths from violence in her native Colombia.

The delicate beauty of Cardoso's circus tent stands on its own, whatever the intended social content. The same is certainly true of Jim Hodges's Every Touch, a wide curtain made from colorful silk flowers that hangs from ceiling to floor at the top of the staircase on the museum's second floor. The expanse of fake flowers can be seen as a symbol of death or femininity, or as an ode to abstract painting. Most of all, it's a beautiful piece of work that -- like the rest of the sensuous, tactile works in "Changing Spaces" -- begs to be touched. The one big negative about this show is that the museum guards won't let visitors feel their way through (much less punch one of Ligon's bags). Understandable, but a shame.

There's the tiny circus ring, with a tiny tightrope, a "high dive" with a thimble below, some tweezers, and a magnifying glass.

"Changing Spaces." Through August 17 at the Miami Art Museum, 101 W Flagler St; 375-1700.

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