When the Art Starts

The summer doldrums have taken their toll on the South Florida art scene. Most local galleries and museums, it seems, have been on vacation -- or might as well have been. With few culturally minded out-of-towners to cater to and with Miami art aficionados off at the Venice Biennial or the Documenta extravaganza in Kassel, Germany, or in New York or some other city where the art world spins year-round, our venues haven't been trying too hard. Between tired group shows that could pass for gallery garage sales and museum exhibitions that appear to have been up for eternity, there's been little reason lately to even bother thinking about art in Miami.

But good news is at hand: It's September. So get out your calendars; here's a preview of upcoming exhibitions.

Points of Entry, an extensive photography show, has been traveling to museums across the country since 1995. But its subject matter -- immigration -- carries a special relevance for Miami. The exhibition makes its final stop at the Miami Art Museum next week, opening Friday, September 12. Included are some powerful photos of Cuban and Haitian immigrants to South Florida. In one surrealistic shot, a forklift removes a homemade raft from a beach in Boca Raton while a couple of tourists look on lazily from their lounge chairs. Striking black-and-white photographs by Gary Monroe, a photographer based in Miami Beach, document life at the INS's Krome Detention Center. (Monroe talks about his work at MAM on October 9).

The exhibition is divided into three separate displays. The ambitious "A Nation of Strangers" includes family snapshots, illustrations, portraits, and news photographs that tell the sweeping story of immigration to the United States. The second display, "Reframing America," is an artistically outstanding collection of innovative work by European emigres such as Robert Frank, Lissette Model, and John Gutmann. The third part, "Tracing Cultures," features manipulated photographs and photography installations by contemporary artists inspired by themes of identity and displacement. (Miami artist Maria Martinez-Canas, whose work is in the show, will lecture on September 18).

This Friday, September 5, Historia de Animales, drawings by Cuban artist Jose Bedia, goes on display at Fredric Snitzer Gallery. Bedia has often dealt with his own migration to Miami and has plumbed his roots in the various indigenous cultural traditions of Cuba. He alludes to the popular fables of those traditions in allegorical, often humorous works on paper and goat skin that feature a bestiary of anthropomorphized animals. The drawings make reference to folkloric stories while illustrating Bedia's own tales of contemporary life.

Reflexions sur L'image also opens September 5 at Galerie Douyon next door. Two French artists known collectively as BP spent the summer in Miami, commissioned by the gallery to create multimedia works during their stay. The artists were especially taken with our car culture, specifically with the designs they saw painted on some gaudy hot rods: flames, skulls, and such. They hired local auto-body artists to paint some of those images on small flat sheets of metal that hang from the gallery's walls. Each piece is affixed with a pump that continuously drips motor oil down the front over the painted image. This is kind of cool, but not much more. The French artists may have found souped-up cars fascinating and unique, but they don't have much to say about them. Their works resemble nothing so much as tourist-shop souvenirs.

For a more engaging look at American life, head to the Lowe Museum on September 18 for a show of 46 works from the collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem. The exhibition includes pieces created from 1968 to 1993 by well-known African-American artists such as Romare Bearden, Melvin Edwards, and Betye Saar. Caribbean and African art from the Studio Museum collection that sheds light on the history of the black diaspora will also be displayed. A second show of paintings by black American artists, from the private Freedom Place Collection, will also be on view. (On October 9, Boston-based painter Richard Yarde lectures on African-American art.)

The Art Museum at FIU begins its fall season on September 19 with a lecture on twentieth-century American art by esteemed aesthete Thomas Hoving, former director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. That same evening an exhibition of paintings and drawings by the influential early-century landscape painter Charles E. Burchfield opens at the museum. Burchfield's watercolors depict a mystical, apocalyptic vision of the American Midwest. His earliest works reveal a haunted world of turn-of-the-century childhood memories.

The dark side of childhood is also alluded to in Dependance-Independance, an installation by acclaimed French artist Annette Messager at North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art, opening September 20. (Messager will speak at MoCA about her work that afternoon.) Messager's somewhat creepy conglomeration comprises more than 500 objects, including stuffed-cloth body parts wrapped in black netting and suspended from the ceiling by strands of yarn, plush stuffed animals and toys, and photographs of children making funny faces. The denseness of the installation reflects the weight of the emotional baggage we collect as we get older. Sparingly lit, the work suggests a child's fear of familiar bedroom objects that come frighteningly alive in the dark.

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