Call Pablo Cano a romantic, a dreamer, even a junk collector. He doesn't mind. Junk is his life, although amassing it almost ended his life. The artist, acclaimed for the intricate puppets he creates from found objects, used to skulk around town in the wee hours rifling through people's trash. That stopped seven years ago when he got held up at machine-gun point in his own Shenandoah neighborhood. "I'll never forget that experience," Cano recalls soberly. "They left me standing on the corner. They took my car and all my stuff."
Shaken but undeterred, Cano still goes about collecting materials, but now it's in a safer and more conventional way: He scours Goodwill and American Salvage stores and buys the stuff. And then there's always the kindness of friends and strangers. "Friends have given me wonderful things -- shoes, belts, old costume jewelry," he says. "Sometimes I find packages in front of my house and I don't know where they came from. Somebody just dropped them off."
Cano fashions the discards into extraordinary marionettes that do more than hang around passively looking pretty. His carefully crafted creations can stand as sculptures, but they are also cast as actors in short plays. In the summer of 1997, for example, Cano debuted an exhibition of his work and two short plays -- The Pursuit of Love and Animated Altarpieces -- at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The dramas starred characters such as Casanova, Voltaire, Santa Barbara, and the Marquise de Pompadour.
This past November Cano returned to MoCA with the whimsical Pablo Cano: Cavaletti's Dream, an exhibition and six-act play written by Christopher King. The story combines Greek mythology and Italian chivalry. The protagonist, Giovanni Di San Sebastiano Cavaletti, an old, eighteenth-century cavalier, flashes back to his youthful quest for the secret of immortality. Set to music by Respighi, Handel, and Stravinsky, the hero's journey includes encounters with the goddess of war, Pallas Athena, whose body is made from an aluminum air vent; the winged horse Pegasus, which resembles an oversize metallic mosquito; and a luminous Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love, who rises slowly from a shimmery silver background to the strains of an aria sung by Kathleen Battle.
Once the puppets retire from the stage, they are sold to collectors who display them as sculpture. But Cano counts on the audience taking his work home in less tangible ways as well: "I hope people enjoy the story most of all, that they're inspired, and that they walk away with a new kind of awareness of images and composition and interrelations with space on that little stage."
Cavaletti's Dream takes place at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, December 27, and 8:00 p.m. Wednesday, December 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 770 NE 125th St, North Miami. The show is free with $4 museum admission. Call 305-893-6211.