Art in the Airport

"Down to Earth"

The cultural impact of the new economy on our world has some interesting manifestations. Take airports, for instance, in this era of hypertravel. To relieve the tedium, they house all kinds of imaginable amenities for a population whose personal lives are subordinate to business demands, embodied in the business-class traveler. Confined to tiny spaces, subjected to bad action movies, fed on standardized microwave food, condemned to follow pre-established routes, these people are an entirely indoor breed: rich in miles, poor in purposeful experiences. So the unique opportunity to take in some art before a flight may count as a significant change of pace, after the rush through the Concourse E security checkpoint at Miami International Airport. This is what mia Gallery purports to do.

The current exhibition, "Down to Earth," explores imaginary landscapes, a metaphor for a state of mind more than a reflection of reality. The accompanying catalogue opens with a quote from Spanish writer José Ortega y Gasset: "Tell me the landscape in which you live and I will tell you who you are." The artists shown, Karina Chechik, Russell Sharon, Luisa Basnuevo, Robert Flynn, and Fenol Marcelin, are from ArtCenter/South Florida; Lou Ann Colodny and Richard Shack are the curators.

First the city landscapes. With a cold palette, Chechik explores mysterious environments. She produces angular perspectives of Neoclassical interiors filled with statuary, stairs, and slanted long corridors blocked by fog. In fact her Buenos Aires Casais a well done take on slanted perspective. Chechik's vistas stand like shrines to a Baudelairean, decadent, Postmodern ethos. Already devoid of humanity, some of her cityscapes may seem, instead of mysterious, just plain arid.

Karina Chechik's To Remote Distances
Karina Chechik's To Remote Distances

What's the sum and substance of a landscape? Sharon's pieces try to show us through minimal simplicity. In his work a line horizon divides sky from earth or sea. It's within these two contrasting planes of color one discovers little surprises that matter: hints of impasto, firm marks or scratches on the painting's surface. Sharon has a gift for manufacturing mood.

Seeds and hatching cocoons are the raw material for Basnuevo's art. She produces luscious vistas of intriguing depth amid white, bluish, and flaming-red backgrounds. Her touches of light layers and drips contribute to a rich texture. Basnuevo's pieces invite and repel: The worlds verge on fertility, but also annihilation.

Flynn's flower pieces seem organic. In one of them, yellowish blossoms resembling dancing spiders stand out against a light-blue-checkered background. These are untitled, as they should be. But at times in these tapestries of repetition, Flynn replaces the minimalist with the formulaic. His bird paintings suggest natural studies, or symbols of some scientific grid. In Peep Flynn provides a binocular to help target lost evidence. The focus is distinct, but most silhouettes are suggested, like traces of evidence removed, atop a celestial-blue background of layered drips.

Arcadia has a place in the work of Fenol Marcelin. He takes the viewer to an idealized and rich vision of nature long gone. In Paradise of the Mind, a big painting, we contemplate an idyllic oversaturation of plant life, somewhere in the tropics. A sinuous stream is adorned with real and imagined flora. One can smell the density of the chlorophyll. While engaging the observer, Marcelin is able to keep a sense of balance between color and form. His work has ecological vigor.

The director of mia Gallery is Yolanda Sanchez, a practicing artist with an MFA from Yale and a Fulbright recipient. "We opened in May 1999, and have had four exhibitions," she says during a phone conversation. "Mia caters to the traveling public and the people from the community. It's a kind of a satellite museum." During my visit I saw people stopping to write down opinions and observations in the guest book. Sanchez says that's typical: "We get incredible comments from all over the world." It would be good if those world travelers could more easily find mia: The afternoon of my visit, I couldn't locate the gallery -- there were no signs, even on Concourse E.

Sanchez is committed to showing work from Miami. "It feels good giving local artists international exposure as well as bringing art to a larger public," she comments. The next exhibition at mia will be "The Persistent Image," showcasing Miami photographers from different backgrounds; the artists will include Tom Lopez, Roman Williams, Elizabeth Cerejido, Fernando Garcia, and Mark Koven. The gallery takes a midpoint approach to showing art. "Art is very alienating to people these days." Sanchez observes. "A lot of art is done for the art elite, and it's only the art world that understands it. We have to educate the public and lure them into the art world." Airport terminals certainly are busy intersections for public life, good places to promote public art.

For an exhibit labeled down to earth, however, some of the dirt is missing. These handsome vistas do not explore the harsh realities of some of our crime-infested and poverty-stricken landscapes. Of course the show doesn't have to, but exploring another perspective may add more meaning to the fellow traveler. Beauty can include the beauty of reality. Ortega y Gasset reconciled both the environment and what the individual has made of it, for better or for worse. His most famous quote, "Man is his own circumstance," implies the possibility for changing any landscape. Even in art deep questions demand explorations without reservations.

 
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