Buried Treasure

Like stones unearthed from layers of sediment, these sculptures carry traces of history

Robert Thiele's exhibition at the Barbara Gillman Gallery makes me think of the end of the world. Not in a paranoid way -- I'm not picturing a nuclear attack coming from the skies, or fearing an unforeseen market crash that makes capitalism obsolete. Rather Thiele's sculptures convey the emptiness, even calmness, that could arise after something like a solar flash turns the Earth into a desert of frozen statues. Imagine a silent planet whirling through the bliss of eternal darkness. Randomness is, after all, part of the geological order.

Is there history beyond us humans? Who would think it? Thiele does, with a bit of poetic indifference. The artist deals with the essence of matter, its weight and history but not human history. His pieces -- grouped unevenly, seeking some odd sense of form and geometry -- work more like abstract basaltic monuments. Delicate and serene, they may contain bits of our past, crushed and layered by the force of prehistory millennia. Add to this the fact that Thiele's works remain untitled but numbered, as if they were the result of a dig in sedimentary strata.

I particularly enjoyed Thiele's surfaces. They reveal fickle traces of all that has been wiped out and end up carefully achieving the figure's geometric essence. Check out his drawings in the small exhibition room, proof of the artist's cerebral talents. In one of them, the boundaries of an ellipse have been erased and drawn over until it is transformed into an expanded, soft-edged rectangle -- once again, the eroding effect of time.

In the main room, Thiele groups two big clusters. An attractive white group deals with texture and content. Along with the indentations and crevices on the smooth surfaces, the artist produces larger traumas in the material that are delicately colored, as if mineral openings sealed by the pieces' surfaces. The other nine black sculptures, different in shape but similar in texture, are arranged meticulously, suggesting perhaps the tacit beauty of both sameness and divergence. They stand attractive in their solemnity, hinting at the prize of the show.

Untitled 129-126is a colossal thirteen-by-ten-foot slablike black construction. As in a huge puzzle, Thiele conjoins a wood-and-canvas construction in a thick semirectangular box. He treats the surface with an undercoat of red and coarsely applies plenty of black and Prussian-blue paint over it, producing intriguing textures and contrasts of dark blues and loose red flashes emanating from within. If one stands back, the enormous block seems to be put together in three stages, like a suspended abstract triptych. This is Thiele's stark perspective: looking at human time dispersed in geological memory. Traces deposited and buried. Prehistoric time squeezed into oil.

Having seen this, I wasn't crazy about a set of smaller pieces in the little room. Against all those big and heavy sculptures, they looked to be part of a wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities, filled with delicate little items, as if trading monumental inscrutability for user-friendliness. Perhaps they deserve a moment, but not here.

Because of their starkness and abstraction, Thiele's sculptures implicitly question the value of history and our place in it. I see his work echoing an anonymous poet's words: "We're bags of cell, currents of electricity pulsing through nerves ... lots of speed, change, no net loss. When you go you go. You're wind. A flicker of lightning that breaks the dark."


Juliana Buka, a young Brazilian artist, has her show "Post Scriptum" at Adalberto Delgado's 6G alternative space. The exhibition seems to suggest the ambivalent tension between technology and desire. There's something childish yet darkly grown-up about Buka's art; her use of wax (a medium I am suspect of because it's just too easy to handle); and her display of syringes, needles, blades, and whatnot buried, broken and abandoned, along with blue-painted doll faces, loose threads, traces of blood, and animal vertebrae.

The way she mixes instruments of addiction with subtler organic materials may suggest how contemporary pop culture deals with itself, producing illusions of joy before succumbing to its contradictions. Buka is dealing with the ambiguous reality of living with a monster in our midst where it's too difficult to admit we created it. She was able to work well within the little space, though Delgado is planning an expansion. Be prepared for an end-of-summer party at the place after the exhibition closes.

Finally don't miss two wonderful exhibitions, "Painting Revolution: Kandinsky, Malevich, and the Russian Avant-Garde," through July 1 at the Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach; and "At the Crossroads: Afro-Cuban Orisha Arts in Miami," through July 8 at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida. There's plenty of amazing stuff to look at.

 
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