By Monique Jones
By Travis Cohen
By Liz Tracy
By Terrence McCoy
By Morgan Golumbuk
By Ciara LaVelle
By Carolina del Busto
By Michael E. Miller
By the end of the summer, every local artist in Miami was making plans for a series of shows in conjunction with Art Basel 2001, and yes, Basel was going to be a great plug for Miami (though some of the artists' responses seemed just too opportunistic in their want of some picture publicity). What truly bothered me was our Miami inferiority complex in an art world that is not defined anymore by huge art centers.
Then, following Basel's cancellation as a result of September 11, most people realized Miami's response to non-Basel had become -- as a local gallerist put it -- "an artistic imperative." So Robert Chambers went on to curate his big project; and after much work and patience, we are presented at the Bass Museum of Art with the best art show I've seen in years in Miami: "Globe, Miami, Island."
With an amazing night such as this opening, a little mismatch can be forgiven. With more than 60 talented artists showing works, what matters here is the overall result. "People want to see and to be seen, to talk and enjoy the experience," says Steve Bollman, an artist and curator. And indeed so much was going on so quickly, this writer could only hastily jot down brief notes on a pad.
Some moments: Just the right light and music mixes with the audience's chitchat as Maria Arjona turns heads while walking at a snail's pace holding two suitcases (she's endured some difficult performance feats in the past). Not far away, a group of dancers embodies Isadora Duncan choreography next to Carlos Betancourt's huge self-portrait photo, while Maritza Molina carries out a sleep routine (fakir-style) on a bed of high-heeled shoes.
One local professor of architecture is absorbed by Juan Lezcano's corner installation, which couldn't be more unobtrusive and hip: A nice arrangement of blocks adds just the right touch. The trip to the second floor reveals Karen Rifas's trademark: delicate crisscrossed leaf motifs, breathing a frail harmony between the ramp and the first floor's ceiling. "It makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Who would be so silly as to take off that piece?" comments Mark Ormond, a well-known curator and art historian. "It evens enhances the look of the ramp," he says while pointing to the large walls filled with paintings, salon style.
The arrangement on both sides of the ramp works: Emilio Perez's blue and green oval-like inventions and Julie Kahn's photo of juveniles in shooting pose are eye-catchers, as are far-out teenage visions by Chris Curriel (particularly his Lightning Boy) and a weird-looking yellow piece by John Espinosa. Off the walls: a tattoo performance and a fashionable young woman dressed in an exquisite Wendy Wischer hair suit.
Other reflections: Bahkti Baxter's poinciana twigs, rising from the ramp edge, look like hair transplants; and William Cordova's latest, a column of vinyl LPs, announces the force and fragility of pop culture. Roberto Behar describes his piece with Rosario Marquardt as a floating suitcase with a miniature boxer inside a ring being pulled up by a balloon, symbolizing the moon.
And what a second floor! People were captivated by Glexis Novoa's wall-length metaphysical drawing; Teresita Fernandez's sensual, multihued, tilelike installation of little marble squares; Mette Tommerup's red, blue, and green computerized image distortions; and Kevin Arrow's trippy darkroom, with bright projections dancing on a half-dome complemented by audio loops. There are also subtle sets, like Shahreyar Ataie's Zen-ish music video of revolving details being projected on what I took to be a Geisha doll. Inside the elevator a gem of a music piece by Bert Rodriguez leads to Purvis Young's frescoes, providing a landmark. The powerful sculpture by Ursula Von Rydingsvard is absorbing, but what is it? It's a huge concave structure of cedar planks, coarsely sawn and glued together to conjure up a fossil skeleton.
Close by is an imposing white altar, partially covered by a long white curtain hanging from the ceiling, with sculptures by Edouard Duval-Carrié. The piece revisits old Duval-Carrié territory, only now with an artificially pompous accent, akin to Alejo Carpentier's accounts of the adventures of Dessalines and Henry Christophe during Haiti's independence. Carrié's historic piece plays well against Cooper's literally noisy abstract installation, which contains a rectangular inverted dome and ladder amid big piles of hay. Cooper's noise piece resonates next to Paul Ramirez Jonas's self-playing, computer-generated drum orchestra, decorated with small TVs, flags, and banners. As the percussive ensemble played, I peered at a tiny monitor: "Workers of the World: Unite."
José Bedia's raftlike altar of foodstuffs against a colossal, black-painted Cuban deity is a tour de force. Find your bodega's inventory on Bedia's altar: rows of guava bars, coffee, mojo, big plastic bottles of Ironbeer, canned Goya products, and plenty of aguardiente. Besides the idea of cultural empowerment, I read Bedia's message as deeply political in tone (anti-embargo?). Only this message remains subversive on both sides of the debate.
An exhibition within an exhibition is Cesar Trasobares's Elián in Wonderland, a multifaceted installation displaying trinkets of all sorts, cheap figurines, toy soldiers, Barbies and Kens, along with original posters from the Elian days and -- just for the opening -- a live young model inside a fish tank with two inflatable dolphins. It's a microcosm of Cuban culture, nationalist kitsch, and a caustic analysis worth more than any textbook on the subject.