By Michael E. Miller
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By Luther Campbell
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The purpose is to garner money and publicity for the effort to defeat the anti-gay-rights referendum that comes to a vote September 10. That cause has given the event its name: the "No Shows." The man behind the extravaganza is Miami artist Robert Chambers -- which helps explain why no one knows exactly what we'll see and hear, even as opening night fast approaches. And why the experience itself will likely remain an exuberant blur even afterward. Improvised sensory overload is a Chambers trademark.
Chambers -- sculptor, teacher, cheerleader, curator, creative tinkerer. He doesn't want you to study the art, he wants you to inhale it. He wants to create such a noisy and colorful commotion that you will be infected by it. He wants you to vote No on September 10. And then he wants you to take note that Miami's vibrant contemporary art scene is ready to explode onto the world stage.
The No Performance Show, 6:00 p.m.September 8 at El Solar Arts House,356 Malaga Ave, Coral Gables.
The No Home Show, 7:00 p.m. September 9 at the home of Eugenia Vargas, 890 NE 90th St, Miami Shores.
He's done it before. Late last year Chambers curated a show for the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach called "globe>miami>island," a sensational exhibit that still has buzz. Ask anyone in the local art community about the show's opening this past December 15 and you'll hear descriptions such as electric, overwhelming, and the best Miami's ever had. Ask anyone in that same community about the artist/curator himself, and you'll hear similar adjectives: enthusiastic, passionate, gifted.
It's possible only Chambers could have pulled together those 60 artists along with about 100 of their works and produced a show with such energy that for one evening everyone forgot Art Basel -- the world's most prestigious contemporary art fair -- had recently canceled its Miami debut. Possibly only Chambers could have fused young and old, veteran and novice; juggled their egos and crammed their visual and audio creations onto walls, floors, ceilings, stairs, elevators -- and ended up with something now acclaimed as a seminal art event. Next week he'll try it again.
That Chambers believes there are hundreds of talented locals he can recruit for the "No Shows" suggests that something interesting is happening here. Over the past couple of years the work of Miami artists has been popping up on gallery and museum walls with unprecedented frequency. The New World School of the Arts, the Design and Architecture High School, and the art programs at the University of Miami and Florida International University have been producing exceptional graduates. Perhaps most significant, artists young and old, immigrant and native, have been staying put in Miami. The result is a cauldron of creativity such as this town has never seen.
Next Tuesday night, September 3, many of those artists will leave their marks all over Fredric Snitzer's gallery, where sales of work that evening will benefit SAVE Dade's "Vote No to Discrimination" campaign. It's possible you'll nearly trip over some multihued pile of objects created by Charo Oquet, or get dizzy staring into Bhakti Baxter's vision of infinity, or remember why painting can still be moving as you get drawn into the color scheme of Purvis Young.
Over at Bernice Steinbaum's Design District gallery you'll be able to take in the big vision created by the trio known as FeCuOp -- Jason Ferguson, Christian Curiel, and Brandon Opalka -- who've put up a "No to Discrimination" mural on her exterior wall. On September 8, El Solar Arts House will host the "No Performance Show," a night of artistic theater courtesy of people such as Maritza Molina, Jiae Hwang, Carlos Ochoa, and Juan Lezcano. Then on September 9, the night before the vote, the home of artist Eugenia Vargas will be transformed by the likes of Pablo Cano, David Rohn, and Lydia Rubio, who will be part of the "No Home Show."
Some would say none of these shows will be curated, at least not in the commonly understood sense of that word. Depending on who you ask, that could be good or bad. But one thing seems certain: The hyperactive Chambers "No Shows" will inject more adrenaline into Miami's already-lively art scene.
In the spirit world of the orishas, the god Elegguá often takes the form of a mischievous child who might suddenly appear along your path and open doors to future endeavors. In the world of Miami art, our Elegguá is Robert Chambers. Indeed his impish spirit is sometimes all you can find -- the man can be as elusive as he is effusive, a frustrating experience for artists trying to work with him and writers trying to find him. He was born here, went to school and later taught at the University of Miami. But now he divides his time among Miami, New York, and, it often seems, the entire globe.
As Miami gallery owner Kevin Bruk guesses, maybe Chambers really is more orisha than man. "He could be a figment of everyone's imagination -- the Keyser Soze of the art world," he says, referring to the mystery man in the movie The Usual Suspects. As if to prove the point, Chambers was nowhere to be found just a week before he was to have provided pieces for a July show at Bruk's Design District gallery. "He's disappeared," Bruk shrugged at the time. But at the last moment Chambers appeared and dropped off two sculptures, including a fiberglass-and-Kevlar helicopter that lit up and vibrated on the floor.