North by Art Quest

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At a time when painting seems to be metamorphosing into myriad subcategories, few of them include direct figurative images set out of the ordinary. Christian Curiel is an exception to this contemporary rule and his exhibit at Leonard Tachmes Gallery proves it. Curiel, who usually explores clannish young male scenarios of social and sexual discovery, now moves his style further on into more subtle intuitive visions. In addition his skill at overcoming the troublesome paradox between private and public by building compelling intimacy in public environments is surprising.

The four canvases take us through various events in the life of a young boy (probably Curiel himself, but also any of us): all these naughty things boys that age do, like getting under a young woman's dress in one uncanny bluish promlike scene in You Can Have Your Cake. And who could turn away from that shirtless boy wearing camouflage pants, lovingly embracing a tree's trunk in the middle of the forest? Between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice reveals an exceptional moment of abandon, when one feels protected by one's privacy; Curiel gets you involved by making the scene seem arranged especially for each of us.

I see what I'm not supposed to see in Food for the Gods. The boy next to his trailer home, shirtless and barefooted, kneels on a moist ground with a bird in his mouth, but he looks straight at me with bulging reddish eyes, baffled and defiant like a predator caught in the act -- I'm as baffled and shocked as he is. This is primal art, making us aware of the process of seeing.

Food for the Gods: Here's looking at you kid
art credit Here
Food for the Gods: Here's looking at you kid

Details

Works by Christian Curiel, Jason Ferguson, and Tall Rickards through Oct. 17 at Leonard Tachmes Gallery, 817 NE 125th St, North Miami; 305-895-1030. “Bhaxti Baxter” Through Nov. 17 at Museum of Contemporary Art, 770 NE 125th St, North Miami; 305-893-6211.

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Another artist showing his works at Tachmes Gallery is Tall Rickards. I wasn't happy with his photos being placed in the cubelike rear section of the gallery, where people made noise and crowded for food and drinks. Rickards's work is about a linear story, and for that reason he deserved a long wall.

The series portrays a white male out of a 1970s Marlboro magazine ad, who Rickards turns into a modern-day flâneur in cowboy outfit. He's shown behind fences; walking outside city limits at night; next to a highway (shot from a nice angle far above); or showing off his abs next to a waterfall. This is Rickards's hero, self-important and yet naïve, aloof and yet intense, finding his own way "at the limit" of progress. Most rewarding are those moments when Rickards conveys a remote existential quality of male absorption not divorced from self-doubt.

Next door on the North Miami art strip, at Ambrosino Gallery, Florencio Gelabert presented "Works in Captivity." The series is a study at blurring psychological categories of essence and form. Like working with an assortment of jewels, Gelabert manipulates and wraps sharp, blunt, spiky, and jagged instruments in petallike colorful dresses, set against severe off-white backgrounds. The works hint at the power and transformation of violence. How much can form alter content? You see an ax subtly draped in rose petals; an amethystlike necklace that is really made up of bits of chain saw, razor blades, and knives, all concealed with lithe mauve leaves; or a hammer upside down, gracefully covered with reddish petals, as if an attractive bird's appendage. The question is not how much a beautiful exterior transforms the core of something, but how much of it becomes the thing itself so we cannot tell them apart. Not easy to surmise these gestures as sublimated violence, or imploded frailty, but without doubt Gelabert's art touches a nerve.

"Bhaxti Baxter" across the street at MoCA is the eponymous title of the first solo show for this emerging young artist from The House. Baxter draws inspiration from nature and borrows from organic processes, such as cell mitosis and spider-web patterns. One can see a Baxter geometric composition at work, like in his controlled inscriptions of stars within a star, drawn in blue chalk on a wall. These recurring subdivisions -- which have become Baxter's mark -- conceptually supported a very elegant octagonal grid made up of spheres, taking up a big wall. Across, there is a series of manipulated color photos of spherelike molecule renditions within a spider web. The video in the back didn't add much -- an out-of-focus image of the opening and closing of a camera lens. Maybe, given Baxter's obsessions, the shifting of shades in both light and vision, or maybe just the opening and closing of a mouth?

Overall I found it a little too didactic; something about Baxter's art was amiss, or just disjointed. Perhaps the mixture of video, photo, sculpture, and drawing distracted my attention from a bigger cohesive mark, something to hold on to that would've brought it all together. I left with the impression that Baxter was showing how and why he does what he does instead of doing it.

Lots of doing it going on at Wild Seduction Gallery, however, a different kind of place for Miami run by Spanish artists and New York City émigrés Javier de Pisón and Pili Cano, now living here. They're presenting a Fetish Performance Series featuring Domina Erotica & Bianca Diosdado. The idea was to put taboo issues, namely bondage and S&M, into an artistic context.

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