Art Attack

From Basel to Brazil, the world's high priests of high culture invade Miami this week, and the locals are ready

So Open Season came to her mind because miniatures, collectibles, and fetish objects were already ideas she wanted to explore. She e-mailed artists asking them to answer a questionnaire and send in pictures of themselves and their artwork. The respondents could be truthful, conceptual, funny, whatever they desired. "I wanted to make a snapshot of the local arts community," says the woman who last year, as part of her exhibit at Dorsch, offered visitors breakfast cereal. "And I don't want Miami's voice to get lost in the shuffle."

Open Season, December 5 through December 8 at various gallery events.

Photos by Steve Satterwhite
Mailbox Bombs and Butts -- considered important pieces by important artists of the Katzenjammers, center
Mailbox Bombs and Butts -- considered important pieces by important artists of the Katzenjammers, center

Venezuelan artist Eugenio Espinoza is sticking to his home base, and he hopes others will join him there. He's opening his house, near the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, as the latest addition to alternative, noncommercial art space. We have a couple of such houses already -- The House and its residents, recent art-school graduates, in the Edgewater neighborhood; and the home of Chilean-born artist Eugenia Vargas in Miami Shores. But these, along with a few others, are pathetically few, says Espinoza, who believes that developing truly alternative spaces is integral to the growth of Miami's art scene.

So Espinoza will open his doors for the first time during Art Basel, the inaugural exhibit featuring his predominantly black-and-white works, and those of Frank Wick. The soft-spoken, paint-covered artist is not laboring this hot afternoon in his house/studio under any great illusion that his show will be an epicenter. "I know I can't attract a big audience [during Basel]. I'll be happy if I could bring in people I've met here in Miami over two years. I'm just hoping to show people here this house." It's the house Espinoza wants to build so that future visitors to Art Basel will encounter a more diverse artistic landscape, one that fosters the spiritualism of art as well as the business of art.

"Alternative space is really, really important," he stresses. "Right now even the alternative spaces are not always open to new people. How do you get shown if you've never been shown before? That's why alternative spaces are necessary for the growth of the community." Necessary also for people like him, even though he's already represented by a gallery here, Casas Reigner, and even though he represented Venezuela at the 1985 São Paulo Biennial in Brazil. "How to promote my own work? The traditional gallery way is so slow, too conventional. Some places plan their shows and exhibitions years in advance. I can't wait for that to happen."

But more than simply showing off work, Espinoza dreams of nurturing Miami culture. "I want to bring people here to read and talk, not just to drink wine and stare at walls." Because frankly, while Espinoza thinks there is great talent sprouting in Miami, it needs to get a little education. "People here, they don't have a good sense of the history of art," he laments. "It's related to science and history and to whatever." Art Basel, he believes, will be a start in exposing us to the currents and histories of other art scenes -- a lack of exposure that kept us, isolated at the peninsular tip of America, fresh. But we now need to grow up. "We don't have places where people meet to talk about ideas, about plans, real exchanges. We need more of that."

"Eugenio Espinoza/Frank Wick" at #831 Art through January 1, 831 NE 123rd St., North Miami; 305-892-6331.

Would you like art in a house, or would you like it with a mouse ... and geese, and ducks? The latter, decided Patricia Risso. She wants to bring Art Basel, but mostly nature-loving Miami, to the first large exhibit in a county park. Approach the lake in Tropical Park and you'll see a path of floating logs leading to a sculpture of a pregnant woman -- lit at night -- suspended above the water from a pyramid anchored in the lake's bottom. She's "pregnant with truth ... her arms transmute to branches embracing the acceptance that we are nature," in the words of her creators, artists Rimaj Barrientos and Lina Eichenwald. Out of an arm sprout real leaves.

It's one of nine installations that are meant to interact with nature -- and with the joggers, moms with strollers, and hikers who pass through West Miami-Dade's park. Of all the local shows, "Arts to Nature" may be the least accessible to fellow Basel travelers, but the one that might expose our own fellow citizens to contemporary art for the first time in their lives. What will they make of Vivian Marthell's skinlike substance covering the dock? Or Veronica Scharf-Garcia's fairy-tale installation, with rowboat, cloth-sculpture seahorse, and paper plane hanging from a tree? (On opening day, November 22, reaction was, well, mixed: A teenager thought the pregnant sculpture looked like a hanging dead woman, and park officials were on the verge of tearing it down until the artists rescued it at the last minute. Scharf-Garcia's paper plane was stolen.)

Whatever you may think of contemporary local art, Risso, director of the division of arts and culture of the Miami-Dade Park and Recreation Department, wants you to start seeing it in a natural setting. Not just for Basel but for posterity. Miami-Dade's pathetic attempts to protect the park spaces themselves might not bode well for the Peruvian-born crusader, but she plans to move from park to park with art. Up next in March, she says, will be an exhibit in A.D. Barnes, where artists will work with the special accommodations the park provides for the handicapped.

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