Art's Big New Home

A fine first show for a splendid space

Miami Art Central, known as MAC, is a project shaped and funded by Ella Fontanals Cisneros, the Venezuelan philanthropist who last year purchased a two-story building at 5960 Red Rd. and asked architect Alessandro Fiorentino to remodel it. MAC now stands as a handsome arthouse with two levels of exhibition rooms.

When "10 Floridians" opened as part of last year's Art Basel Miami Beach, it was more than just another exhibit. Wunderkind Manuel Gonzalez (MAC's artistic director) had come up with the idea of having nine well-known curators select and write about ten promising South Florida artists. The opening was successful because it brought together some of Miami's best.

The first floor features Mark Handforth and Dara Friedman's installations. Handforth's Honda is a motorcycle flat on the floor with its lights on, its framework filled with multicolored dripping candles. The piece looks like an altar to Hell's Belles. But what about presence? Honda is dwarfed within the space given to it -- and I don't mean to suggest a bigger piece to fill the space. Presence involves both piece and room so they concurrently happen.

Untitled (Turntables) by Luis Gispert: He is to 
Miami social iconography what Guillermo Cabrera 
Infante was to Havana's
Untitled (Turntables) by Luis Gispert: He is to Miami social iconography what Guillermo Cabrera Infante was to Havana's

Friedman presents a video and a stained-glass piece. Revolution shows a young man with shades, dressed in khakis, swiftly walking through Miami Beach's streets on a sunny day. We begin upside down. Then Friedman's camera axis slowly rotates and we end up at eye level. Neat solution, but I didn't quite get the relationship between this video and Friedman's Eyes, a rectangular stained glass of a pair of eyes in red and yellow with pupils as mirrors reflecting the viewer. They were too close together to allow each other breath (think of juxtaposing Orbital and Gregorian chants).

MAC's second level displays the rest of the artists. At the December opening there was a sort of pre-established pathway, which my notes follow. First you encounter Adler Guerrier's environment, which brings the artist's private back yard to a white cubicle. There are several color photos of his garden, wall sections painted in green and yellow, and added special sounds; an understated atmosphere of nature.

Guerrier is an observer of everydayness. He prefers slow time and little manipulation. His art follows the Taoist axiom: "You can see the whole universe from your window." Yet how can you best convey nature in a way that is not as literal as nature itself? Nature is never mundane because we evaluate it. Art is not nature and so it can become commonplace. Guerrier needs somehow to enlarge reality, remake it.

Luis Gispert's art takes us inside his construction of a nouveau latino middle class where, as Cabrera Infante would say, "stereotype betrays a bit of truth." Untitled (Turntables) is a telling photo -- melting-pot-meets-kitsch. We see a carefully decorated room furnished with grand piano, rug, and framed pictures. The man of the house looks up, impeccably dressed, adorned with white gloves, cane, and a cluster of gold chains and rings. There's just too much flamboyance. He's a cultural pimp.

Gispert's levitating boom boxes with drop-down turntables frozen in midair are a signature hinting at the artist's presence within the work. (Medals for the price of assimilation?) There's a bit of warped protocol here. Like Goya's famous signature of the royal smirk, Gispert uncovers the tensions between ostentation and vacuity. He is to Miami social iconography what Cabrera Infante was to Havana's.

José Bedia's space contains several big paintings executed in sepia tones and portraying epic naval themes. The work is scenically geopolitical, a conspicuous representation of intimidation and dictatorial power. With The Prince Sinks, Bedia revisits the Spanish-American War. The explosion of the USS Maine marked the beginning of Cuban independence, a victory for the Americans, a defeat for the Spanish, and de facto dependent rule for the Cubans. As the ship goes down, its tower tilting, the outline of a whitish figure breaks in through the eerie gray sky. A political metaphor powerfully rendered.

The Final Destiny of the Herodepicts a monumental vessel, its hull cracking all over and its cargo of statues sodden with debris. Lastly there's at the limit that is constantly crumbling. A figure walks away from his car and looks over a precipice. This is half the canvas; the other half contains the written words of the title, like that known existential predicament: "The bottom of our time ... made of wide, soft instants, spreading at the edge."

Next you move to Jacin Giordano's show, which is still within the substance of paint but with different results. He's a virtuoso. It's enough to see The Discovery and Use of the Fake Ink Blotto learn the process of painting with painting: pouring, shaking, wiggling, slicing, gluing. Playing with gravity and patterns. It all appears beautifully chancy. Giordano's Untitled 2003 series displays the artist's abilities in designing little bulky blots of yarn and acrylic over monochromatic expanses of color. His art brings back chance in a seemingly involuntary action of paint -- and time.

Are you ready for a treat? See Glexis Novoa's coiled room entitled Spiral: a panoramic view (at level with a real window) of an archipelago of ruins sparsely filled with monuments, ravaged buildings, satellite dishes, masts of all kinds, flags, and the menacing eyeball surveillance machines on the horizon. Everything is minute and lost amid the expanse of sea, like a kingdom out of reach. The artist forces you to look carefully to understand the landscape, and the scene grows on you. Novoa's craft is painfully elaborate and poetic.

In his earlier work, Gean Moreno explored baroque psychedelic drawings, semiabstract patterns, conceptual graffiti, and other overloads of information. Now he's approaching a still-elaborate but more controlled style. Kissing Cousins and Diamond Girl are hybrid, layered paintings with carefully done dotted circles over slices of found fabric. His assemblages, such as Monster Ballad, are sparse, archaic skeletons, clusters of modern art history, found objects, and recycled waste. Moreno's work keeps morphing.

Views on technology move from dystopian to utopian; Marx loved it blindly, Heidegger despised it. Robert Chambers's pieces defy such extreme views. They reposition and reinvent the bric-a-brac of apparatuses greater than the original sum of their parts. I perceive three constants in Chambers's art: light, sphere, and air, which he combines with the flair of a Fifties science fiction mad artist.

He's a difficult artist to categorize. His art lies between conceptualism and technology, yet his exploits are never self-important; rather they are humane and a bit seditious. This projects an aura of (as Paula Harper aptly puts it) "playful exuberance, quirky humor, and the embrace of overload."

Chambers's installation A Group of Objects Assembled to Suggest a Kinesthetic Experiencecomes with a huge screen inside a big rectangular room, furnished with two sleek chairs and a pair of rear speakers that send a low-frequency ommm into the walls. Sections within the screen glow crimson, orange, and yellow, then into green, blue, and purple, and then the cycle comes back. The experience is "part disco, part shrine ... with sight, sound, and color merging into a single energy field," writes Harper in the exhibition's catalogue. In addition Chambers's piece elicits an uncommon metaphysical serenity.

Finally there's Sergio Vega's installation El paraíso en el Nuevo Mundo. Vega presents a modern interior with colored photos of modern Brazilian architecture, Eero Aarnio's ball chair, and Vega's appealing architectural maquettes. It's the interior-decorating version of a "Girl from Ipanema" music mix. Outside this bourgeois lounge, he reproduces the wretched exterior of a favela. The rich/poor contrast works. Vega gives us tropical paradise, social disparity, and the transplantation of modernism into the New World. But there's also the impact of the Brazilian dictatorship of the Seventies, and Vega's personal quest for a paradise. I think the installation would work better with a less didactic -- and more focused -- output. My advice: Get rid of the texts, some of the photos, and make it smaller.

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