In the Latin Tradition

There's much more to it than magical realism

The issue of Latin American art -- what it is and whether our city is a center for it -- comes up in Miami's art circles almost daily. In truth Miami -- for better or worse -- feels like a Latin American city within the United States. But we are ambivalently perceived in Latin America, in part because of the debate over just what is Latin art.

Is there really a Latin American art? You bet. An example was last week's Merrill Lynch arteaméricas, an event at the Coconut Grove Convention Center that gathered 51 galleries from seventeen countries of the Americas. Unlike Art Basel/Miami Beach, this is smaller, a kind of boutique fair. The idea of concentrating on Latin American art gave this experiment a coherence I didn't expect.

What were the fair's main themes? Modernist Latin American traditions (Abstraction, Surrealism, and folkloric styles) combined with other figurations, sculpture, and much painting already beyond the magical realist phase. Arteaméricas proved that Latin American art keeps evolving. No doubt the fair's organizers feel they can stimulate the market with efforts like this.

Vickie Pierre's These Are Things That I Hold
Vickie Pierre's These Are Things That I Hold

Details

By Vickie Pierre. Through April 24; Call 305-891-5577.
Ambrosino Gallery, 769 NE 125th St, North Miami

Moving to the fair itself, arteaméricas could improve its visibility and access to the general public. As I understood, few complimentary tickets were distributed, even though that would benefit the fair and the public. On Saturday and Sunday I did not see as many people as I would've expected. Yet a gallerist whose opinion I trust told me he had seen a good number of collectors. The organizers expect to take future installments of the fair to other important cities throughout the U.S.

As I walked through, I jotted down some notes, which reflect a quick impression. Speaking of Modernist traditions, it was a nice surprise to see the paintings of Uruguayan Joaquin Torres García at Galería Sur, as well as Mexican Günther Gerzso's excellent drawings at Art Space/Virginia Miller Gallery (both artists' works date from the Forties). I couldn't take my eyes from Flor Luna, a mysterious painting by Wifredo Lam at Cernuda Gallery. These modern artists made me think of a time in art history when quality and labor were more important than fad.

Galería 1-2-3 had Salvadoran painter Santiago Valladares; his idiosyncratic work is distinctive in the sort of self-indulgent mood it elicits. It was fun to see local artist Gabriel del Ponte's beautifully colored discs on display at Karpio Facchini Gallery, while Santa Giustina Gallery showed a haunting painting by Gustavo Acosta entitled El Factor Atlántico.

There were also a few José Bedia paintings here and there, most of them quite appealing. Finally I had to stop by Cuban Santiago Rodriguez Olazábal's imposing installation at Bourbon Lally, a Canadian gallery.

Arteaméricas had a spread of works curated by Milagros Bello, which included emerging local artists. I admired Ani Villanueva's hanging, flowerlike models; Carolina Sardi's multicolored floor piece; Guerra de la Paz's flora installation (outside the venue by the entrance), and Pedro Vizcaíno's woman-car, a bizarre and imaginative piece.


The art of Vickie Pierre keeps growing. Visit her show "What You Feel Is What I Feel for You" at Ambrosino Gallery. Pierre produces beautiful paintings in which color and subtleness reign. She's one of Miami's best colorists, exploring the sympathy between tertiary colors. Observe how her palette explores shades -- amid understated textures -- from yellowish orange to reddish ginger to pink to light blue to yellow-green.

There is Pierre's delicate, see-through wash-layers, along with deliberate marks of fixed errors, and loops and ribbons of carefully detailed ink calligraphy. Her figures are biomorphic, uncluttered as floating soft bodies. There are drops moving with or against gravity, weaves of quasi-appendages and forms like foliage. Lately Pierre has incorporated writing, but we can barely discern these long strings of words where writing becomes drawing and drawing becomes the very painterly form.

Akin to the Surrealists' ecriture automatique, Pierre lets her unconscious travel. As you read, you begin to discover phrases, lines of poetry, songs heard, or simply the subjective musings that you seem to make up. The overall experience is anything but passive.

In My Place is Pierre's installation for the show. Inside a pink-painted room, a shaped doll-like dress hangs from the ceiling. Its green wooden legs are next to a broken-to-pieces green vase. On the room's three walls Pierre adds a shelf adorned with two loving kittens (inside a cage), a small flower vase, two small blue bottles connected by a spurt of golden curls, and several tiny framed paintings. Above the room's cornice you can look at an uninterrupted string of words spanning the whole cubicle. I distinguished this much, though not in sequence: "memory ... and ... hopes, around you ... happily ..."


I'd like to address a point that has come up recently in some discussions and writing dealing with the activity of art criticism. It seems that for some of my colleagues, criticism is an openly biased enterprise. They assume (without proving) that critics are always biased and thus we should all just say what we feel and be done with it. In my view, it's one thing to proclaim your personal bias but quite another to accuse everyone of having a similar predisposition.

I can't speak for others, but I'd like to see my writing aim at three things: clarity, validity, and impartiality. The first means that you can understand what I say without having to frown too often; the second requires my writing to be relatively in sync with what you -- and I -- see. And the third would maintain that one can indeed keep one's biases under control in order to be fair.

Suppose that our openly biased critic publicly praises a friend's work in a review. Should the public and his artist friend consider his positive appraisal to be a valid assessment? If one is openly biased and unwilling to keep it under control -- by friendship or anything else -- the critique of the work can be (reasonably) tainted. Suppose the work is really bad but the critic will not see it that way, or would refuse to see it, since his bias is not something that concerns him. If the public did consider the biased critic's assessment to be valid, that would put into doubt the artwork's possible inherent merit -- which would be counterintuitive.

Writing with clarity, validity, and impartiality is not something to brag about. After all, we can still make mistakes.

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