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Adler Guerrier's solo show "loss/entry/return," a series of works on paper and photographs at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, presents an artist in transition. At first glance the exhibit made me think of fireman Guy Montag's remark in Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451: "It's all about the intellect." Guerrier has always been an intellectual artist. His work deals with the redundant life of the contemporary individual and at the same time with the flâneur who explores the ominous range of the city -- all while beholding his own social condition. How to reconcile one's self with society?
Guerrier, a graduate of Miami's New World School of the Arts, earlier had created "back yard" photos in which life was a real-time continuum of trivial and pointless events -- not unlike that of Sartre's aimless characters in The Wall. (It's worth noting that other Miami artists' work echoes such existential moods.) This art's humor seemed too detached for a world filled with atrocities. I (along with Camus) could've asked this question: How could one remain lucid confronted with such truths?
With "loss/entry/return" Guerrier shifts ground. You see the artist looking through binoculars at the expanse of the metropolis. But it's not a real city. This is more like a superimposition of events, black blotches and green tempera splashes (with directional tentacles) moving near the background of the metropolis's silhouette. Amid these images you find linear sentence fragments, silent remarks as if coming from a lost century of ideologies.
Then one discovers this conspicuous cantilevered solid structure -- a sort of corbel -- that the artist draws in most of his pieces. I read a bit into it: In architecture, cantilevers separate themselves from the ground; they are singular, impulsive. What's more important, they don't subjugate the territory.
Guerrier is slowly moving away from the dense existential "feel" of reality expressed in his earlier photos. He has become a more gregarious, unconventional observer, exploring his own situation in relation to the rest of us. Now he should incorporate into his photography some of the new elements present in this series.
At the exhibit, an important local curator helped me see a bit of French theorist and filmmaker Guy Debord in Guerrier's work. Suddenly the seemingly disconnected one-liners inside the drawings made more sense.
In his 1967 Society of the Spectacle, Debord warned that our lives had become transactional relationships. Spectacle was a key concept for Debord, who borrowed from Marx's idea of alienation. We become alienated from ourselves when everything we do, we do for the sake of abundance. The spectacle then becomes the sad and endless race to own more, which, paradoxically, turns into an abundance of dispossession. Some of this message is already present in Guerrier's promising cityscapes.
What makes for good art? This is a practical question. If you think of investing your money in something more than mere decoration, you may want to know. And though there are no magic formulas, there's a general consensus among art experts that originality is a useful starting point. A work of art is original when it successfully presents the familiar in a different way, or when it surprises us with its innovative formal appearance. Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon is an original painting, though it depicts a common theme: a group of women in a whorehouse.
In making judgments about the quality of art, some people place emphasis on skill. But originality may already involve some level of skill if it is to execute an idea persuasively. On the other hand, skill alone will not cut it. Domenichino, a Baroque Italian painter known for his decorative tableaux in churches, was technically proficient but derivative.
Some works don't innovate, but they may evince a degree of inventiveness. Modern art has minor artists who made attractive contributions. Have you heard of Alfred Sisley? He was an Impressionist of English descent; his work a bit of Coubert and Corot, and yet he showed ingenuity in his study of light for his notable series of landscapes of Argenteuil, where he lived for a while.
I bring this up apropos of last week's third installment of the Merril Lynch Arte Américas show, featuring modern and contemporary Latin American art from eighteen countries. According to the organizers, Leslie Pantin, Jr. and Emilio Calleja, this was the best event yet. "It is a boutique fair," said Calleja. "We have 50 galleries, but we want to keep it small and manageable." The fair, he added, aims to display art of palpable quality.
The idea should work -- given the demanding standards of admission, Miami's privileged location, and its diverse and vibrant Latin American population -- and (after MAM's Beyond Geometry) with time could become a re-evaluation of modern Latin American art.
Addressing quality: The five-day exposition at the Coconut Grove Convention Center displayed much better art than the previous one, but there was still some mediocre stuff. By mediocre I mean derivative art that poorly mimics styles already in the mainstream. Picture corny Surrealist-like paintings of fruits mixed with bodies; cheap figurative and subjective portraiture; inane abstractions of colors and spaces with fickle dabs here and there; plus Botero's minor pieces (drawings, prints, and whatnot), which have become fixtures in Miami's banks and hotel lobbies.