From Ring Rust to Riches

These galleries offer different takes on panning for gold

In the conflicted conceptual gristle of Mateo Argüello Pitt's deceptively childlike paintings, the way one confronts the pitfalls of domestic drama or oppressive alienation defines the meat of a man.

At least that is what the artist telegraphs in many of his thirteen mixed-media-on-board pieces that dominate "Enigmatic Figures," which touts the Argentine's break-out appearance at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries in Coral Gables.

The exhibit also features works by Aurora Cañero, Maria Gamundi, and José Benito, who serve as little more than background noise to Pitt's quirky paintings. He, at least, has something to say. The women artists appear to have been included in this show as a snatch at the checkbooks; the gallery is displaying two of Gamundi's classical nude female bronze sculptures and an unremarkable bronze-and-steel confection by Cañero that do not jibe. Benito might be considered bankable (and euphemistically "emerging") by the dealer, but he royally stinks up the joint with his polychrome-on-wood sculptures notable for their Precious Moments-like sappiness.

José García Cordero's Perros Lambones at Lyle O. 
Reitzel Arte Contemporáneo
José García Cordero
José García Cordero's Perros Lambones at Lyle O. Reitzel Arte Contemporáneo
Gerard Ellis's Trampa at Lyle O. Reitzel Arte 
Gerard Ellis
Gerard Ellis's Trampa at Lyle O. Reitzel Arte Contemporáneo


“Enigmatic Figures”: Through June 30. ArtSpace/ Virginia Miller Galleries, 169 Madeira Ave, Coral Gables; 305-444-4493. and “Opening Exhibition”: Through July 26. Lyle O. Reitzel Arte Contemporáneo, 2441 NW 2nd Ave, Miami: 305-573-1333.

One chunky number, shaped like an old-fangled milk jug, depicts a faceless woman whose skirt bears the piece's title, Look at Me. Oddly Benito has slapped black Mickey Mouse ears across her chest. Nena Amarilla (Yellow Girl), another eyesore, features a toddler sitting on a miniature house while clasping an indefinable rocklike object. Benito has tied two yellow ribbons to the child's stubby ponytails.

The riddle here is why the gallery combined these artists together rather than spreading Pitt's stuff around and leaving well enough alone. Elaborate wall tags identifying each work along with its hefty price and an invoice number offer a clue. For some commercial galleries toeing the bottom line, the notion of waking up punch-drunk from having a bad art day is absurd.

Pitt, Miller's raw-paint-slinging prospect, seems determined to clean the spectator's clock with his figure of a boxer who often appears in scenes packed with the emotion, nervousness, and dysfunctional fallout of everyday life. Don't fret: It's his alienated protagonist who takes a pounding instead.

In one work, a lone bald palooka sucks in air while doubled over on his hands and knees. Pitt's paunchy brawler has been felled under the burden of a book that depicts the image of a tree symbolizing his family. As the stunned figure struggles to balance the tome on his back, the artist jabs the point home that his pugilist has beef with the relatives. In another piece, the pug lies on his back, clutching his spongy red mitts tightly across his heart as if staggered by angina. In the background, a skeletal tangle of trees chokes the composition, towering over the hapless figure.

La Familia (The Family), one of Pitt's busier works, is broken up into three distinct sections. Vile, lozengelike smacks of acidic orange, yellow, purple, brown, and olive paint form welts on the upper segment's surface. A nearly triangular and compartmentalized section to the right is filled with scenes of shaved-head androgynous fighters who wail unmercifully in a slugfest. In the lower half of the painting, the mother and father of the disturbed clan hang upside down in a smoky white fog, each tied by a rope at the ankles as if in a weird bondage scenario or in the process of bungee-jumping away from the madness.

In La Intranquilidad (Lack of Tranquility), the artist weighs in with colorful, slashing brushstrokes to capture a depressed mope lying on a cot alone in his room. He is surrounded by what look like crowds of animated, irritated people pigeonholed into separate compartments seeping through the walls. Most of them are rendered with their arms crossed or in defensive positions and ignoring each other. Few of the humans in Pitt's work appear to communicate well, if at all, unless in a violent fashion. The artist seems to be discouraging the viewer from connecting with them, while hinting their insanity is somehow normal.

Near the gallery's exit, I was drawn to a rectangular work slathered in tarry black paint. In the far right corner of the piece, an eccentric character appears dazed and wearing a dress and mismatched hose. It reminded me of the Three Dog Night lyric "one is the loneliest number that you'll ever do." I left praying Pitt doesn't end up lopping off an ear.

Miller should keep her guard up and put together scrappier combinations — if she hopes to remain a competitive voice on the contemporary scene — rather than settle on collecting greenbacks from the "I want something that matches my couch" crowd. The veteran of South Florida's dog-eat-dog art scene should know by now it's lonely on the ropes, and the hits one's reputation takes from promoting crappy contenders never pay.

Lyle O. Reitzel, who has operated a contemporary art gallery in the Dominican Republic the past decade, opened his eponymously named space in Wynwood with an untitled show that features large paintings by Gustavo Acosta, Gerard Ellis, Eleomar Puente, and José García Cordero. Representing top-flight Caribbean talent, Reitzel said he chose to plant his flag here because it would be the "perfect platform to represent [his] artists on an international level." Like many other dealers stricken by gold fever in a booming market, he may have been enticed by dreams of boatloads of bigwig collectors washing up on our shores.

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