By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
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.
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.
"In my mind, what's happening in Wynwood is comparable only to what's happened in Chelsea in New York. Not only are there more than 30 galleries in the area with more on the verge of opening, but with the unprecedented urban development taking place here, I felt like this was the eye of the hurricane and where I needed to be," says Reitzel.
His inaugural exhibit includes several large-scale paintings by Dominican Republic native García Cordero, who divides his time between Santo Domingo and Paris. García Cordero is known for imagery freighted with allegory, irony, and kick-you-in-the-teeth satire. In The Last Batman, a self-portrait at the rear of the gallery, the artist superimposes his head onto the body of a bat that swoops toward the spectator with outstretched wings. García Cordero's ruddy face appears anguished, and his teary eyes look like a pair of maraschino cherries floating in a bowl of buttermilk. His blushing, shriveled pecker mimics the glow of his jowls, adding a speck of color to the darkly monochromatic picture that left me laughing and thinking the artist resembles the chupacabramore than a vampire. Perros Lambones (Licking Dogs) depicts close-up headshots of dozens of leering dogs. Their tails are erect, their haunches coiled, and their swollen pink tongues flap like neckties. Far from friendly, these mutts exude a menacing vibe suggesting mob violence.
One of the most striking images in the show is Ellis's Trampa (Trap), in which a dachshund/engine-block hybrid appears snared in a spider web. The canine cyborg's head is wrapped in a butcher-paper cowl. In Boxes, another arresting piece by Ellis, two of his mutant dogs are isolated in white squares painted in the middle of a black field. Separated by a few inches in their respective boxes, the hounds wear gas masks as they try to sniff each other out.
Puentes's Coldness, a large diptych featuring a pair of characters frozen in blocks of ice while facing each other, evokes a science experiment gone awry. With their bizarre prosthetic eyepieces, sloping foreheads, beehive coifs, and pointy ears, they give the impression of a burlesque sendup of the Mentats from David Lynch's sci-fi film classic Dune.
Acosta's luscious bird's-eye-view painting of Havana's capitol building conveys a sense of almost sexualized architecture. The sprawling edifice appears phallic-shaped when rendered from above, with a wing or "tip" penetrating a dense patch of bushes. The capitol's dome is ribbed and mimics the head of a spear Acosta has painted to the left of the picture. People are absent from surrounding streets, while many of the buildings are steeped in fleshy red and pink tones.
Sharing a corner with Chelsea Galleria and located next door to the freshly minted DPM Arte Contemporáneo out of Ecuador, Reitzel joins the creeping tide of hustlers looking to strike a rich vein in the hood.