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How Elsa Carolina Muńoz almost drove me to drive

During an emergency, I sometimes can and will drive. For instance, when my girlfriend got decked by a medical test a few weeks ago and enlisted me to chauffeur her home from the clinic, I reluctantly agreed, even though it was the first time this millennium I found myself behind the wheel. But for the most part, I hate driving and never do.

I mention this tidbit only because Elsa Carolina Muñoz's installation at ArtCenter/South Florida made me want to hijack the nearest bulldozer, plow it through the window, and mow her shit down.

The wreck is on display in "Housewarming: One Bedroom, One Bathroom, a Kitchen, a Pantry, and a Patio," also featuring work by Susan Lee-Chun, Marina del Rosario Huang, and Kerry Phillips, all new ArtCenter artists-in-residence along with Muñoz.

Huang's Rubber Duckie No. 1
Huang's Rubber Duckie No. 1
PhillipsÂ’s family portrait
PhillipsÂ’s family portrait

Details

Through September 10
ArtCenter/South Florida, 800 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-674-8278

In Muñoz's Oneiro's Infinite Possibilities, situated inside the ArtCenter Gallery's front wrap-around window, the artist attempts to create a bedroom setting in a contrived outdoor space within the gallery. The syrupy installation includes a makeshift bed mummified in shiny white fabric and topped with a human figure shaped out of bougainvillea petals. Under the figure's head, Muñoz placed what appears to be a paper pillowcase with the phrase "vibrations, energy, and contemplating" stitched onto it. On the wall above, a video projection — barely discernible during daylight — depicts waves lapping against a shore. The artist also uses twigs, branches, stones, and leaves to suggest a garden environment, which also includes a floor lamp (converted from a tree stump) and the sounds of chirping birds and some new-age music. Perhaps intended as a meditation on man's relationship with nature, it instead grates the nerves.

It was painfully obvious that the bougainvillea figure on the bed is a bush-league ripoff of one of Ana Mendieta's Silueta works. (Muñoz may have come down with her bout of kleptomania during the Mendieta retrospective at MAM this past winter.) For this bumbling crime alone, curator Claire Breukel, who usually has a great eye, should consider serving Muñoz eviction papers or maybe dragging her behind the woodshed and taking a switch to her. At the very least, Breukel should aim a leaf blower at Muñoz's embarrassing mess.

Although one might credit Muñoz for the time and energy she seems to have put into the effort, I can't help but think that rather than suggesting infinite possibilities, the only thing separating her installation from an overwrought window display at a South Beach spa is some incense and a sign offering salt rubs, algae body wraps, or an ayurvedic massage. Rather than feeling soothed, one walks away with the galloping trots.

On the winning side of ArtCenter's coin, Kerry Phillips's mock suburban Remembered House: Kitchen, Cup, Family Portrait oozes a joyful tornado-bait veneer that might be confused with a set from That '70s Show.

The artist covered a corner of the gallery's floor with cheap turquoise linoleum tile and added a pea-soup-green couch and a sunflower-yellow kitchen cabinet, in what might be a re-creation of her childhood home.

Phillips included a trio of large family portraits she made using funky-patterned carpet remnants, rendering the faces of relatives without features other than eyeglasses, which the artist also wears. They reminded me of how details can fade from memory as the years roll by. One of the portraits depicts what might be her siblings, another her family, and the last one her grandma. A bushel of old-fangled cloth calendars, the sort often seen in rural kitchens, hangs from strings on a door knob. The one on top is from 1968. The passage of time is also suggested by a horde of takeaway plastic cups fastidiously stacked upside down on the counter. Next to them a small television set, with the color on its screen altered to a hyperbright pitch, rests on a phone book. On the day I visited, it was tuned to a recent episode of The Price Is Right, and I was surprised to see that Bob Barker is still alive. Watching some yokel place a bid on a La-Z-Boy recliner in Phillips sham room was surreal. The artist also demonstrates a nice touch with a chintzy arrangement of plastic plates in concrete block, chainlink fence, and snakeskin patterns displayed on a wall like a flaky aunt's prized collection.

Susan Lee-Chun seems to be fiddling on the same frequency as Phillips, but in a more muted tone. Her hilarious From the Pantry: My Misadventures with Faux Wood Finishes shellacked me and left me wondering if Chun might have been a termite or a beaver in a former life.

She paneled a section of gallery wall and floor in bogus wood grain and covered a shelving unit, food, cardboard boxes, and a vacuum cleaner in the stuff.

An eerie obsessive-compulsive vibe permeates Chun's work. Imagine celebrity carpenter Ty Pennington of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition fame getting hammered and playing with nothing but wood for a week in his "secret room," and you begin to get the picture.

The food and sundry other items in Chun's pantry seemed to take on bizarre identities after being covered in the faux finish and are sculptural in nature. Some of the shapes look like a bishop's mitre, some look like yarmulkes, and others like enema bags. Rather than being rigid, the objects seem pliant — almost begging to be squeezed.

I also found Marina del Rosario Huang's PVC Sketch intriguing. The artist has taken material used for common household plumbing to create her soaring abstract vision of a bathroom, although a roll of toilet paper jutting from an end of one of the pipes seems a tad overripe. Rising from floor to ceiling against a wall painted a chalky brown, with the pipes arranged in grids or undulating fluidly across the space, the work reminded me of one of David Smith's sculptures or a wire drawing by Gego. The playful piece has a bit of a hamster's Habitrail or jungle-gym vibe.

Huang also squeaks into the show a pair of glass tile mosaic jobs — Rubber Duckie No. 1 and Rubber Duckie No. 2 — that would leave Sesame Street's Ernie squealing with delight — and then biting off his tongue. The large oval-shape pieces, executed in crisp blue, red, yellow and orange hues, are chock-a-block with wicked tubby-time fun. One of Huang's duckies is cute, chubby, and happy as it bobs in some suds, while the other, an apparent suicide, swings from a noose tied to a shower curtain rod.

Even though the lemon in the window crashes and burns, consider the rest of the fleet worth a drive.

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