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By Liz Tracy
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Alette Simmons-Jimenez comes across like an Amway representative when she describes local artists' involvement in what she calls the "open collective" of the new incarnation of her gallery, Artformz Alternative. "We have two levels: artist partners, who have an intellectual investment in the space and pay $100 a month, and artist associates, who pay $150 a year."
The first group, she explains, will receive higher-profile exhibits at the gallery; the second, periodic group shows. Both will be listed prominently on her web page.
Since it was founded in 2004, Artformz has relied on the strength-in-numbers approach to survival. During four years in the Design District, Simmons-Jimenez reviewed more than 500 portfolios and exhibited 90 artists' work in her space. "We were contacted by artists in Italy, Russia, and New York," she says. "We had all these people who became interested in showing in Miami once Basel came here."
In the early days, Simmons-Jimenez offered the opportunity to exhibit in her space for a nominal entry fee. Typically her gallery featured sprawling group shows with upward of 20 participants per event. But then the stress of the all-for-one-and-one-for-all mentality finally took its toll.
So she recently relocated to Wynwood, where she has streamlined her operation in hopes of freeing up time to create her own work. "Most galleries operate with a group of 20 to 25 artists. I wanted to strike a balance so I could continue working on my own art," Simmons-Jimenez explains. "It's an issue of no longer having too many cooks in the kitchen."
"Diverse Works," her inaugural Wynwood show, which opened in June, features pieces ranging from painting, drawing, fiber, and photography to constructed assemblage and installations. The exhibit includes the work of Fabian De La Flor, Natasha Duwin, Donna Haynes, Anja Marais, Alejandro Mendoza, P.J. Mills, Ray Paul, Natalia Reparaz, Rosario Rivera-Bond, Chieko Tanemura, and Simmons-Jimenez herself. This bunch reflects the top tier of the revamped Artformz stable.
During the August 9 Wynwood gallery crawl, when most top-drawer local spaces were shuttered, Artformz benefited from the meager crowds. "We ran out of beer by 8:30," Simmons-Jimenez cracks. The event enabled her to rehang parts of the show and allowed her artists to further elevate their profiles. "We want to be more of a year-round gallery," she explains.
P.J. Mills, who had earlier exhibited a photograph of a glowing pink dildo, turned heads with a pair of equally striking images. Bird Wing depicts a grisly uncooked chicken wing on a tabletop, almost suggesting a Radio City Rockette's goose-pimply stems, while Condom #3 captures a postcoital Trojan under the gleam of a spotlight, appearing very much like a bleached sardine.
On an opposing wall, photographer Chieko Tanemura's archival prints on Sintra convey a sense of young women coming of age.
Emily at 15 and 16 offers side-by-side views of a brunette sitting on the floor of her bedroom while gazing at the spectator, and perched outdoors on a railroad track with her head turned away. The lovely, doe-eyed girl seems stranded in a transitional space and yearning for escape. In Danielle at 19 and 21, a young woman with a sullen face sits under a canopy of withered leaves. In a second picture, her chestnut hair has grown out as she listens to her iPod on what looks like a college campus. The listlessness and torpor of her expression in both images is the same.
Despite these girls' submerged emotions, Tanemura evocatively tickles out a whisper of the trials of adolescence.
Perhaps one of the oddest pieces on exhibit is Rosario Rivera-Bond's Memorial to the Innocent, which at first seems like a heavy-handed warning against sudden infant death syndrome. The artist has propped the headboard of a baby crib against a wall and wedged a Kermit the Frog plush toy's neck between its wooden slats. Beneath the dangling toad is a bumper crop of colorful dollar-store silk flowers and more plush toys. It all hints at a Sesame Street mass grave. Though it's meant to bring to mind Amber alerts or images of children on milk cartons, it fails.
An artist statement informs that the "memorial" reflects on "the thousands of young lives lost in current times through war displacements, hate crimes, AIDS, and social abuse." Unfortunately the results appear watered down and puerile at best.
Next to it, Natalia Reparaz's Pre-Colombian Man-Eater packs a more visceral wallop and is laced with ditzy humor. Using pastels on butcher paper, the artist has drawn a primordial femme fatale. A nude woman bares a set of menacing fangs from a puss lined in fur. From her vulva sprouts a wicked, all-seeing eye. The artist's wit also erupts in Jurassic Sex, a small oil-on-canvas depicting an iguana boning a trollop while volcanoes blow their tops.
In Cleaning House, Donna Haynes offers a riff on sweeping away the cobwebs after failed relationships. The piece — made with charcoal, vinyl letters on paper, and Plexiglas — depicts a pair of disembodied hands furiously shaking the flaps of a hardbound book as its interior history tumbles downward letter by letter. The effect is not unlike a pestery cloud of swarming gnats.
Readily noticeable is that the exhibit appears better curated and the work more polished than those previously staged at Artformz. Even though some works are cramped, the gallery's eye toward less is an approach that will ultimately pay. Simmons-Jimenez has already generated some buzz with her marquee location in what many consider to be Wynwood's ground zero. "I've been contacted by several artists who want to perform or exhibit here because we are across the street from Fredric Snitzer and Kevin Bruk," she says.
Simmons-Jimenez may boast ruling the roost in an empty hood in August, but neighbors would argue that come September, she might discover her place in the pecking order soon enough.