By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Fruit, flora, and inanimate objects have received the marquee treatment at Wynwood's Gary Nader Fine Art all summer in an exhibit that's been wildly successful for the dealer.
"Insights on Still Life: From Matisse & Picasso to Botero & Muñoz Vera" features the works of artists ranging from Fernando Botero to Claudio Bravo, Mario Carreño, Julio Larraz, Henri Matisse, Armando Morales, Guillermo Muñoz Vera, Amelia Peláez, and Pablo Picasso, among others.
The eclectic show has undergone several incarnations, with luscious paintings of fruit flying off the walls at Nader's 50,000-square-foot cash-and-carry emporium, only to be quickly replaced by similar subject matter from the dealer's vast collection of more than 2,000 modern and contemporary pieces.
Those who missed Botero's artery-busting image of a watermelon needn't mope. The gallery has replaced it with Julio Larraz's equally corpulent depiction of the fruit, stripped of its rind and rendered close up against a starry night sky, giving the impression of a melon as a juicy Mars-red planet.
The shifting paintings on display span from the 1930s to present day and represent the still life genre through approaches such as cubism and photo realism.
One of the earliest pieces in the show is Matisse's Deux Péches (1936), an oil-on-canvas gem in which the artist isolated a pair of peaches on blue-and-white china atop an ornately carved gold-leaf table. The simplified perspective and use of flat outlines and bright, pure colors heighten the work's vibrancy.
Picasso's midcentury Composition à la Mandoline celebrates the master's cubist roots and depicts a deconstructed mandolin hanging from rope on a nail next to one of the artist's amorphic ceramic jugs and a wine bottle. The painting's background is executed in a muddy sea-foam green that makes the red stringed instrument pop out of the picture.
Two early-'40s works by Cuba's Mario Carreño tackle the genre with contrasting approaches. The first, Vaso con Flores, a medium-size oil-on-board piece from 1943, shows a large vase brimming with tropical flowers rendered with slashing brushstrokes that erupt across the surface in a rainbow of color. Bold emerald and orange hues vibrantly mix with sumptuous pinks and purples and gassy sky-blues, creating a swirl of tension that assails the peepers. The second, yet another curious ode to the watermelon at the gallery, titled Interior, was created by Carreño only two years later and favors a more geometric take on still life. It is rendered from a more subdued perspective, with an angular slice of the fruit next to a grenade-like pineapple and a pair of triangular white porcelain espresso cups atop a table viewed through wooden window shutters on an old Cuban home.
Guillermo Muñoz Vera's mastery of the genre in a photo-realistic style steals the thunder. The Chilean artist is represented by several oil-on-canvas paintings, laid on wood and varying in scale and color, that exude an atmospheric quality of timelessness and depict antiquarian tomes and ancient pottery. His technical wizardry and eye for subtle shading are evident in works such as Libros Antiguos y Escayola II (Ancient Books and Plaster II), in which old books, scrolls, a pair of antique spectacles, and an ancient Greek bust line a shelf ensconced in shadows. Equally impressive is a monochrome painting of three pre-Columbian clay pots resting on a museum shelf that seems to glow under direct sunlight. The salmon tones of the artist's sensuous surfaces and his deft use of hidden illumination sources make the work crackle with intensity.
Nicaragua's Armando Morales also employs great technical skill in suffusing his paintings with incandescent qualities. Naturaleza Muerta (1981) captures a handful of pears and plums atop a chest of drawers as waning rays of sunlight dance across the composition. An almost melancholy vibe seems to waft from the painting as a butter knife and tin containers, arranged next to the fruit, catch fading glints of light with exquisite tonal subtlety.
Among the more remarkable works here is Claudio Bravo's Hands (1962), which portrays four mannequins' time-weathered limbs resting atop a worn wooden shelf. Their sallow, ghostly digits are poised as if clawing at empty space or a frozen moment in time. The modest, dish towel-size work features a bloody red background reminiscent of an old kitchen wall's peeling paint, making the disembodied hands appear nearly lifelike against a pristine, starched white linen cloth. The fabric's folds and wrinkles are immaculately executed in a virtuoso display of the painter's eye for realistic detail.
Also on display at the gallery is an exhibit paying homage to Cuban master Cundo Bermúdez, who passed away at the age of 94 last October at his home in Miami's Westchester neighborhood. He was a founding member of Cuba's Association of Painters and Sculptors, and one of his last commissions graces the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
Honoring Bermúdez's prolific career and his contribution to Cuban art, the exhibit includes many of his paintings, along with works by modern and contemporary Cuban masters such as Angel Acosta León, Carlos Enríquez, Wifredo Lam, Víctor Manuel, Manuel Mendive, René Portocarrero, Mariano Rodríguez, and Tomás Sánchez.
"Insights on Still Life" runs through September 10, so stop by soon to take a bite out of the sumptuous stock.