By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Not all the fighting cocks peppering Little Havana's folksy gallery scene are wretch-inducing boils on the landscape. Beyond the lurid fiberglass monstrosities masquerading as public art in front of restaurants and cigar shops on Calle Ocho — some of the fowls garishly clad in chef toques and rainbow-bright aprons, others pimping spats and straw boaters — there exists an occasional interesting study of the ubiquitous subject that, for baffling reasons, remains the rage with tourists and collectors.
A fine example is Bruno Venier's Gallo Urbano (Urban Cock), on view at the Cremata Gallery's "Summer Exhibition," featuring 40 works from the space's Latin American roster. The work will be on display during this Friday's edition of Viernes Culturales, the popular Little Havana cultural block party that takes place on SW Eighth Street between 17th and 13th avenues every last Friday of the month.
Venier's rooster, rendered in a slashing expressionistic style, boasts a prickly pink crest and chalk-white, brick-red, and flesh-toned feathers as its stands amid a roughly executed waterfront scene that recalls the gritty docks ringing Argentina's Mar del Plata. The turgid cock rears up from the center of the seedy landscape, leveling an ominous gaze at the spectator.
More than just your typical summer fire sale, the Cremata Gallery's group show has some compelling works on display mixed in with the seaside landscapes and sundry offerings hung to pay the bills.
That's a tribute to owners and art collectors Raúl Cremata, a former bean counter, and his wife Lourdes, late of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system, who both shucked their careers to pursue their dream of running an art space.
Compared to the dozen or so artist studios and galleries that share the four-block strip, the couple's operation is among the most polished, and business appears to be booming.
That's because Cremata's eye seems more refined than those of his competitors and because, in large part, he eschews the local tourist trade that snatches up nostalgic scenes of guajiros cutting sugar cane or mulattas balancing fruit baskets on their heads, or the smarmy Cuban landscapes choking many of his neighbors' windows.
Fine examples are two Humberto Castro works rendered in ink and oil on paper. The first, El Juego Peligroso (The Dangerous Game), depicts a supine man anchored in space by boats and houses tethered to his flesh. The figure's spine bristles like a network of small blinking lights as a disembodied hand is poised to rip at his backbone with a torture device shaped like a claw.
Equally compelling is Castro's El Cazador (The Hunter), which portrays a shadowy chap decked out in S&M gear and cradling a 9mm handgun. The malevolent rogue is getting his jollies taking target practice at seminude trapeze artists dangling arms and legs akimbo from a merry-go-round-like contraption. Castro's drawings employ smoky shading that ratchets up the gloom on his already sinister subject matter.
Likewise, Erman Gonzalez evokes notions of pain and suffering with No Hay Corona Sin Espinas (There Is No Crown Without Thorns), a nifty painted and cut-paper wall installation of tangled thorns created in deep pomegranate hues that bring to mind Christ's torment during the Crucifixion.
On a much lighter note, check out Enrique Toledo's untitled Renaissance-style oil-on-canvas of a nude Venus lounging in a piece of succulent tropical fruit in the marble courtyard of an Italian coastal village.
Much like his neighbors, Cremata — who has worked himself into the position of vice president of Viernes Culturales since he first hung his shingle in Little Havana only three years ago — has proven even he can't resist displaying a painting of a juicy papaya.
Perhaps the most intriguing exhibit in the artsy nabe can be found off Eighth Street at Estudio Potrony Fine Art. "Yo Soy Consciencia" ("I Am Conscience"), titled after a line from one of José Martí's poems, is a collaborative group show teaming professional artists with artists who have Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, or other mental condition.
Organized by award-winning filmmaker and documentarian Javier Echeverría and artist Radames Potrony, the show includes 27 participants, some of whom receive art therapy at Faye Clark's New Horizons in Hialeah.
Echeverría is working on a documentary about artist Vicente Dopico-Lerner and his brother, Antonio, who lives with mental illness, and their unusually strong bond through art making.
Echeverría has undertaken this project and the traveling exhibit in order to create awareness of the lack of public funding or programs for art therapy for those with mental disabilities.
Captivating works on display include Shana Morris's portraits of friends, whose hair and jewelry are rendered in raucous riots of glitter.
Another compelling piece, by artist Cesar Beltran, depicts Cuban apostle José Martí emblazoned across Old Glory. The image caused a ruckus a few years ago when it was first exhibited in a show at the Maxoly Gallery on Calle Ocho, where some lunatic shot out the space's front window in protest.
Most striking about the show are its seamless curation and the homogeny of content and quality among much of the art on exhibit.
As part of this Friday's Little Havana art walk, the group Fusion 4 will perform a mix of Cuban son, salsa, and timba favorites at Domino Park. Also, Alex del Sol, who goes by the moniker "the Piano Man," will belt out public requests on the ivories at the corner of 16th Avenue and SW Eighth Street. For more information, call 305-643-5500 or visit viernesculturales.org.