Another Man's Treasure
Carlos Gallardo would be in hog heaven if he had the keys to Fred Sanford's junkyard.
The Argentine artist's found object assemblages currently on display at Pan American Art Projects are cooked up from bra straps, metal springs, shredded handkerchiefs, lead wire, rusty hinges, music stands, aging photographs, mail and mailboxes, nuts and bolts.
Not unlike a packrat archeologist, Gallardo mucks about the margins of memory to create consciously vague pieces, often preserved in a crusty coating of sallow resin to suggest the slow tick of time.
The gallery has gathered nearly 40 of his works dating back to the mid-Nineties, reflecting a broad range of his oeuvre. Unfortunately they are sardined together in the space in such a way they nearly seem to pounce off the walls.
Situated on the floor at the entrance, Ganchera is an old-fangled iron mail-sorting rig that curves like a horseshoe and holds thirteen mesh bags. They are crammed to overflowing with black and white photocopies of strangers, family, and friends. The piece seems to chronicle a sense of homesickness the artist may have encountered during his migrations from Argentina to Brussels to Canada and back again. They also hint at the pictures of the "disappeared" posted by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo during Argentina's Dirty War.
Another piece fiddling with identity and loss is On & Off (Floresta), in which the artist poses basic questions: what, who, how, when, where, and why words that crop up often in other works throughout the show. He arranges these queries in Spanish across sections of a mailbox with lead wire. The mailbox's surface has been covered with crumpled pictures of family and buried under resin, making them appear like a swarm of bugs trapped in amber. Under the cloudy, curdled milk gloss, a man cradles a baby, a boy rides a donkey and a teen leans against a wall dressed like a clown. Do these photos depict Gallardo as a youngster? He teasingly leads the viewer to believe they might, without ever letting on, despite the pervasive sense of nostalgia dripping off the work.
He also uses letters and correspondence in many of his older pieces on display to evoke an unsettling sense of detachment, rootlesness, and a struggle to make sense of the past.
Frequently these letters are bolted together with screws and arranged on the wall or braced by hinges alongside each other and placed on music stands in the center of the gallery. They are all bathed in a pooled-urine-hue gelatin sheen, making the bleeding text underneath impossible to read. Their meaning, Gallardo slyly seems to suggest, is as fleeting as time.
The most striking works here are four pieces from his recent "Queen Size" series, resembling bed frames and comprised of poetically arranged detritus that chuck a dart between the eyes.
La Fugitiva ("The Runaway") is a stark black metal bed frame strung lengthwise with torn scarves and metal springs, its knotted fabric reminiscent of a jailbird's escape. Viewing La Generosa ("The Generous"), one almost wants to pluck the piece like a harp, upon discovering it's made from bra straps and springs.
What makes Gallardo's art so distinctive may be his surprising use of materials, embracing a little of everything but the kitchen sink, not to mention the nagging sense of missed intimacy with which a viewer may walk away from his show.
Where Gallardo lashes at a runaway gallop to examine the ravages of time, Cuban artist Agustin Bejarano ambles on his mount to examine individual alienation in his series of canvases that appear older than dirt.
Works from his "Rites of Silence" series pack Pan American's back space. They often depict a solitary figure on horseback in a lonely abyss.
Forget those wide-open spaces where the protagonist rides off into the sunset in the old West; in Los Ritos del Silencio CCCXV Bejarano's tragic cowpoke sits atop his horse on a desolate archipelago made up of nine uninhabitable earthen mounds. The surface of the picture makes it seem painted on the cracked mud of a dry riverbed, and the figure resonates with a blistering frailty that brings to mind Edward Norton's imploding character from Down in the Valley.
Los Ritos del Silencio CCXX, a large tondo on the rear wall, features the same figure marooned with his horse on a bleak rock. The canvas is all fissures and scabs, awash in pitch black with the exception of a spit of light illuminating the anguished figure from above.
In yet another huge tondo next to it, from which the series takes its name, Bejarano's nowhere man is perched on a soaring scissor ladder as he contemplates the gaping craters pocking the earth below. The painting is streaked in dirty shades of white and ochre as if reduced to a single muddied hue, and though shadows are detectable in the scene, the source of light is invisible in the muffled gloom.
The artist also places the forlorn figure on a capsized dinghy in one painting, and on the back of a rowboat in a stagnant swamp in another.
Los Ritos del Silencio CCXIV depicts the figure in the rowboat standing with his head bowed and his hands tightly clasped in prayer. But rather than conveying a life-enhancing moment, Bejarano sucks the life out of the landscape by bleeding it of color and soaking the man and his boat in what appears a nasty splash of gray, bone-white, and black rain.
His paintings wash over the viewer like a calcified wave, yet despite being marinated in an aura of emptiness and self-annihilation, they take aim at the heart of our transitory existence. More often than not, they connect.
In Pan American's video room, Nora Correas beats audiences over the head with her installation, Chinese Music.
Conceived as a commentary on China's exploding marketplace and diminished water sources threatening the planet during the next twenty years, Correas's message comes across like marshmallow agitprop.
The Argentine artist painted the room an imperial Chinese red and covered the walls with hundreds of toy-soldier-scale ceramic Chinese dolls in folkloric dress, each playing a musical instrument, to project a sense of China as a burgeoning economic colossus according to a muddled wall text.
To convey the sense of the peril facing the planet's water supply, and how wars will be fought over it as early as 2025, she has arranged fifteen fish tanks on the floor in a pyramid shape, some filled with clear water, others with water polluted with oil.
As one steps into the room, traditional Chinese music sweetens the air before inexplicably jumping to a hokey instrumental version of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," begging the question: Why doesn't the gallery pull the plug on this mess? But you have to cut Pan American some slack. The space, which opened this past December in time for Art Basel, is still working out the kinks.
Boasting one of the cleanest spaces in town, and showing works by Latin American artists rarely seen in these parts, Pan American is among Miami's new crop of galleries showing promise, and one that's smart enough to own up to its hiccups to boot.
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