On most nights, one could fire a cannon in the Wynwood Art District and not hit a soul. But when the starter pistol cracked on the season September 9, thousands of art patrons swelled the area's streets during a gallery crawl that began and ended with a bang.
Genaro Ambrosino, the sole holdout of North Miami's moribund gallery scene, uncorked his new Wynwood digs like a bottle of cut-rate spumante via "Half Way There," a group show featuring 21 artists.
Although he says he will keep a reduced presence across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Ambrosino informs that his North Miami space will be devoted to site-specific installations while he will be headquartered in Wynwood.
The dealer christened his joint with verve after having applied the finishing touches on the walls just moments earlier.
Jonathan Peck's impeccably crafted Out of the Trenches, situated on the floor in the center of the gallery, was among several pulverizing pieces at Ambrosino.
Peck fashioned two trench coats, one black and the other white, each topped by a Burberry-pattern skull and exactingly rendered out of construction and crêpe paper. The piece made for one of evening's cleverest statements.
Another artist with a taste for the visual bon mot was Frenchman David Le Roi. His Saw Cute, near the back of the gallery, featured a carpenter's work table holding a hand saw, its serrated edge appearing anointed in blood. A handful of bloodied ceramic fingers and plastic driblets of gore on the table and floor seemed to suggest that Ambrosino might have risked lopping off his digits while racing to open his doors.
For the most part, much of the rest of the work in the exhibit seemed hung with an eye for the checkbooks, as did work in several of the other spaces in the neighborhood.
At the Lyle O. Reitzel Gallery, "Inside Miami Garden" featured seven Hispanic artists' mixed-media pieces, many of them high-ticket canvases.
But Raquel Paiewonsky of the Dominican Republic, whose work was showcased at the gallery's entrance, stole the show.
In Levitation, she hung pantyhose from the ceiling and stuffed the toe end of the nylons with beeswax replicas of her own feet.
Isa, a spectacular Cibachrome photo, depicted the artist with her head bowed and her body clad completely in the hosiery. Her torso was tightly corseted in fishing twine. Sections of a red garden hose with dolls' hands attached to the ends jutted out from Paiewonsky's chest like porcupine quills.
Her weirdest piece was a Cibachrome diptych called Priapo Ruy. In it the artist squeezed a naked fellow into a flesh-tone nylon body tourniquet and tied his hands behind his back. The unsightly mook sported what looked like a low-riding cummerbund covered with a row of limp, uncircumcised burlap dicks. Despite the discomfiting imagery, Paiewonsky's work delivered a visceral uppercut and was difficult to peel the eyes from.
At Locust Projects, Michael Tedja's Mental Fight: An Anti Spell for the Twenty-First Century, drew the early crowds.
His brawny installation, taking up most of Locust's main gallery space, featured a wall covered in paintings under glass, many with empty beer bottles affixed to them. Below these works, numerous other paintings swept across a vast expanse of the floor and were slathered with what could have been the contents of Fred Sanford's junkyard.
A gallery handout described that for the Amsterdam-based artist, "Painting is like an intestine it's a container for indefatigable production, libidinal overdrives, endless research, and a stream of ideas that never ebbs." After experiencing the wacky stuff, one would find it difficult to argue with the description. Tedja's portraits of black men and women featured coins glued over the subjects' eyes and rays shooting from their peepers. Others appeared in gaudy wrestling masks. Gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans popped up everywhere. His paintings were densely covered with coat hangers, rhinestone-flecked bicycle tires, cat's cradles, tambourines, toilet paper tubes, a black Santa Claus doll, photographs, strips of painted wood, text, drawings, dirt, and seemingly just about anything else the artist could gobble up and regurgitate in his exuberant pop-cultural amalgamation. For all the obsessive-compulsiveness conveyed by the work, it suffered from too orderly a presentation, forcing the spectator to engage the individual pieces from a distance and leaving one unable to appreciate the more nuanced aspects of Tedja's work. The artist should have considered leaving room between the paintings exhibited on the floor, and arranged them in a way where the viewer could fully ingest the works by walking between the pieces.
In the project room, Nicolas D. Lobo's Miramar substation/EMF displacement, a model of the electromagnetic field generated by the power substation located next to Locust Projects, was one of the evening's head-turners. Lobo used thin lengths of lumber to create the large jagged-edge, matchsticklike sculpture that looked like the skeletal remains of a mountain range or an iceberg.
Up the block at Ingalls & Associates, Charles Huntley Nelson's video piece, Meditations on Mutropolis, on view in the south gallery, laced snippets of Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi's film Goodbye Uncle Tom. In the 1927 classic helmed by Lang, a mad scientist replaces humans with robot clones. Released in 1971, Goodbye Uncle Tom is likely the most incendiary film ever made about the evils of slavery. Nelson combined the films with provocative effect as an abstraction of the black experience and to convey notions of working-class people used as machines to build great civilizations. He did so in an effort to visualize the term Afrofutursim.
In Ingalls' north gallery, "Being There" featured work by William Cordova, Leslie Hewitt, Wardell Milan, and Carlos Sandoval de Leon. The four artists worked individually on what they refer to as an ensemble of works for sale only as a unit at $25,000.
Cordova's small collaged drawing, P'alante, Siempre P'alante (4-T. Smith & J. Carlos), made from images lifted from the Internet and hung ankle-level on an otherwise barren wall, depicted American athletes giving the black-power salute during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
On the space's floor, Sandoval de Leon placed a pickle jar full of spare change with a scuffed basketball atop it a reference, perhaps, to the passage of time or the spiritual beliefs common to many Hispanics, who keep jars of coins in the corners of their homes to increase economic fortune. The artist seemed to suggest that for many of America's downtrodden masses, professional sports might be the ticket to financial success.
The David Castillo and Brook Dorsch galleries featured tidy painting shows by Beth Reisman and Chris Byrd and Lucas Blanco and Mark Roder, respectively, and attracted steady crowds during the night.
Castillo's bar was the best in the hood, while Dorsch's spanking-new air conditioning was the talk of the town.
Kevin Bruk and Fredric Snitzer drew the largest crowds. Hundreds of scenesters and fat-wallet types kept both spots buzzing until the night's end.
In "broken smiles, lost tragedies, fractured talks, and in the end it was perfect," Bruk featured a luscious suite of large paintings by Craig Kucia that were undisputedly the evening's best and among the most eye-catching canvases appearing in town in a while. Kucia can sling paint like nobody's business.
One of Kucia's knockouts included and chapters bloomed in mounds of constructed wonder, in which a flock of owls was depicted roosting on a barren birch tree. The tree's trunk was full of knots built up sculpturally with an incredible amount of paint that appeared as if it might still be wet.
Elements of Kucia's work have a childlike, almost Play-Doh vibe, and are often rendered in a thick impasto technique that laps across the plains of his flat compositions to exaggerate details bursting with bubblegum pinks, sunflower yellows, howling reds, and sky blues as if conjured from layers of colored air.
In Bruk's project space, Frances Trombly's 550 linear feet of gumdrop-hue banners, the kind regularly seen strung across used-car lots, festooned the gallery's rafters and lay heaped in a celebratory pile on the floor. She created Louder and Tethered from hand-dyed silk and cotton thread on a loom stunning, labor-intensive works that were a beauty to behold.
At Snitzer, Gean Moreno's solo show featured ten hair-raising paintings, many mounted between raw floor-to-ceiling two-by-fours that achieved a quirky room-divider effect. The odd presentation obliterated the gallery's traditional wall exhibition space and forced spectators to walk around the pieces.
Bully was covered in strips of wallpaper, dripped over in tarry black paint, collaged with blue plaid and flame-pattern fabrics, and zigzagged over with streamers of plastic beads and curtain tassels. The results were opulent.
Elephant, another of Moreno's gob-smackers, which referenced Gus Van Sant's 2003 movie about a Columbine-like massacre, brought to mind the inside of a heavy-metal head's high school locker.
The painting was plastered with images of gargoyles, skulls, octopus tentacles, butterflies, tarantulas, album covers, and what appeared to be prayer flags. It also featured a couple of coat hooks from which thin belts hung, hinting at a nightmarish Gothic landscape of snakes and creepers.
After Bruk and Snitzer closed at 10:00, a woman who had visited their galleries was mugged down the street. She had been standing on a darkly lit corner while talking on her cell phone when a car pulled up and a man brandishing a handgun demanded her purse. He snatched her pocketbook after she refused to cooperate. When the woman foolishly tried to recover it as her assailant stalked away, the man turned and cracked her over the head with the gun. Several employees from a nearby chop shop saw the scuffle and fired pistols into the air to frighten the thug away.
News quickly spread throughout the neighborhood and the streets cleared out, draining the area of life.
Ironically both Snitzer and Bruk keep private security or off-duty cops on premises during openings, but they leave when the galleries close. One wonders why the City of Miami, outspokenly invested in promoting itself as a premier arts destination, has maintained such a low profile during the Wynwood arts crawls.
Here's hoping it won't take an Art Basel-bound German tourist getting shot while making the rounds in Wynwood and the attendant headlines before the city's police department makes its presence felt.
If it doesn't, and these crimes begin to occur with more frequency, chances are one willbe able to fire a cannon during the openings and no one will be around to take note.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Miami and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.