Sergio Payares's Ocupando Zona Rica at 
    Riegner Gallery
Sergio Payares's Ocupando Zona Rica at Casas Riegner Gallery

Homegrown Style

According to a recent New York Times article by Benjamin Genocchio, a young generation is slowly changing the way art (and art business) is done in New York. The driving force behind this is, writes Genocchio, the "precarious economics" of the ventures and few interested sponsors. He evaluates the new work as apolitical, playfully sexual, with lots of kinkiness and gender bending, along with allusions to drugs, sex, pornography, and music.

Putting aside Genocchio's evaluations of the work itself, I read all of it and felt like saying: Welcome to Miami! New York is undergoing a social upheaval that we've already experienced for the past three years. Are we ahead of the Big Apple? We are, when it comes to our artistic cohesiveness. I think of alternative spaces that have changed our urban experience of Miami: PS 742, the Box, Locust Projects, The House, and the newly formed Worm-Hole Laboratory.

The House and its commercial gallery Placemaker are unique in that they keep morphing and fostering exchanges with the outside; and they didn't go nonprofit (a common route, but one that can present conflicts of interest in programming). Unfortunately The House in Edgewater is soon to be driven out to make room for a new real estate scheme -- developing the area into -- guess what? -- artists' lofts. While the members of The House ponder what to do next, they are also in charge. Martin Oppel and Daniel Arsham, Placemaker's directors, are young, serious, and committed. They call the new gallery "an extension" to The House, a place to show works that demand a different viewing experience. You'd agree; this is a very handsome gallery in the heart of the Design District, with tall ceilings, plenty of space, and a clean view from the street.

Placemaker's most recent show features Jason Hedges and Guild & Greyshkul (another collective of young artists from New York). Hedges's "Deeply Rooted Distilled Flower Fungus Seedpot Pollen" is a spectacle in between sensorial zones: He built a performance feast of sight, taste, and smell. At the opening you could sample three different kinds of grappa, distilled (on the spot) from wine. He exhibited a variety of mushroom vitrines, though I felt more attracted to his mushroom prints, which he made from the spores' sweat. Hedges proceeded to dice and sauté shiitake, porcini, and morel mushrooms in a buttery sauce and invited people to sample. As all of this went on, the environment was infused with the sweet smell of vanilla, coming from a scent vaporizer inside an adjacent room. Hedges's wit is always surprising.

Guild & Greyshkul's exhibit had video, photo, sculpture, drawing, and painting. Over and above judging the individual works, what I think is important is the curatorial cohesiveness of the total. The show succeeds in presenting works that share a mood and a vocabulary. Some of my favorites: Valerie Crosswhite's funny Fox Chasing Rabbit, on canvas; the careful and deliberate drawings of Benjamin Degen's Caged Songs, a well-thought composition where music and lack of freedom is aptly conveyed through simple means. Or take the refined lines of Ernesto Caivano in his Beardsley-like Alignments in Bloom, in which paper work, nature, and graceful patterns commingle.

The sculptures are odd in shape but well constructed, with an interesting and disparate mix of materials. I liked Five of Cups by Anya Kielar, a mortar and pestle work pouring black resin on the floor, which reflects the image (in digital C-print) of some European ornamental garden. There is also Johannes Vanderbeek's Nowhere Man, a circular marble and mosaic monument with dry leaves, a poetic comment on John Lennon's memorial in New York's Central Park.

This valuable exchange between New York and Miami will continue -- artists from Placemaker will exhibit soon at Guild & Greyshkul's space in New York.

Leonel Matheu is an iconic artist. That is to say, he sees the world and then transforms it through a filter of very personal symbols. His images have a cartoonlike quality and for the most part, they take me to the urban experience of the nomad. Walls, factories, generic buildings, grasshoppers, little paper boats, and stars all rendered in a seemingly simple, yet layered narrative where Matheu's main character -- a cylindrical head (not unlike Mr. Potato Head) with a Pinocchio nose and an ingenuous stare -- witnesses the ups and downs of our epoch.

I like this art's archaic simplicity and its sad existential import. Matheu's titles help to see life's everyday moments: The Lie, Perceptions, The Password, Stardom. Matheu's canvases are like huge tarot cards with no fixed meanings, but all pointing to our open choices. His crisscrossed four corners installation and a video of Matheu inside a pool showing only his head above water are also part of the show. "Good Intentions" is showing at Dot Fiftyone Gallery.

Sergio Payares's "Visions of a City" at Casas Riegner Gallery shows a mature artist who keeps evolving. Payares used to be more concerned with formal integrity, where each element of the overall composition makes sense. This is an artist with a figurative but very sparse style, where human limbs and heads, ships, flags, stairs, etc., are connected by lines that serve as geometric pointers linking pictograms scattered all over the work's internal space. Now I see him giving freer rein to internal narrative, and it makes the whole painting come out as in fact more cohesive. His style is still sparse yet richer; those lines connecting limbs have now become like structural scaffolding for further pictograms.

An example is Ocupando Zona Rica (Occupying a Rich Zone), a commanding canvas in the middle of the space's right wall, which looks like a huge insect walking on dozens of human legs, its fish-filled belly painted in red and its carapace crowned by seven chimneys.

Finally in the back is the exhibit "Unraveling," a collaboration between locals Lynne Golob Gelfman and Eugenio Espinoza. The work stretches the boundaries of each artist's style, without losing authenticity. Gelfman provided the surfaces with her greenish/bluish colors and patterns; Espinoza added edge, volume, and his material touch of abandon we have come to appreciate. Each composition was a surprise, as if they were three-dimensional stunts.

"Deeply Rooted Distilled Flower Fungus Seedpot Pollen" By Jason Hedges through February 28 at Placemaker, 3852 N Miami Ave; 305-576-6695.

"Visions of a City" and "Unraveling" By Sergio Payares and Lynne Golob Gelfman and Eugenio Espinoza through February 29 at Casas Riegner Gallery, 25 NE 39th St; 305-573-8242.


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