If These Walls Could Talk
"To Blink" is an exciting show by Argentinean Liliana Porter at Casas Riegner Gallery in the Design District. Porter's work has a reflective quality about it, which reminds me of early Dutch painting. She adds windows and mirrors, to invade their apparently serene bourgeois interiors. Porter takes up aesthetic and artistic tools to convey challenging images, ones that make us think of the act of seeing. But isn't this what art is all about? You assume that by losing yourself in artwork, you become sovereign. But no. In the pleasure of direct contemplation, we are surprised to find we have company. In a sense Porter's pieces already look at themselves before you look at them, and this refraction presents interesting aesthetic consequences.
Chinese figures and motifs, animal and child imagery (often in porcelain) -- these are a sparse set of elements with which to do so much. Porter turns them into attractive narratives. Take Girl with Rubber Dog, where a somewhat untidy girl-doll looks at a figurine puppy protruding halfway into the photo. Imagine if the face of this sweetie, saturated in a glossy reddish color, also exudes a malevolent innocence. Dialogue/Limit is a large white canvas showing a small Chinese figurine on a pedestal, almost touching the beak of a tiny bluebird's head, which is glued to the canvas's surface. More than glances, they share a secret.
Since somebody is already permanently looking, one feels somewhat excluded from the first pleasure of viewing. This tête-à-tête occurs within white, untouched and generally asymmetric canvases. The white surface becomes ideal to place Porter's "moments" of reflection, like in To Hide, a black-and-white painting with Chinese decoration concentrated in the lower left of the canvas. One almost misses the tiny ceramic figurine on black painted wood, fastened right behind the edge of the painting.
Porter's video sheds light into the creative process of the artist. In a string of vignettes we see the ambivalent, unpredictable, and often violent relationship between us and our world, consisting of a disparate collection of wind-up toys, figurines, and stuffed animals "performing." Yet as much as I enjoyed Porter's production, with good music by Sylvia Meyer, I found the video less successful than her photo-paintings in translating her ideas. Perhaps in the fluid medium, these images become a kitsch reduction of a much more baffling proposition than she has hanging on these walls.
Locust Projects is a unique venue in Miami. The nonprofit's recent shows break the mold of traditional art exhibits. Although some of the shows may get on people's nerves, its commitment and boldness make it one of the city's most audacious galleries. Don't go because of this show's title, "The Night Crazy Legs Went GQ: New Projects By Miami Artists." Locust Projects uses titles the way professors will use "All of the Above" -- that is, to throw people off. Now it's becoming obsessive by adding longer and more cryptic words in between colons. But it's a nice show by some of Miami's best up-and-coming artists with painting and installation containing photo, video, and sculpture. More than the pieces themselves, I'd like to address how the pieces play together.
Jacin Giordano's paintings are achieved by successive layers of colorful paint that turn into patterns. They strike me as jazzy (referring to the ordered execution behind the seemingly chancy). What causes these munificent splotches of brown over yellow, or light blue square grids over cracked white background -- the artist's hand, gravity, or the natural interspersion of the paint fluid?
Giordano's work has something in common with Vicky Pierre's skillful paintings, in which she mixes images of petals, jellyfish, bubble clusters, flowery forms, and zigzagging calligraphy in a poetic, colorful whole. Pierre's layered works have particular moods. They differ from Giordano's in that she seems to let transparency speak. In Pierre's bigger pieces, the script becomes more recurring. Clearly legible, the content has a message, taking formal precedence over other elements, albeit I don't know how to "read" the calligraphy in front of me.
Gavin Perry's work evokes a moment in our culture, within its abstraction of fragmented signs, surface gloss, and polished execution. People interpret his work as "macho," but I see it as subtle, under the skin, and groovy. Perry's painting plays well with Michael Loveland's installation, expressing a parallel moment in American culture. I liked the superimposition of sign and lit scaffolding. At some point we forget what matters -- the picture of what this really is, or the faded sign for which the image once stood.
In the adjacent room, Kyle Trowbridge's video aptly conveys what is truly big and small and the banality of it all. A man dressed in suspenders obsessively and aimlessly chops up wood with a hatchet. The camera zooms in on his neurotic face and puffy upper body. Together with it, we see a huge tree trunk whose enormous severed shaft now holds the extremely small sculpture of the same man in the video.
On a final note an art writers' panel, curated by Joel Weinstein, at Dorsch Gallery last Wednesday went very well -- great turnout and people asked important questions. The event gave me an insight into some of my colleagues' frames of mind: A kind of consensus developed that we are supposed to write about what we like -- for the sake of space and effort. I have to respectfully disagree. It was assumed that what critics write about is good simply because they write about it. We end up with the self-indulgent, self-deceiving critic.
Can a critic dislike something that is actually good? Yes. Is it possible that a show will appear at first to be what it's not? It happens all the time. And it's meaningful and desirable to inform the public. As critics we also have the obligation to address things we do not like, reflectively and responsibly. We may be doing more good by speaking openly about it than glossing over it, as if it did not exist.
Next panel at MDCC-Centre Gallery comes up at the end of March and it deals with art within academia. The panelists are to be announced soon.
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