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In Our Own Image

Wall, by Mette Tommerup

Miami is in the news again! We have become one of the top five cities for worst traffic congestion in the nation. A report published by the Texas Transportation Institute, which covers 75 urban areas, also reveals the price Americans pay for their congestion: $69.5 billion in wasted time and gas on our highways. In Miami this means we spend on average 63 hours a year stuck in our cars, topped by only two cities, Denver and Los Angeles (check the report at tti.tamu.edu/). Just one more negative outcome of a dysfunctional system -- so what can we do? Should we go "interventionist," putting our decision process in the hands of bureaucrats, or keep our anemic laissez-faire policies until our environment is damaged beyond repair?

Mette Tommerup's advice is to get involved. Her show "Free Transform" at Fred Snitzer Gallery, mostly photo plus video, has a just-now feel to it: artificially crisp and yet organic. Anyone remember a time when we felt like we feel right now? The world seemed upside down and though a little different, it was also the same. Tommerup's images look fuzzy, as if acknowledging their vagueness in today's ambiguous political contexts. See them through a transparent beehive wall, like a maze of flecks where each little hexagon holds a hue and your eyes move from shade to shade. My favorite piece is a handsome, big rectangular photo of a wall covered with graffiti -- later I discover it is a segment of the Berlin Wall. Read it: The message is the medium.

It's possible that we have run out of symbols, so Tommerup usurps old ones: the peace cross, the fingers in a "V" sign, the image of the sitting Buddha. Worn-out metaphors, overused, yes, but we may need them to build new ones. Tommerup intimates committed renegotiations of our living environments. Are these anti-metaphors a call to activism, in the sense of stimulating interventions to reshape our lives?

If so, I missed the artist's own hand in upsetting general complacency, particularly the kind technology generates; perhaps a hands-on collage, which, in the context of activism, makes a difference -- if you think how matter-of-factly a PC can crop an image by pixelating it. What I mean is the sort of labor-intensive marks that turn the most seemingly artificial into, well, the very human.

Next to Snitzer, "White Things," a show from Cuban artist René Peña, opened at Diana Lowenstein Gallery. In his photos the artist appears as object and subject, but Peña, a black photographer, knows how to morph subtle signifiers. Peña turns "white" into something of an accessory, a kind of ornament to be worn. And he truly enjoys it. Not all the photos have the same force, but some are exquisitely done. Peña is at his best when he brings together textures and hues so close that "white" becomes sort of wearable; a "part of" the sensual black male (or female?) body, as if one cannot exist without the other. White things such as a seashell necklace, linen shirt, fake nails, worn-out bra, or, as in my favorite photo in the show, Peña's face in profile holding a cigarette. I looked at this "black-smoking-white" image and thought of what the French intellectual Roland Barthes called "punctum," as in having that certain something few photos have, so that you just can't stop looking at them.

Several weeks ago a critic compared New York and Miami: "You know what I miss about New York when I come to Miami? Graffiti." Unfortunately he had left before the opening of the Placemaker Gallery and "And I Quote" by Tao Rey. I have to say that I prefer my graffiti rougher than this. But I hold nothing against Rey's work, which is polished. The elegant white calligraphy letters flow in baroque curlicues with a dancing quality to them, set against glittering white and grayish backgrounds.

I like that the messages look crowded in their syntactic concision. And the titles are the pieces: These Words Are All I've Got, Understanding is the Key, or In the Words. They remind me of Japanese lettering or Arabic script, where the intensity of the message is related to the calligraphy's ability to fill in the given space.

Placemaker is a commercial gallery run by the artists from The House. As they put it in their Website: "We seek to create an innovative model for an arts organization ... a balanced commercial/noncommercial entity, allowing for The House to maintain uncontaminated autonomy over its program."

Using a language akin to the political, the text goes on: "In the past, artists were dependent on validation by existing structures or hierarchies ... married to what might now have become antiquated methods ... now artists are empowered by ... notions of autonomy (director/entrepreneur), by astutely co-opting all the steps between the ideas in their work and its interaction with a viewer."

"All the steps?" I wish this last paragraph were true, but once inside the market, I don't see how one can be autonomous from galleries and museums and dealers and ... critics. This puzzled me: "An artwork's value lies primarily in the abstract exchange that it is able to produce between a viewer and itself." I have to side with good old Marx. Let's not forget that value and viewer are not outside a bigger context: the market.

Placemaker seems a nice venture and I wish all involved success. By the way, check their site at www.placemakergallery.com with artists' bios, comments, manifestos, and a calendar of upcoming events.


Don't miss "Cuban Interiors" by Robert Van der Hilst at the Centro Cultural Español (Spanish Cultural Center). This is a spectacular photo show mixing images from Cuba and Miami. And you won't know which is which. Van der Hilst's sagacity lies in presenting a homogeneous picture of peoples that, at least on the political surface, are thought to be quite different. Pose, light, and composition are captured by a wary eye that sees into the soul. Call it what you want -- tropical Dutch, Miami kitsch, post-Communist blues -- these protagonists are true to themselves and the places they inhabit and that's what art is about.

Openings

Alliance Français de Miami: Together with fellow disloyal/very courageous (you pick) travelers the German Consulate, works by Hans Feyerabend make up "foreign exchange," accompanied by music from DJ James Brian. Opening on Friday, October 17, at 7:00 p.m. at the Alliance Français de Miami, 1414 Coral Way; 305-859-8760.

CW Gallery: "The Exhibition of Unidentified Objects" is the latest show from Ali, a native best known for his photographs of erotic nudes. Opening on Friday, October 17, at 8:00 p.m. at the CW Gallery in Jade Lounge (hosting an afterparty), 1766 Bay Rd., Miami Beach; 305-695-0000.

Kevin Bruk Gallery: "What Fun Our Life Could Have Been" is the way Craig Kucia pictures his exhibit, which shows along with Daniel Scheimberg's "De-Focusing." Opening on Saturday, October 18, at 7:00 p.m. at the Kevin Bruk Gallery, 3900 NE First Ave; 305-576-2000.

PS 742: Billed as an interactive lesbian art happening, "Spill" will feature sculpture, drawing, poetry, etc. from a variety of local artists -- and you, if you so choose. Starting at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 16, at PS 742, 1165 SW Sixth St., Little Havana; 786-423-5660. Suggested donation is $5.

Tasd Gallery: Another addition to the Design District opens with "Poemas ... oil on canvas" from Julio Martilla, a Cuban painter now living in France, whose work will show to the tune of the chamber music group DaCapo Ensemble. Opening on Thursday, October 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Tasd Gallery, 2 NE 40th St., Ste. 202; 305-576-7150.

Ongoings

The Fredric Snitzer Gallery: "Free Transform": By Mette Tommerup through November 1 at 3078 SW 38th Ct; 305-448-8976.

Diana Lowenstein Gallery: "White Things": By René Peña through October 31 at 3080 SW 38th Ct; 305-774-5969.

The Placemaker Gallery: "And I Quote": By Tao Rey through November 22 at 3852 N Miami Ave; 305-576-6695.

The Centro Cultural Español: "Cuban Interiors": By Robert Van der Hilst through October 31 at 800 Douglas Rd, ste 170, Coral Gables; 305-448-9677.


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