New Artists on the Block

The 1994-95 exhibition season has offered a number of group shows of works by local artists. These demonstrations of support have called upon a handful of artists who seem, for the moment at least, to top every curator's list. With all due respect to those artists, a spectator's sense of deja vu started to set in around February, after having seen several theme shows with similar lineups, particularly on Lincoln Road. These had their individual highs and lows, but they generally shared one weakness: A decision to include certain artists seemed to take precedence over a purposeful selection of works.

Hand in Place: Five New Artists in Miami, currently at Miami-Dade Community College's Wolfson Campus' Centre Gallery, features the work of artists who have not exhibited here extensively, if at all. Gallery director Amy Cappellazzo sought out artists who either recently moved to the area or whose names are otherwise unfamiliar to local gallery and museum visitors. New to Miami herself, Cappellazzo had no preconceived agenda; what she has chosen to display underscores the breadth of art being made here.

While "variety" characterizes the city's multicultural art scene, the MDCC curator takes a different approach to that notion. She does not define the participating artists by nationality, nor do all the works in the show relate to a particular subject. In this well-orchestrated exhibition, each work stands on its own, without the benefit of any imposed idea. And yet common themes -- technology, violence, and gender representation -- emerge, running through the sculpture, found objects, paintings, and video works in subtle, evocative ways. Color also creates relationships between the works: Several use silver and gold, and another, brighter palette of oranges, reds, and yellows can be found in many of the works. Cappellazzo has hung the gallery in a spare configuration that nicely offsets each individual piece.

At least one person, however, did not appreciate the curator's choices. Artist Jose-Maria Cundin felt that Cappellazzo underrepresented him by showing only three of his works. In fact he felt so strongly about the matter that on April 20, opening day of the exhibition, Cundin, somehow laboring under the impression that "Hand in Place" was supposed to be a retrospective of his work and not a group show, appeared outside the gallery with several of his large abstract paintings. In a typed handout, he cited the curator's "grave and irresponsible editing," stressing that he would continue to protest until "the defective decision of Ms. Cappellazzo has been corrected." Four days later, he had given up his vigil.

Rather than spotlight Cundin's unspectacular paintings, the curator has chosen instead to include two quirky objects from his studio. One, Confessional Chair, sits at the entrance to the gallery. Cundin took an ornate wooden chair and wrote on its ivory-colored cushion in black magic marker. The text, which begins "Dear user," details a neurotic diatribe in which "the chair" describes its impressions of the backsides of various previous sitters in an attempt to discourage additional people from planting their butts on it. The artist's Obelisk for the Celebration of the Millennium, a wooden construction painted gold and etched with text, stands in the middle of the gallery. The text can be read as a patriarchal admonishment of the human race and as a warning concerning the future. Both of these objects by Cundin have a contrived ingenuity that takes them a knowing step beyond folk art.

Christine Tamblyn, a video and performance artist transplanted from San Francisco, has produced a CD-ROM entitled She Loves It, She Loves It Not: Women and Technology. Visitors can see the piece on a computer that rests atop a hospital gurney in the back of the gallery. The viewer clicks on one of twelve categories presented on-screen in the form of daisies ("representation," "power," "the other," among them). Using pictures, explanatory texts, personal messages, and clips from films such as Roger Vadim's Barbarella and Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Tamblyn explores, among other topics, the connection between computer technology and the perpetuation of violence, and the idea of robotics as a manifestation of male birth envy -- i.e., that men have invented robots to take the place of the children they cannot naturally carry to term. Tamblyn's investigation into the gender politics of technology proves fascinating and quite entertaining for those with some prior interest in the subject. Others will probably tire quickly of her didactic, feminist rhetoric. (As with any interactive CD-ROM, the participant's experience depends on his or her motivation to continue clicking the mouse. She Loves It, She Loves It Not was created in 1993, and its functions already seem tediously slow compared to current CD-ROMs.) Tamblyn launches a more direct assault in a performance video called As the Worm Turns. Here, taking the stance of a stand-up comic, she very graphically describes her past sexual experiences in a swaggering tone usually identified with men. Her role reversal has a distinctly disquieting effect.

Elizabeth Knowles's Viruses cling to the wall strategically near Tamblyn's computer. The shapes of molecular structures inspire Knowles's expressive wire sculptures covered with thick gobs of acrylic paint. These hectic organic forms seem to move up and down the wall like germs under a microscope. In the opposite corner of the room, a much larger piece, Reconciliation, comes across as a poetic meditation on both the laws of science and the laws of human relationships.

When first viewed, Steve Bollman's two aluminum cookie cutters (at least four times the size of an actual cookie), rendered in the shapes of a knife and a gun, make for a humorous sight; ultimately, however, they induce a sobering reflection on violence. This impeccably crafted work, which he has called The Knife and Gun Club, serves as a chilling reminder of the irresponsible production of lethal weapons in our throwaway culture. Bollman also has produced a life-size woman constructed of individual cookie cutters, one for each body part. The aluminum outline of a woman lies on a gingham-covered table. Furnished with bright colored wooden handles, it begs to be played with, as if it were a seductive babe. Bollman has lived on South Beach for the past year and a half, after moving here from New York City; his new home has afforded him an opportunity to witness his neighbors' obsessive quest for the ideal body, one that can be produced at the gym by following a recipe of sorts. His works carry sharp commentary on elements of contemporary American culture that have a particular pertinence in Miami.

Rossana Montoya's large abstract paintings provide an esthetic contrast to the show's works done in less traditional media. Montoya uses earthy colors in these bold, emotionally expressive canvases. Additionally, her more conceptual series of drawings, also included here, analyzes the social significance of rings -- wedding rings, friendship rings, engagement rings, et cetera.

"Hand in Place" presents a fresh definition of art in Miami through a sophisticated group of artists whose work offers evidence of a substantial local talent pool that, if this show is a true representation, continues to grow.


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