Night in the Abstract
With the long hot summer almost a muggy memory, Miami gets to turn its attention to cooler pursuits, such as a revved-up arts scene. The pace of activities already has quickened, and -- good news -- the quality of exhibitions has improved. This was evident on a Saturday night in late September, after visiting three shows at the galleries around North Miami Avenue: Bernice Steinbaum, Dorsch, and Locust Projects. Along with the Rubell and the Margolis collections, this cluster of galleries has become a favorite art hangout in Miami.
First the Dorsch Gallery, which is featuring whence by artist Kerry Ware. The show explores the tension between open-ended acts of chance and the final product. Ware's New Vibrations for an Old Galaxy is a constellation of little wood pegs in different sizes drilled into the wall that resembles a galactic pattern roughly in the shape of a square -- like every other piece in the exhibition. These starlike designs seem to gravitate and form groups, receding and leaving blank spaces in between, as if dissipating energy. Some stars are colored red, but are scattered enough to yield balance. One can see Ware's intention to incorporate the idea of chance into his work as he goes along. The complex texture of the piece reveals a kind of musical pulse. Another nice touch: On the upper left side, a delicate tail of stars appears to fade away, sanded into the texture of the wall, the surface of which seems to swell. Since this work is so much about the process, it pays to take a look at Ware's studies for the piece. (Three are on view.)
Ochremblem is a huge square painted ochre and placed over a wooden platform. The base of the square is cut, its edges rounded. Because of its geometry and color, Ochremblem could represent a number of things, such as the act of yielding, or giving something of oneself. Here the abstract can almost touch the concrete, a dynamic that Ware poetically suggests. Bethink is an imposing piece. Starting close to the high ceiling and beneath a wall-to-wall plank of unvarnished wood, we see thin streams of warm colors dripping down the wall to the base below, which is made of a similar strip of wood. Standing before this particular square, Bethink looks like a gigantic abstraction verging on the sublime, and one can feel overwhelmed. It brings to mind Immanuel Kant and Edmund Burke's admonition in cases like this: They speak of a place beyond the beautiful, where the aesthetic pull is so strong that nothing, except awe, can be felt. Bethink and Ochremblem are deranged, disjointed pieces that move outside themselves. Enough said.
Locust Projects is presenting 4Play, with local artists Charo Oquet, Rafael Galvez, José Reyes, and Wendy Wischer. Here the result is somewhat mixed. One problem is space. The venue at Locust is not that large, and Oquet and Galvez's big and busy installations seemed to intrude upon each other.
Also problematic are some of the artists' statements vis-à-vis their material delivery. Return to the Tree, by artist Galvez, tries too many things at once. Conceptual art, being about abstractions, needs balance; if not it can become indecipherable. As the writer Umberto Eco said, Decoding means understanding a code. This Galvez doesn't do. He makes things worse by trying to explain what he has in mind, printed in a separate statement furnished by the artists. His is the longest, bringing in a bizarre array of (among other things) paleo-ornithology, the book of Genesis, the huluppu tree, and an overlapping of Sumerian and Mayan civilizations.
Reyes's piece has wit, but I have to disagree with what he thinks he is delivering. A little wax star, glued to a door's surface, is not enough to support what Reyes purports as the false sense of grandeur placed on artists. Rather, I simply see a door shaped like a keyhole, which is as good as it gets.
For some time Oquet has developed a colorful language to highlight sacred spaces. Her Site #2 is special because it manages a bit of cultural syncretism. The installation displays five altars sitting on tall crutches, surrounding a main altar with typical symbols of Afro-Caribbean religions. These tall pedestals seem more akin to rites of worship in the Far East. They are loudly decorated with ribbons, embroidery, and all sorts of frills and paper flowers in reds, blues, greens, and yellows. Big colored balls hang from the ceiling, hovering over felt-blanket bundles -- a good thing to balance the mostly upward movement in an almost (given the space) too dense environment.
Wischer's He told her she had the mouth of a cocksucker, a 26-photo series of antics of the artists' mouth, was fun. If you look from left to right and back again, you detect some kind of mouth movement, but not of the ones actually photographed.
Finally Bernice Steinbaum opened Unbroken Spirit: The American West. I'm glad it was my last stop. As the sweet smell of oil paint filled the gallery, I stood in front of Theodore Waddell's Montana, 2000, a huge ten-by-eighteen-foot oil triptych. Imagine the painting of a serene blue sky of this size, with soft clouds and shades of whitish-bluish pink showing through. Below, a vast horizon is gently hinted at through closely knit brush textures in Prussian blue. Waddell may have intended to represent the vastness of the frontier, but to me it looked like a kind of prehistoric blueprint, an emblem for a peaceful world that no longer exists and can't in these times of noise and capital. After seeing this work, your world cannot be the same.
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