There's a kind of contemporary painting that examines what it means to be making a contemporary painting. Highly recursive, it mines art history and the visual record for intense, sometimes injurious remixing. Its grandpappy is Gerhard Richter, whose 40 years' worth of paintings were on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year: mostly interpretations of photographs, with sometimes subtle, sometimes heavy alterations. (Even Richter's abstractions seem to have gotten their start as mushed-around photographic images; this fooled some smart people into thinking that he worked in a wide variety of modes.) If Richter is this style's granddad, Laura Owens is the precocious big sister. Owens was the subject of a big show at the MoCA Los Angeles earlier this year, proving that she could recombine everything from Chinese painting to faux-naif illustration into enormous paintings -- ten and twelve feet on a side -- that had no impact. (Unfortunately for her, the show ran opposite a Lucian Freud career retrospective that would have pounded a stronger painter into jelly.)
Two more practitioners of this kind of painting, looking like Richter and Owens respectively, are Daniel Scheimberg and Craig Kucia, whose exhibits, "De-Focusing" and "What Fun Our Life Could Have Been," are on display at Kevin Bruk Gallery. Scheimberg makes soft-focus images derived from photographs. His angle is to take advantage of the fact that defocused light sources mix in the atmosphere in front of the viewer. Pointillism à la Seurat comes to mind, but this is a little different; he's interested in the way colors mix as light rather than pigment. (It's a different color wheel. The pigment primaries are red, blue, and yellow. The light primaries are red, blue, and green. There's a ton of stuff about this on the Internet if you're interested.)
It's a neat trick --- a picture such as Remuh (2000) has oranges going out of focus next to blues, forming a fuzzy strip of green between them that gives everything a surprising intensity. I wonder, then, why he bothers with three monochromal works that deprive him of the opportunity to use his color effects. One of these is a giant matzo rendered in sepias; defocused, it looks like burnt parchment from a 1940s photograph. Opposite is a wall of tombstones inscribed with Hebrew, in Vaseline-smeared black and white, and a Richter-esque image of empty theater seats. The out-of-focus look seems to be trying to evoke nostalgia, but the effect is unintentionally schmaltzy. Another color piece -- a beach scene in the front office -- is more engaging and more interesting visually. Angst doesn't work for every artist.
"De-Focusing" and "What Fun Our Life Could Have Been"
Kevin Bruk Gallery, 3900 B NE 1st Ave., Miami
By Daniel Scheimberg and Craig Kucia, through November 28; Call 305-576-2000, kevinbrukgallery.com.
If Laura Owens could make better work out of her material -- heavy quotes of art history and illustration, weird spaces that only exist in the realm of painting, and what's-wrong-with-this-picture oddity -- the paintings would look like Craig Kucia's. The branches in these invented landscapes are disturbingly similar to those of Owens, but his handling is more lively and original overall. One of the more successful pieces in his show is Apple Blocks Curved Under the Wistful Carpets and Spoke to the Trees, which pictures crossed branches in front of a blue sky that rains caterpillars, blobs of brightly colored paint, and cigarette ashes (the last of which fall from a cigarette perched under something that could be a bird's nest or an obese sea urchin; it's hard to tell). The titles derive from the artist's effusive poetry and give a sense of the emo tional states that inform his work.
Another successful one is If You Look Too Deeply Everything Breaks Your Heart, in which a mound on a tabletop is encrusted with dragonflies and other crawling unidentifiables, and the sky is peppered with flicked lumps of paint that resemble imaginary insects. Half of the mound has been obliterated with a dark impasto into which "I loved her" has been scratched with a palette knife. The painting is a messy amalgam of emotional energy translated through a vocabulary of art quotes, but the feeling seems sincere.
On October 15 Maria José Arjona completed "Vault" at Dorsch Gallery. This is the Miami iteration of a performance work that took place in Bogotá and Marfa, Texas, demanding Arjona's signature intensity and No-like understatement. She arranged a long line of hunks of charcoal, picked one up, walked slowly around to a bamboo ladder, climbed up, drew a field of short curves onto the wall until the charcoal was gone from her fingers, and repeated -- for hours at a time.
As she scratched the concrete, I got the impression that "Vault" was a giant human-powered kinetic sculpture, in which black marks moved at a cloudlike pace from the floor to the wall via an intelligent agent. At the end, the wall was covered with an abstraction that recalled a scorched meadow. A video of the Marfa performance played on an adjacent wall while she labored. I would put Arjona's work up against that of any performance artist anywhere; she has a thrilling ability to convey the eternal through her choice of materials, her seismic movements, and her burning focus. Rumor has it that she will be performing again soon; if it comes to pass, see her.
Box: The much-anticipated reopening of what was once one of Miami's premiere alternative spaces features performance art from Miamians such as David Rohn, Rene Barge, Jiae Hwang, and nine others in a simultaneous group show called "Front & Center." Opening on Saturday, November 15, at 8:00 p.m. at Box, 70 NE 17th St.; 305-607-5527.
The Jewish Museum of Florida: An exhibit featuring photographs, paintings, and heirlooms such as rugs and jewels, illustrating the amazing immigration of a Jewish family from Iran to Turkmenistan to Miami, is what "From Persia to Miami: A Journey for Survival" is all about. Opening on Tuesday, November 18. Museum hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Jewish Museum, 301 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-672-5044.
The Lowe Museum of Art: University of Miami's art museum hosts an evening with the artist for a glass show, part of the Miami Hot: Glass Workshop Series collection, with work from Robin Grebe. From 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 15, at the Lowe, 1301 Stanford Dr., Coral Gables; 305-284-2542.
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Miami Art Museum: Part of the museum's acclaimed New Work series, this one includes a collaboration from Janine Antoni and Paul Ramirez Jonas, a video installation shot from the front and the back of a boat, and other new works from the two artists. Opening on Friday, November 14, at 7:00 p.m. at MAM, 101 W. Flagler St.; 305-375-1725.
The Mutiny Hotel: Coconut Grove's most famous hotel exhibits "Todo Sobre Mujeres" from Ramon Unzueta. Opening on Friday, November 14, at 7:00 p.m. in the Mutiny, 2951 S. Bayshore Dr.; 305-444-4033.
Rocket Projects: The multipurpose alternative space hosts a rock and roll fashion show, featuring the spring line of Triskelion Couture, by Patricia Gomez-Gracia. Opening on Saturday, November 15, at 8:00 p.m., with fashion show at 9:00 at Rocket Projects, 3440 N. Miami Ave.; 305-576-6082.
Quantum Center: It's one of those real estate-gets-together-with-art group events -- in this case it's Gen Art's "I Love Miami: An Urban Experience," photographs from -- you guessed it -- emerging artists, curated by Dustin Orlando, with a T-shirt exhibit curated by Jessica Lopez, and music from DJ Jody McDonald. On Friday, November 14, at 8:00 p.m. at the Quantum Center, 1751 Biscayne Blvd.