Room for Living
Social alienation seems to be an underlying theme of postmodern urban America. The separation of labor and leisure has created a social estrangement that is only becoming more acute. We don't have the time or, more important, the space to make contact. People usually spend two-thirds of the day confined to a limited area, often inside a cubicle of sorts. One night at a baseball or hockey game -- accompanied by a fleeting sense of human solidarity -- will not do. Besides, we hurry home anyhow, sheltered in our amenity-packed cars and SUVs.
A fear that the urban space will act like a virus also has taken hold of our cities. We have been conditioned to fear the sick, the poor, and the homeless, as though something about them will wear off on us. The street, once a crucial meeting point of human interaction, has dwindled to a place used only for furtive walks from gated parking lots to guarded indoor rooms. Our private comfort and security is inversely proportional to our social interaction; the more of the former forces less of the latter. Connection and contingency are out, and isolation and hyperreality in. Yet as much as we try to avoid it, our future as a society lies outside, in the street, in public.
Against this background Rosario Marquardt and Roberto Behar's The Living Room, a sort of architectural fragment, can be seen as a disruption to these persistent habits perpetrating urban inequity. Rosario and Roberto, whose previous public pieces include M and The Bedroom ( that diptych visible as you drive on 195), have consistently explored the limits of art and architecture in the context of the city space.
Another piece of visual resistance (as they call it), The Living Room looks like a modern outdoor Magritte image. The work is built against a simple one-story white building in the heart of the Design District. Seen from the corner of North Miami Avenue and NW 40th Street, it consists of two brightly colored walls -- about twice the height of the building itself -- that open to the public, with a partial ceiling. It has an Art Deco flavor, and the rose-color walls are painted with flowery orange motifs so that it resembles wallpaper. As befits a living room, there is a large fuchsia sofa running almost the width of the wall, with two very tall shaded lamps at each end. A long curtain falls from the ceiling, though it usually remains tied in a knot against the wall. Above the sofa a vertical rectangular window frames a view of the outside, creating a quasi-surreal living picture of the Miami sky. Depending on the hour, you'll see simply blue, clouds, stars, or a full moon.
In addition The Living Room works within the tradition of Miami Beach's modern architecture (think of those grand hotel lobbies by Lawrence Murray Dixon). The construction produces the impression of being simultaneously outside and inside, both protected and exposed. Because of its large size, The Living Room conspicuously stands on its own and in its own isolation, estranged from past and present. Given its urban location, it plays on the more general image of shelter as well, with obvious political relevance to homelessness and poverty. The Living Room acts as a haven and a draw to those of us for whom the street remains an essential component of social life.
Incorporating architecture into art, or interacting with an urban space, also is a theme of "Home Wreckers" at Eugenia Vargas's house in North Miami. The show is the third and last event of its kind, which started in 1999. William Cordova, an artist-turned-curator, put together this show exhibiting sixteen mostly Miami artists. The idea is to literally turn Vargas's house into an impromptu gallery, with pieces displayed in every cranny -- all over walls, doors, tables, beds, even over the toilet. "Home Wreckers" delves into the interior life of homes, sometimes dealing with familiar turf but using instruments different from what we're used to.
Westen Charles's love letters and keep sakes, an unpretentious yet powerful corner installation of photos, letters, and odds and ends, unveiled a life of domestic violence in suburban America. John Espinosa's I believe I can fly was a gem: a tiny black plastic figurine of a child suspended in midair by a white cord fixed to a white balloon. Next to it was Lou Anne Colodny's frogs, a bunch of croaking plastic amphibians that seemed to leap out of the fireplace to greet the visitors.
I liked Kevin Arrow's drifting psychedelic curls on canvas, particularly his Synthetic Genetic; and Denise Delgado's attempt at social bilingualism, using silly late-Sixties Mexican magazine novellas with her own English translations tacked on to the bottom, is both funny and serious. Mexican artist Omar Ureña's homoerotic la liga de la justicia, a photo of naked body-painted wrestlers, was arresting, as was his self-portrait, which depicted Ureña impeccably dressed as a masked Mexican hero/wrestler. Manny Prieres's refrigerator magnets depicting symbols of Cuban culinary culture were ingenuous and ingenious, while the six green bunnies lined up singing the blues on the bed were nice and pulpy (though I couldn't figure out the artist's name with so much artwork in each room and a rather confusing list of artists).
Overall "Home Wreckers" was successful (though the previous home show was more fun). Other art-event groups in Miami involved in experiments of this sort should pay attention to the curatorial level at Vargas's house. These alternative shows can be seen like journalism: quick and to the point, though they need to present a minimum of quality. Events succeed when they show good organizational skills along with a good selection.
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