It's only September, but already Art Basel is looming over Miami's art scene like a purple thunderhead ready to pour mustached hipsters and oil-rich Abu Dhabi collectors over town. So when the Second Saturday Art Walk returns this weekend at 6 p.m., expect to see a number of spaces pushing the reset button and emerging from their summer slumber with new shows just in time for the wildly popular art and food-truck bonanza.
While Anthony Spinello inaugurates a new space just west of the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, the traditional hubs of Wynwood and the Design District will also spill over with edgy displays. Top picks for the weekend include a stable of artists taking a crack at the Da Vinci Code, a sprawling 3-D photo extravaganza, a sensory-jarring architectural romper room, and a probing visual autopsy of our national psyche.
One of the most intriguing programs is at the Design District's Primary Projects (4141 NE Second Ave., Ste. 104; 954-296-1675; primaryprojectsspace.com), which this year was selected as New Times' Best Art Gallery for a reason. Since opening its doors in 2010, the edgy space, run by curators BooksIIII Bischof, Typoe, and Chris Oh, has served up a steady stream of exhibits oozing swagger and conceptual brawn.
Second Saturday Art Walk
Their new show, "Champion," features works from the gallery's freshly announced roster of represented artists in an exhibit inspired by a Leonardo da Vinci sculpture commissioned in 1482 by the Duke of Milan. Leonardo's Horse, intended to be the largest equestrian sculpture of its day, was never completed by the genius. Although da Vinci did make a clay model of his perfect pony ideal, it was later used for crossbow practice and destroyed by the French when they invaded Milan in 1499. Instead, it took five centuries before a full-scale bronze version of da Vinci's stallion was finally realized — a tale demonstrating, the curators say, that true art can transcend time.
"We love the story of Leonardo's Horse because it often takes a family beyond the creator to make amazing works of art come to fruition," Bischof says.
So far, the gallery's roster boasts 11 artists, including Evan Robarts, Asif Farooq, Edouard Nardon, and Andrew Nigon. Not a single horse is on display at Primary's show, but the gallery's stable of emerging thoroughbreds channels the spirit of Leonardo, who was also a famous scientist, engineer, and inventor of armaments.
Take for instance one piece by Robarts, who created a set of inflatable lungs from clear recycling bags and packaging tape. The faux organs are inflated and deflated by three fan motors to simulate slow breathing. Or consider Nigon, who makes bizarre, monumental sculptures that riff on the nature of existence and resemble grotesque anatomical studies patched together from sundry items like studio-made Frankensteins.
Then there's Farooq, who painstakingly fashions toy firearms out of cardboard and paper materials to poke fun at gun violence in contemporary society while also harking back to the weapons-addled designers of earlier eras.
Just down the street from Primary Projects, at the Design District's Swampspace Gallery (150 NE 42nd St.; email@example.com), Mark Diamond's solo project, "Spatial Recognition," hosts a sprawling survey of his attention-grabbing three-dimensional photos.
Diamond, who has snagged an international reputation as a holographer, videographer, photographer, and expert practitioner of 3-D imagery for the past 30 years, will showcase a series of portraits of local artists including Robert Chambers, Jen Stark, George Sanchez-Calderon, and Christy Gast. He will also display a massive installation of what he's dubbed 3-D Wall-o-Grams, including a montage of more than a hundred images on a single gallery wall.
"This is a new medium for most people and is such a new visual language [that it] requires a bit of contemplation in order to really see what is going on in these little gems," Diamond explains. "If they have the patience to engage... it directly affects their appreciation for the 3-D depth of the world around them."
At Locust Projects (3852 N. Miami Ave.; 305-576-8570; locustprojects.org), New York-based artist Adam Putnam delivers his trademark architectural sleight of hand for his first South Florida solo show. Putnam tinkers with perception, unmooring viewers from their traditional notions of space and their surroundings through witty, ingeniously planned works.
Visitors can expect to roam through cool, shadowy expanses in the gallery, where they will chance upon a collection of photographs, portraits, film stills, and other fragments of his oeuvre. Disoriented spectators can find their bearings by looking for a towering brick pillar rising from the center of the space and meant to evoke a Romanesque abbey or an ancient mosque.
A stroll through the piece mimics the "experience of finding oneself alone in an architectural immensity," Putnam says, "that falls away and recedes in perspective like fading memories and fog-enshrouded mountains."
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On the western outskirts of Wynwood, the newly relocated, 3,000-square-foot Spinello Projects (2930 NW Seventh Ave.; 786-271-4223; spinelloprojects.com) pops the champagne for its first show, "Americana," a can't-miss display from self-taught artist Farley Aguilar.
His mind-melting imagery depicts a cast of Goya-like grotesques that brings to mind the caricatures of bloated New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, grinning vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, and other puffed-up speakers at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week.
Aguilar's solo at Spinello features a lurid romp across our national psyche, where mob mentality rules and a sense of impending doom and volatile emotional meltdowns roil across the senses like a foreboding winter fog. Often garish in tone and color, the Nicaraguan-born talent's new suite of ink-on-Mylar paintings adroitly balances his disfigured protagonists with elements of classical mythology. They're varnished with the underlying menace that a tragedy is about to occur.
"American culture is obsessed with violence, and the images in this new body of work reflect this notion," Aguilar says. "[The] American moral, conservative psyche... explodes in terror when confronted with the unknown."