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Something New, Something Wow

Give me liberty or close down this bank
Pedro Portal

Two weekends ago art lovers in Miami who made it to the Espirito Santo Bank building on Brickell Avenue for Departing Perspectives were offered a unique experience: a predemolition event curated by Fredric Snitzer. (The bank soon will be torn down.) For four days 44 local artists participated in an art-house extravaganza as part of Art Miami 2000, a yearly fair held at the Miami Convention Center. Assignment: Go inside a downtown, soon-to-be-razed building and make art.

Mostly installations, this exhibit presented a rare opportunity to interact with art created in a totally different setting. Mind-benders, virtual environments, performances, or walk-in rituals, "Departing Perspectives" included dozens of rooms filled with all kinds of statements and peoples. The short-lived happening (for lack of another term) was an exercise in the limits of creative freedom and public response. The occasion to take art outside the rigid confines of galleries, museums, and the pervasive grip of the market is momentous. Bids on works, posted on the walls -- even for the sake of charitable causes -- were, in the opinion of this writer, out of place.

The task seemed deceptive. It wasn't about doing whatever. Artists are conditioned to work for and in the restricted space of galleries. They think they do what they want, but are driven by rules of conservation, peer pressure, and profit. "Departing Perspectives" gave artists free rein to improvise with the space and work in the face of oblivion. Most important it provided a milieu for joint action and interaction. Impressions express judgment. But given the space limitations in this column, not all impressions of the event can be reviewed here; those omitted don't necessarily reflect the quality of the art.

Beginning at the top, the eighth floor, Charo Oquet articulated possibilities for spiritual redemption inside her candle-lit room filled with toy stuffed animals, rows of measles-spotted dolls, and altars offering sweet food and Afro-Caribbean religious iconography. Karen Rifas made heaps of shredded paper a convincing reflection of the proliferation of waste and the banal secrets of corporate America. She also made this waste a human activity.

One flight down Carol Brown examined domestic violence. Her two rooms contained miniature, finely crafted wooden stairs that led to and from generic windows and doors. The little doors opened to reveal well-known tag lines of verbal violence: "liar," "what did I ever see in you," and "you don't turn your back on me." William Cordova's repetitious tongue-antics video emphasized the platitudes that are our own daily blatherings. George Sanchez saw love as a commodity in his neon Heart Shop, with its heart-printed T-shirts and throbbing disco music. Annie Wharton's installation of plastic Frisbees on the wall, framed by the bay view and the music of Stan Getz and Gilberto Gil, was soothing; Carlos Betancourt's room, with its earth relief and live parakeets, was captivating.

Brian Cooper's powerful ear, clutch, trigger revealed a chamber of harsh violence, with heavy breathing and shots filling the air. Walls appeared ripped or pocked with bullets, and torn plaster bags seemed to announce the hardening of the human psyche. In the chamber lay an abandoned suit, boots, and a hatchet on the dusty floor; a helmet with an attached mike sat on a tripod. Another lasting impression from the sixth floor came from Robert Chambers's video of luscious blue, white, and red smoke, which could only viewed by peering into a large, dark open vault.

On the fifth level, Eugenia Vargas devised a surreal glass window through which the art observer watched a pink room filled with bubbles being popped by a hidden device. A door caption read "do not enter, slippery floor." Marissa Telleria's space was tactfully covered with subtle ornamental wall motifs; the view through a side window showed another room with the same serpentine motif, this one imprinted on a patterned floor made of plaster.

A flight down, Robert Huff set up a sextant in the middle of the first room, pointed toward a photo of the Statue of Liberty, flanked on side walls by excerpts from the U.S. Constitution written in yellow chalk. Through the sextant one could see the face of Miss Liberty. New World School of the Arts students Julian Picaza, Jay Hines, and Bhakti Baxter created an enveloping atmosphere in their black-cloth-covered space. Hanging lamps with shades in assorted shapes and sizes made from velum paper dotted the room. There also was a projection of a swimmer underwater, and at the back, a big walk-in duct that mimicked a womb, warmly lit inside.

From the elevator to the right stood Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt's pleasant little house. A woman slept on a bed, surrounded by modest furniture. As he gently chatted, Behar took the visitor inside the dream room, whose floor was filled with sand and votive candles. One could hear the sound of waves and the sea breeze. While walking out (at the request of Behar, being careful not to wake the woman) one's own reflection could be seen in a mirror, as if coming out of a dream. José Bedia and Edoard Duval-Carrié, who played across from each other on the third floor, made powerful religious statements. Down a level was Westen Charles's mind-bender. A room was filled with detergent powder, dammed on one side by the window glass. Stuck in the mounds of grain, a painted wooden zebra on top of a box, covered with colorful wrapping paper, glitter-painted shoes, and empty bottles with recognizable detergent labels.

Outside the building artists, students, and the public couldn't stop talking. The energy was palpable. One artist said he hadn't seen great stuff in the building. But he missed the point. It is important to view this event outside the normal black-and-white categories of judging art. "Departing Perspectives" was not about curating a particular vision, an overemphasized goal in today's art world. There was a deeper groove here that touched personal lives and felt inspiring. In art there need not be neat, predetermined results.

Another artist, dressed in black, voiced his apprehension. All artists, himself included, had sold out to the marketplace. "After this, all the art will be destroyed," he said. "Instead we'll have a bigger bank in its place." The flip side: There is something to be said for the anonymity and ultimate self-destruction of art. What really mattered here, however, was the discussion in the public sphere that this collective expression made possible.


Sticking with a Miami theme, Arte Actual at Broman Fine Arts in Coral Gables made last Friday's gallery walk a little less predictable. Manola Payares, in double duty as director and curator, is exhibiting works by locals Sergio Garcia, Vivian C. Martell, Sergio Payares, Manuel Angel Prieres, José Reyes, Leyden Rodriguez, Carlos Suarez de Jesus, plus Chilean artist Paul Fuguet.

Sergio Garcia's paper works Study 1-5, depicting lightly traced human trunks, heads, and limbs over coarsely treated hues of yellow, gray, and Prussian blue, are moving. A bit more provocative is Vivian Martell's Gender Capital: Eros-Emotive Value of Code, an installation of 28 different little vials containing animal ovaries. José Reyes's variety of wax-dipped everyday objects show charm, yet his jab at appliance consumerism in his Domestic series (which includes a telephone, iron, and TV) may seem an easy way out for those who distrust contiguous repetitions. Sergio Payares's big canvases contain precise line-grids, which suggest unexpected arrangements in volume. In Velo de Novia (Bride's Veil) and Espacio para Nosotros (A Space for Us), featureless heads and black-painted lower limbs appear suspended, or rather, supported in precarious equilibrium.

"Arte Actual" includes mostly painting, some installation. Today's art also encompasses computer, video, performance, and ecology, and I presume Manola Payares knows this. Although there's more to actual art than what's in "Arte Actual," hers is a brave effort to show more contemporary art in an area dominated by so-called masters and traditional figurative styles. She's trying, slowly, to give local art a place to flourish in Coral Gables. Good luck to her.


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