It Happened One Night, Frank Capra's deliciously screwy 1934 romantic comedy, has shown legs, remaining one of the most popular films of all time. The only thing "It Happened One Summer," on view at Dot Fiftyone, can muster for posterity's sake is a lingering musty taste.
This stale bonbon, stuffed with paintings, sculptures, photography, and videos by thirteen of the gallery's artists, seems slapped together at the last minute and serves up little to bite into with joy. Much of the blame lies with the curator, who told me it wasn't really a show in the traditional sense but "a filler until the summer ends."
Dot Fiftyone's plight is obvious. The Wynwood space is located on a stretch of road under heavy construction, and during my visit, an excavator nearly blocked the door. The sweltering heat outside was fortified by the choking dust and the clammy moisture of workmen toiling nearby. A tattered red carpet, spread over the rubble to facilitate entrance to the gallery, was covered with tire tracks and oil.
Inside were a few works that make maneuvering the obstacle course worthwhile. Still, upon finding expensive paintings leaning like sheets of plywood against a back wall, and the gallery in a state of disarray, I wondered how some of the artists might feel if they knew their pieces were being displayed in such a fashion.
One of the most interesting paintings there was a triptych by Daniele Morini. The quirky self-portrait depicts three views of the Italian painter as he perches on what might be a dentist's chair, a stainless-steel sink in the background. Each of the canvas panels has been covered in a sumptuous red. The artist is barefoot and wears green jeans and a flannel shirt. One panel shows him sitting to the right, another has him facing forward, and the last shows him turned slightly to the left with his legs crossed and arms looped around his knees. In the panel where Morini faces forward, the artist has weirdly reproduced his disembodied head behind himself at the top right corner of the composition, rendering it staring upward in ecstasy. In another panel Morini's floating mug reappears with his gums stretched to reveal pearlies that look like a row of tombstones. Morini uses an acidy pink-and-green palette to flesh out his features, giving himself a cadaverous pallor.
Oddly Morini's triptych, commanding a whopping 45,000 euros (that's $57,000 for us Yanks), is propped on the floor and tucked into a nook in the gallery's rear, where its three canvases are shown out of sequence, to boot. If my art dealer were roughing me up this badly, I'd probably look sick too.
Across from Morini's piece, Yanina Szalkowicz's My Super Heroes is a scream. The photograph, in an ornate antique frame, depicts two men costumed as Batman and Superman snapped from behind as they sign autographs in a crowd. To their right, a fan casts a furtive glance at his heroes. The artist has superimposed a mask and cape on the frame's glass, transforming the dolt into a crime-fighter.
Szalkowicz's work hints at a sense that everything she squeezes into her lens frame is loaded with significance. Sole & Cream and Dust Feast, on a wall in the gallery's main room, are compelling examples. For them she eschews the ornate framing typical of many of her works in favor of printing the images on Endura archival metallic paper. The first piece depicts a bunch of athletic shoe soles wired onto a metal grid next to the lid of a shoe polish can. The artist has drawn white dashes and dots across the soles, achieving a somewhat geometric effect. In the second image, she has arranged a flock of dust mops against a fancy window outside a building. In the upper half of the snapshot, two of the huge feathered confections rest against each other, appearing as if they were the wings of a condor in flight. Even though these works are decidedly banal in nature, they pack a density of information that seizes attention.
Sibylle Pasche's sculptures displayed on a raw wooden crate in the center of the gallery are lovely. In her small bone-white marble works, the Swiss artist telegraphs a gifted hand for manipulating the themes of natural beauty from which she draws inspiration. Her savory pieces reminded me of smooth dinosaur eggs pocked with holes and cracks. One football-size sculpture seemed to be covered in goose bumps and looked like a meteor.
Mauro Giaconi's door-size graphite-on-canvas drawings are also exquisite. One piece depicts a chair flipped on its back; another shows a bare light bulb hanging from wires protruding from a hole in the ceiling. In both, the artist leaves broad expanses of the canvas barren. These stark works are among the best in the show, yet rather than placing them side by side and giving them pride of place, the curator has inexplicably separated them as if to fill empty wall space on opposite ends of the gallery.
For those who missed Leonel Matheu's solo at the Dot this past spring, the good news is that his whimsical yet eerie mixed-media installation The Little Red Hood has never come down. On the wall a garage-door-size mural in deep blue hues depicts a copse of trees stripped of their greenery. A coyote appears in profile, baying at the moon. Matheu superimposed a wooden toy-scale Victorian gingerbread house over the center of the painting. As one looks into the house's windows, small videos show a cartoon child peering through the shutters and then hiding as he hears the sounds of the yelping beast and sniveling winds.
On the far opposing wall, Matheu's The Plane gets lost. The book-size video piece depicts a wooden-headed fellow whose noggin sticks out of the cockpit of a World War II combat plane. As one watches the screen, encased in a white wood picture frame, the plane's engine sputters as it moves across a clouded sky, shooting a plume of smoke from its tail.
Interestingly Matheu uses many of his earlier paintings, which can look deceptively like children's book illustrations, in his unusual animations.
Despite the high quality of some of the artwork, the seemingly slapdash presentation of "It Happened One Summer" gives a convincing argument for why many local galleries dodge unwarranted hoopla during these steamy dog days.
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