Talk About Alt Art
Carlos Suarez de Jesus is a Miami-based artist who co-founded the alternative art space lab6 in Little Havana. He's just returned to Miami from self-imposed exile in Detroit. He missed Art Basel.
In Miami perception is everything -- knowing how fickle the winds here can be, the word to the art world should be "a pose is a pose is a pose." I say this because of the incredible hype surrounding Art Basel last winter and because until we can Basel all the time, all the crowing about how mature an art city we've become comes across sometimes like a premature ejaculation. While in Detroit recently I had lunch at a little dive called the Dog House Coney Island. Their meat loaf and mashed potatoes were good and the waitress, Angie, would bring the gravy on the side. I asked her why and she said, "Because meat is meat and gravy is gravy." With Angie in mind I decided to take a pulse of what's happening on the scene.
First stop is Rocket Projects, a new alternative space in town that has been buzzing off the charts since it opened a couple of months ago. Let's call a spade a spade: This is a commercial gallery that is run by two shrewd young businesspeople who know location, have a winning formula, and are poised to give the staler established galleries a run for their money -- nothing raw with that.
Nina Arias and Nick Cindric, the gallery owners, are as likable and charming a pair as there is in the business -- and they put on a hell of a party. To their credit they are helping to nurture the Wynwood Arts District, with about twenty spaces in the area, and are including artists' studios and a concern for building community. At Rockets check out Doug Meyer's "Broadway on Duane (BOD)." I found his installation depicting the meteoric rise and fall of a fictional New York nightclub to be meaty in concept and labor intensive. Evocative of an era that lived and died by perception, "BOD" refracts the decimation of many of our cultural luminaries through AIDS and an excess of hedonism, poignantly documenting a generation's loss of innocence.
Meyer's "BOD," replete with Donna Summer tracks, disco strobes, peephole dioramas, pseudo-historical documentation, and a red velvet curtain guarding the entrance to the installation, is a disorienting Lacanian mind-fuck where one can experience nostalgic distortions in the funhouse mirrors of the psyche to the beat of "made me feel mighty real." Inside the 100-square-foot installation space, the artist has erected a monolithic tower with multiple peepholes through which dolls can be observed having anonymous sex, dancing, gossiping, posing, and true to that age of image, taking in the surroundings with insouciant boredom.
An oblong Plexiglas wall piece showcases one-of-a-kind invites and promotional materials touting celebrity shindigs at BOD. John Waters's birthday party, photos of Liza and Halston, a Leo Castelli soiree, and Divine eating her signature dog turd meatballs combine to dose the spectator with an unmistakable feeling of having missed a seminal moment in history. At times I found myself searching for Gilbert, Kitty Meow, or Adora in the light box photos on the wall, almost instinctively wiping the sting of the foam from my eyes before allowing myself to be lost in the chaos.
Exiting the installation one is confronted by a wall citing AIDS statistics and a roll call of the dead: Roy Halston, Tina Chow, Steve Rubell, Keith Haring, and Rudolf Nureyev. The price exacted for our freedoms resonated with vital currency through this Pandora's portal into the past, not to mention the faces of many lost friends there with me in spirit whose cocktail-to-coffin insanity left an indelible mark.
Searching for signs of alternative life in our universe after departing Rocket, I was happy to reconnect with José Reyes, Manny Prieres, and Leyden Rodriguez, the brain trust behind Box. After laying low a couple of years, the trio is opening its well-known venue again this December, promising a mainline injection into our collective art vein with a show called "Front and Center." I had the opportunity to hang out in their spacious room and ask them how they were going to keep their focus, given the hothouse acceleration of art hype engulfing Miami. (One of the things that kept their space fresh was the steady stream of the unorthodox the trio consistently served up.) According to Rodriguez, Box will try and keep with the grassroots approach to running the space by showing underground and experimental stuff. "It speaks of our cultural and social environment in the rawest context," he promises.
Prieres says of the inaugural Basel bash, "It was as if Miami became the epicenter of the art universe ... after it was over it was like we became a college town waiting through a dead summer for life to begin again." In spite of our city's troubles, Prieres feels that Miami is maturing. "We will develop a sense of community and an individual identity along the way," he optimistically predicts.
Rodriguez proffers another observation: "Even though some of the most solid shows I've seen in town took place during Basel, it struck me that some of the people visiting were not doing their homework, visiting enough studios, being chauffeured in groups to the right party, or introduced to the right artists. Some of their experiences may have been close to a state-sponsored tour and remarkably orchestrated -- and that's unfortunate." He concludes, "It would have been great to see a more profound immersion into the core cultural life that sustains us year-long, even though I have to admit that things are taking off."
Wondering how they will stay real and true to a vision, I ask Reyes what separates Box from other players on the stage -- name an alternative space that doesn't have to contend with a filter effect somehow. "You can't," he replies. "We pay our own rent and the artists we work with will never have to, that's our bottom line, [along with] opening up a dialogue where the broadest scope of interaction can take place." They aim to do this through talks, educational materials, and various means of exchanging information -- community building brick by brick. Perhaps they know better this time around. Bring it on, boys. As a parting shot, when asked whether they have any bones to pick with the scene at large, Reyes retorts, "If I see another group drawing show this year I think I'll puke."
The Americas Collection: An interesting exhibit from Connie Lloveras addressing a confused world by turning back to the basics in a female-centric show called "Bread, Houses, and Intuition." Opening on Friday, October 3, at 7:00 p.m. at the Americas Collection, 2440 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; 305-446-5578.
Art Fusion Gallery: The grand opening of another Design District gallery, promising champagne and hors d'oeuvres along with art from Cuba's William Braemer and Chile's Carla Fache. Opening on Saturday, October 4, at 7:00 p.m. at Art Fusion Gallery, 1 NE 40th St.; 305-573-5730.
Artopia Galleries and Studios: Painting and photography about the structures around us called "Urban Artchitexture" features the work of six local artists (with music by something called Clubkid). Opening on Friday, October 3, at 7:00 p.m. at Artopia, 2200 NW Second Ave.; 786-554-8516.
ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries: Works from Venezuela's Valencia Museum help make up "Arturo Correa: New Paintings, Installation and Works on Paper." Opening on Friday, October 3, at 7:00 p.m. at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries, 169 Madeira Ave., Coral Gables; 305-444-4493.
Cernuda Arte: Not hard to figure out what you will be viewing at Rigoberto Pelaez y Alcazar's "Landscapes of My Island." Opening on Friday, October 3, at 7:00 p.m. at Cernuda Arte, 3155 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; 305-461-1050.
Diana Lowenstein: Photography riffing on the theme of man as the center of the universe, in this case the man being Rene Peña, forms "White Things." Opening on Friday, October 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Diana Lowenstein, 3080 SW 38th Ct.; 305-774-5969.
Dot Fifty One Gallery: Another of the newly sprouted galleries will feature work from film and visual artist Florence Kaufman (director of the Miami Jewish Film Festival) in "Personal Gardens." Opening on Saturday, October 4, at 7:00 p.m. at Dot Fifty One, 51 NW 36th St.; 305-573-9994.
Fredric Snitzer Gallery: New works from local Danish artist Mette Tommerup create "Free Transform." Opening on Friday, October 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, 3078 SW 38 Ct.; 305-448-8976.
Miami Art Museum: Contemporary museum architecture is the theme of "Museums for a New Millennium" (hey, is this museum looking for new digs itself?). Opening on Thursday, October 2, at 6:00 p.m. at MAM, 101 W. Flagler St.; 305-375-3000.
Placemaker: The popular alt space The House unveils its new annex in the Design District with "and I quote," works from, who else, Tao Rey. Grand opening on Friday, October 3, at 7:00 p.m. at Placemaker, 3852 N. Miami Ave.; 305-576-6695.
Sammer Gallery: Together with the Uruguayan consulate the gallery presents "Joaquin Torres Garcia & the School of the South." Opening on Friday, October 3, at 7:00 p.m. at Sammer Gallery, 3399 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; 305-441-2005.
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