Detail from Glexis Novoa's Waterfall
courtesy Ambrosino Gallery

The Architecture of Control

In totalitarian societies terror is the instrument to force submission, and the threat of terror is often marked on the very land itself. Human sovereignty, a basic political right, is seized and annihilated by an übermensch utopia. Putting ideology over rights and rhetoric over truth, dictatorships from the right and left sanction their control with huge mausoleums, endless avenues, monstrous buildings, and jingoistic statuary. Recent Works by Glexis Novoa, at the Ambrosino Gallery, explores the nature of these landscapes of power.

"Recent Works" is a group of ten pieces, most of which are drawings on white canvas or installations. Glexis Novoa, an important Cuban artist of the so-called Eighties generation (the first group to have been born and raised after the revolution), came to Miami via Mexico in the mid-Nineties and has worked here since. Depicting the cityscape, the edifices, and more implicitly, the memories, his art persistently probes the angst-ridden and simultaneously alluring concept of political surveillance. Unlike his 1996 exhibition at Ambrosino, "La Habana Oscura (Dark Havana)," which depicted only the Cuban capital as a cold and cruel place, Novoa has broadened his strokes. "Recent Works" moves into new terrain with less obvious forms of repression. Novoa brings his pictorial critique to America: the promised land, the global megalopolis of the new millennium.

Vistas de una Ciudad are four little panels exposing Escher-like, anonymous panoramas of futuristic hyper-reality. Triangle and cube are the core of these imaginary constructions. From above the roofs we see pointed towers and ring-shape forms, highlighting huge slabs of truncated solid mass. Without ornamentation, these shapes seem rigidly minimal and menacing. Absolutely empty of human presence, they evoke a desolate abstraction in which life is transformed into concrete and marble. Novoa takes us through delicate mutations of lighter and darker shades of gray. His strokes are careful and precise, with vertical lines of thin graphite. At times the penciled mark works tangentially to the main form, a trick that creates more light and deeper contrasts.

From left to right, the first panel shows an industrial-like structure, reminiscent of science-fiction aesthetics. More a convergence of materials than an existing construction, spikes rise from a sphere, which sits under a hovering triangular minaret.

Next to it a futuristic rectangular ziggurat with converging stairs leading to a needle-shape obelisk evokes the architecture of ancient sacrifice. In fact architecture has often been used to indoctrinate, something Novoa no doubt wants us to remember. States throughout history have created spaces where political, not just religious, rites take place. The monumental architecture (buildings, statuary, roads) is the stage for the ritual, but eventually it becomes sacred itself -- people come to worship these emblems.

The third in the series has an Islamic tone. We enjoy a privileged perspective looking out from behind an arched window to a distant minaret. In the last panel we glimpse fascist aesthetics: An endless avenue is flanked by a sequence of austere buildings, ending in the mausoleum, a meeting point of power.

F.V.A or Frente de Vigilancia Alternativa (Alternative Surveillance Patrol) depicts a mechanical 32-sided object with an ominous core encircled by a spiked collar. An apparatus meant to inspire horror, right out of Kafka's Penal Colony, the center, or inner mechanism of the beast, is a gigantic ocular globule with teethlike pieces protruding from a protective lid. This high-tech machine is a finely tuned design, but it likely is used for torture. Twisted beauty in the service of oppression.

Waterfall (a 68- x 67-inch canvas) reveals the landscape of memory. From top to bottom, eight different horizons fall in descending autobiographical order: From Miami to Mexico to Havana, they reflect in crisp detail the artist's, and the exile's, itinerary. A lower horizon shows the coastline of downtown Havana opening up to the Florida Straits. The sea carries the rafts and the dead, a reminder of our own back-yard reality.

A big installation that takes up an entire side wall is La Patria Contempla Orgullosa (Motherland Proudly Watches). The title plays with a verse from the Cuban anthem and explores political biography of this century. Against the profile of a statue with a sword in hand -- a replica of the Motherland Memorial in Volgograd (formerly, what else, Stalingrad) in Russia -- Novoa draws a sea-horizon dotted with words, fragments, statements, and punctuation signs. These commas, colons, and periods without clauses symbolize the erasure of thought, what is left of dissent under total rule. Beyond the water rises the exile's promised land, but -- as it turns out -- it's not paradise. This new place has its own version of control, which is in some ways a more insidious machine. La Patria Contempla Orgullosa turns the myth of exile upside down. The piece represents the tradeoff between hopes and reality. Is there redemption here? The solemn silhouette of the motherland is Novoa at his most pessimistic.

Westwood Lake keeps us in the United States and expands on a theme akin to that of the movie Arlington Road. This vista is a suburban neighborhood of sorts, which we view through holes behind a black-glass sheet. The urban development bordering the lake speaks of self-assured middle-class leisure seen through Novoa's surveillance peepholes. Image control has always been a seductive ploy for invading privacy, not atypical in the promised land. But this time Big Brother is your next-door neighbor.

Glexis Novoa's "Recent Works" is on view through January 23 at the Ambrosino Gallery, 3095 SW 39th Ave. Admission is free. Call 305-445-2211 for gallery hours and days.


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