Leave it to Virginia Miller to find the silver lining in an economic storm.
Despite the tribulations of the art world in an increasingly stagnant sales environment, the Coral Gables dealer is putting on an eclectic summer group show. Just don't call it a clearance blowout, please.
Where most dealers wouldn't dare exhibit the work of masters alongside that of relative unknowns, Miller welcomes the risk with aplomb in "Joyas Latinoamericanas," an exhibit including paintings by titans Wifredo Lam and José Clemente Orozco smack next to whippersnappers such as Marco Tulio and Sergio Garval.
"Joyas Latinoamericanas": Through September 25. ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries, 169 Madeira Ave., Coral Gables; 305-444-4493; virginiamiller.com. Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday by appointment.
The show features mostly paintings, by more than a dozen Latin American artists, spanning nearly 80 years. It's presented in a cavalcade of styles that blend surprisingly well thanks to Miller's deft eye.
Miller says that because of the recession, private owners are offloading long-cherished works, in some cases masterpieces, offering the general public a chance to see art previous off-limits.
Among the highlights of the exhibition is a 1930 oil-on-canvas titled Dama Sofisticada (Sophisticated Dame), created with rough, slashing strokes by the late Mexican muralist Orozco. The hardcover-size work depicts a peasant woman whose face is seen from a side view and loosely rendered in thick, irregular red, orange, and turquoise daubs of paint. Her tangled raven tresses are suggested by a tarry black wash.
Also on view is a handful of Lam paintings, including an unusual early gouache-on-cardboard from 1942. Lam, who freighted his paintings with rich Afro-Cuban symbolism, evokes a tenebrous penumbra of light and darkness in a 1970 three-foot oil-on-canvas — depicting a totemic, stylized bird — that exudes a mysterious, almost primitive veneer.
Lam's eerie fowl nearly suffers by comparison next to Arnaldo Roche Rabell's painting of a fighting cock. The dynamic bed sheet-size expressionistic work bristles with a rustic barnyard vibe. El Cano Mudo is rendered in a dizzying swirl of yellow, orange, red, purple, and blue tones that powerfully rip across the canvas to convey a sense that the rooster is about to burst from the surface. The Puerto Rican painter's opus seems scratched out from sun-baked soil.
Across from it, Guatemala's Elmar Rojas is represented by three oils from 1991 that refer to the folklore of his homeland. The artist furiously works over his canvases with paint and then repeatedly sands them down until their bright, bejeweled surfaces feel like kid lamb Gucci leather to the touch. One of these works, ironically titled El Gran Consejo de Espantapájaros (Grand Counsel of Scarecrows), depicts what appear to be shamans gathered at a seashore. It's a stunning tropical palette reminiscent of Rufino Tamayo's work.
Another artist who seduces the senses is Brazil's Antônio Amaral, whose phosphorescent, five-foot canvas, On the Center: A Tree, offers a stinging commentary on the rapacious deforestation of the Amazon. The painting's edges are surrounded by a menacing rusty sawtooth border buzzing into an inner tree canopy of lush emerald leaves that frame a solitary burning tree trunk. The trunk glows bright red at the center of the composition. Its branches are tipped by billowing clouds of smoke.
Among the younger, mid-career artists on display is Argentina's Mateo Arguelles Pitt, who often uses pugilists in his whimsical, deceptively simple paintings as a metaphor for confronting the challenging vagaries of life. One of his large mixed-media-on-panel works, Miércoles 3 (Wednesday the 3rd), portrays a Lilliputian palooka standing in front of a heavy punching bag that dwarfs him. The boxer is unfazed and holds outs his mitts as if ready and eager to tackle his daunting exercise and deliver a knockout blow.
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Mexico's Sergio Garval also packs a punch. His wall-swallowing, lavishly textured painting The Cord features a woman trying to balance herself like a trapeze artist on a stack of ornate furniture floating in a dazzling mother-of-pearl-hued void. The artist seems to be hinting at overcoming adversity against the odds.
Garval's work is among the most beguiling on exhibit, drawing the viewer like a moth to a flame. An arresting charcoal-on-canvas painting titled The Corporation-Reconstructing Eden is remarkable for its exquisite execution and the haunting imagery of a dystopian world. It shows the burned-out shells of cars crowned by rotting potted plants and zombie-like people walking atop the rusted hulks while dreaming of re-creating paradise anew. The work's discomfiting tones convey notions of the automobile industry in crisis or the aftermath of a natural disaster.
While at the gallery, slip into the rear storage area for a glimpse of Marco Tulio's eerie, almost operatic vision of the consequences of a bullfight gone awry. In La Montera, the matador is nowhere to be seen, but a naked young woman, cocooned in a white shawl and sporting a sardonic grin, kneels in the ring. Behind her, two dastardly oafs, with malice dripping from their lips, leer at the clueless girl. One of the men hides a scythe behind his back as if contemplating severing her head. The self-taught Colombian artist, whose parents are both painters, has an incredibly gifted hand and quite an eye for heightening the sense of drama in his images.
On the way out, don't miss Mexican master Gunther Gerzso's luminous abstract geometric painting, measuring slightly larger than your average postcard and dating from 1978. The rare and precious gem makes a compelling argument for visiting the gallery's trove — not to mention witnessing Miller's knack for turning a potentially straw proposition into gold.