Damien B. is a nonprofit arts center run by the Boisseau family from France. One of its goals is to bridge the gap between artists from Miami and Europe, offering them a place to work and show art. The three-story building has eight studios, a showroom, and a big outdoor garage and is located in Wynwood, close to the other galleries along the Miami Avenue strip. "Simply Art," the fifth show at the center, covers photography, painting, and installation. At the opening, which was accompanied by the sounds of DJ David Kingo, a young local artist summed up the atmosphere: "This place has the right mixture of joy and cliché."
I first heard of Damien B. last year, through a friend who told me of artists' dinners held every third Friday of the month. Damien Boisseau explains, "We've had these dinners at my parents' house. One time we had as many as 100 people. The idea is for people to meet, have a good time, and connect." Even beyond the realm of art, this makes sense in our city, famous for its diversity but not so much for its ethnic integration.
"Simply Art" is the yearly show for the center's artists, and given its nature, it may sacrifice overall coherence for the sake of diversity. Both the art of Bianca Pratorius and Bénédicte Blanc-Fontenille convey abstraction. Pratorius's spaces are built out of flat, abstract color fields and seem to feed our voyeuristic tendencies, yet her overuse of written phrases and calligraphic marks is distracting. Though she exhibited some sculpture, Blanc-Fontenille is more successful with Pierre, a gray abstract canvas resembling a huge, oysterlike figure, sparsely colored and treated with charcoal and pigment acrylic. The piece has mystery. And hey, that outdoor patio looks like it could use a performance art or two. "If a project has good potential," says Boisseau, "we're definitely open. Artists are welcome to approach us."
"Simply Art" / "Le Chateau del Pueblo" / "Smasher"
Through February 28 at the Damien B. Contemporary Arts Center, 282 NW 36th St; 305-573-4949.
Le Chateau del Pueblo
By David Rohn. Through February 23 at the Dorsch Gallery (courtesy of Kevin Bruk Gallery), 151 NW 24th St; 305-576-1278.
By Annie Wharton. Through March 8 at designlab.miami, 4242 NE 2nd Ave; 305-571-9855.
The work of Juanita Meneses and Sara Stites is figurative. Meneses's anthropomorphic visions are executed in mixed media and a technique merging drawing and painting. Exhale is a proficient cold-hued nose, mouth, and throat treatment. Its only sin is the obvious: Writing the word air (with an arrow pointing out) in a work in which breathing is part of the title says too much -- and, perhaps, too little. Stites mixes closeups of eyes and body parts with soft ornamental tokens, which she uses to soften the overall impression of dislocation. Her painting Chloe's Legs exhibited a disturbing superimposition. Because Stites's works were so high up, they were difficult to notice.
Finally there's Bernard Boisseau's work, an unusual mix of collage, portraiture, and neon light. Pizzeria Stendhal shows a portrait of the famous writer, illuminated by a light-blue neon light. Boisseau's work sits on the border of installation art, advertisement, and plain irony.
Don't miss "Le Chateau del Pueblo," David Rohn's installation next to Dorsch Gallery, that the artist sees as "a statement on the proliferation of consumption in contemporary life." Rohn has created a surprising interior narrative, built upon the idea that "from the notion that you're what you drive follows that you are where -- or how -- you live." He then invites us into a crackhouse-turned-decorated-middle-class model for sale.
First there's decorating, a metaphor for self-expression, narcissism, vanity, and ambition. Rohn uses this as an apt symbol of our culture's collective soul -- that is, who we want to be versus what we actually have and use.
To guide us through the showroom is Gretchen Bender, a dignified, transvestite real estate agent played by Rohn. Bender's wit adds complexity to what may seem a superficial political message about material voracity. "So many of the things we do are related to transformation," Rohn tells us. "People believe they can change themselves to become something else." But he is not necessarily convinced: "On the other hand, Bender may represent the opposite, that is, the industry's necessity to sell this image that is no more."
Our culture's need for self-expression and simulation is exploited by Rohn's pitch of French sophistication. "People go back to Europe to look for an environment of elegance and comfort they think they'll never find where they are." Hence naming places Versailles, the Fontainebleau, Les Violins. Check out David Rohn's last performance as Gretchen Bender at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 23.
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Annie Wharton's "Smasher" at designlab.miami elicits a cool and minimal aura. Wharton is a Miami artist probing patterns of aesthetic simplicity. Behind a bath of white light, we see a series of long, thick vellum sheets sparsely adorned with playful geometric designs -- aloof calligraphic allusions, but not quite. Some of Wharton's previous art conveyed this human touch, as seen in the wiggly nature of her designs. In "Smasher" many works are, at close inspection, printed by a figure-pattern into the vellum's surface.
Given its sparseness, Wharton's art may be perceived as just adding a pleasing mood to a minimal interior, a décor. She has taken on this risk with a resilient disposition. In how many different ways can she present these repetitions yet convey a meaningful message?
Wharton's work explores minute differences in similar patterns, using color motifs. Take for instance her vinyl canvases Smasher I, Smasher Too, and Smasher Again, DNA-like designs in light blue over red, blue over white, and blue over pink. Like tiny cells changing rhythmic pulse, the nuances of mood are what one must go after to get Wharton's aesthetic reward.