The Heat Is On
Peter Sarkisian's sensational 3-D video sculpture at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery brings to mind the federal government's Cash for Clunkers program. The artist's Registered Driver Flat Series: 1974 AMC Gremlin is a toy model-scale version of the loopy '70s vehicle that Time magazine rated one of "the worst cars of all time."
The publication went on to criticize the Gremlin's unsightly silhouette — sporting a long, asphalt-hugging snout and truncated hind quarters — describing its appearance "like the tail snapped off a salamander." But Sarkisian's marine blue jalopy is a head-turner. He tricked out the clunker with a business card-size video screen tucked inside the driver's window. Powered by a PlayStation console, the video shows the New Mexico-based artist chugging a beer at the wheel while careening through South Florida's streets to the sounds of screeching traffic.
The whiplash-inducing work is on view as part of "Nine Lives: Dog Days of Summer," a group show featuring art by María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Kate Moran, Jill Cannady, Luis González Palma, Edouard Duval-Carrié, Carol Prusa, Jenny Dubnau, Karen Rifas, Francie Bishop Good, Donna Rosenthal, Courtney Johnson, Hung Liu, and Wanxin Zhang.
All of the artists are part of the gallery's stable, and Bernice Steinbaum says the exhibit was organized to celebrate her nine years in business in Wynwood, hence the show's title. "I've been here nine years and in the business for close to three-and-a-half decades," says Steinbaum, who moved her gallery to the Big Orange from New York in 2000 and was an early Wynwood pioneer.
"I feel I have to reinvent myself every year and wanted to curate a show with artists that have been with me from the very beginning next to others who have joined me since then to create a different context for their works," the dealer says. "I feel it gives the gallery a whole new life as well." Steinbaum has culled an eclectic exhibit for the slow, sultry summer season, with works ranging from photography to tapestry, sculpture, painting, collage, installations, and video.
Deland's Jill Cannady offers a cure for the summer hot spell with a chilling installation, People After the Storm, which engulfs a 20-foot wall at the rear of the gallery. The arresting work features 40 pieces made with watercolor, powdered graphite, and wax on postcard-size hardboard, all depicting the fierce faces of men and women buffeted by tempests of emotion. Cannady's studies of the sweep of human sentiment seem to suggest people's responses to each other following an implosion of civil discourse. They bring to mind the searing confrontations boiling over at health-care reform town hall meetings nationwide.
Carol Prusa, from Palm Beach County, and Francie Bishop Good, from Broward, are two other artists whose works command attention. Prusa's celestial Aporia is a two-foot-wide acrylic hemisphere housing a matrix of fiber optics that cast twinkling star patterns on the gallery wall. The enchanting globe is covered in gorgeous, undulating abstract patterns created from a labor-intensive process in which Prusa sandblasts her surfaces before adding gesso, silverpoint, and titanium-white pigment to convey a sense of a heavenly constellation.
Bishop Good's Halo, Las Olas Blvd, Ft. Lauderdale, FL — a color-saturated c-print on aluminum behind Plexiglas — exudes broad narrative possibilities in which the spectator must fill in the missing text to a story. In the image, a curly-haired brunet girl wearing a purple tube top and low-slung jeans lolls in front of a newsstand on swanky Las Olas Boulevard, counting money as if waiting for public transportation. To her side, a shorn white poodle perches precariously on a blue barstool. Behind the dog, a door opens into an empty barbershop. A yellow neon sign frames the girl's noggin, cloaking her in an eerie virginal glow.
The diversity of media in the exhibit is striking. Guatemala's Luis González Palma's Las Sombras de Su Niñez (The Shadows of His Youth) uses Kodalith, gold leaf, and red paper, all embedded in resin. The work crackles with an aged veneer suggestive of an insect encased in amber. It depicts a bare-chested lad sitting at a rough-hewn wooden dinner table and peering morosely over his shoulder. Across from the addled boy, a human skull, crowned by a dunce cap, rests on the table. It appears to be cackling at the young man's misfortunes.
Among the more impressive works on display are Hung Liu's sprawling jacquard tapestries, most of which measure a whopping seven feet by seven feet and are resplendent with texture and color. Liu, who migrated to the United States in 1984 from her native China, dazzles with her intricate and boldly ornate Three Fujin Wives, depicting a trio of imperial consorts wearing opulent pearl-hued gowns, holding golden fans in their delicate paws, and festooned with flamboyant flower arrangements in their raven locks. Liu successfully reinterprets ancient imagery from photographic, film, and print sources to mine issues of cultural identity in her work.
For her jewel-like depictions of glittering city night scenes, Courtney Johnson dipped into the past by employing the rarely used cliché verre technique. The unusual process is a method of etching, painting, or drawing on a transparent surface, such as glass or film, and then printing the resulting image on light-sensitive paper. Johnson, a young Miami artist, deftly executed her renditions of New York, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong on carbon pigment prints, capturing the hustle and bustle of the teeming metropolises in radiant, shimmering tones.
It comes as little surprise that Steinbaum's eye has paid off. Unlike many other local galleries suffering through the burst art bubble in the steamy months, the dealer claims she is standing pretty. "I have been lucky... I've had some big sales and have been floating," she says. "Knock on wood." This well-curated show provides solid evidence of why she's been banking during the dog days of summer.
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