Nereida Garcia Ferraz's Bambolas
Nereida Garcia Ferraz's Bambolas

Triple Vision

A weblike charcoal-and-gouache drawing in "Beyond Havana: Intersecting Time and Place" at the Bettcher Gallery clues you in that artist Nereida Garcia Ferraz is picking up strands from her old life to spin the new. In this exhibit, her first solo show in Miami, Garcia Ferraz combines digital photography, painting, and drawings, deftly arranging a zone of imagery teeming with inner life. It is a swirling stream of recollection reflecting the exile experience.

Skillfully avoiding the maudlin or pandering to nostalgia, she unfolds the rhythm of her personal myth in symbolically nuanced fragments and echoes of her childhood in Cuba, filtering memory through the sieve of political amputation from culture and identity while coming of age in the American Midwest.

A digital photograph near the entrance of the gallery, Bambolas, reveals the passport used by the artist when she left Cuba. It shows Garcia Ferraz at age ten, the word nulo (null) officially stamped under her visage. A broken female doll, once part of a crche, rests on the document, her severed left arm floating defiantly in a dark void to the left of the passport, as if heralding a desire for wholeness. The poignant image of the artist as a little girl, frozen at that moment amid the inexorable tides of history, powerfully refutes the state's assertion that she is null, of no consequence or value.


"Beyond Havana: Intersecting Time and Place"

Through July 28 at Bettcher Gallery, 5582 NE 4th Ct;


The work of Garcia Ferraz, who grew up in Illinois and graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, provides a thought-provoking glimpse at the art of thinking in imagery. Eschewing the categorical or restrictive, she weaves highly charged narratives of personal search and discovery that are resonant with hope and transformation. They express both humility and a desire for self-awareness.

Her symbolic lexicon, at times ritualistic or totemic, is fertile with seeds, trees, fruit, shells, tropical foliage, Spanish tarot cards, ladders, animals, family photographs, mystical centers of power, and intuitive representations of the Afro-Cuban deities, lyrically grouped and ordered by the passing of time and the marking of distances. Imbued with emotive and conceptual exploration, these disparate elements seem to offer a unique vision of the collective dreams of her people and birthplace.

Niña Caracol (Snail Girl), a large oil on canvas rendered in a Chagall-esque tropical dreamscape, depicts an unseen girl carrying a huge snail shell on her back, reminding us that to travel is to seek, to satisfy a longing for discovery. Snail Girl serves as an eloquent metaphor for the challenging pilgrimage of self, and offers a rare look at one artist's path, chosen, in the words of Carlos Castañeda's Don Juan, "for its heart."

At first glance Hugo Tillman's exhibit "Upper Class" at Marina Kessler Gallery seems to be one of the most creeped-out photography shows to come down the pike in a while. After all, who would willingly be surrounded by portraits of a bunch of fossilized blue bloods from Newport and Palm Beach who look like studies for Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum? Tillman's conceptual premise is simple enough: He poses and photographs the scions of America's vaunted WASP aristocracy.

Working with subjects in their own environments -- opulent homes in gated communities, where they are hidden from the public eye and impossibly inaccessible -- Tillman dresses, arranges, and captures his subjects with a ruthless eye for detail. The results make for subversively critical portraits that reject myth-making and leave a decidedly corrosive taste on the viewer's palate.

As an image-maker, Tillman asserts that this social group fascinates him because they are so vested in controlling their own images, images that have perhaps granted them license as arbiters of taste in mass media, fashion (think Ralph Lauren, who made a mint from this aesthetic), and glossy magazines along the lines of W, Elle, and Fortune, which Roland Barthes found to be treasure troves of popular myth-making.

Tillman's stated intention is to explore the tension and reality behind the myth. The general public, he notes, often understands his subjects only through constructs and images created by the fashion, advertising, film, and media industries.

Studying the portrait of Mrs. Edwin Burke, though, you wonder if she would have requested, given the chance, that the pencil-thick chin hair dominating the composition be airbrushed out of the picture. Faring slightly worse under the carnage of his Pentax 6x7 medium-format camera and Profoto lighting equipment, Mrs. Francis Scaife's furry turkey jowls and accompanying cranberry-hued gob of lipstick clash extravagantly with the lavish strands of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry in which the artist has draped her.

Mrs. Felix de Narvaez, appearing a marvel of modern science, probably receives Christmas cards from every plastic surgeon on the East Coast. Flaunting skin stretched tighter than a tom-tom, her every pore seems spackled over with Estée Lauder joint compound. Around her neck she wears what appears to be a thrift-store swag lamp. You'd swear she must owe Tillman money or something, the way he roughs her up.

In an election year, when oil-slick dreams of dynasty abound in Washington, and the rift between the landed gentry and have-nots seems wider than ever, "Upper Class" is a show that is at once funny, scary, and politically relevant.

Anyone who has run a commercial art space knows that group shows help pay the rent. Since summer traditionally marks a slowing of the local scene, it shouldn't come as a surprise that several galleries have organized exhibits with a view to covering overhead and putting some cash in their artists' pockets, plus bringing them exposure in the process.

Curated by Nina Arias, "Drawing Conclusions 2" at Rocket Projects features the work of more than twenty locals, most from the Rocket stable, with a handful of artists from New York City and San Francisco complementing the roster.

Arias, who cut her box office teeth curating the first installment of "Drawing Conclusions" during the inaugural Art Basel, quickly dismisses comparisons between the two versions as asinine, pointing out that the original included more blue-chip names and a much broader survey of cutting-edge approaches to drawing. "This is about showing solid work and representing my artists," she says. Still it's difficult to disregard the obvious.

While the space is limiting for the large array of work in the gallery, it provides a challenge to those willing to separate the wheat from the chaff, and is well worth the effort of going beyond a cursory reading, yielding subtle political and social commentaries from several participants.

One of the most startling pieces in the show is Geoff Chadsey's Practical Pig, executed in watercolor and pencil on Mylar and also referred to by the San Francisco-based artist as Gay Day at Water World. This work features six ethnic-looking urban youths fronted by one of the three little pigs dressed in a train engineer's overalls and denim cap while styling a pair of funk-ass Adidas. This little piggy well might be thinking, "I'll huff and I'll puff and blow you conservative clowns down."

Chadsey, who culls his imagery from the Internet, superimposes the faces, postures, and identifying characteristics of friends onto an anonymous pilfered photo, creating a compelling postmodern fable that leaves your head spinning. Rendered flawlessly in a detailed crosshatch style, these figures exude a tribal vibe that makes them look like a bunch of Queer Nation Maoris ready to hop the water slide en route to hedonistic abandon.

David Rohn's Pray, a chord of lights spelling out the words Pray and Prey in cursive handwriting and hot-glued to the floor, could be as much a commentary on the Bush administration's religious fundamentalism and hawkish foreign policy as a semiotic play on language.

Frances Trombly's delicate and subtle, labor-intensive, hand-woven sheets of ruled paper have a trompe l'oeil quality about them that upend a traditionally feminist craft in a conceptually vibrant bent.

Andrew Guenther, who seeks to embrace the spiritual realm in his work by drawing on the symbolism that exists between evil and destruction in a godless place, depicts environmental catastrophes, degenerate cult behavior, and lawlessness and anarchy.

These three shows suggest that, even though the dog days of summer have arrived, there are remarkable signs that the avant-garde won't be caught sleepwalking this election season.


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