A Fine Sense of Place

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Billie Grace Lynn's colossal (inflatable) white whale entitled Moby Dick, as well as her Dead Mouse (a bleeding Mickey in military attire), humorously conveyed political timeliness and were popular with the public. Patricio Cuello provided a striking counterpoint to the area's dark sky with his festive The Cloud, made of white, red, blue, and yellow balloon-clusters.

Warehouse 3 was OMNIART's pice de résistance. The expansive interior contained installations by Carlos Betancourt, Gretchen Scharnagl, and Kaarina Kaikkonen -- all within axial view. Scharnagl's Küntslicher Walder (Artificial Forest) was a striking assemblage of discarded Christmas-tree trunks hanging from the ceiling. The pruned-shaft arrangement showed a not-so-obvious clearing. One had to walk inside the piece to find a spectacular mass of (dead) bird sculptures.

Betancourt's En la arena sabrosa was an arrangement of almost 6000 sandcastles, molded with a drinking cup and arranged in rows of 54 by 111. The gesture was ephemeral, but the symmetry and repetition of such a simple shape obtained opulence and drama. It had to have been Betancourt's best installation to date.

On the other side of the warehouse was And It Was Empty by Kaikkonen (a recipient of the prestigious Rome Prize this year). She employed hundreds of men's jackets and suspended them from wall to floor, eliciting a mesmerizing landscape (Carol Damian co-curated the installation). These three "sites" worked perfectly. They had the right scale, a sense of drama, and engaged their surroundings meaningfully.

Though not everything at OMNIART looked to be site-specific, the scope of the project and the curatorial labor involved made it a very significant undertaking for FIU's and UM's art departments and students. It was the best school-sponsored event Art Basel has seen so far.

OMNIART's warehouses are now closed to the public, though photos can be viewed at Warehouse 1 will be reincarnated as OMNIART 2 and will reopen for a limited time beginning January 7 in conjunction with the Art Miami fair. Some works from the other warehouses will be incorporated into a reconfigured exhibit.

Not everyone knows that downtown Miami's Lummus Park (just west of I-95 near the Miami River) contains a long, low coral-rock building that served as slave quarters before the Civil War. The historic structure was later moved to its present location after the park, Miami's first, was created in 1909. This is where William Keddell and Brook Dorsch organized Sites-Miami 2004, with installations by 34 local artists.

When I visited the park exhibition on opening night, some people complained about the lack of visibility, but the existing light was, in fact, appropriate. Michael Betancourt's Ghost, a video projection of an actual enslaved female on a loose white sheet, benefited from the shadows. Lou Anne Colodny's huge photo of an old aborigine fixed on a coral wall (and lit from below) exuded a contained force.

Each installation presented a distinct engagement with the park. Robin Griffiths had a monumental bare tree trunk hanging by ropes and chains in between two massive trees. It looked like a tortured soul without limbs -- a strong reflection on our legacy of brutal slavery. To comment upon the human crisis in Sudan's Darfur, David Rohn arranged a gathering of soiled and mutilated dolls on the park's grass, an open mass grave.

Ralph Provisero's formidable plank sculpture elicited elegance and drama and felt historic, though in a more abstract way. Likewise with Robert Huff's wooden water cistern. These pieces evoked a moment in time before the rise of technology. Carlos de Villasante set a playful mood with his iconic canvases that took the shape of a moving wheel, while Rebecca Guarda's spiral assemblage of fluorescent traffic signals suggested some ancient, labyrinthine blueprint.

On a more humorous note, Kyle Trowbridge played with the idea of the manmade appliance vs. nature. He designed detailed operating instructions and placed them at the bottom of trees, as if they were eco-gadgets. Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz, who collaborate under the name Guerra de la Paz, assembled in a circle colorful headless mannequins holding hands, a strange kind of pre-Modern pastoral gesture.

In his seminal Architecture of the City (1966), Aldo Rossi elaborated the idea of "inventory and memory," a sort of metaphysical space "as if stumbling upon what was already there." OMNIART and Sites-Miami 2004 prompted me to consider a model for site-specific work: organic and solemn, yet without pretentious self-importance; striking a balance between subject matter and medium; and blessed with a bit of humor.

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Alfredo Triff

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