Fights of Fancy

The Green Door Gallery used to be a derelict construction spot among a monotonous row of secondhand stores on North Miami Avenue. It came to life when Gary Fonseca and Mino Gerges (both students at the New World School of the Arts) decided to change things around. These young men wanted something new, something that stood out against the cheap bazaarlike environment that rules downtown. "We worked nonstop," says Fonseca. "On weekends we saved money, and on Mondays we came back to support the space." Both he and Gerges quickly learned the tricks of building renovation, not without, as Gerges puts it, "a few 220-watt shocks from the AC." Little by little the place came back to life, and they opened their first show in March 2000. Today the Green Door Gallery is a downtown center for artistic effervescence.

The showroom, which takes up the entire second floor, is literally and metaphorically spacious, as it gives young talent the room to develop and grow. After seven shows the space has introduced the works Alberto Hernandez, Bhakti Baxter, Martin Oppel, Allysa Browne, Jay Ore, and Zappalo Michele. The play Zap, written by Natasha Tsakos and directed by Raquel Almazan, will open February 8.

One evening earlier this month we checked out "pro," which includes works by Adler Guerrier, Tall Rickards, and Leyden Rodriguez. Iconoclasm reverberates throughout the exhibition, in which the three artists portray themselves as characters in their works. "pro" examines the issues of what counts as "inside," "professional," or "valid" in today's art world.

In his photographs Rickards uses his own image as a subject of protest. Back Against the Wall Is Only a Metaphor is a series of color prints showing the artist (here posing as a boxer) getting whacked against a brick wall by an invisible adversary. The dramatic sequence reveals frustration and anger over the etiquette and bad faith of the art market. Rickards also discloses white-collar games of desire and fetishism in his series Feet on Boss's Desk, in which he and a young female executive take turns playing the roles of the seducer and the seduced (the female frontal shots help ease the weirdness).

Rodriguez's BFA, MFA is made up of nine fake certificates of achievement signed by well-known Miami curators and patrons. These framed documents, ostentatiously displaying seals of excellence, communicate a basic tension in our professional culture: Though art is about talent, it sometimes includes empty validation.

Guerrier simultaneously indulges in and demystifies the stereotype of the flâneur (that Baudelairian wandering dandy) in The Suit Makes the Man, a series of color photographs. We follow the artist, dressed as a businessman and carrying a briefcase, as he aimlessly walks through the empty downtown streets at night. The sequence invites a reflection on racial solitude within the confining spaces of urban America. Guerrier's other piece, It Was What Chomsky Said About Prometheus, seems less cohesive by comparison.

Particularly enjoyable was Interview 2001, a video interview conducted by local curator Fred Snitzer (playing himself) in which Rickards, Rodriguez, and Guerrier get a shot at venting their frustrations with the art market. Because the video legitimizes the very process they seemingly put into question, this piece remains puzzling. It successfully expresses the maddening circularity of any critique of the market -- and reminded me of the protected witness in the movie Traffic as he tries to explain to the feds why putting one dealer out of circulation would only work to the benefit of another.

Another interesting opening was Xavier Cortada's "No Tengan Miedo" ("Have No Fear"), at the Latin American Art Museum. Combining both painting and installation, the exhibition echoes the pope's famous appeal to the people of Cuba during his historic visit to the island. In paintings such as Abuso (Abuse), Paredón (Shooting Squad), and Comunión en la Plaza (Communion at the Square), the artist combines a flair for epic figuration and drama.

Cortada's figurative paintings take a fresh look at modern Cuban traditions brought to exile, but his art also is informed by the styles of Mexican muralists. And though mural painting can be overtly didactic at times, Cortada brings to these themes an air of emotional immediacy. His assemblages seem less successful. Although their titles display idiosyncratic wit, they look a bit dislocated and cluttered, as if the artist hasn't been able to put the idea at the level of the object. Cortada could heed the minimalist counsel, "Less is more." When he does, his work flows. Revolución is a seditious piece for both Miami and Cuba. A miniplunger with four wheels attached translates as a caustic ideogram, suggesting the popular expression revolver la mierda (to splatter the shit), which Cortada believes has been Cuba's reality for as long as one can remember, before and after Castro.

On the other side of town, A+ Resources Fine Art Gallery opened "The Palace of the Lost Children," a beautiful show by Pedro Vizcaino. With a sort of kaleidoscopic expressionist gesture, Vizcaino invites us into an imaginary world where red scissors, UFOs, helicopters, airplanes, and tanks come to life. These artifacts (produced by what looks like scribbles) seem to invite a friendship with the audience; they speak an extraterrestrial language alien to our day and age. Vizcaino uses cartoon dialogue boxes, but he doesn't write in them. They remain empty of words, filled with the Prussian-blue sky where Vizcaino's children wish to escape. Unlike the sugary gloss we often find in today's overloaded pop references, Vizcaino's images are bittersweet. In his hands these pop allusions exhibit a odd innocence. He achieves a realm that doesn't exist and hasn't for a while.

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Alfredo Triff