Tucked back from the street and hidden behind bamboo trees, the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation is a jewel box of a building. Founded in 2002 the CiFo is the personal collection of its namesake, Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, a prolific collector who's amassed a collection of over 2,000 objects. While the focus of Fontanals-Cisernos' obsessive collecting is Latin America, she collects work by artists the globe. And their new exhibition, "Impulse, Reason, Sense, Conflict: Abstract Art From the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection," is drawn entirely from the collection.
According to Jesús Fuenmayor, the Executive Director of CIFO, decided on the exhibition's theme after taking stock of the ever-growing collection. "A simple discovery formed the basis for the exhibition," Fuenmayor writes in the accompanying catalogue, "As we engaged in a retrospective interrogation of the collection...we found...abstraction is at center stage." Composed of 101 pieces which range from the traditional mediums of painting and sculpture to the most modern installation and video, "Impulse, Reason, Sense, Conflict" is an impressive exhibition, both in size and scope. Seventy-two artists are represented in the exhibition, artists from different generations who lived and worked in the farthest corners of the world, artists who approached abstraction with very different motivations and ideas.
Abstraction can be a difficult concept for an exhibition; a radical experiment often perceived as impenetrable, an exhibition composed entirely of abstract works can be hard to pull off. And adding artists from across the globe into an already volatile mix can make such a project doubly challenging. But Funemayor, who curated the exhibition, has managed to so. Rather than the typical historical approach, one that is more often defined solely by the march of a timeline, "Impulse, Reason, Sense, Conflict" is organized thematically, hence its name. Funemayor identified four major issues that artists working in the mode of abstraction have always had to grapple with, regardless of time or location, and those issues--those challenges--drive the political and aesthetic articulations of the artists in the exhibition.
And since the exhibition itself is divided into quarters, the stark white gallery space of CIFO is as well. It makes for an interesting, if sometimes jarring, approach to installation. Artists whose work seems to have conceptually little in common hang on walls-or sit on floors-next to one another. Untitled 1, a small black square mounted on a white background (meant to undercut the symmetry of a single color) by the iconic Brazilian artist Lygia Clark hangs next to a three-dimensional piece, Untitled (1988), by American Minimalist Donald Judd. The works share an aesthetic sensibility, both monochromatic and linear, they otherwise have little in common. Judd was no fan of Clark's work, he once referred to it as "ordinary." Their paring, however, works in this context, both filed under the "Reason" section of the exhibition, seeing the unusual pairing nicely expresses a kind of universality of abstraction. Though Judd and Clark were artists with incredibly divergent concerns--Clark incredibly driven by radical politics, Judd driven by the complete retreat from politics--putting their work together, forcing a dialogue between two disparate works, creates a view of abstraction that's driven by a Latin American perspective.
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A wall that consists entirely of dizzying Op-art looks like it is practically moving and a few of the works are actually kinetic. Funemayor turns around a mirrored round sculpture by Olafur Eliasson, Your Momentum Maintenance (2008) and its surface reflects on the gallery's walls. And there is a four paneled work by the young Brazilian artist Carla Chaim installed on the floor that is particularly compelling. Untitled (Exercise for construction and establishment of the infinite), looks like a map of star constellations, but on closer inspection shows that it was made by blowing paint-filled bubbles, allowing them to randomly pop on the canvas. Chaim then connected the proverbial dots, rewriting the concept of mapping, changing it from a legible guide to a random, abstracted image.
The exhibition is a daring approach to abstraction that's sometimes serious and funny. And maybe it's an exhibition that, outside of Latin America, you could only see in Miami. American museums tend to prefer a story of modern art, abstract art in particular, led by the apolitical concerns of American and European painters. In Latin America abstraction is a politically radical gesture, driven by Socialist politics and dissent. "Impulse, Reason, Sense, Conflict" is an exhibition worth seeing, both experts and novices will appreciate the smart curation and international approach.
The Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation is located at 1018 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The gallery is open Thursday-Friday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The exhibition is on view until March 8 and is free to the public.