Karen Rifas and Aurora Molina Wow at Bernice Steinbaum Gallery

Karen Rifas is a local artist known for her adroit use of materials to convey concepts of volume and space. Her solo show "Strung Out," currently on view at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, features several large floor-to-ceiling and corner wall sculptures. They're made using various colors of cord stitched into the gallery walls and cutting through vast expanses of space in bold geometric forms.

These works twang the senses and rope the viewer into considering how perception influences how we experience our surroundings. Rifas's bold cord interventions are maze-like in nature. At times, they appear not unlike cat's cradles woven through walls. And they often vibrate as if plucked by an unseen harpist's hand as you brush by them while navigating her exhibit.

They also deceive the eyes depending from what angle you view them. Amazingly the artist does not employ architectural software to create her optical illusions. Instead she says her favorite tool is a contemporary laser version of a plumb line called "Fat Max."

"To make my job easier I make 'to scale' maquettes of the space and work out the details down to the exact angles and number of cords. Once I begin working on the maquettes, a preconceived idea evolves just as does a preconceived painting or drawing," Rifas explains.

Works such as Bingo, which creates the illusion of a cylinder floating in air and seems to change positions depending on the viewer's perspective, inspire formal considerations.

"Another consideration is how lines create density or even visual confusion: for example, which cord is actually in front or behind another, as in Count and Counterpoint. Pulsating deals with a transition from 2-D to 3-D space as well as the visual vibrations caused by the viewer's actual movement alongside multiple cords," Rifas adds.

Despite their elegant precision, the artist's minimalist works conjuring geometric volume from thin air also leave room for Rifas to ad lib.

"I guess you could say that I literally stand in a location and ask the walls and space to talk to me - what is unique to that particular environment? It is an improvisation in space somewhat akin to the improvisations of a dancer or musician on stage," she mentions.

In fact, during her recent opening, and in others past, Rifas has invited local dancers to interact with her airy structures, adding another dimension to the pieces.

"Two reasons for the dancers: I have always loved dance -- my daughter was a professional ballet dancer; and I have felt that my work comes alive (a Duchampian idea) with the interaction, participation and interpretation of the viewer," says Rifas. "These wonderful New World School dancers under the direction of Dale Andree facilitated that thought."

In Steinbaum's Project Rooms, don't miss Aurora Molina's "A Critique of Established Attitudes Towards Aging & Beauty," an attention-grabbing cast of discomfiting dancing dolls crafted from stuffed and embroidered pantyhose. Part soft sculptures, part stitched drawings, her creations explore how the elderly are often ignored in our society.

Animated with robotic mechanisms, her cast of characters squawk, jerk spastically, and pitch tantrums to make us feel guilty for short-shrifting senior citizens. To hammer home her views on how South Florida is an elephant graveyard Molina's even created a conceptual tenement straight out of our sunny condo canyon peopled by "tenement terrorists."

On October 5, from 6 to 8 p.m. you can catch both exhibits during a panel discussion on the state of contemporary arts by Irvin Lippman, executive director of Fort Lauderdale's Museum of Art, Bernice Steinbaum the gallery's director, indie curator and critic, Janet Batet and Carol Prusa artist and professor of art at Florida Atlantic University. The event is sponsored by Irreversible Magazine and free to the public.

"Strung Out" is on view through October 29. "A Critique of Established Attitudes Towards Aging & Beauty" through January 7, 2012. Bernice Steinbaum Gallery is located at 3550 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Call 305-573-2700 or visit bernicesteinbaumgallery.com.

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