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MAM Goes Mach

The only way of doing justice to the Miami Art Museum's expanding holdings would be to run a list in very small type, with which proud museum honchos would undoubtedly agree. Judging by the latest show, it's difficult to dismiss the rocketing optimism. For an institution that began collecting only...
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The only way of doing justice to the Miami Art Museum's expanding holdings would be to run a list in very small type, with which proud museum honchos would undoubtedly agree. Judging by the latest show, it's difficult to dismiss the rocketing optimism.

For an institution that began collecting only in 1996, it seems MAM's cup is running over. The museum has aggressively snapped up works and, as a result, is on the verge of casting a longer shadow.

On view through the summer, "Big Juicy Paintings (and more)" features nearly 50 works from the permanent collection, as well as a number of new acquisitions making their Miami debut. The brawny exhibit is complemented by a handful of works on loan from area collectors. This show marks the first time since 2002's "Miami Currents" that MAM has turned over its main exhibition space to its growing collection. Organized by the museum's senior curator, Peter Boswell, the exhibit is primarily devoted to paintings but also features several large-scale sculptural installations. An elated Boswell mentions MAM's collection is growing so rapidly that visitors will encounter a show "bigger and juicier than we could have imagined even six months ago."

One of the museum's recent acquisitions, and perhaps a source for the show's title, is Arturo Herrera's When Alone Again III. Purchased with funds from MAM's fledgling Collectors Council, the latex-paint-on-wall piece is gargantuan, sprawling 40 feet across and soaring nearly 20 feet high. Rendered in red, the abstract work references Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the titular men's patchwork clothing and pickaxes barely discernible from a distance.

Sarah Morris's Cinerama (Los Angeles) is another recent addition to the collection. The huge abstract household-gloss-paint-on-canvas bursts with tangerine, blue, salmon, black, gray, and white hues and exudes a fragmented, kaleidoscopic vibe. Across from Morris's shimmering eye-popper is a pair of the exhibit's more unusual works: Gene Davis's bright blue Micropainting — easily missed because it is smaller than a postage stamp — and a flattened stainless-steel concoction by Erik Levine that rests on the floor below it. Levine's Blastulablob reminded me of a mercury spill or a chrome-plated palm tree mashed by a steamroller.

Since I was familiar with some of the works on display from previous visits, I wended my way through the exhibit, seeking the unfamiliar. An imposing portrait of painter Leon Golub, by Enrique Martínez Celaya, caught my eye. One of the loaners in the show, this oil-on-canvas is the size of a boxing ring and covers an entire wall. The monochromatic work engulfs the viewer and appears to be a tense psychological study. Painted in what might be described as varying shades of tarantula blacks, the canvas moodily reflects the lighting, and the work appears as if it were created on wet asphalt.

Carrie Mae Weems's Mayflowers from Maydays Long Forgotten — one of the exhibit's rare photos — is an oval-shape C-print depicting three young black girls lying on their backs on a lawn, dressed in their Sunday finery, with garlands in their hair. Nearby, a pair of self-portraits by Chuck Close enticed a group of visiting kids like kittens to catnip. One of the pieces, a nineteen-color hand-printed ukiyo-e woodcut that looked like it had been rendered in overlapping layers of Crayola scribbles, provoked squeals from the children.

Heading into another gallery, I came upon an untitled watercolor by Morris Louis dating back to the Thirties. The charm and simplicity of the subtly toned piece — depicting the façade of a row of brick houses and a line of trees beginning to bloom along the sidewalk — froze me in my tracks. Not far away, Sean Scully's Wall of Light, Rain, a deluxe-size oil-on-linen abstract composition painted in gradating shades of gray on a muddy pink background, brought to mind a tired kitchen's fading linoleum tile pattern.

Another huge work that conveys a kitchen cabinet aesthetic is Ray Azcuy's Standing Room Only. He upholstered 25 squares using what appears to be kitschy vinyl tablecloth fabric and then covered them in cabinet knobs arranged in a head-turning confection that can't make up its mind whether it's a painting or a sculpture.

Works by María Fernanda Cardoso and Teresita Fernández are among the most delicate and imaginative in the show. Cardoso's Cemetery-Vertical Garden sprouts across an entire wall and features hundreds of artificial lilies arranged in ethereal clusters. What appear to be tombstones have been finely penciled directly onto the wall behind the bone-white blooms. Fernández's Eclipse, comprising a wall full of hundreds of azure and clear acrylic cubes a quarter-inch to an inch in width, are arranged not unlike a swirling tidal pool. As the light from above refracts on their surfaces, the cubes mirror a sense of depth from within.

Zug No. 1 (Train No. 1), a whimsical piece by Chris MacDonald, snakes its way along almost the length of two of the second-floor galleries. The rough-hewn oak, pine, cedar, and steel locomotive is fashioned from chunky square, circular, and triangular shapes and looks like it might have been created as a toy for Paul Bunyan.

I couldn't help wondering how a few peculiar pieces fit in to the rubric of the exhibit, even though the "(and more)" addendum to "Big Juicy Paintings" gave the curator some latitude. Nancy Graves's Phoenix — a wax, marble dust, acrylic, steel, and aluminum installation — looks like a pterodactyl's bones scattered across a chintzy parquet floor set up smack-dab in the middle of one of the galleries so spectators might appreciate it in the round. Unfortunately the color of the wooden platform and the work are so similar that the piece looks lackluster instead. A quirky work by Donald Lipski, a promised gift to MAM, is the sculptor's Three Goliaths. Fashioned from fiberglass, Lipski's giant black-and-tan groupers could easily make a local crab house their home.

As I was leaving, Jesse Bransford's new-to-the-collection No Ship snared a parting glance. With a boom crane depicted at its far right and Star Trek's Enterprise approaching warp speed near the lower left, the composition is a dandy metaphor for MAM's making quantum spurts in its collection — and for the sky being the limit.

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