Miami art this week: sleeping giants

"Sleeping Giant"

Through July 2 at Praxis International Art, 2219 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-573-2900; Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

When Shaun El C. Leonardo is not wearing tights, a mask, and a cape while flying through the air lucha libre style in one of his performances, you'll find him sporting a snazzy suit and patent-leather kicks while wildly wiggling his hips to a searing meringue beat and playing the role of papi chulo to impress the ladies in another show. Leonardo — whose self-assumed middle name stands for "El Conquistador," the artist's macho-flexing alter ego — brings his explorations of Latin machismo to Praxis International Art during his first solo in the Magic City, "Sleeping Giant," featuring paintings of armor-clad warriors, hulking athletes, and iconic superheroes. The half-Guatemalan, half-Dominican New York artist, who attended an all-boys Jesuit catholic high school in Queens, fuses personal narrative and pop-cultural imagery from his youth with self-portraiture to convey the complexities of his own masculine identity. Leonardo's hyperbolic vision of masculinity is tempered by presenting his cast of characters in moments of hubris or vulnerability as a means to investigate cultural stereotypes and popular constructs associated with power.

"The Wilderness"

Through June 26 at the Miami Art Museum, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami; 305-375-3000; Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

At the entrance to the Miami Art Museum's new show, Kiki Smith's Companions strikes a subtle chord about our uneasy relationship with nature. The sly work, from the museum's permanent collection, depicts a peasant girl carrying a basket on one panel and a fierce wolf confronting her on the other. The piece, however, is not part of "The Wilderness" — a provocative group exhibit reminding us to show some humility before the awesome power of nature — but it cleverly drives the point home. We might be constantly struggling to harness the planet's resources for the benefit of civilization, the exhibit seems to tell us, but when we threaten Earth in the process, nature can be quick to expose our vain pretensions. "The works included in 'The Wilderness' raise fundamental questions about humanity's relationship with nature," explains René Morales, MAM's associate curator, who organized the exhibition. "In different ways, each work dramatically underscores the intertwinement of nature and the human sphere, while evoking some of the psychological, political, ethical, and ecological ramifications of our historical tendency to conceive of them as separate entities." The show includes a seamless grouping of film and sculptural installations by Darren Almond, David Brooks, Tacita Dean, Christy Gast, and Allan McCollum, each isolated in its own space. Rounding out the exhibit are pieces by Matthew Buckingham, Aramis Gutierrez, and Fernando Ortega. The contrasting works on display range from a galloping, almost life-size herd of concrete elephants and horses, to a tiny hypnotized hummingbird. They are a symbol of our constant struggle to tame nature to our needs and of nature's subversive reminder that those illusions can quickly be shattered by an unexpected spray of bird shit.

"East/West: Visually Speaking "

Through September 11 at the Frost Art Museum, 10975 SW 17th St., Miami; 305-348-2890; Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

This exhibit at the Frost Art Museum crams Chairman Mao's Little Red Book through the shredder. In fact, the gang of 12 Chinese artists whose works are on view in "East/West: Visually Speaking" traffics with the currency of American pop culture and runaway globalization in a way that probably has the ghosts of Mao's vicious wife Jiang Qing and the Maoist radicals known as the Gang of Four turning cartwheels in their coffins. The traveling group show features works by a generation of artists who were born or came of age during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and have experienced an alternate vision of Mao's blueprint for China's great leap forward. Seamlessly curated by Dr. Lee Gray, the sprawling exhibit includes nearly 40 contemporary works by Cai Lei, Cang Xin, the Luo Brothers, Ma Baozhong, Shen Jingdong, Shi Liang, Sun Ping, Tang Zhigang, Zhang Hongtu, and Zhong Biao. Caught between the dense weight of history and tradition, this generation is the first in many years to come into widespread contact with the West and live through sweeping changes in Chinese culture. Consequently the artists on view have filtered the lexicon of American and European visual arts and represent a more democratic and multifaceted view of the real and imagined swaps underway between the world's two biggest superpowers. While some of the works reflect an adoring view of the West, others parody American values.

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Carlos Suarez De Jesus