Miami art this week: the wilderness and erotic art

"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.

"Beyond the Erotic: From the Collection of Milagros Maldonado"

Through June 30 at the Dorissa Building, 2751 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-576-2914; Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"Beyond the Erotic: From the Collection of Milagros Maldonado," on view at her 25,000-square-foot retrofitted Dorissa Building art space, features scores of works owned by the Venezuelan art activist, who is also founder of the Miami Biennale, scheduled to open in November 2012 . On display is an eclectic array of works including paintings, drawings, photographs, mixed-media pieces, and sculptures as well as a selection of works by 20th-century masters such as Man Ray, Roberto Matta, and Wifredo Lam. The exhibit's historical gems are tucked into a back room, where you will find some of the show's biggest names, including Francis Picabia, André Masson, and Leonora Carrington. Check out Man Ray's picture of his longtime lover and muse, Kiki de Montparnasse, the Kim Kardashian of her day. The cabaret singer and art model was mostly famous for being famous among the bohemian enclave that haunted Paris's Left Bank. Like other artists from his era, Ray drifted from Dada to surrealism with ease, snapping hundreds of photos of the woman he reinvented over and over again. In the portrait of Kiki from Maldonado's collection, the fetching brunette exudes a raw sexuality and is posed nude with one arm cradled at an angle behind her head, while the other lies strategically across her muff. Legend had it that Kiki could grow pubic hair only when she was in love.

"Frank Paulin: American Documentarian"

Ongoing at the Lowe Art Museum, 1301 Stanford Dr., Coral Gables; 305-384-3535; Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m.

Many of Frank Paulin's pictures, recently donated to the Lowe, were snapped during the '50s in New York's Times Square, where he spent most evenings walking the streets and capturing his subjects in unexpected moments while they conducted their business. In 1957, Paulin became the first artist to hold a solo show at Limelight, the sole art photography space in New York at the time, earning critical acclaim for his uncanny knack for recording "poetic accidents" and exuding "humor and compassion" in his works. Paulin's Big Apple subjects range from a woman waving a Bible and quoting scripture under gaudy neon signs trumpeting sin palaces, to a boy caught stealing furtive glances at the image of a scantily draped nymph shackled on a torture rack in a window display in front of a Ripley's Believe It or Not! exhibit.

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