Shows at CIFO and the Bass test your art lingo

Contemporary art dealers and museum types love to dress up the work they exhibit with the sort of theoretical mumbo-jumbo that drives copyeditors crazy and leaves the average reader stupefied.

For example, why call an artist's tinned poop a can of shit when you can muddy up the picture by saying, "Piero Manzoni eschewed normal artist's materials, instead employing human excrement in order to tap mythological sources and to realize authentic and universal values as a critique of mass production and consumerism"? The complicated jargon used to explain the legendary conceptual artist's magnum opus, Merda d'Artista, not only fouls the senses but also is intended to heighten the value of crap. In fact, one of the 90 cans of Manzoni's manure recently sold at Sotheby's for a cool $200,000.

After swimming in a sewer of the senseless bilge since the season kicked off, we were eager to nose around and smell what type of spiel the local mandarins of cultural theory were pitching to hawk their shows.


Bass Museum of Art

"Vanishing Points: Paint and Paintings From the Debra and Dennis Scholl Collection": Through October 30 at the Bass Museum of Art, 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7530; bassmuseum.org. Wednesday through Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

"Viewpoint: 2011 CIFO Grants 305-455-3380; cifo.org. Thursday 1 to 9 p.m., Friday through Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

"Vanishing Points: Paint and Paintings From the Debra and Dennis Scholl Collection," on view at the Bass Museum of Art, drew our attention because it was guest-curated by Gean Moreno, one of our city's crack slingers of contemporary art jive. He is an artist, founder of [Name] Publications, and a writer who regularly contributes to numerous art magazines.

The show takes its title from an art term. In linear perspective drawing, the vanishing point is the spot on the horizon line where parallel lines appear to converge.

The exhibit corrals 43 works by 27 contemporary international artists and is intended to explore how they interpret and how the viewer perceives painting today.

Moreno divides the show into three sections: "Sweeping Horizontality and Aerial Views," "The Painterly Without Paintings," and "Impossible Task."

It was the explanation of the second section in the Bass's press release that caught our attention.

It informs that "The Painterly Without Paintings" segment "describes the extreme edge where the medium of painting itself vanishes; that is, where the color leaves the canvas behind without divesting itself of the painterly."

What? Is it a painting or isn't it? Let's examine the term painterly.

According to the Tate Gallery's online glossary, the word painterly "carries the implication that the artist is reveling in the manipulation of the oil paint itself and making the fullest use of its sensuous properties." Notice that the definition doesn't imply the artist has to be a painter.

And here Moreno applies the term as a clever device to introduce groupings of installations and sculpture into what is, for the most part, a traditional painting show.

These works include Jim Lambie's sensational Zobop, created from colored vinyl tape and completely covering the museum's ramp leading from the first-floor entrance to the galleries housing the exhibit on the second floor.

Lambie's psychedelic floor installation anchors the exhibit, pulsates with color, and disorients the viewer while dynamically transforming the space. Best of all, it's art you can walk on for an immersive experience that energizes the senses.

At the top of the ramp, Sylvie Fleury's Skin Crime 3 (Givenchy 318) is a flattened Fiat painted a deep bubblegum pink. The artist found the jalopy in a junkyard and had it crushed in a compactor before having it lacquered in nail enamel. At the museum, it is propped up on its front end against a wall, not unlike an ancient ruin or a weird monolith.

It is one of several striking pieces Moreno chose from the Scholl Collection for the part of the exhibit that includes no paintings at all.

But rather than interrupting the show's flow, Moreno's introduction of these color-saturated works into the exhibit makes one consider the characteristics of painting. Contrasted against the canvases on display, he forces us to re-evaluate the limits of the painterly, and that's no mean task.

At the CIFO Art Space in downtown Miami, we had to hack through the hogwash to get to the kernel of the show.

"Viewpoint: 2011 CIFO Grants & Commissions Program Exhibition" features the work of Laura Belém (Brazil), Tania Bruguera (Cuba), Marcius Galan (Brazil), Fritzia Irizar-Rojo (Mexico), David Lamelas (Argentina), Begoña Morales (Peru), Amalia Pica (Argentina), Antonio Vega (Mexico), and Alicia Villarreal (Chile).

The group of emerging and midcareer artists from Latin America were nominated and later selected by the foundation's grant committee to create works specifically for the show.

What's interesting about the exhibition is that the word viewpoint in the title is supposed to play on the notion of a point as a place from which to view.

CIFO's confounding media dispatch boasts, "Starting from the artist, through the viewer and back, it is the relationship with and through the artwork that is the focus of this exhibition. It documents the transition of works (whether in video, photography, performances, sound, space interventions, and drawings) from a personal place where a work is born as a subjective idea, to the exhibition space where it is transformed into an object to be experienced."

In short, you get to see what the artists made for the show.

At the entrance to the space, Morales's My Building Song is a nifty sound piece featuring nine saucer-shaped speakers suspended from the rafters that appear like a collection of mini pendant lamps. As you navigate the installation, the sounds of car alarms, passing planes, squawking birds, and a barking dog combine in an ear-pleasing sonata of ambient noise.

Lamelas, whom CIFO singled out this year with an achievement commission for his pioneering contributions over the past 30 years, chimes in with a suite of photos and three films shown on old-fangled projectors isolated in a back room.

As the contraptions whir, mundane street views of Düsseldorf, London, and Los Angeles flicker on the gallery walls. The noise from the projectors is amped up by CIFO's air-conditioning system wheezing overhead.

In another room, Pica's installation, If These Walls Could Talk, consists of two parallel walls through which you can walk. The outer walls are riddled with holes like Swiss cheese. Cans are stuck to the inner walls and connected by strings, reminiscent of a kid's lo-fi walkie-talkie set. At first glance, the strings suspended among the cans bring to mind a cat's cradle.

Both of these shows are worth a gander once you get past the poppycock.

Just remember, the next time you're stymied by a gallery piece while swigging Chablis next to a cheese platter and someone asks you what the artwork means, never admit you don't know.

Instead, impress that person by responding, "Your question provokes contradictorily layered responses whose interconnectivity falls short in articulating the logocentric transparency you seek."

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