As a teenager growing up in the 1980s, Ralph Provisero bombed the streets of Miami with his inventive graffiti art. His natural-born talent took him to the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York and later to galleries in places as diverse as Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Mexico.
But the 41-year-old Provisero has never forgotten where he grew up, and he has never strayed too far from home.
The local boy's latest effort is a sprawling new installation at the Dorsch Gallery. Titled Traiettorie Architettoniche (Everybody's Got Their Own Arrows), the sculptural work is fashioned from steel beams and tie rods — the architectural guts recycled from another Miami gallery, rearranged, and cleaved of their original function.
At first blush, it seems Provisero has launched a V-1 rocket assault on the space.
Massive steel beams pierce the gallery walls and floor like smoke-charred missiles. Their chisel-honed tips and lean, angular fins add the slightest hint of menace to the air.
The work was commissioned as part of the exhibition "Celluloid Drag: Some Space Between Film and Architecture," curated by Terri C. Smith and also featuring a suite of 50 small abstract paintings by Todd McDaniel and a film by Gordon Matta-Clark.
A gallery handout informs the show's title was chosen to reflect dual concerns: first, to reference when projectors malfunction, causing film to drag and "the spaces in between the frames to intermingle/interfere with image and light," and second, to conjure the drag that structures in the environment "impose on wind and light as they are slowed, stretched, or split by physical objects, especially architecture."
To buttress her concept, the curator goes on to quote an essay by film director and theorist Sergei Eisenstein, but it suffices to say this show seeks to mine the flickering shadows between architecture and film.
One might imagine Provisero juggling the instincts of Frank Gehry and Fritz Lang to investigate the intertwining of function and form in order to fit the bill. He seems a deconstructionist to whom an object's construction is inextricably part of its appeal.
Provisero's looming installation clobbers the viewer into all manner of references: the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian — a quiver of bolts unleashed from a giant crossbow at unsuspecting spectators — or even the Sword of Damocles hanging overhead.
His introduction of salvaged steal beams into Dorsch's interior bombards the viewer into experiencing the gallery in an almost cinematic fashion. He teases you into walking around his jumbo javelin-shaped forms, which poke through walls or crash into and then erupt out of the concrete floors, in a way that forces you to re-imagine the space and its physical relation to the work.
His cantilever-like use of the tie rods that hold the heavy beams in place adds to the poetic and iconoclastic nature of the work. Viewers circumnavigate Provisero's imaginary landscape wondering if they are crossing a stark conceptual battle site such as an imploding building or an urban wasteland.
Despite the missile-like shape of his sculptures, Provisero says it was not his intent to convey a martial undertone. "I knew it was a risk going in," he says. "For me, it's more of a directional thing. These are like arrows used in graffiti and represent more of a flowing trajectory in the space. Each piece points to another and how they work together across the room. But we have been in a war crises the last ten years, so I understand how people will come away with that view."
He explains he was more interested in ripping out the beams from an old building and reconfiguring them to appear as if they were flying through a new space: "I like the idea of a moment captured in time, a sense that the arrows have been frozen in flight."
Smith has organized an exhibit that for the most part is cohesive and seamless in nature, but hands-down, Provisero's vision overpowers the show.
The curator says the show was originally inspired by a studio visit with painter Todd McDaniel, whose works mix and reconfigure influences from architecture, B-horror classics, and film noir.
She writes that McDaniel was especially inspired by the last sequence of King Kong and that the impressions of these film recollections often crop up in his paintings.
In the rear gallery space, next to one of Provisero's ballistic protrusions, a dozen of McDaniel's works have been perched on a shelf running eye-level along a wall. Visitors are invited to move the abstract images around to create their own opaque cityscape.
The flat, monochrome paintings reveal what appears to be the ghostly reflection of an edge of film strip. One resembles the skeletal armature of a soaring skyscraper, while another calls to mind the steely sinew and twisting tendons of a suspension bridge's span.
There is an immediacy of execution evident in McDaniel's paintings that give the appearance that the artist might be tinkering with them as blueprints for a vision of grander scope.
In one notable piece, he has layered a coat of cobalt blue over a silver undercoat, raking the surface with a comb to convey a sense of what might be shimmering telephone wires peeking through.
His oil-on-ragboard pieces range in tones from blue, green, gray, and rust to black-and-white. They often exude a foggy, atmospheric veneer suggesting the windowpanes of a sleek building shrouded in mist.
Tying the exhibit together is the blast-from-the-past City Slivers, a 15-minute film shot on a Super8 camera by conceptual genius Gordon Matta-Clark in 1976.
Matta-Clark is perhaps best known for his "building cuts," in which he used power saws on abandoned New York buildings to remove sections of floors, ceilings, and walls.
The artist was famous for interloping on architecture and revealing the negative spaces of the city.
In his silent, color film, Matta-Clark focuses his lens through the cracks between buildings in a bustling Big Apple.
The grainy film offers a kaleidoscopic view of business types whirling through revolving doors, taxicabs inching like worms down a boulevard, and refractions of light gleaming off lofty apartment towers.
At times, the editing gives the impression you are watching a scene of the teeming metropolis through a flipbook. Often, shadows obscure the margins, and huge swaths of New York are curtained off by darkness.
Some critics might argue that "Celluloid Drag" does not succeed in narrowing the gap between film and architecture, but they can't dispute that the show merits marquee treatment or that Provisero has snatched top billing.