The current show at ART-ACT in the Design District is part of QueeRoots/QueerSpace, a three-week festival of gay and lesbian culture that has included performance art, a poetry slam, and video screenings. Mark Holt, who will perform his monologue Queerbait Friday, November 15, also organized the exhibition, which is casually displayed around the space -- a combination theater, gallery, and coffee bar.
The show is a catch-as-catch-can affair that does not explore any one particular theme in so-called queer art, nor does it shed much light on the issues of homosexual identity hinted at by the title of the festival. What the twenty artists whom Holt chose for the show have in common is that they are gay or lesbian, and they live or have lived for extended periods in Miami. The art is wildly disparate, a quality that Holt encouraged by letting the artists decide which of their works to include instead of selecting them himself. This kind of pot-luck curatorial approach usually spells disaster. In this case it does not come off as badly as could be expected, perhaps because Holt has busily decorated the exhibition space with clashing pieces of used Early American furniture. The art easily blends with the cozy, mismatched clutter. The works, many of which have homoerotic content, give the space an amusing element of the bizarre -- a kind of Father Knows Best-meets-Jean Genet effect. This is not the serious exploration of gay issues in art that one would like to see in Miami. But the underground spirit of this exhibition is easy to appreciate.
Most of the artists have adhered to the theme of the festival by contributing self-referential works that include portraits of objects of desire, political statements, soft porn, or simply scenes from gay life in South Florida and beyond, with liberal doses of humor. (Holt says he had a hard time finding lesbian artists who wanted to participate; only three women are included in the show).
Much of this art relies on stereotypical images of gay men. There are a lot of pictures of men with pumped deltoids, and erect dicks abound. Patriotic Penis, a garish pop-style painting by an artist who goes by the name Oroc, depicts a huge phallus sporting a yellow bow, with an American flag sticking out of the head. It's so bad it's kind of good -- a camp gay-pride message.
Xavier Cortada paints a saccharine portrait of a typical South Beach model-type wearing Jockeys and a come-hither look. Other artists take on similar subject matter with more flair. Lazaro Amaral drolly re-creates a common scene in Flamingo Park. In this narrative painting, pairs of men in briefs chat while their dogs play and hump each other. More men can be seen similarly engaged in some distant bushes. In David Rohn's In Spring a Young Man's Fancy Turns, birds, fruit trees, youthful faces, and erections emerge from a swirling field of color. A group of three of Tomata du Plenty's urban folk-art portraits includes Scooter, a figure cut out of wood with a shock of yellow hair and a cleft chin, who is naked except for his high-top sneakers. Cesar Augusto's bright, naive-style Hope for All Landscape is an amusement park of fantastic beings. Rafael Roig's assemblage New Item features a clown doll popping out of a rusted canister. The doll wears a feather boa and looks more like a South Beach drag queen than a circus performer -- a Jackie-in-the box?
The late Craig Coleman painted an exotic surfer on the underside of a longboard, which is propped up in one corner of the gallery. The rudder jutting out of the center of the board becomes the figure's penis. Another work by Coleman, The History of Gay Sex, in the crude neo-expressionist style popular in the Eighties, shows men furiously dancing at a disco and pairing off in the back room. In his Hell, black stick figures spin into a colorful whirlpool, while a haggard face in the corner looks helplessly out at the viewer. Here Coleman, who died of AIDS, both depicts the gay community's devastation and alludes to the politicization of the disease by the Christian right.
Damian Rojo's elegant polished-wood wall sculpture is shaped like an arm, studded with spikes and with an all-seeing eye in the center of the extended hand. Part weapon, part talisman, the piece is fittingly titled Wrath of God. (Given the context, the title could be a reference to Judeo-Christian views on homosexuality.)
Rojo's is one of several evocative pieces that stand out. In the same category is an ingenious series of seven small black-and-white photos of potatoes by Conrad Hamather. The pictures show a pair of hands peeling potatoes, or the potatoes alone in various stages of the skinning process. In close-up shots of the hands on the spuds and in fragmented views of their slippery white bodies or their rough brown skin, the potatoes became strangely anthropomorphic and subtly erotic.
Tag Purvis's untitled 16mm film loop, projected onto a blank wall, shows the artist lying prone and enveloped in flames, which pass like waves over his body. Purvis's spectral vision of his own demise is at once chilling and glorious.
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Two beautiful abstract collages on cardboard by Mike Boroskey bear witness to untold intimate stories. Way Out is composed of small firecrackers, a black watercolor dragonfly, and a black posterboard ladder pasted over licks of gold paint that look like flames. Squall includes a paper palm tree, pieces of shattered glass, and sheets of colored paper and cardboard that imply the tile floors and walls of a demolished house.
Eugene J. Patron's contribution is a "queer history project." Patron makes use of the closet, a common homosexual metaphor, in his installation. This consists of a wheeled garment rack with eleven hangers, each of which represents a period in South Florida's gay history. The items attached with thread to the hangers range from leaves and an erotic souvenir key chain representing homosexuality in Native American culture to a sequined headdress sprouting pink feathers, an artifact of the drag reviews that emerged in Miami nightclubs after World War II. One particularly revealing hanger is number five, sporting a magnifying glass and a manila folder containing a 1960 report from the Johns Committee files on homosexual activity. An excerpt: "Mendoza, Coral Gables, apartment number unknown. W/M. Age 30. Does not swish. He sings in church choir, is a Protestant, and active church member. Likes to be browned and no collection of photos."
Patron has created a telling minidocumentary of the largely unacknowledged gay history in our area. The installation has a slapdash style that's endearing -- it has the personal feel of someone's closet. Patron's three-dimensional time line is presented not as a piece of art but as a historical project that is on display along with books and other educational material in the gallery. All the same, it's one of the most affecting pieces here and should be seen as part of the show. Standing just inside the door to the space, it provides needed context for the rest of the works.
QueerSpace Visual Exhibition.
Through November 29. ART-ACT, 10 NE 39th St. For information about the exhibition and other QueeRoots/ QueerSpace events this weekend, call 573-7272 or see "Calendar Listings.