Crossings extended until June 1
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Crossings extended until June 1

Current works on display feature the best of Miami

by David Todd

For those who have a penchant for bright color and celebration, the Allen Memorial Art Museum is hosting an exhibit from sunny Miami, Florida through June 1. Miami is a jambalaya of cultures and this exhibit represents a cross-section with artists originally from Cuba, New Orleans, California, Mississippi and Chicago.

Walk through the door to the exhibit and you are immediately assaulted by color and bold texture. The piece standing at the start of the exhibit is an installation of four reptilian figures curving up out of the floor of the museum. "Skins" (1997), by Carol K. Brown, is made of aluminum and pigment. The snakes, the tallest of which is about 8 1/2 feet high, are covered with shiny studs on top of a thick layer of color. One wants to reach out and touch their gentle curves, but then stops upon considering their grotesque texture. The artist describes, "a deep collective ambivalence toward the flesh as an agent of seduction and repulsion." The "skins" in the Allen museum are part of a series of sculptures that Brown has been doing for five years.

"Imagen Escrita" no.'s 4,5,9 and 16 are by Marina Martinez-Canas. The four framed photo-montages are modestly created in black and white, but the cultural images that they contain are beautifully reproduced by a platinum and palladium process on antique paper. The work "combines maps, photographs of pre-Columbian art, and images of Cuban land and cityscapes with textual records of the civic and commercial ties between Spain and Cuba in the 19th Century and earlier." The work constructs an attempt at interpreting the origin of a country with so much history that it is hard to separate the past from the present.

In a more modernist vein, Consuelo Castaneda and Quisqueya Henriquez's "Acts"(1996-97) is a series of six immaculate prints portraying the transformation of materials and surfaces. One pair portrays the transformation of milky latex into an opaque bubble when it is immersed in water. The other four compare a surface covered with different materials. The set of pictures is beautiful to look at without even considering the questions it poses about visual art and its relationship to the viewer.

The largest of the works in the exhibit spreads its unruly appendages over two full walls of the room, turning a corner in the process. "More Likely Than Not" by Sandy Winters is made of conte, charcoal and graphite on wood. The artist describes "wanting to make a work that wasn't restricted, whose form wasn't predetermined by a rectangle... I began with a few sheets of paper and just let the drawing grow right across the walls, around the corner - it just kept going." The picture looks like an anatomical sketch of a Dr. Seuss character. The different approaches to representation and the different kinds of canvases blend exceptionally to create two main objects with great depth in detail and design but an organic simplicity throughout.

The room housing the exhibit has a smaller room off to the side. Peering in, the viewer sees the legs of a large tank and four plastic tubes that snake into the top of the tank, coming out of a mound of earth on the floor. The tank is filled with corn syrup and the tubes release large bubbles at the bottom of the tank which slowly rise to the top and burst. If the sight entices you to enter the dark little room, you trip a sensor that starts a film loop that projects an image of a human figure filled with leaping flames into the tank. The effect is spooky and futuristic, while strangely soothing. The work, "Burning Love"(1996) by Tag Purvis is daring and provocative, realizing an image that could only have formed deep within the mind's eye.

Jose Bedia's "Mato Paha"(1995) is acrylic on canvas. The canvas is unframed and stuck to the wall with pushpins and the title is scrawled in the middle of the canvas. The brushstrokes are wild and the images crude and symbolic. The work was inspired by the artist's study of various indigenous cultures of the Americas and by his own adherence to the Afro-Carribian religion of Palo Monte. "The work draws on traditions of Western religious art and modern Expressionist painting. The picture portrays a figure journeying to the top of a mountain and the world around him. The artist says, "Mato Paha(Bear Mountain) presents the transmission of knowledge from one generation, time, or place to another as a spatial and metaphorical journey." Those interested in religious and indigenous art will appreciate the mystical and elemental feel of this work.

Some of the greatest artists have been driven by obsession, and Carol K Brown must share those feelings, but her creation is more whimsical than most. "432 Tondos"(1992-96) covers a wall with fantastic little creatures molded from plastic. There are five basic types of creatures, but they all have different scales, bumps, claws, ridges, pits and sections. Being confronted with all of these little gray plastic monsters gives the viewer a feeling of what it must be like to have an imagination that can't sleep and grabs an idea and works remorselessly. This work is on a wall next to Sandy Winter's canvas. Take a look at both and see if it doesn't look like one of the "tondos" grew huge and crawled up onto the other work. The theme of whimsical and wild creation seems to be a common one from the hot imagination of Miami. Crossing and Departures:Making Art in Miami runs through June 1 at the Allen Memorial Art Museum.

Transparent symbolismKaren Rifas' "Cross Reference VII" is part of Crossings and Departures, on display now at the Allen Memorial Art Museum. (photo courtesey of the Allen Memorial Art Museum)


Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 25, May 23, 1997

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