Greetings from warm and sunny Miami, where I’ll be until Monday evening soaking up very little sun, but lots and LOTS of art. Already I have been to three art fairs and one museum. The Spectrum + Reddot opening parties were last night, followed by a reception at the Bass, and the late night opening for Superfine. Spectrum and Red Dot are sister fairs, held in conjoined spaces in downtown Miami. In this post I’ll highlight my three favorite galleries represented at these fairs.
The first booth that caught my eye was the Puerto Rican gallery, Petrus. Bobby Cruz’s paintings had an immediate emotional effect on me.
Their simplicity and utilization of negative space emphasize the importance of the motifs Cruz does include. In Puerta de Tierra (2017), Cruz gives us just enough context to understand the world of the painting- a brush of light blue paint to indicate sky- but focuses on more important details. He highlights the redness of a chair and the starkness of a tree, rather than bog the painting down in anecdotal minutia.
This practice mimics the way we experience spaces in real life. When we imagine a memory, we don’t recall every single aspect in clear detail. We select meaningful images that are symbolic of the memory as a whole. When I think back to the weeks I spent at Long Beach Island as a child, I can see the towering sand dunes and the bright beacon that was the ice cream truck. I couldn’t tell you the color of our house, but what does that matter? What mattered were sand dune castles and sticky chocolate fingers. Puerta de Tierra feels like a memory because it approaches a scene the way our minds do retroactively, selecting the most evocative images.
In a fair filled to the brim with glittery pop art, Puerta de Tierra’s presence is quiet but compelling. Cruz uses a sort of nostalgia to reel the viewer in emotionally. And once he is there- what next? I spent a while gazing at the painting, admiring the varying thicknesses of acrylic paint applied to different areas of the canvas.
Notice how the paint used to indicate the wire fence is more three-dimensional than the rest of the painting’s surface. It reinforces the depth suggested by the painting and adds visual interest. These “protruding brushstrokes” are characteristic of Cruz’s practice. I let my eyes linger over different stretches of the canvas, from the fence over to the ground shaded in different browns, finally landing on the chairs. To me the chairs are the subject of this work. Chairs are an expressive motif, as they forever bear the mark of those who have sat in them. Alone, they may be sculpturally interesting or covered in a fine fabric, but it is their interaction with people that defines their character. Devoid of human presence, they sit solemnly outside, both lifeless and alive. They await their sitter- a personification of their activity- though they are inanimate. To look at Puerta de Tierra is to oscillate between these two facts.
Perhaps this is another reason that Cruz’s paintings are so eye-catching. Not only do they arouse nostalgia in the viewer, but they animate the inanimate. The action figures in Toy Story wreck havoc when their owner is sleeping… do ours chair and tables chat with each other when we lock the door? Or is their life a silent one, like that of a tree?
Several of Cruz’s paintings are on display at Spectrum/Reddot until Sunday. Take a look at Calle Loiza (2017), another work that plays with these same ideas. I love the vibrant shade of turquoise that dominates the canvas. You can read more about Bobby Cruz on Petrus Gallery’s website.
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The second booth that caught my eye was Max Art, from Las Vegas. The gallery hung many paintings by artist Michael Godard, whose whimsical paintings of personified olives and martini glasses are regularly collected by dealers from Atlantic City and Las Vegas.
The two paintings at left are emblematic of his style, which is popular in swanky nighttime establishments. As fun as these paintings are, they are not emblematic of Godard’s best work. In these two paintings, the joke seems to be that the drinking acoutremont are alive (and sassy at that). In other works shown at Max Art’s booth, Godard rises far above this standard and achieves a nuanced surrealism that is quite emotional. Given that collectors have different needs and interests, it is understandable that Max Art would display a variety of different paintings from Godard’s oeuvre. As an academic, I prefer his more complex paintings, such as Namaste.
Namaste maintains the self-aware tone and high contrast imagery that characterize Godard’s practice. However, it introduces a nuanced approach to his subject matter. In Namaste, a glowing light shines from within a wine glass. It is the painting’s central light source, and so it appears otherworldly and divine. The title of the work, “Namaste,” also supports the notion that spirituality is at play. What is a divine light doing in a liquor glass? I fear drawing 1:1 symbols (Catholics believe wine is the blood of Christ!!) so I won’t attempt to stamp out why Godard made this choice. But I do think it is worth pondering, and I look forward to mulling it over in the coming days.
With Namaste, Godard also takes steps towards 20th-Century surrealism in a way that has quite a lot of potential. The forms he introduces bear the amorphous character one might find in a Dali or a Tanguy.
The figure at the left would fit right into either of these surrealist master’s catalogue raisonnés. Its appendages resemble contorted human arms and legs. A foot, complete with toes, an arch, and a heel, is clearly depicted in fine brushstrokes. And yet, though the figure fulfills enough criteria for it to register as human-like, it is bizarrely inhuman at the same time. Its bodily composition is stringy and its head nonexistent. Furthermore, it exists in a warped version of our world. Earthly motifs- a wine glass, a foot, flowers, bamboo- situate the viewer in a world that has at least something to do with our own. And yet, this figure, and his tiny size compared to the rest of the image, are surreal. I am also drawn to the strange droplets of liquid pooling around the figure. Have they come from the wine glass? They appear very thick, too congealed to have spilled from a glass of chardonnay. The inability of forms in to be classified is key to Namaste‘s uncanny effect on the viewer- it relates to his world, then disassociates from it, back and forth and back again. It is an experience of constantly questioning where we are and who we are. It is utterly thrilling.
I could not discuss this work without touching on the presence of the floating Buddha in the distance, and the olive balanced in tree pose at the foreground. What they are doing in this picture I cannot say, and I’m not sure that Godard can say either. But I do know several things. Firstly, Godard has a terrific sense of humor, which is something that I appreciate greatly in an artist. Secondly, it isn’t imperative for an artist to have a clear direction when they are exploring the surreal. The original surrealists sought an escape from their consciousness (that blasted engine constantly planning and editing the process of creation!!) I can feel Godard separating himself from his consciousness, the very consciousness that has rendered his most clean and popular images, and delving into something unchartered. Namaste could be the tip of the iceberg in the destruction of Godard’s consciousness.
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Lastly I am going to talk about Novem Fine Art. The artwork in this booth was some of the most joyous I saw at both fairs combined. Artist Opalinski paints with acrylic and ink on top of digital terraskin prints to get her desired effect.
Duet (2017) is a duet in many senses of the term. At first glance, one notices the musicians, playing a lively duet together in black ink. Opalinksi also created a duet between material, emphasized by the images created with each medium. The digital print and ink painting play a lovely duet together. The colors are warm but the effect is sleek- ink on a slick surface creates a silky line. The way Opalinski curves his paintbrush, it looks like the ink has run away from the artis, dashing across the glossy print.
Opalinski has printed an image of a factory with billowing smokestacks. On top of this backdrop, the vibrantly inked musicians have a different energy. They are no longer completely liberated, forms free to arpeggio their way across the surface. Instead, their performance feels like a reaction to the background.
They do not make music BECAUSE they are free, they make music in order to BECOME free. Opalinski, and through proxy, the musicians, performs a balancing act between work and play. Novem Fine Art described this well in an accompanying text: “An idyllic lifestyle is juxtaposed with the toil executed on individuals, communities, and sometimes ecosystems in order to attain this ideal.” For Opalinski, the only means to combat this toil is creativity. This is a concept I very firmly believe in, and it is one of many reasons that I find Duet so meaningful. I love when this sort of significance echoes in the choice of materials. This entire work is a duet, and so is the viewer’s interaction with it.
Opalinski has created a variety of works in this style, featuring whimsical figures inked over evocative prints. In Compassion, the artist places a dancer atop a scene of a beach destroyed by an oil refinery. The dancer leans towards two huddled figures- children- offering them joy through dance. Here “dance” could represent any number of positive things- charity, mercy, self-expression. It is a story of kindness in the face of adversity, which Opalinski physically represents in the juxtaposition of disparate materials.
I hope you enjoyed reading about these three galleries and the artists that they represent. Bobby Cruz, Michael Godard, and Opalinski respond to very different stimuli through a varied use of materials, but they have one thing in common. Their work stands out amongst thousands of others.
I’m looking forward to posting tomorrow about Superfine (And for all the fun events tonight!) Much more to come.
Until next time!