Sitting down to write about two of my favorite artists in Miami proved a difficult task.  Sometimes when we go about our daily routines, ones where we function on automatic pilot, we fail to question our actions.  Today, as I started to write, I began to ask myself: why does anyone write about art?  Why do I write about art?  The best I could come up with (because, no, contrary to what many in the art world would have you believe, you don’t need to be told what you love or why) is that there are those of us who wish to share what we’ve seen, and how we see it, with the world.  We hope, down to the very core of our being, that we will convince you to see and to savor art as much as we do.  

The best way we writers communicate is through the written word, in my case, the English language.  But I can assure you, after experiencing beloved art with a humble artist at one’s side, there is no way possible to assign nouns, verbs, or adjectives for what she has to offer.   This is why, dear reader, you must look!  The writer is left a prisoner of her words when it comes to art, but still, this is what I have in my arsenal and this is the weapon for which I reach.  So, if that introduction doesn’t get you out of your chair and over to the Bakehouse Art Complex to see the works of Toa Castellanos and Tina Salvesen, I don’t know what will….don’t make me come over there.

Toa Castellanos is a solo artist but is also a member of one of the few female collectives in Miami, W-10, where her mind and creativity melt and mix unselfishly with the ideas and gifts of other like-minded artists. She is the mother you never had: sweet, articulate, understated, and warm.  So it may come as a bit of a shock to discover that this unassuming Cuban woman creates edgy, fashion-infused collage. But just like a mom, if she is a good one, Castellanos encourages each of us to embrace who we are and to get comfortable in our own bodies; except, she speaks, indirectly, through her art.  If you’re a fashion buff, the use of magazine clippings of designer bags and shoes are visual hooks; however, it’s the disproportionate body parts and lack of continuity within the figures themselves that will stimulate your brain cells to ask: “Wait, where have I seen this before?”  And you have, right here in Miami: at the beach, while you’re having your morning coffee at one of many local cafes, or during the occasional stroll through Bal Harbour.  

Toa Castellanos, The whole is not always equal to the sum of its parts (2009), Collage, mixed media, 48 X 36 in.; © Toa Castellanos.

Just like the plastic surgeon down the street, Castellanos peels, dissects, layers, and pastes.  Her work, similar to the cartoon-like women they represent, is a reminder of the pressures faced in a society that has grown to embrace perfection at any cost, even if that result is grotesque. In The whole is not always equal to the sum of its parts (2009) from her Faux Perfection series, overblown red lips and coconut shaped breasts function as fresh, glossy substitutes for the aging female form, sketched and left to serve as a backdrop for newer, more eye catching alternatives.  A Louis Vuitton bag stands front and center and overshadows the woman in the middle, disguising a body and person all but forgotten.  Castellanos’s latest body of work, Fashion Dream (2012), is more forceful and makes heavy use of charcoal drawings and photomechanical reproduction to create flat, seamless renditions of modified portraiture in which tiny, taunting cut-out dolls sit atop the shoulders of magnified heads, mostly sketched, waiting to be converted and upgraded to their more ideal, glamorized selves. 

Tina Salvesen, The Flight of Time (2012), Dyes, ink, acrylic, charcoal, and earth on paper buried for seven days, 51 X 50.5 in.; © Tina Salvesen.

Tina Salvesen is, quite possibly, from another dimension.   And if Salvesen and her work are any sign of what is being discussed and created in this other world, then sign me up as the next visitor.   Her pieces are ethereal. Period.  She buries the paper for days, sometimes weeks, and what results, after the artist’s magical touch, are painted works on paper that appear decayed, fragile, delicate, organic, and mystical.   She uses a plethora of symbolism, some of which she has invented herself, to convey her message.  In The Flight of Time (2012), an eerie transformation takes place.  Black ravens support a yellowing skeleton before it vanishes and becomes a cloud of murky nothingness.  Any remnant of flesh has disappeared; however, the sheer white sleeves that adorn the once living remains serve as a cradling support for the figure and hint at the past presence of a woman.  A single leaf is entangled in the left phalanges.  In folklore and mythology the raven is often seen as an omen, as well as a bird representative of birth and death.  It is a shapeshifting creature, one whose force applies the laws of spirituality to the physical plane.  With nothing more than a few figures in place, Salvesen uses the art of the visual to portray a fleeting life while also relaying the constant interplay and exchange of earth, body, and spirit.

Tina Salvesen, Detail of Star Map #3 (2013), Dyes, ink, acrylic, charcoal, and earth on paper buried for two weeks, Dimensions of entire work: 31 X 28 in.; © Tina Salvesen.

The work Salvesen has revisited of late, where she moves from organic forms back to otherworld topography, will certainly have you questioning your existence, so you’ve been warned.  She is currently creating a series of maps, ones where she uses shapes, colors, and her own markings as a guide for souls from here to beyond. Searching for the map’s legend will prove futile, so allow the mind to wonder.   Some, like Star Map #3 (2013), are sparse, with the textures, tones, and alterations of the paper, along with the occasional grouping of symbols, serving as a guide.  In others, she uses wispy and delicate strokes to create lines that weave a webbed network of what might be pulses, energy, or externally transmitted brainwaves.  Salvesen may be channeling her information, but when she speaks of her work, it is grounded and accessible, proving that spirituality need not be esoteric.  This work is a far cry from the over-sized, gaudy, superficial contemporary art of late.  It’s back to basics, making use of a media that is more than a thousand years old, manipulated by a master draftsman, to translate ideas that reach far beyond this life and into another.   

The work of Toa Castellanos and Tina Salvesen can be viewed and purchased at the phenomenal Bakehouse Artist Complex, located at 561 NW 32nd Street, Miami, FL.  Video footage of the artists discussing their work can be seen on YouTube via the following links: 

Toa Castellanos:

Tina Salvesen:

From Picasso to Koons: The Artist as Jeweler
Group Exhibition
Bass Museum of Art
2100 Collins Avenue , Miami Beach, FL 33139
March 15, 2013 - July 21, 2013

Occasionally we are given a glimpse into the artist as mere mortal.  The same men and women who produce art that is sold for millions at auction and are discussed and dissected for hours by scholars and the common man do, indeed, walk among us; and “From Picasso to Koons: The Artist as Jeweler” is proof.   The most admired and glorified modern and contemporary artists are also jewelers.  Who knew?  And this small, yet impressive, exhibition is a precious reminder that art need not take on static objectification. It also functions as a vehicle for personal expression and has the ability to accompany us, providing confidence and comfort, as we go about our day.  Creative people, perceived geniuses, are not bound to the large canvas or the 2000 pound object; they can lend their attention to something as simple as a broche or charm bracelet.  The ego is abandoned and yet another art form, as well as the creative process, is explored; such is the subtle power of art and its ability to transform those who observe and participate in its creation.

“From Picasso to Koons: The Artist as Jeweler” is curated by French curator and jewelry collector Diane Venet.  It is shown in three rooms, where pieces are placed in glass cases with subtle lighting.  Objects are grouped together according to movement, style, or materials, among others.   The thread created for each grouping by the curator can be perceived, for the most part, by simply using the eye and mind to connect the dots; however, it’s unfortunate that no literature or explanation is provided explaining each section of the exhibition or how these pieces might be seen as a distinct representation of the artist’s oeuvre.  Unfortunately, novices will likely walk away from this exhibition feeling as though they merely saw beautiful jewelry instead of having been given a deeper understanding of art or each artist.  Even for someone with expertise, the exhibition becomes a bit daunting due to the absence of labels.  Separate handouts with basic information about the pieces force the viewer to constantly shift his attention from page to artwork, matching the text to the numbered piece of interest, and serves as a distraction. However, for art history buffs, the show can be a fun way to test your knowledge, mentally questioning who the designer might be before taking a peek at the answer.

Nam June PaikSense Amplifier - Inhibit Driver (2012), Necklace, mixed metals and plastic, 35 cm X 11.5 cm (with chain), 13.5 cm X 11.5 cm (pendant); © Nam June Paik/ Courtesy the N. Seroussi Collection and Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach/Photo by Philippe Gontier.

Practically each and every piece of jewelry in this exhibition is distinctive and surprising, so, despite its shortcomings, the show is worth seeing.  These aren’t items from obscure, unknown artists, but have been produced by well-known, heavy hitters in the art world:  Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Louise Bourgeois, Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama…the list goes on.   Nam June Paik, a master of video art and savant manipulator of electronics, has work that can be seen in the first room.  Sense Amplifier – Inhibit Driver (2012), resembles a circuit board, one that may have resulted from the deconstruction of a computer.  The artist’s obsession with media, in this case, manifests itself on a large metal chain to be worn around the neck.  Frank Stella has an ornate treasure, also a necklace, but one crafted in a very different manner than Paik's, on display in the last and largest room.  His Untitled necklace (2008), takes on a winding and whimsical design, one that contrasts the work he is most commonly associated, the stripe paintings.  Instead, Untitled is reflective of his more current interest in spiraling, polymeric forms, those inspired by the music of Scarlatti and the late work of Kandinsky.

Frank StellaUntitled necklace (2008), Gold-painted titanium, unique, 11 X 2 in.; © Frank Stella/ Courtesy the D. Venet Collection and Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach.

The purpose of the Bass Museum of Art, a jewel in its own right, is, according to its mission statement, to create a dynamic conversation by exploring connections within art history.  The current exhibition is an innovative way of extending the discussion of art beyond the works more commonly associated with the most popular artists of our time.  The museum is helping to lead the way in “tearing down the walls” created by curators, a cry that well-known art critic Roberta Smith recently made in the New York Times.  Breaking down the barriers between fine art and craft is no easy feat and occurs one exhibition at a time.  And here in Miami, via “From Picasso to Koons: The Artist as Jeweler,” is an institution that is moving this conversation in the right direction. Bravo.

Liber Insularum Knight Exhibition Series
Bill Viola
Museum of Contemporary Art - North Miami (MOCA NOMI)
770 NE 125 Street , North Miami, Florida 33161
December 5, 2012 - March 3, 2013

Bill Viola’s “Liber Insularum” is, in a word, powerful.  It brings to mind the transcendental power of Ann Hamilton’s recent Park Avenue Armory show, “The Event of a Thread,” where billowy white curtains coupled with pulley supported swings worked in concert with the monotonous readings of philosophical and spiritual prose.  Here, instead of integrating the viewer into a strange world created through participatory installation, Viola uses digital media as a tool to directly communicate with and even separate his audience from the artistic creation, giving them the space to observe and contemplate the world in which they live.  His work is a reminder to slow down, to see, and to breathe, as it calls into question all that is missed on the road traveled through life. 

Bill Viola, Film still of The Quintet of the Astonished (2000), Color video rear projection on screen mounted on wall in dark room, Projected image size: 55 X 94.5 in. room dimensions variable; © Bill Viola/ Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami.

The Quintet of the Astonished (2000) is the first video encountered.  It is given its own room, just as many of the works.  Five people, one woman and four men, are huddled together against a dark backdrop but never face, and the scene is reminiscent of a biblical one.  Light shines upon them, and all but one appear to be suffering or concerned.  For most of the video, the central figure in the back possesses an expression that is relaxed and calm.  The fear present in the others' faces are missing in his.  This man embraces the moment.  Is he the only one at peace with his life and actions?  Is this a scene anticipating a world on the brink of its end?  Only the viewer knows, as he watches and mindfully digests the situation placed before him.  Initially the actors appear frozen, but after only a few moments, it becomes apparent that each one is in a slow and very deliberately held motion.  Their bodies and faces gradually shift and a tension is created.  Even though they are placed inches apart, the actors seem isolated and alone and the pain of human existence is revealed, one where the participants are connected but always separate, each confined to his or her body, thoughts, emotions, and impressions, never to be completely discovered by the other.  

In Catherine’s Room (2001), a color video polyptech on five LCD flat panels all mounted to a wall, a very different story is conveyed.  Here Buddhist principles of simplicity and mindfulness become apparent.  A female performer is shown in five separate scenes, all of the same size and set within the same room.  A single window exists in the upper right corner of the frame, which, in addition to the objects in the room, gives the viewer a reference point for the time of day, the cycle of life, or, if read from a more spiritual point of view, as one of the elements: earth, air, water, fire, and the esoteric.  In each scene the actor performs different functions from yoga, lighting candles, to sleeping.  The viewer is positioned as voyeur, able to observe an uneventful, yet very intentional life, one that might offer a counter to, or possibly a reinforcement of, his own.     

The quiet magnificence of this exhibition is due, in large part, to the way each of these videos is presented, mostly in dark or low-lit rooms with only a single or very few pieces in each, and the minimalist design and intimacy of the MOCA itself.   A small structure with few rooms and frills, if any, the space functions as merely a support or backdrop, barely noticed after entering the exhibition while transitioning through the space.  The fifteen works shown within “Liber Insularum” are most effective when given the attention and time to connect with each piece, and the exhibition’s curator, Roc Laseca, sets the stage for this to occur.  It is not an exhibition to be taken lightly or to be breezed through.  Viola’s work gets more powerful each second attention is paid, much like the message he constructs.  Whether or not you are a fan of video art is inconsequential; Viola’s sensitivity, the primary tool with which he accesses your psyche and speaks to your fears, is universally appreciable.  

All the world’s a stage and it’s not just the Oscars, but the contemporary art fairs of late, who are commanding it.   I, for one, have been a reluctant participant in this global drive for exposing contemporary art to the masses.  But thanks to Art Miami LLC and its director, Nick Korniloff, I too have become a member of the captivated audience of the art fair. Art Wynwood is its star and has given sunny Miami an event that lives up to the hype of its current art scene, one often written about but rarely experienced firsthand.  

Without a doubt, Art Basel put Miami on the map and elevated the city from one of vacation destination to cultural hotspot; however, Art Basel and the infinite number of fairs it anchors, have become a firestorm of exhibitions that leave the visual senses wanting, not to mention bombarded, and the newly minted collector gasping for air.  Unfortunately Art Basel, the same event that catapulted Miami into the narrow spotlight of the art world, is now metaphoric for the very reputation that Miami has fought to escape, one of superficiality and excess.   Enter Art Wynwood. And here are some of the reasons it wowed.  

First, there was consistent quality throughout the fair and regardless of the kind of art one prefers, Art Wynwood had it.  Galleries spanning the globe occupied the easily navigated space, and the significant number of local galleries chosen showed a variety of works easily on par with exhibitors from Manhattan’s Chelsea, as well as those from abroad. From a curatorial point of view, the amount of art and choice of works gave visitors an opportunity to fully digest the display and the ability to walk away with a grasp of the current mindset in contemporary art and the market.  

Quentin Shih, Stranger in the glass box No.5 (2008), Digital Chromogenic Print, 44 X 75 in.; © Quentin Shih/ Courtesy Art Lexing Gallery.

One Miami gallery worth mentioning is Art Lexing.  I was surprised to learn that Miami has a gallery specializing in emerging Asian artists, and this is one to note.  At the fair, Lexing featured works by photographer Quentin Shih from his Stranger in the glass box (2008) and Shangai dreamers (2010) series, which were commissioned by the French design house of Dior.  In these photos Shih forges images of Chinese society with fashion for the sake of political commentary.  What remains are exquisite renderings of pre-reform China infused with the dreamlike worlds of models and haute couture.  

A show-stopping exhibit that was not to be missed was New York’s Claire Oliver Gallery.  If you haven’t seen the work of Norwood Brunner, take that short flight to New York and go directly to Claire’s Gallery.  Brunner’s mirrored pieces combine Swarovski crystal and glass allowing the viewer to reflect on his or her own image.  Phrases like “imagine you are flawless” and “a smooth sea never makes a skillful sailor” are central to the artist’s work and create an active cognitive relationship with the viewer, revealing the beautiful possibilities of life. If delving into the depths of psychology is a bit much, these works still have something to offer.  They are nothing short of gorgeous to behold, not to mention an added bonus of visual decadence while admiring oneself. 

Without a doubt, one of the most impressive exhibitors was Victori Contemporary, a virtual gallery whose owners utilize fairs to further expose their artists to the market. Based out of New York, directors Ed Victori and John Haas clearly have a knack for choosing unrecognized, gifted artists with the credentials to back up their talents.  According to the gallery’s mission: “In the age of technology where overnight fame for talentless actions is commonplace, it becomes increasingly unfortunate to discover true artistic talents tucked away in the studios and corners of the world…” Gentlemen, I couldn’t agree more, and Victori Contemporary is a great example of what the general public and the art market are starved for, visual works with a clean esthetic that awaken the senses and ignite inner dialogue and conversation.  

Miriam CabessaBlack and White 1 (2008) and Black and White 3 (2008), Both oil on linen, 52 X 52 in. each; © Miriam Cabessa / Courtesy Victori Contemporary Gallery. 

A diptych on display by Victori’s Miriam Cabessa, Black and White 1 (2008) and Black and White 3 (2008), two oil on linen created by the fluid and rhythmic movements of Cabessa’s body, left me breathless.  The renderings result in vacillating forms that flow forth from the static picture plane. The abstractions present themselves in waves and can be seen as anything from fabric to seismic recordings.  The work of Gerhard Richter might be comparative, but even Richter’s omnipotent works don’t possess the meditative power of the symphonic vibrations created by Cabessa.  As a collector it’s also worth noting that this artist was chosen to represent Israel in the Venice Biennale and is still virtually unknown.

Yet another reason Art Wynwood hit the mark was the attention it gave to local graffiti art and the legacy of Tony Goldman and his Wynwood Walls.   Artists such as Ron English, RETNA, and Kenny Scharf were given a specially curated exhibit that weaved throughout the remainder of the fair.  The graffiti and street art of Miami is some of its most powerful and have made it a formidable force within the international artistic community.  Once seen as art that fell outside of the coveted category of fine, this edgy, smart, and thought-provoking work often forces the viewer to reflect upon life and societal concerns and is now being seen in well-respected collections and museums.  

Consider one of the major shows given by controversial director, creative genius, and entrepreneurial superstar Jeffrey Deitch at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.  “Art in the Streets” from 2011 was the museum’s most attended show in history and more than a third of the Wynwood Walls artists were featured.  Art Wynwood is proof that, like the separation between street and fine art, the line drawn between art and daily life is constantly being blurred.  Art is ever more accessible and resists containment.  And if the air of Art Wynwood is any example, even gallerists have fallen suit. Once unapproachable and opaque, these highly knowledgeable gatekeepers were friendly, open, and eager to share their talented artists with the world.  Thank you Art Miami LLC and Mr. Korniloff because the world is ready.