Monday, August 31, 2009

Art review: New acquisitions add vigorous life to MAM collections

Fruit Still Life (2006), by Mette Tommerup (b. 1969).
(Photo by Peter Harholdt)

By Emma Trelles

There are glittering and faux botanies at the center of Recent Acquisitions, a gathering of approximately 20 artworks that feature some of the Miami Art Museum’s latest additions to its growing permanent collection.

Stamped with beads and sequins, the plastic and russet-hued confection of shrubs known as Endless Autumn, by Cristina Lei Rodriguez, contains South Florida’s dualities -- a region known for its pockets of unstoppable flora as well as its relentless roll of concrete and development.

The installation extends to more than 240 square feet, and placing it at the core of the MAM’s first-floor galleries was probably a necessity. But the arrangement serves the exhibition well. It suggests a glistening sort of growth, a leap into more imaginative terrains -- both key tenets in the museum’s efforts to bolster its holdings with contemporary art made by international artists, several of whom live and work in Miami.

Endless Autumn (2006), by Cristina Lei Rodriguez (b. 1974).

Recent Acquisitions first opened in March, and this display is its second incarnation, which swapped out works, for example, by Matthew Barney, Tom Wesselmann, and Anna Gaskell for a series of floating watercolors by Richard Tuttle and Lewis Baltz’s photographic paean to urban geometries (both are minimalist in gaze, although the latter’s precision held my interest longer than the amorphous splotches found in the former).

Also of particular note: Carla Klein’s Untitled, an oil with a vista of the horizon and a highway angling into it. The Dutch painter uses space as deftly as she uses the brooding blues and grays that portion the picture into nomad lands -- no one lives there and yet their stillness beckons. Although significantly abstract, I saw a shipyard, smoke, and clouds dissolving into one another in this unframed canvas, and one can lose herself in the remote beauty of Klein’s shapes.

#226 Drawing (2006), by Ingrid Calame (b. 1965).
(Photo by Peter Harholdt)

Ingrid Calame’s #226 Drawing was equally absorbing. Made with color pencil on Mylar, the sketch traces and conflates the pathways of the Los Angeles River and the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz. The layered end-result is beautiful and gives the work the look of an embroidered cloth that, from a distance, is also a kind of intuitive aerial map. Up close, there is almost something floral about its arcs.

In this go-round there is still the presence of locally based artists, and their aesthetics are wide, not only in their choices of materials but in how they are filtering the environments in which they make their work. By environments I mean the hamlets and cities that comprise South Florida, which is almost always depicted as a glib hub of nightclubs and crime and skin, but is, in reality, so much more interesting than that.

And since these artists live here, and are not just swooping in with boom mics and cameras for the short haul, several are able to consider the nuances that give this place its sundry textures, not the least of which is the ubiquitous presence of organic forms.

They are in abundance in Adaptation: A Visual Diary of a Mutating Language. Assembled in a kind of exquisite-corpse fashion by Julie Davidow and Carol Prusa, the five vertically hanging panels unspool from ceiling to floor, and they are scrolled with silver point, graphite, and acrylic.

As a whole, these panels present a gender-flecked display of natural and human physiologies: eggs and neurons swirl around each other, tendrils gleam, and something like stars gather towards a science-meets-magic effect. There is little question as to from where the exotic sub-tropicalia of it all stems, even if only in part.

Untitled (2008), by William J. O'Brien (b. 1975).
(Photo by Peter Harholdt)

It will be interesting to see if the MAM continues collecting works that veer away from the directly representational, especially as it marches towards its new digs, slated to open to the public in 2012 at Miami’s Museum Park.

The specific dates of when this last crop of acquisitions was purchased is unknown, but “recent” to me implies that many were selected under the stewardship of Terence Riley, the museum’s latest director and one whose tastes are clearly injecting a welcome vigor into the MAM’s predilections.

Emma Trelles is an arts writer in South Florida.

RECENT ACQUISITIONS runs through Oct. 11 at the Miami Art Museum, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; noon-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; and until 8:30 p.m. on the third Thursdays of each month. Admission: Adults $8; seniors $4; free for children under 12 and students with valid ID. Free every second Saturday. 305-375-3000 or

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