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Bernice Steinbaum Gallery: 'Levity and Gravity' 1st

Coral Gables Gazette, August 2, 2000

Levity and Gravity is the first exhibition by Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, a newly-minted space in the burgeoning arts district north of downtown Miami. Ms. Steinbaum, who ran a gallery in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City for twenty years, possesses an unusual combination of ambition, taste, experience, and capital. She sees Miami as a potential - not extant - art center. The city just needs a kick in the seat of the pants, and she has her boots picked out for the procedure.

To this end she brought on Amy Capellazzo and Tiffany Huot to curate Levity and Gravity, for which a mixture of local talents and Steinbaum Gallery imports from New York have been selected. We hold up well, and the combination of New Yorkers and Miamians is seamless. So seamless, one wonders that there aren't more marked differences. More on this later. One wonders why there aren't regional differences (yes, Virginia, we do take our cues from Manhattan) but one is reluctant to argue with success.

Robert Chambers has installed Proscenium, six tall bags of scrim which inflate and deflate with t'ai chi-like grace. This is a signature mode for him; somewhat atypical is Flymo, a wheel- and handle-deprived lawnmower, squat and bright red, which sits on a small rug. Periodically the mower starts up, causing the fringed ends of the rug to flap comically. Chambers, uniquely in the show, utilizes both the actual and psychological senses of levity and does it well.

Karen Rifas has set up Through the Roof, which consists of crisscrossed lines of dead leaves sown onto monofilament, the whole looking like an orderly arrangement of plant matter on a spider web. The work takes up the same corner on two floors of the building, hence the title. She has also created an arrangement of painted circular mirrors entitled Right Angle. Perhaps this will prove to be a productive tangent from her long experience of working with oak leaves, and while this particular piece doesn't soar, the artist has to be commended for going further afield.

Four photographic portraits by (and of) Eugenia Vargas are haunting and somber, blurry beyond recognition and suffused with a chartreuse glow. One thinks of trying to converse through an aquarium in need of cleaning. Wendy Wischer has created a spiral galaxy, presumably our own, out of clear glass marbles, which sparkle like stars in a dark corner of the gallery thanks to an elevated stage light. Standing on a solid chunk of space, looming like a giant over a galaxy that could be scattered with a careless kick, the viewer is given a stirring feeling.

Peter Sarkisian's Hands at a Table consists of a video projection on a real table. The action consists of a large pair of fidgety hands whose movements are repeated exactly by five pairs of smaller hands one after the other. It's hilarious, and elevates fidgeting to the level of water ballet. Also interesting and quite funny is a video by Max Goldfarb entitled Manufacturer Territories, in which the artist, clad officially in a fluorescent orange vest, hard-hat, and toting a clipboard, is shown efficiently applying traffic lines to New York streets which follow nothing but his whimsy.

One thing bodes ill for this new venture: the curators' decision to focus on Miami's New Yorkiest artists, and the subsequent lack of range in the show. Strike the installations and the photo/video works and you are left with nothing. This is a disappointment. A wall stands firm in the local curatorial imagination, and people who draw and paint skillfully are on the wrong side of it. Brian Reedy's tragicomic woodcuts would have been perfect for this exhibition, as would Kerry Ware's atmospheric abstractions. Carolina Salazar's suburban landscapes would have been as apt as Jennifer Monick's photographs of outdoor surfaces. The curators should confront their prejudices, which are considerable and pernicious, and expand their conception of the art world to include everything that artists are actually making.

Nevertheless, something akin to a meteorite has landed in Miami's art world in the form of Bernice Steinbaum Gallery. It is my hope that the gallery will accomplish what the last major meteoric collision did: climate change, fewer dinosaurs, and more warm-blooded animals.

Word count: 705

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