Writing Archive

Hit and Miss at MAM

Miami Art Exchange, September 5, 2001

Why some art works and some doesn't has always been an interesting mystery for me. Take any category you like—etchings, Last Suppers, automatic surrealism, whatever. Sometimes the pieces work, sometimes they don't. This is the case in the current installment of New Work Miami at MAM, where two artists working in similar modes arrive at different levels of success. The mode is installation in general, and projected image plus photographs in particular.

Consuelo Castañeda's installation is called "Cybernetic Information Center." A computer hooked up to the Internet has its surfing destination projected on a big screen. Around the room is a calendar, with a photograph about four feet across for each month. Some of the images seem to be taken from the ugly underbelly of the fashion world: a lip being injected with collagen, illicit pills stamped with the Calvin Klein logo, a send-up of those ads where the models lie around looking dead, Versace's sandal as Exhibit #3 in his murder scene. Other months are represented by images that are unrecognizable or indecipherable, such as a folded paper container.

In theory, the computer links to a Web site that allows people to upload information about themselves, with the goal of producing a Web portal of sorts for the creative community. In practice, the site is under construction, and we can only respond to what's there—a browser window with no particular destination, surrounded by photographs, some of which comment negatively on the fashion world and some of which, well, don't.

Castañeda seems to have a lot of ideas but not much sense of editing or composition. The images don't gel, either poetically or actually. "CIC" has a lot of notes, but there's no swing.

Swing has been provided in force next door, in Adler Guerrier's installation, titled "after / for / with (mingus, ellington, mjq)." Songs by the musicians in the title (mjq refers to the Modern Jazz Quartet) are piped in as a DVD plays a series of still photographs taken in and around an apartment in downtown Miami. Actual photographs are arranged on the wall in a loose grid.

Guerrier's mode is that of the flaneur. My dictionary renders this as "idler," but there's an element of wandering in it as well. And as J.R.R. Tolkein said, not all who wander are lost. When you have a destination to get to, you look for landmarks; when you move without destination though, you notice the spaces between things, and the details that add up to an impression. This is what happens in Guerrier's images. We never get a good look at the couple at the center of the work, but we get the sense that they're young and cultured. We see hands, furniture, floor tiles, drinking glasses. Everything is washed in a nostalgic golden light, except for the TV on the floor, which casts its pale projections of an old Goddard film. There's no solid narrative, but there is a strong feeling of romantic tension.

The empty space in the room seems unused rather than elegant, but the effect is total. I got the impression of being looped into a prolonged moment of anticipation—as if something sexy were about to happen, but time had frozen into a collage of events. The flaneur notices the spaces between things. And this particular flaneur, Guerrier, is capable of some damn effective work.

New Work Miami: Consuelo Castañeda and Adler Guerrier is on display through Oct. 7 at the Miami Art Museum, 101 West Flagler Street, Miami. Call 305-375-3000 for more information.

Word count: 589

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