"Nine Lives" at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery Bucks the Summer Doldrums
Carol Prusa's celestial Aporia is a two-foot-wide acrylic hemisphere housing a matrix of fiber optics currently casting twinkling star patterns upon the walls of the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery. The Boca Raton artist's enchanting globe is covered in gorgeous undulating abstract patterns created from a labor-intensive process. Prusa sandblasts her surfaces before adding gesso, silverpoint, and titanium-white pigment to convey the sense of a heavenly constellation.
Her work is on view as part of the "Nine Lives: Dog Days of Summer" group show at the Miami gallery. The exhibit also features works of more than a dozen artists who are part of the gallery's stable. Steinbaum, a transplanted New York art dealer, says the exhibit was organized to celebrate her nine years in business in the Wynwood neighborhood. "I've been here nine years and in the business for close to three-and-a-half decades," says Steinbaum, who moved her gallery to the Big Orange from New York in 2000.
Fort Lauderdale artist Francie Bishop Good offers Halo, Las Olas Blvd, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, a color-saturated C-print on aluminum. It sits behind plexiglass and exudes broad narrative possibilities in which the spectator must fill in the missing text to a story. In the image, a curly-haired brunet girl, wearing a purple tube top and low-slung jeans, appears in front of a newsstand on Las Olas Boulevard. She counts money as if waiting for public transportation. To her side, a shorn white poodle perches precariously on a blue barstool. Behind the powder puff-coifed canine, a door opens into an empty barbershop. The girl's noggin is framed by a yellow neon sign that cloaks her in an eerie virginal glow.
Peter Sarkisian's sensational 3-D video sculpture brings to mind the federal government's "cash for clunkers" program. The artist's Registered Driver Flat Series: 1974 AMC Gremlin is a scale model of the loopy '70s vehicle that was rated one of "the worst cars of all time" by Time magazine. The publication went on to criticize the Gremlin's unsightly silhouette, sporting a long, asphalt-hugging snout and truncated hindquarters, describing its appearance as "like the tail snapped off a salamander." Sarkisian's marine-blue jalopy is a head-turner, though. He's tricked out his clunker with a video screen, about the size of a business card, tucked inside the driver's window. The video is powered by a PlayStation, and in it, the New Mexico-based artist appears chugging a beer while careening through South Florida's streets to the sounds of screeching traffic.
Jill Cannady, from Deland, offers a cure for the summer hot spell with her chilling installation People After the Storm, which engulfs a 20-foot wall at the rear of the gallery. The arresting piece features 40 pieces made with watercolor, powdered graphite, and wax on postcard-sized hardboard, all depicting the fierce faces of men and women buffeted by tempests of emotion. Their visages are meticulously rendered, and their expressions shift from melancholy to despair, through anger, sorrow, utter disbelief, abject sullenness, and uncontrollable rage. Cannady's studies of the sweep of human sentiment seem to suggest people's responses to one another following an implosion of civil discourse. They bring to mind the searing confrontations currently boiling over at health-reform town-hall meetings nationwide.
Navigating the exhibit, one is struck by the diversity of media. Guatemala's Luis Gonzalez Palma's Las Sombras de Su Niñez, ("The Shadows of His Youth") is created from Kodalith, gold leaf, and red paper, all embedded in resin. The work crackles with an aged veneer suggestive of an insect encased in amber. It depicts a bare-chested lad sitting at a rough-hewn wooden dinner table peering morosely over his shoulder. Across from the addled boy, a human skull, crowned by a dunce cap, rests on the table. It appears to be cackling at the young man's misfortunes.
Among the most impressive works on display are Hung Liu's sprawling jacquard tapestries, most of which measure a whopping seven-by-seven feet and are resplendent with texture and color. Liu, who migrated to the United States in 1984 from her native China, dazzles with her intricate and boldly ornate Three Fujin Wives, depicting imperial consorts wearing opulent pearl-hued gowns, holding golden fans in their delicate paws, and festooned with flamboyant flower arrangements in their raven locks. Liu successfully reinterprets ancient imagery from photographic, film, and print sources to mine issues of cultural identity in her work.
It comes as little surprise that Steinbaum's eye has paid off while colleagues have had to cinch their belts in a troubled economy. Unlike many other local galleries suffering through the burst art bubble this summer, the dealer claims she is standing pretty. "I have been lucky this summer. I'm not boasting, but I've had some big sales and have been floating." Then she adds: "Knock on wood." At her eponymous space, this well-curated show provides solid evidence of why she's been banking during the dog days of summer.
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