Critic’s Picks: Miami

By Neil Vazquez

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“Untitled,” 2016, Marina Font, Archival print on poly cotton,
found vintage doilies, 34″ x 34”

Photo: courtesy Dina Mitrani Gallery

Born in Cordoba, Argentina, Marina Font is a photographer with a artisanal bent, who strives to augment her images in new and unusual ways. Her oblique, black and white photographs serve as canvasses for an elaborately colorful embroidery, that both clash and fuse with the often nude images. Her new show, entitled “Mental Maps,” transposes the modern and post-modern. Conceptually, her images fuse concepts of disparate origins within the small window of her camera’s lens. Font’s techniques extend beyond the frame, engaging schools of thought from the early and latter half of the 20th century. It’s a herculean task, that underscores the newness of photography as a medium. Though modernity is flooded with images, Font’s photographs stand out for their attempt to traverse temporal and physical space—a mechanical medium adorned with unique artisanal elements. Her embroidery alterations will dart out of the prints, engaging the viewer to look closely beyond the flat surface of the image itself. Marina Font, “Mental Maps,” runs at Dina Mitrani Gallery starting January 12, 2017.

“Circumference of Ancient Tree from Surface Memory Series,” 1971, Alan Sonfist,
Earth and wax on canvas, 72″ x 180″
Photo: courtesy Frederic Snitzer Gallery

Alan Sonfist’s works are not just culled from the natural environment, they champion the earth itself. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Sonfist pledged not to destroy nature but to link city dwellers to a conception of the natural world long obscured by civilization. This January, for the first time, works made in the 1960s and early 1970s—critically acclaimed for their innovative use of urban spaces as havens for green art—will be shown commercially. In Time Landscape of New York, Surface Memory (1967-1971), the artist employs frottage to record woodland forms related to his famous outdoor work in New York’s Greenwich Village. Ceramic Relics, on the other hand, intends to capture specific moments in a forest’s life via fossilized earth markings. Raised in the South Bronx, Sonfist used nearby Hemlock Forest as a major inspiration for the piece; his work not only serves as a stark clinical record of the natural environment but also harks back to the artist’s childhood, which he often spent wandering the forest. It’s a study of both the strength and fragility of organic forms, which questions notions of preservation and environmental consciousness. Alan Sonfist at Fredric Snitzer Gallery runs January 6–31, 2017.

“Material Culture,” 2016, Dominique Labauvie, Pastel and charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 50″ x 42″
Photo: Courtesy Mindy Solomon Gallery

Precise, stark, and often clinical in their approach, French-born, Miami-based sculptor and painter Dominique Labauvie’s pieces have an unexpected source of inspiration. Drawing from natural rock and landscape formations, Labauvie distills form and line to its most refined iteration. Stripping them of all their frivolity, he lays bare the essentials. His first solo show in over a year promises new sculptures and drawings of the same ilk. Emphasizing nature as coherent rather than random, his forms are evoke a graphic simplicity. Labauvie primarily employs industrial materials in his practice, signaling a parallelism between the natural and modern worlds. The composition conflates an organic abstraction with a natural one, leading its viewers to consider the relation between art, or culture, and nature. From large-scale, three-dimensional work, his drawings boil down his formal elements even further. His new work often features flurries of color, but have the same laser-like focus on reducing shape and line to the barest essentials. Dominique Labauvie’s new work will be on view at Mindy Solomon Gallery, from January 21 – March 4, 2017.

“Gutter,” 2016, Anna Betbeze, Wool, acid dyes, india ink
Photo: courtesy Nina Johnson Gallery

Fusing a penchant for design, architecture, soft sculpture, and painting, Anna Betbeze creates work from a bevy of fur and fire. Fluffy wool carpets become blank canvasses for her violent interventions, where she lashes, contours, breaks, and then repairs the materials. It’s a sensuous process, marked by a stark ritualism, that serves as a meditation on the relationship between empathy and eroticism. Color is allowed to be fugitive; refusing to be pinned down, hues rapidly change, saturate, and mix amidst the controlled chaos. In this new batch of work, entitled “Hot Fruit,” the artist turns her staple creations around, revealing the rugs’ backsides and their sewn entrails. This new cobbled geometry is meant to act in concert with the immediate environment, allowing a dialogue with the gallery’s brutalist architecture. Along with large-scale wool works, Betbeze will also exhibit a new series made of burned paper for her debut at Nina Johnson Gallery’s new home, located in the heart of Little Haiti’s burgeoning arts district. “Hot Fruit” by Anna Betbeze opens January 27, 2017, at Nina Johnson Gallery.

“Forgotten Globe {detail],” 2016, Humberto Diaz, Installation found world ball, balloon.
Variable dimensions ©Photo by Paola Martínez Fiterre

With thawing Cold War tensions between the US and Cuba, more and more artists from the island nation are doing what was previously unthinkable: exhibiting work in galleries and museums stateside. Cuban artist Humberto Diaz brings his love of site-specific work, installations, sculpture, and public art to one of the top galleries in Wynwood. Known for his labyrinthian pieces and interactive performance work, Diaz also works with sculpture and photography. His oeuvre is deeply personal and tied to his homeland in both form and concept, looking to create new meanings and poetic images through unlikely disjunctions. Ranging from subtle micro-interventions to works of imposing size, his pieces are imbued with a tongue-and-cheek sensibility that often points out and pokes fun of art world conventions. In 2011, he stood in front of a clock for five hours in a piece he later remarked was “pretty boring.” This show comes a year after the artist participated in an exchange program between the Bronx Museum and El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes: the first museum exchange between the US and Cuba. Diaz’ new work will be on view at Diana Lowenstein Gallery, opening February 4, 2017.

“Denver,” 2008, Xaviera Simmons, Color photograph, 40″ x 50″
Photo: Courtesy David Castillo Gallery

In its sixth iteration, “tête-à-tête” highlights the work of fourteen photographers—curated by and featuring the work of Mickalene Thomas. Known for vibrant images that often render her close friends and colleagues as subjects, Thomas blends oblique references to the work of canonical painters with African studio photographers, whose work documented colonial histories. In Portrait of Sidra Sitting, for example, Thomas casually alludes to Manet’s Olympia with a subject that looks beyond the limits of the frame to challenge the viewer with a completely self-possessed sense of agency. Much like her own photographs, the images in show tackle representations of black bodies in the media and their germinating socio-political and personal narratives. Her new role as curator extends her work directly behind the lens to one encouraging thoughtful dialogue between fellow photographers, including Wangechi Mutu and Lyle Ashton Harris. Thomas recently celebrated the launch of her new book, “Muse,” with a signing and panel discussion at Nicole Ehrlich’s fourth annual Celebration of Women in Art, during Art Basel Miami Beach. “Tête-à-tête” is currently on view at the David Castillo Gallery through January 31, 2017.