Leon Berkowitz: Cascades of Light, Paintings from 1965-1986

November 19, 2015Magazine and Newspaper Reviews

By Richard Speer

Taking in the Technicolor orgy that is Virginia Miller’s affectionate and nuanced 21-year survey of the paintings of Leon Berkowitz (1911-1987), one confronts just how thoroughly the metastasis of post-ironic eye candy has been assimilated into visual culture since Berkowitz’s heyday. In entire sectors of contemporary art (Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Peter Halley, Beatriz Milhazes, Ryan McGinness, Omar Chacon and Albert Contreras, for starters), not to mention graphic design, advertising, online gaming, cartoons, fashion and cosmetics, we have witnessed the rise of a chromatically gonzo sensibility—replete with fluorescents, pearlescents, metallics, interference pigments, glitters and HDTV pixels—that would have made even the most outré of yesteryear’s Pop, Op and Color Field artists blush in abject mortification. Berkowitz was proto- all that. He shone the light and led the way. With his bedazzling, yet ethereal, compositions (think Las Vegas meets Big Sur), he bridged a Neo-Impressionist approach to opticality with the spiritualism of AbEx and the perception-obsession of the California Light and Space movement. This rather astonishing integration is almost tangible in the exhibition at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries, as are ripples of the man himself, with his inevitable human quirks.

Leon Berkowitz: Cascades of Light, Paintings from 1965-1986Entering the space, viewers are confronted with a bubble-gum funhouse of pastels and jewel tones emanating from stripe paintings such as Duality #15 (1970) and Transition (1979). An untitled painting from 1966 forces a false perspective that unsettles the viewer’s kinesthetic orientation, as does the ramp-like Galilee (1965). Cathedral #5, with its extreme dimensions (113 inches high and only 19 inches wide), looks like a stained-glass window that got sucked through a black hole and got excreted out the other side, distorted into a flattened-pancake grotesquerie of its former self. Everywhere all around are the kinds of colors that made Berkowitz into an unapologetic “Candy Man,” who could, like the song says, “take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun, and make a groovy lemon pie.” Despite a penchant for saturational surfeit, the artist was decidedly not interested in retinal effects as ends in themselves. When he deployed the pattern-based tricks of Op art, he did so with another aim in mind: the poetics of light.

In fact, anyone who visits this exhibition will not be surprised to learn that poetry was a major influence on Berkowitz. He was married to poet Ida Fox, was friends with Robert Creeley, and, in honor of his work’s affinity to the poetry of nature worship, was feted in 2008 and 2009 with posthumous exhibitions at the Gary Snyder/Project Space in New York. He was fond of quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins, who, in “God’s Grandeur,” gave voice to qualities that Berkowitz’s paintings say without words: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God…Nature is never spent; there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” From the advent of his exhibition history in 1949, the artist made it his mission to transmute the poetic Geist, the esprit d’espace, the very atmospherics of far-flung locales into rapturous distillations in oils. He lived and traveled variously in Mexico, Arizona, Italy, Greece and France, to enumerate only a smattering, and it is tempting to see his bold colors evincing the blazing Mediterranean and Mesoamerican sunlight, harsh and honeyed and crowned always in azure. His work was informed by other moods of light, too: thick and diffused by humidity in his native Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C., where he lived and taught for many years; and the mystical light of Wales, about which he effused, “There is a kind of efflorescence in the light there, as if it were actually made of rainbows. And it’s partly, I believe, because of the water vapors in the air, which split the light.” (Haifley)

As his work matured, misty, barely discernible gradations supplanted the stripe paintings of his earlier output. Pieces such as Midday Moon #4 (1978), with its Gottlieb-like burst of tangerine in blue sky above green ground, and Study #16 (1978), which looks—almost tastes—like a sticky, Indian Summer night lit by fireflies, achieve their miraculous sfumato via a disciplined, time-intensive application of almost invisible washes of oil paint and turpentine. Sometimes he layered as many as 40 discrete pigments, each of which had to dry before he added the next layer. In many respects, his methods and intents were aligned with those of Mark Rothko; one sees this clearly in Transition (1979), in which a phosphene-like swath of orange merges with aqua within a vaguely rectangular framing device of lavender and ecru. It’s a trippy tribute to the master, which in another universe might have been subtitled Rothko Looks at a Candle Whilst on Psilocybin.

Like James Turrell and Robert Irwin, a continent away from Washington, D.C., Berkowitz was fascinated by liminal shifts of perception, and his paintings, while uncommonly assertive, do not hit one over the head by sheer force of lumens; they beckon one into a hushed, heightened awareness, an altar within an antechamber within a chapel, in which quietude and ensconcement afford one the leisure to contemplate minute shifts in chroma’s gradation from one pole of ROYGBIV to the other. In many pieces, these gradations are so infinitesimal they risk fooling the viewer into assuming they were achieved with an airbrush—but no, they were made the old-fashioned way, with mere quotidian paintbrushes and a lot of patience. The artist likened the aggregate of these myriad layers of thinned-out liquid pigment to “the surface of my skin—because the thing that gives life to my skin is the river of blood under it.” (Haifley)

He was not always this eloquent (but then, who is?). And this hints, the more one learns about Berkowitz, at the frictions within his psyche between his intuitive and discursive impulses. When artists who are gifted with fluent visual vocabularies are prompted to explicate their methods, unfortunate things sometimes ensue. In the catalogue for a 1969 exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Berkowitz described his methodology in groan-inducing prose. “The vertical spines,” he began, “position the maximum cold-hot intensities within areas of varying light and dark saturation. The relaxed verticals affirm by contrast the assertive verticals, perhaps even adding to the optical effect, synesthetically. Since gesture and optics are here reciprocal, the painting is more apprehensible as a single image held in the senses. It is by such body-response qualities that nature evokes the spiritual in us, evokes an inner realization of the continuum between the material constituents of both nature and ourselves.” (“From the Writings of Leon Berkowitz”). Well, all right, then. Artists are large; they contain multitudes; and personalities are wide enough to accommodate poetry and pedantry.

It should also be noted that, lBottom of Formike many artists, Berkowitz was proud and prickly enough to wander into the schisms, molehill-mountains and teapot-tempests of his time. He took pains to distance himself from the Washington Color School, even though, as a founder of the influential Washington, D.C., collective known as the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts, he was one of that movement’s guiding lights. Rather than plotting common ground with other Workshop artists such as Kenneth Noland, Howard Mehring and Thomas Downing, he preferred to ally his work with more eclectic influences such as Kabbalah, Rorschach tests and traditional Chinese painting. “I don’t have any of the characteristics of the Washington Color School,” he sniffed in a 1979 interview with Julie Haifley. “I’m twice removed from it. My ideas are so divergent, totally, from what their ideas are. The whole notion that I orchestrate the light within a painting so that it changes with the light of day—the idea of the continuousness of space and light and form—it doesn’t exist in any of the so-called Color School people.” (Haifley)

With a painter of Berkowitz’s complexity, it’s important to take a long view, and happily, that is what gallerist and curator Virginia Miller has done in “Cascades of Light.” Miller, redoubtable doyenne of the Miami art scene, has a long history with Berkowitz’s work, having presented it in a solo exhibition in 1978, as well as in group shows in 1981 and 2002. Her gift for mounting rigorous and historically significant exhibitions (her recent Cuban abstraction showcase, “The Silent Shout,” was revelatory) is well-suited to Berkowitz’s long and faceted trajectory. She has installed the current show’s 22 paintings to dramatic effect in her Coral Gables space, whose expansive floors and sharp, pointy corners heighten the artworks’ uncanny marriage of containment and histrionics. It is an odd and resplendent paradox, and one that Berkowitz seems ultimately to have understood: an idiosyncratic synthesis of froth and depth; one part Willy Wonka, one part Herman Hesse; a meeting place between “Oh!” and “Om…” In lyrical mode in the late 1970s, he talked with an arts writer about the almost magical ties uniting the physical and metaphysical, a union he strove to capture on canvas. To illustrate the point, he invoked that most romantic of pies in the sky, the moon. Material and immaterial merge, he offered, “when you hold your hands out in the moonlight. If you lift some water from a lake and hold it up in the moonlight, the moon is resting in the palms of your hands.” (Haifley)

(November 7, 2014 – April 28, 2015)

Richard Speer is a contributing critic for ARTnews, Art Ltd., and Visual Art Source. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, Salon, Newsweek and Opera News. His essay, “Floating Free: Peter Halley and Alessandro Mendini’s Buoyant Phantasmagoria,” was published in 2013 by Mary Boone Gallery.

– Julie Haifley, Oral History Interview with Leon Berkowitz, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, July 17, 1979.
– Leon Berkowitz, “From the Writings of Leon Berkowitz,” in the catalogue The Art of Leon Berkowitz, James F. Pilgrim, ed., Corcocan Gallery, 1969.

ARTPulse Review: The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction by Margery Gordon

April 3, 2014Magazine and Newspaper Reviews
ArtPulse Front Cover: Ai Weiwei, Stacked, 2002, 680 stainless steel units. Installation view Pérez Art Museum Miami. Photo: Daniel Azoulay Photography.
ArtPulse Front Cover: Ai Weiwei, Stacked, 2002, 680 stainless steel units. Installation view Pérez Art Museum Miami. Photo: Daniel Azoulay Photography.

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction
ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries – Miami
Curated by Rafael Díaz-Casas, Janet Batet and José Angel Vincench
By Margery Gordon
Published by ArtPulse Magazine No. 18

Abstraction has become such a widely applied and accepted mode of art-making that it can be hard to perceive the threat it has repeat- edly presented to prevailing artistic practices and cultural norms, extending to their political underpinnings in some volatile and re- pressive climates. Yet the trajectory of “non-objective art” over the last century highlights how radical the advent of avant-garde move- ments were amid the escalation of the Russian Revolution; how risky the gestures of Abstract Expressionism were in confronting initial resistance from American institutions, critics and audiences; how po- tent the progressive stance of geometric abstraction was in pitting its South American proponents against dictatorial regimes.

The tactical measures these artists employed and the reactionary op- position they provoked set precedents for their less-renowned counter- parts in Cuba. Their strains echo in “The Silent Shout: Voices of Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013,” which resonates with the persistent rhythm of the island’s own variations on such international styles. The nine paint- ers’ diverse strokes and tones could have become discordant in concert, but the arrangement composed by gallerist Virginia Miller—who has honed her installation artistry over 40 years of conducting contempo- rary showcases in Miami—riffs on formal affinities and harmonizes complementary hues. Set against a rousing score of historical upheaval and artistic suppression that strike a chord with audiences, this sym- phony honors the artists’ individual and collective accomplishments.

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013
The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

When the eye-opening show opened in November 2013, one of its three curators, Miami-based Cuban art historian and critic Janet Batet, articulated their ambitious mission: “to vindicate the role of abstract art in Cuban art history” by redressing “the extended misunderstand- ing of the abstraction in Cuba that as a tendency has been reduced by the Cuban historiography to a punctual phenomenon or a transitional moment (generally associated with the 1950s).”

Abstraction first appeared in Cuban art circles in 1950 at the “IV National Salon of Painting and Sculpture” in the galleries of the Capi- tolio Nacional headquarters. Its pioneers officially announced their ar- rival on the Havana scene with two high-profile exhibitions in 1953: first “Quince Pintores y Escultores” (“Fifteen Painters and Sculptors”), quickly winnowed to “Once Pintores y Escultores.” The latter figure stuck through further fluctuation in the membership of “Los Once” over an intense succession of shows in a short span of time—particu- larly impressive in spite of a mixed reception from art professionals aligned with the representational and nationalistic traditions of the dominant academic and modernist styles. Regarding the vaunted van- guardia with attitudes ranging from subtle irreverence to open disdain, Los Once and their contemporaries in the more geometrically oriented group that emerged in 1957, dubbed “10 Pintores Concretos” (“Ten Concrete Painters”), positioned themselves as outsiders uncompro- mised by upper-class patronage or state sponsorship.

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013
The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

This professed independence—verging on outspoken activism by some of the troupes’ members— endeared them neither to the cul- tural figures who lost influence as political turbulence mounted, nor to those who gained power in the 1959 revolution. While no official
decrees dissolved these alliances, the ensuing emphasis on Socialist Realism and iconography modeled upon and intelligible to the hum- ble masses created an inhospitable environment. As opportunities for exposure and sustenance dried up at the outset of the 1960s, abstrac- tion withered or burrowed underground. Its adherents sublimated their abstract muses by channeling those creative urges into figura- tive studies and scenes, keeping their artistic endeavors private, or seeking freedom of expression beyond Cuba’s boundaries.

“Cuban abstract artists of the 1950s clearly suffered an ideological rejection [in] the sixties,” wrote Kevin Power in a 1997 catalog essay for the landmark exhibition “Pinturas del Silencio” (“Paintings of Si- lence”). He attributed pejorative populist interpretations of the visual language of abstraction in part to guilt by association with concur- rent movements abroad—notably in New York, where some Cuban abstract works reached receptive audiences in the 1950s and ‘60s. At a time of increasing isolationism on the island, abstract artists were branded as internationalist, even imperialist, bourgeois and deca- dent. Observed Power, “They were seen as ambiguous, potentially critical, and irremediably elitist.” Ironically, the Consejo Nacional de Cultura, an agency of the Revolutionary government, sponsored a historic 1963 exhibition at the Galería Habana entitled “Abstract Expressionism”—which turned out to be the swan song of what had essentially dwindled to “Los Cinco.”

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013
The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

They were nearly relegated to a historical footnote by the time “Pin- turas del Silencio” (“Paintings of Silence”) opened at Galería La Acacia during the VI Havana Biennial. The first exhibition in Cuba devoted to abstract work in 34 years resurrected this lost art form by demon- strating that it had never really gone missing, just unrecognized. Cuban artists José Angel Vincench and Ramón Serrano curated a cross-section of 18 artists that encompassed their emerging peers, the preceding gen- eration whose break with modernist traditions in 1980 was heralded as “New Cuban Art,”and former members of Los Once and 10 Pintores Concretos. The landmark survey revealed that not only had some of the trailblazers surreptitiously resumed exploring abstraction, but sub- sequent generations had inherited these timeworn tools and integrated them into eclectic arsenals—in keeping with global trends that eschew dogmatic movements in favor of interdisciplinary flexibility.

Wide-ranging practices understandably attract less attention, but the relaxing of earlier constraints also suggests that over time scrutiny of non-literal forms has been superseded by censorship of conceptual art- works that test the vigilance of Cuban cultural watchdogs by embedding political commentary in subversive visuals. Courageously reopening the cold case of Cuban abstraction and introducing new evidence, “Pinturas del Silencio” emboldened others to investigate Cuban abstract art. The intervening years have seen numerous exhibitions, including several at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes since 2002, sending a liberating sig- nal to artists experimenting with the potential of abstraction to impart meaning on many levels, from the personal to the political.

Still, much of that work has not been seen in the United States— let alone placed in the historical context enabled by the scope of “The Silent Shout.” Conceived as a belated sequel to “Pinturas del Silencio” it continues the revisionist campaign launched 17 years ago by Vincench and Batet (who wrote an introduction to the previous show’s catalog while teaching at Vincench’s alma mater, Havana’s Instituto Superior de Arte, ISA), collaborating now as co-curators with the art writer Rafael Díaz-Casas. The illuminating Miami edi- tion has a more concentrated roster (five of the nine artists have par- ticipated in both shows) but a longer time span that straddles seven decades of work and nine decades of life. It even offers a glimpse of abstraction’s future with the addition of a vast oil painting of pastel bubbles by Luis Enrique López, who was only 9 at the time of “Pin- turas del Silencio” and just graduated from ISA following a semester at Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Art and a series of proposals for the XI Havana Biennial. Of the three dozen works on display, two- thirds were created in the 21st century, 17 in the last year alone.

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013
The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

Some of the freshest samples come from the show’s oldest living art- ist, the 82-year-old Pedro de Oraá, whose compositions pulsate with a vibrant energy and technical expertise that add dimension to the shift- ing shapes of his “Diversion” series. The vivid purples of Divertimento 2 give way to myriad shades of gray in Divertimento 1. The latter’s overlapping silhouettes play well against the contrasting rainbow mo- saic of multifaceted shards that meet at sharp edges and perpendicu- lar angles in 78-year-old José Rosabal’s Transversal. By hanging these 2013 works side-by-side, Miller animates an unspoken exchange be- tween the two surviving members of “10 Pintores Concretos” in “The Silent Shout,” reviving the rapport of these two compatriots.

The large new works by de Oraá and Rosabal update the geomet- ric legacy of the “10 Pintores Concretos,” putting in perspective works from the 1950s by fellow members Sandú Darié and Dolores “Loló” Soldevilla that are among the oldest in this show. Their smaller can- vases share a Suprematist sensibility with balanced arrangements of circles and rectangles that would have fit right into early 20th century St. Petersburg. Soldevilla served as an unofficial ambassador for the movement, founding Color-Luz Gallery with longtime partner de Oraá in 1957 and introducing their like-minded peers to Havana audiences.

The late delegates from Los Once take a more expressionistic, organic approach. Elements arrayed in Hugo Consuegra’s 1955 El Recuerdo Golpeado (“The Beaten Memory”) suggest unidentifiable utensils or cubist instruments akin to those played by Picasso’s mu- sicians in 1921. Five of Consuegra’s paintings from 1955 to 1964 are juxtaposed with untitled works by Raúl Martínez in similarly modest proportions but distinguished by thick swaths of gritty oil paint that build up a textured surface reminiscent of Dubuffet. Martínez’s murky palette extends to an undated piece hung sepa- rately, but its translucent washes evoke a ghostly presence.

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013
The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

Born when those works were being created, Carlos García names his surprising influences in raised letters nearly obscured by layers of yellow, red and black pigment. The large 2012 canvas “Cuatro Arboles de Fuego” (“Four Trees of Fire”) pays tribute to the masters of color (Monet), light (Turner), shadow (Hopper) and line (Twombly). The last inspiration is the most visible in García’s half-dozen pieces, marked with scratchy trails and bold splotches or more defined droplets that allude to leaves, “plumage” or the “Cardinal’s Tears.”

The most cryptically conceptual and slyly political of these nine tal- ents, Vincench traces triangles, crosses and curves from the fragmented spaces created by superimposing the capital letters that spell out the loaded title “Exilio,” which he calls a “dirty word” in Cuba. Gilding this verboten term on stretched linen and carved cedar in regal 23-karat gold leaf, he symbolically summons absence, transmitting coded mes- sages across closed borders.

By amplifying the voices that emanate from 64 years of Cuban ab- straction to a level audible above the white noise of communism, “The Silent Shout” ultimately sounds a hopeful note.

(November 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014)

Margery Gordon is a freelance arts journalist and regular contributor to ARTnews, Art+Auction, ArtInfo.com and the official Art Basel Mi- ami Beach Magazine, among other publications. She is a professor at Barry University in Miami.

Download PDF version of the article HERE

PAMM, Virginia Miller exhibits explore abstraction

March 24, 2014Magazine and Newspaper Reviews
The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013
The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

By George Fishman
Special to The Miami Herald

The coincidence of distinctive, but kindred, exhibitions at the Pérez Art Museum Miami and ArtSpace/Virginia Miller in Coral Gables, one of the region’s longest established galleries, provides a valuable opportunity to “compare and contrast.”

Besides opening its doors to the community during Art Basel with such international draws as Ai Weiwei’s exhibition and the museum’s initial special project commissions, PAMM also took its first steps in showcasing selections from its permanent collection. These are presented in six “overview galleries” through a series of thematically linked exhibitions called AMERICANA, composed of art produced in South America, North America and the Caribbean since the 1930s.

The organizing principle of AMERICANA’s Progressive Forms section is the legacy of Constructivism, whose European origins in the early 20th century commingled with industrialization, social progressivism, daring new architecture and rationality. With that came an affection for the purity of abstract form, “liberated” from representation.

Tobias Ostrander, PAMM’s chief curator, explained the connection between “construction” and Constructivism. “Construction was put in contrast to the idea of creation,” he said. Creation implied more subjectivity, while Constructivism leaned away from emotion and embraced objectivity.

The work of such European Constructivists as painters Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg — known for geometric grids imbued with color blocks — and sculptor Antoine Pevsner influenced the works on view both at PAMM and ArtSpace. Constructivism’s advocates considered abstract design better suited to a forward-looking society, and their work influenced subsequent movements such as pop and op art, kineticism, abstract expressionism and minimalism.

Constructivist aesthetics and social ideas were carried across the Atlantic by artists including Romanian-born Cuban émigré Sandú Darié and the peripatetic Uruguayan-born Joaquín Torres-García, who was responsible for extensive and passionate “evangelizing” in Latin America. Exhibitions and publications in Europe and the Americas helped both disseminate and diversify Constructivist images and ideas. PAMM’s Torres-García Construction with Two Masks incorporates pre-Columbian pictograms, as well as informal modern texts and symbols within box-like compositions.


But it is Darié’s work that bridges the PAMM and ArtSpace exhibitions. He is represented at PAMM by his Transformable Structure. A Mondrian-like geometric composition of black, white, red and yellow, it is both painting and sculpture and can be displayed in various configurations. Darié’s interest in dynamic geometry carries to his Untitled 1950s painting at Virginia Miller, where an even more exuberant palette of Mondrian colors, lines and color blocks plays against concentric rotational rings.

The ArtSpace exhibition, The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013, is notable for several reasons. The works were selected by a trio of curators: José Angel Vincench (one of the exhibiting artists), Miami-based Janet Batet and New York-based Rafael DiazCasas. It includes Cuban artists’ works created in a diversity of abstract styles since the 1950s. And though it is shown in a commercial gallery, it includes works loaned by collectors and not for sale. This unusual arrangement was apparently necessary to realize the multigenerational curatorial vision Miller was keen to assemble. “I’m very happy to have presented this show, so that others may marvel, as I have over the years, at how one island in the Caribbean has so enriched the world,” she wrote in an email.

ArtSpace has exhibited Latin American art, including from Cuba, since the mid-1970s, but it was Vincench who interested Miller in presenting works by members of Cuba’s most renowned associations of artists working in the abstract idiom, Los Once (The Eleven) and Diez Pinturas Concretos (Ten Concrete Painters).

In Cuba, following the Castro revolution, abstract art was discouraged — despite its original connection to the Russian Communist revolution. It was characterized as bourgeois, and its practitioners were stifled, with minimal exhibition opportunities. In 1997, Vincench co-curated a breakthrough show in Havana called Pinturas del Silencio (Painters of Silence).

Batet, who wrote the Pinturas catalog essay, explained to Miller that the mid-century Cuban abstract painters, influenced by European Constructivism and the Bauhaus, were working alongside a vanguard of new architects, creating a modern city within colonial Havana. “Abstraction in Cuba was reflecting our new identity as one of the most modern cities of the Western hemisphere at that time,” Batet said during a 2013 seminar in Miami and printed in the show’s notes.

That affinity was lost on the Castro cultural leadership. Vincench, a Cuban conceptual artist, consistently expresses dissent. Explains Miller: “His works in this show are from his series on exilio [exile]. In these works, Vincench takes the outline of the letters in exilio, superimposes the outlines and then extrapolates abstract shapes from that.”

With a little study, the “hidden messages” can be picked out, and he uses gold leaf on both his sculptures and paintings to underscore art’s often-conflicted relationship to commerce — especially in a Cuban context.


Whereas variations of rectilinear scaffolding underpin many of the selections in PAMM’s Progressive Forms, fewer of those in Silent Shout are geometrically conceived. Despite the five decades that separate them, paintings by Carlos García and Raul Martinez suggest a distillation of natural forces and forms. Nuanced overlays of thick and thin paint create scumbled surfaces that glow darkly, evocative of both man-made and earthly objects.

They provide the bass notes in a presentation that also contains clarion calls of hard-edged, brilliantly colored zigzag compositions by José Rosabal. These somehow balance the quieter arcs and angles of the Vincench Exile series and the circle motifs shared by the 1956 Soldevilla and 2013 Luis Enriquez López.

An especially painterly work, Four Trees of Fire (2013) by García, contains both text and representational reference. Four artists’ names are painted with varying degrees of tone and texture against a bright orange-tinged yellow background. “When we asked him why, he explained that as he painted this canvas, he was thinking of the extraordinary way J. M. W. Turner brought out the light in his paintings,” Miller said.

He also was inspired by Impressionist Claude Monet’s sense of color and light, and the dramatic use of shadows in the work of American realist Edward Hopper. American Cy Twombly, known for his “scribbles,” also influenced the work, he told Miller.

On another level of reading, the figure “4” is formed by horizontal shadows crossing and connecting the vertical trunks.

The Silent Shout’s display gives each painting just enough room to sing its distinctive song, but judicious orchestration of colors and contrasts lends an overall harmony to these quite disparate works. “Because the older work is so different and darker than the later work, we tended to hang that in one area,” Miller said.

The challenge was to showcase the individual works while providing a unified mood to the gallery. But Miller has done this before, having hung more than 300 shows in her career. “Sometimes I can actually hang the show while I’m going to sleep or when I’m waking up. If I know the pieces well enough, I can hang it in my mind.”


At PAMM’s Progessive Forms, geography ranges across the region in works by Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark from Brazil, Mexican sculptor Damián Ortega and Venezuelan photographer Alexander Apostól — among others. But it also extends to New York Minimalists and Canadian-born Julia Dault.

The extensive wall texts provide valuable context.

In Latin America during the post-World War II economic boom, the use of geometric forms was closely associated with economic prosperity and the planning of ideal cities. However, some members of later generations of artists eroded, fragmented and destabilized these forms to critique the many unrealized dreams.

Ortega is moved by Mexico City’s juxtaposition of extreme poverty and wealth. He uses the cement of ubiquitous construction sites to model the ideal form of a cube, but he does so in Ioni with “soft,” irregular segments that undermine that pristine notion.

Apostól’s photos bleakly present abandoned high-rises on the Venezuelan resort island of Margarita, revealing their grid-like structures as skeletons. Leonardo Drew’s arresting wall relief assembly of burnt and stained wood fragments reveals a dystopic vision within the United States, Ostrander says.

“He’s talking about the projects in New York or other major cities. Developed in the ’50s or ’60s, they were meant to provide a better life for people and quickly turned into problematic social situations. Planning the world in that way didn’t work at all.”

The gallery provides excellent opportunities for visual juxtapositions among the freestanding sculptures and wall-mounted works.

For example, while standing in the Progressive Forms show, one can look into the Sackner Collection of Concrete and Visual Poetry, where many examples of text and graphic arts also show the Russian Constructivist legacy. “We’re very specifically trying to make those conversations and juxtapositions,” Ostrander said.

Not all the exhibited works are historical — one sculpture was actually created within the gallery by Dault. “She’s an artist whose very much thinking about the legacies of minimalism and, particularly, the use in minimalism of industrial materials,” Ostrander explained.

Dault takes large sheets of mirrored acrylic plastic and uses them in a kind of performance. “She ties and pushes and curves these Formica pieces … and then she ties them and attaches them to the wall, creating these very dynamic kinds of mirrored curving structures that feel like they could burst,” Ostrander said.

Stylistic contrasts abound, but many affinities of structure and intention cross the generations in these ambitious exhibitions. Encompassing broad geographic and historical examples, both shows demonstrate that abstraction remains an intellectually challenging and sensually appealing vein of work with unbounded potential.

Go to here to hear Virginia Miller describe her installation process.

Go to here to hear Tobias Ostrander’s comments about Constructivism and the grid motif.

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013 by Richard Speer

March 4, 2014Magazine and Newspaper Reviews
The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013
The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

By Richard Speer
ARTnews March 2014

Historically significant and visually rich, this exhibition showcases paintings and sculpture by three generations of Cuban artists. The “Silent Shout” of the show’s title refers to the 1997 exhibition “Pinturas del Silencio” (Paintings from the Silence), mounted during the sixth Havana Biennial to illuminate the lineage of Cuban abstract painting, long repressed under the Castro regime, and to bring to light the work of painters whose voices had effectively been silenced since the 1950s. As this current exhibition demonstrates, what was once a muffled cry has since grown into a hearty esthetic shout.

Curators Janet Batet, Rafael DiazCasas, and Jose Angel Vincench guide viewers through 63 years of work made by four historic artists— Hugo Consuegra, Raul Martinez, Lolo Soldevilla, and Sandu Darie—and five living artists. The paintings from the ’50s and ’60s are notable for their compositional finesse and the abundance of amber and earth tones, lending the canvases a chromatic gravitas, most strikingly in Consuegra’s paean to organic forms, Privilegio (1960).

But it bodes well for the current state of Cuban abstraction that the show’s strongest and most vital pieces were painted only last year. Luis Enrique Lopez’s Pupilas de Santo V is a sumptuous triptych of circular forms that contrasts vibrantly with Jose Rosabal’s untitled suite of brightly hued architectonic planes. Pedro de Oraa’s virtuosic Divertimento 1 and Divertimento 2 depict a compelling interplay of nested shadows, while Vincench’s own paintings and sculptures employ gold leaf to transform the letters of the politically charged word exilio (exile) into abstracted forms.

Viewed together, the works in this rigorous yet buoyant exhibition affirm Cuba’s importance within the evolution of post-World War II abstraction. The show itself signifies the passing of the torch to a generation of Cuban artists for whom abstraction is no longer taboo but one among many modes of artistic expression.

El grito silencioso… , itinerario histórico y estético de la abstracción en Cuba

March 3, 2014Magazine and Newspaper Reviews

By Dennys Matos
Especial – El Nuevo Herald

The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013
The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

El grito silencioso: voces en la abstracción en Cuba (1950-2013) es una muestra colectiva que contempla nueve artistas cubanos, cuya obra se ha desenvuelto por los cauces de la abstracción. Está formada por más de una veintena de obras entre pinturas y esculturas y abarca a tres generaciones de arte cubano, que cubren tanto el periodo prerrevolucionario como posrrevolucionario. Estos artistas son: Loló Soldevilla, Pedro de Oraá, Sandú Darié, Hugo Consuegra, Raúl Martínez, José Rosabal, Carlos García, Luis Enrique López y José Angel Vincench.

Esta exposición comisariada por Janet Batet, José Angel Vincench y Rafael Díaz-Cazas, constituye una excelente oportunidad para acercarnos a una de las tendencias artísticas menos conocidas del arte tardomoderno cubano. Entre otras cosas, porque practica una revisión historiográfica (y también estética) de aquellas exposiciones y autores que a finales de los años 1940 y 1950, abrieron el espectro de las artes visuales cubanas a la poética de la abstracción. Es así como, por medio de los autores presentes en El grito silencioso: voces en la abstracción en Cuba (1950-2013), esta cita intencionalmente aquellas muestras anteriores en las que muchos de ellos participaron, y que ahora son un hito en la historiografía de la modernidad artística cubana y una referencia esencial para su comprensión. Ejemplo de ello son Quince pintores y escultores en 1953 y, en ese mismo año, Once pintores y escultores. Pero también aparece citada Diez pintores concretos, de 1958, con artistas como Soldevilla, Oraá, Darié y Rosabal. De paso El grito silencioso…”, 2013, en su alcance historiográfico reivindica la figura de Darie como artista pionero de la abstracción cubana.

Hasta aquí podría hablarse de exposiciones vinculadas a la abstracción antes del triunfo revolucionario citadas en El grito silencioso…, pero la muestra no se queda ahí y también cita exposiciones relacionadas con la abstracción en el periodo revolucionario, en el que queda al descubierto una desidia sistemática por parte de la política cultural revolucionaria hacia las manifestaciones del arte abstracto. Y en ello enfatiza el texto curatorial del catálogo de la muestra firmado por Batet y Díaz-Cazas, cuando refieren la exposición Expresionismo abstracto, de 1963, como inicio de un periodo de invisibilidad o silenciamiento de esta poética durante un largo periodo. Porque tendrán que pasar más de tres décadas para que, en 1997, durante la VI Bienal de La Habana se inaugurara en Galería Acacia, la exposición Pinturas del silencio, comisariada por Rafael Serrano y Vincench con 18 artistas.

El grito silencioso: voces en la abstracción en Cuba ahora relaciona autores, con particularidades inéditas en la selección de obras, de la primera hornada de la abstracción como Darié, Soldevilla, Consuegra y Raúl Martínez con otros más jóvenes como, por ejemplo, Carlos García y Vincench. Y en esa articulación descubrimos que la abstracción, como una tradición dentro del campo de producción artístico cubano, no es algo homogéneo ni en su visualidad ni tampoco en su estilo, por decirlo de alguna manera. Que hay acentos poéticos que se desplazan desde recursos de lenguaje más abstractos con soluciones geométricas, hacia otros más figurativos, en los que lo narrativo emerge con fuerza ante el simbolismo. En el primer caso tenemos, por ejemplo, las obras de Darié ( Untitled), Soldevilla ( Untitled), Vincench, Oraá y Rosabal. Aquí los elementos abstractos geométricos son enfatizados, aunque Darié y Soldevilla arman más el espacio pictórico a la manera constructivista. Mientras que en obras como, por ejemplo, de Consuegra ( El recuerdo golpeado), García ( Cuatro árboles golpeados) y Martínez, los elementos abstractos dan paso a un informalismo, (abstracción pero no geométrica) por el que se cuela tanto la figuración como la pintura matérica en su versión más lírica por la presencia de trazos expresionistas.

Resulta muy interesante y, también, muy oportuno esta especie de itinerario histórico y estético que plantea El grito silencioso porque, como exposición, habilita vasos comunicantes entre esas generaciones que, en su expresión espacio temporal parecían separadas, permanecían como escindidas una de otra, para encajarlas de lleno en la tradición de vanguardia artística tardo moderna cubana. Las rescata de la oscuridad a la que sistemáticamente las condenó la burocracia y los extremismos de las instituciones culturales revolucionarias. Arroja sin duda nuevas luces sobre el proceso histórico y estético de la abstracción, como lenguaje renovador e importante patrimonio artístico de las artes visuales isleñas del siglo XX. •

Dennys Matos es crítico de arte y curador independiente. Reside y trabaja entre Madrid y Miami.

“El grito silencioso: voces en la abstracción en Cuba (1950-2013), ArtSpace Virginia Miller Gallery. 169 Madeira Avenue. Coral Gables, www.viriginiamiller.com. Hasta el 31 de marzo.

Read article here.

Abstraction and the Once-Silenced Shout

March 2, 2014Magazine and Newspaper Reviews
The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013
The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013

Visual Art Source
Editors’ Roundtable
by Richard Speer

“The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013,” installation view at ArtSpace Virginia Miller Galleries, Coral Gables, Florida.

Recently I took in an exhibition in Miami that documented an era when abstract art was thought so radical and dangerous that it incited censorship. “The Silent Shout: Voices in Cuban Abstraction 1950-2013”, currently at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries, features paintings and sculpture by three generations of Cuban artists. The eldest of these, now in their 80s, were driven into underground art movements during the regime of Fidel Castro.

As the exhibition’s co-curator, Janet Batet, explained in a lecture about the show, there was a 34-year void from 1963 to 1997 when no exhibitions showcasing abstract work were officially sanctioned anywhere on the island nation. Abstraction, Batet holds, was deemed threatening by government arbiters, who instead were bent on promulgating figuration, narrative, “and the predominance of a sweetened, folkloric view of being Cuban.” Artists working in the veins of geometric abstraction and Abstract Expressionism, it was determined, “were turning their backs on Cuban reality: They were evasive, and furthermore, their art was elitist and favored imperialism.” These artists’ sentiments, essentially, were internationalist rather than nationalist. Disastrously, by silencing aesthetic innovation, Castro the revolutionary-cum-dictator promoted a conception of Cuba that was anything but revolutionary, indeed which was in fact reactionary. Indeed, the Havana of the late 1950s and early 60s was far from a sleepy, colonialist outpost of tiled roofs, colonnades, and fountain-dotted courtyards; it was a bustling modern city in which traditional influences mixed with Art Deco and modernist architecture. Thus, the leaders of a radical political movement wound up cutting off their potentially equally-radical artistic compatriots at their knees.

This shouldn’t surprise. Censors always wind up on the wrong side of history. The Nazis persecuted erstwhile Weimarian avant-gardes who’d dared create what Hitler’s minions termed entartete Kunst (“degenerate art”), yet that very work has become part of the modernist canon. Under Stalin, everything other than socialist realism was quashed — and what turned out to have the longer legs? As recently as the late 1980s in the United States, government, religious, and special-interest factions variously censored artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Sally Mann, and Jock Sturges. Chinese authorities continue to tamp down artistic expression, most infamously in the recent case of Ai Weiwei. And last June, the Russian Ministry of Culture shut down Vasily Slonov’s darkly satirical exhibit “Welcome Sochi! 2014,” at the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art, and fired the show’s curator. But in today’s paradigm of instantaneous global communication, the flow of information cannot be controlled.

Meanwhile, even as explicitly political work continues to draw fire, we in the West seem to have finally gotten over our longstanding preoccupation with prosecuting “obscenity” and have become inured to what was once thought transgressive. This is thanks largely to artists such as Paul McCarthy, who not only found the line where intrigue ends and shock value begins, but have taken that line and, to invoke John Donne, have trampled it “like gold to airy thinness beat.” The idea of the art object as dangerous simply because it is non-representational seems quaint and unthinkable today. No contemporary artist with a straight face would dare suggest anything so preposterous as Piet Mondrian did in his Natural Reality and Abstract Reality: that his ideal of a “purely equilibrated relationship” between horizontal and vertical, if absorbed by the culture-at-large, would result in no less than “a new stage of the human life-force: the new man, a combination of worker, bourgeois, and aristocrat.” Those were fighting words when Mondrian’s treatise was published in 1919, just two years after the Bolshevik Revolution and one year after the armistice that ended the Great War.

After the bloom of De Stijl faded — and later, after Abstract Expressionism gave way to “lyrical abstraction” and, in the eyes of many art historians, swan-dived into the pabulum-pit of decorative blandness — nonobjective painting found itself defanged. Today, a saunter through even the most insipid beach-town “decorator gallery” yields no shortage of hard-edged or gestural compositions, dutifully traversing the color wheel. The once-revolutionary has turned ho-hum. When an abstract painting makes headlines today, it’s because of how much cash it fetched at auction. A case study is Gerhard Richter’s “Abstraktes Bild (809-4),” which in 2012 sold at Sotheby’s for $34.2 million, a record sum for a painting by a living artist. And so we have traveled from an era when abstract works threatened the ruling classes to one in which they have become the trophies of the super-rich. The only way to restore the sexily sinister edge abstraction once embodied would be a tactic no one would wish for: to suppress it once again.

See article here.

Leslie Lew: American Memories in ARTPulse Magazine

October 2, 2013Magazine and Newspaper Reviews

ArtPulseLeslie Lew: American Memories
ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries – Miami
By Margery Gordon
(May 3 – October 25, 2013)

Entering Virginia Miller’s survey of Leslie Lew’s paintings is like traveling back to a simpler time to reunite with childhood companions. These are not just personal memories, but universal icons that have illustrated American life for decades and evoke nostalgia in mature audiences while sparking recognition in younger viewers.

Colorful characters burst from the walls with an infectious exuberance. The superhero trinity of Batman, Spiderman and Superman swoop in to rescue us from the banality of their big-screen counter-parts, reminding us why they continue to be reincarnated for each successive generation, yet lose a little luster in the slick technological translation. “I’m not painting Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, but the original comic book character,” Lew points out.

The stars of classic Sunday funnies also contrast with today’s Saturday morning cartoons primed for product placement. Mickey and Minnie swoon; Nancy and Sluggo banter playfully; Blondie nags Dagwood. “A lot of these cartoons are really disappearing,” says Lew. “My art is all about grabbing stuff from pop culture history.” Some of the comic book covers animate vintage editions, while others are her invented variations on common themes, like the pulp fiction “Dear Abby Romance” entitled My Personal Problem, in which a tearful woman’s thought bubble reveals the relatable refrain, “Everybody has a love story except me!”

Leslie Lew, Personal Problems--Dear Abby, 2012, sculpted oil on canvas, 20” x 16”. Courtesy of ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries.
Leslie Lew, Personal Problems–Dear Abby, 2012, sculpted oil on canvas, 20” x 16”. Courtesy of ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries.

What distinguishes Lew from other artists who use vernacular imagery is her raised paint application, an original technique she coined “sculpted oil,” a fitting description for the dramatic relief she creates by building up and carving into layers of oil paint. The exaggeratedly embossed effect has a tactile quality that gives high definition a hand- wrought twist hard to capture in one-dimensional reproductions.

Lew’s subject matter and vibrant palette share the pop preoccupations of her compatriots in the 1980s East Village art scene, where her friend Jean-Michel Basquiat introduced her to Andy Warhol, who negotiated to trade work but died before the exchange could take place. Her spirited aesthetic also reflects her studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago under Ray Yoshida, who had previously taught members of the city’s Hairy Who, a 1960s exhibiting group with a similarly cartoonish style and playful sensibility.

But her earliest influence was the branding imagery of her father, a well-known advertising director who designed the campaigns for Kellogg’s cereal that she pays tribute to with her Snack Pack of Sugar Smacks, Rice Krispies and Frosted Flakes. He also introduced her to Norman Rockwell, whose sentimental celebration of Americana still resonates with Lew. The sincere tone of her homages resists the cynicism and irony of much appropriation for a cultural commentary without the consumer critique.

She reprises some of her inspirations – like the Barnum’s Animals cracker boxes that she periodically paints and recently replicated in wood, enlarged to 16 x 12 inches complete with the fine print and packaging details on all sides and the trademark string initially attached to hang from Christmas trees. The pigment is thicker on the newer canvases, the grooves deepening with her skill and maturity, yet she retains a youthful verve at age 60 that still infuses her compositions with a bubbly optimism that makes it hard to resist smiling in their presence.

Margery Gordon is a freelance arts journalist and regular contributor to ARTnews, Art+Auction, ArtInfo.com and the official Art Basel Miami Beach Magazine, among other publications. She is a professor at Barry University in Miami.

Leslie Lew, un pasaje de regreso a la infancia

August 18, 2013Magazine and Newspaper Reviews

by Janet Batet
Especial / El Nuevo Herald

La primera reacción que provocan las pinturas de Leslie Lew es la misma tentación que experimentan los niños frente a una torta de cumpleaños: quieres, subrepticiamente, meterle el dedo y arrasar con el merengue en un santiamén, mientras los demás están entretenidos en el jolgorio de la fiesta.

Y sí, no creo que haya mejor calificativo: la pintura de Lew es un cake.

Leslie Lew, Wonder Woman Making a Splash, Sculpted Oil on Canvas, 60 x 36 inches, 2012
Leslie Lew, Wonder Woman Making a Splash, Sculpted Oil on Canvas, 60 x 36 inches, 2012

Los gruesos empastes que como merengue van dibujando temas afines con la alegría de la infancia se sobreponen a una prominente capa de acrílico blanco mezclado con titanio que sirve de base a la obra. A técnica tan singular, la artista la ha bautizado como “sculpted oil”. El resultado son suculentos alto-relieves cargados de colores vivísimos y un manejo del detalle que es tratado sin jerarquías –lo cual es reafirmado por el uso de la perspectiva plana compulsando constantemente nuestra mirada excitada que saltar de un confín al otro del cuadro.

Desde el punto de vista temático, la obra de Leslie Lew (Nueva York, 1953) es un pasaje de regreso a la infancia. Inspirada en la distintiva iconografía del mass culture americano entre 1930 y 1970, Lew se apropia de personajes de Walt Disney, DC Comics, cajas de cereal de Kellogg, las archiconocidas Animal Crackers, supermercados, parques de diversiones, entre otros, para deleitarnos con mundo fantasioso a medio camino entre nostalgia e idilio. En enrevesado pastiche, coexisten en la galería superhéroes como Superman, Superwoman, Spiderman, Dick Tracy, el gato Félix, Blondie, Popeye, la pequeña Lulú y Barney Google, entre otros.

Lew, la mayor de cuatro hermanas, creció entre Nueva Jersey y Chicago. Su padre, Les Hopkins, famoso artista de Chicago que devino el ejecutivo de publicidad de la compañía J. Walter Thompson y fue responsable de muchas de las campañas de publicidad bajo las que creció la generación de los baby boomers como son los casos de Sugar Smacks, Alka Seltzer, Smackin’ Brothers y The Marlboro Man.

“Estoy atrapando recuerdos”, explica Lew. “Algunos de ellos están empezando a desaparecer”.

American Memories es el título de la muestra personal de Leslie Lew, abierta ahora al público en ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Art Galleries, en Coral Gables. La exposición que comprende una vasta selección de obras de la trayectoria de Lew es una oportunidad para acercarnos al universo de esta conocida artista del neo-pop y, a través de su obra, a la revalorización de toda esa época de oro de la cultura americana.

Lew reconoce tres influencias mayores en su obra: Andy Warhol, Peter Max y Norman Rockwell. La influencia del primero puede ser fácilmente retrasada desde las famosas Cajas de Brillo de Warhol a las cajas de cereal de Lew. Sin embargo, la motivación que subyace en estas apropiaciones es enteramente diferente. Para Lew no hay crítica sino nostalgia. No hay tampoco una intención de confrontación entre alta y baja cultura, sino todo lo contrario. En este sentido, es que la artista se siente afín a la figura de Peter Max, ícono por excelencia de los “Comic Sixties” , como se refería el mismo Max al peculiarísimo mundo de coloridas imágenes psicodélicas creado por él y que marcó toda una década. La conexión con Norman Rockwell está dada por el sustrato optimista y edulcorado con el que ambos retratan escenas típicas del estilo de vida americano.

Sin embargo, si en el universo retratado por Rockwell todavía domina el humano y la familia como centro de la propuesta, en el universo de Lew, el elemento humano ha sido sustituido por la imagen publicitaria y el mundo del supermercado. No es casual. Entre 1930 y 1950, conjuntamente con el crecimiento de medios como la radio, el cine y, más tarde, la televisión, el mundo de la publicidad generó un apetito nunca antes visto por el consumo de marcas de productos que devienen necesidad impostergable en todo hogar norteamericano. Durante estas décadas, las tiendas de víveres americanas comienzan a experimentar un giro fundamental: asistimos al nacimiento del “supermarket” y los “supercenters”. Como consecuencia, las tiendas crecen de 5 a 10 veces su tamaño, pasan del servicio al auto-servicio y aparece el “shopping cart” que junto al refrigerador cambiará los hábitos de consumos nacionales.

Leslie Lew, Sugar Smacks, Sculpted Oil on Canvas, 48 x 36 inches, 2007
Leslie Lew, Sugar Smacks, Sculpted Oil on Canvas, 48 x 36 inches, 2007

Las obras de Rockwell parecen intemporales. Justo porque lo que importa es el tiempo y el intercambio social, ya sea en torno a la mesa familiar durante la cena hecha en casa, el viaje de vacaciones o la pesca. Sin embargo, en el universo de Lew, el protagonista ha cambiado. No asistimos a la familia en torno a la cena, sino al producto en sí, suficiente, el cual, por demás, es sólo perceptible a través de su envoltorio: relamidas cajas de atractivos colores que nos prometen la satisfacción instantánea.

Y es que hay algo de agridulce detrás de la apologética nostalgia por estos suculentos cakes que a la vista nos hacen la boca agua, al tacto nos decepcionan y, por sobre todo, nos hacen reflexionar dos veces antes de abrir la próxima caja de cereales.•

Janet Batet es escritora, curadora y crítica de arte. Escribe de arte para diferentes publicaciones, galerías y museos.

‘American Memories’, en ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Art Galleries, 169 Madeira Ave, Coral Gables, Fl, 33134. www.virginiamiller.com

Artistic Stroll by Key Biscayne Magazine

May 17, 2013Magazine and Newspaper Reviews

Published by Key Biscayne Magazine – May 2013 P32

Key Biscayne Magazine
Key Biscayne Magazine

With Coral Gables Gallery Night, gallery owner Virginia Miller helps get people out of the house and into some of the city’s hottest art spaces.

Love art? Then head to Coral Gables on the first Friday of every month for the city’s Gallery Night. During this regular free event, Coral Gables’ galleries open their doors for art lovers walking or taking a free trolley as they explore, meet new and old friends, and get stimulated by new and exciting artwork. The event is the brainchild of Virginia Miller, owner of the ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries, who saw it as a chance to give Coral Gables nightlife a boost and celebrate the area’s thriving art scene. It’s also a great opportunity to make new connections. In fact, Miller knows of at least 3 couples who had their first meetings in her gallery. “The human imagination is limitless, and contemporary art offers us a wonderful opportunity to expand the horizons of our creativity,”
she says; 169 Madeira Ave., Coral Gables; 305.444.4493; VirginiaMiller.com.

California Dreamin’ in Miami By Elisa Turner

August 4, 2012Magazine and Newspaper Reviews
Casper Brindle, Stratum 10, Acrylic, Wood, Resin, 29 x 49 x 2.5 inches, 2010, CBR5
Casper Brindle, Stratum 10, Acrylic, Wood, Resin, 29 x 49 x 2.5 inches, 2010, CBR5

ArtPulse Reviews
California Dreamin’ in Miami
By Elisa Turner

The exhibit “IMPACT: Emotions of Color” at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries in Coral Gables does indeed pack a stunning, colorful impression. Expertly hung and lit, with plenty of room for the 32 paintings by five artists to breathe so that viewers are not bombarded with a surfeit of visual stimuli, it presents the California infused work of Lisa Bartleson, Casper Brindle, Ned Evans, Andy Moses and Suzan Woodruff.

These artists are clearly heir to the ground-breaking accomplishments of California artists showcased in the much discussed recent series of exhibitions collectively titled “Pacific Standard Time: Art in Los Angeles 1945-1980.” This was a major collaboration of more than 60 cultural institutions throughout Southern California. Together, they told the story of how the Los Angeles art scene came of age, eventually to pack its own sizable impression on the art world. These exhibitions took place from October 2011 to April 2012 and were initiated by the Getty Foundation and Getty Research Institute, with programs totaling more than $11 million.

So yes, we all know now, even if we did not quite get it before, that numerous California artists have made history, including those whose names we might not have encountered in standard art books. Veteran Coral Gables dealer Virginia Miller has brought to South Florida a savory taste of the Getty initiated West Coast art extravaganza by presenting work by artists too young to be part of “Pacific Standard Time.”

And what a taste this is. You can practically taste and smell the salt in the air, bask in golden sunlight morphing into lavender sunsets, hear waves pounding, see the excellent cresting surf that has seduced at least two generations of surfer artists in Southern California. Dazzling paintings by Andy Moses, which evoke swirling ocean currents glinting with light, particularly exemplify this link between being born to surf and born to make art. Real California guys, it would seem, can do both with dashing savoir faire, thank you very much.

Born in Los Angeles in 1962, Moses grew up surfing in places such as Santa Monica and Malibu while also hanging out in the artcentric milieu of his father, Ed Moses, now celebrated as one of the pioneering California artists of the postwar generation along with Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, James Turrell and Ed Ruscha.

Many artists active in that time and place are grouped in the “Finish Fetish” and “Light and Space” movements unique to Southern California in the 1960s and 1970s. These movements helped put Los Angeles on the map in the art world, recasting Pop Art and Minimalism with an L.A. love for gleaming cars and motorcycles, impeccably crafted surfboards, and Hollywood’s dream-and-fantasy factory. While manifested in different ways in the work of various artists, generally these movements cultivated a focus on immaculately produced surfaces and conceptual works exploring the process of visual perception. Art of this time and place also reflected a rebellious defiance of Southern California’s military industrial complex. Additionally, a sense of California’s brilliant and quicksilver light suffused many of these artworks, as it does today in the “IMPACT” show at Art Space Virginia Miller Galleries, so clearly in synch with the Los Angeles aesthetic.

Consider, for example, Morphology 601 (2012) by Moses. It’s a riveting abstraction that brings to mind swirling ocean currents as well as a dusky cloudscape blurring gracefully into twilight, yet all the while it is clearly an immaculately smooth surface shimmering with subtle gradations of color. His Akaringa (2009), also in this exhibit, demonstrates the delicious optical illusion of physically shifting color, which he creates by ingeniously working with a concave canvas.

The luminous interchange of light and color also fascinates Suzan Woodruff, although her approach to abstraction yields a greater sense of depth than found in works by Moses. Her paintings, never betraying the expressionist messiness of brushstrokes, often give viewers the bizarre illusion that they are looking through vaporous clouds or gazing down through deepening “layers” of water in the ocean, in which the color of the water becomes darker the further it is from sunlight above sea level. Her Water Dreams (2007) evokes a compelling confluence of light, air and water. At the top of the painting, there are pale silvery green patches, catching the eye with their luxurious opalescence. These contrast with the deeper shades of blue, evoking ocean depths or indigo twilights, converging near the lower portions of the painting.

Casper Brindle, Lisa Bartleson, and Ned Evans convey a keen, if not obsessive, sense of craftsmanship in their richly colored abstractions. This craftsmanship is clearly in line with the “Finish Fetish” aesthetic of earlier California artists, yet these later artists make this sensibility their own. In Stratum 4 (2010), Brindle achieves the impressive trick of making a gleaming rectangle of saturated yellow appear both resolutely flat and somehow evocative of indeterminate depth, as if one could gaze into the mysterious recesses of golden sunlight bathing the concrete wall of a nondescript apartment building or an unearthly calm ocean at midday. A simple maple strip of wood cleanly divides this painting in half, suggesting the horizon line separating sea and sky, a horizon line ever visible to coastal dwellers enamored with sun and surf.

Lisa Bartleson, Sphere XVI, Mixed Media and Resin on Panel, 48 x 48 x 3 inches, 2011, BAR4
Lisa Bartleson, Sphere XVI, Mixed Media and Resin on Panel, 48 x 48 x 3 inches, 2011, BAR4

Bartleson’s works of mixed media and resin on panel are created with innumerable tiny rectangles of plastic positioned to form expanding concentric circles in subtle gradations of color. These rectangles form a roseate shape at the center of her work. Some suggest misty aureoles of light surrounding the moon on a cloudy night or mandalas. Scale XXXX Sphere X (2011), with silvery gray shapes blending into subtle shades of violet and blue, may even bring to mind the overwhelming spirituality conveyed by “The Rose,” a massively legendary work composed mainly of one ton of white and gray paint by San Francisco Beat painter Jay DeFeo, obsessively created during the years 1959 to 1966.

Surely the “Senior Surfer” in this bunch, Evans moved to Venice, California, in the early 1960s and fell in thrall to the area’s twin siren calls to surf and make art. He not only surfed throughout Baja California but worked with abstract painter Billy Al Bengston, whose legacy was one of many recognized by the recent spate of exhibits in “Pacific Standard Time.” At Virginia Miller are numerous examples of Evans’ gently geometric abstract paintings, perhaps recalling vertical shafts of light as they intersect and pierce mammoth cresting waves or forested mountains of the Golden State. The paintings can, at times, seem as if the artist has overworked a familiar composition. Particularly interesting in this selection is the most recent painting on panel with the intriguing shape of an elongated oval. This is Otto (2010). (Three other smaller paintings on panel from 2010
are circular-shaped.) A dynamic variation on earlier work in this exhibit, it thickly but oh-so-gracefully layers muscular striations in fleshy shades of red and orange, almost like a cross-section of sinewy muscles needed to power through both waves and paint.

A gallery exhibit showcasing California imports in the Greater Miami area inevitably leads to this question: Why don’t art venues here collaborate to tell the story of the expanding Miami art scene? Such a collaboration in Miami, says Bill DuPriest of ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries, “is a logical extension of what this is all about.” Given the presence in Miami of the Knight Foundation, a major national foundation with increasing interest in the arts, it would seem that perhaps such a concept is indeed possible and could attract other significant funders. Surely no one can expect the journalism focused Knight Foundation to do all the heavy lifting that the Getty Foundation and the Getty Research Institute were recently able to accomplish with “Pacific Standard Time.”

Then again, Miami may not be quite ready or mature enough for such a bold, collaborative move. It is no doubt typical of southern California’s mighty cultural resources that the superb show “Transcultural Pilgrim: Three Decades of Work by José Bedia” at the Miami Art Museum was organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA. This outstanding exhibit, highlighting perhaps Miami’s best known artist, runs from May 24 through September 2, 2012, at MAM, which is set to reopen in the fall of 2013 in downtown Miami’s Museum Park as the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

When the name and location of the city’s central art museum are still evolving, it looks as though the chance to make history will have to wait.
(March 2 – July 31, 2012)

Elisa Turner teaches at Miami Dade College and is Miami correspondent for ARTnews. She has written for Arte Al Día, Art+Auction, ArtReview and The Miami Herald.