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A wine-stain painting by Jason Hedges at Placemaker Gallery

Still from Mika Rottenburg's The Tropical Breeze Project

Another still from Mika Rottenburg's The Tropical Breeze Project

The House

Joshua Levine, Michael Loveland and Raymond Saa at Rocket Projects

One of Lin Lougheed's decorated houses in Wynwood
Miami Heat
by Nicole Davis

The new SoHo gallery Guild & Greyshkul came down to Miami last month for an art exchange with Miami's Placemaker Gallery on North Miami Avenue. The directors of both galleries -- Martin Oppel and Daniel Arsham of Placemaker and Anya Kielar and Johannes VanDerBeek of Guild & Greyshkul -- are all alums of Cooper Union in New York. Their galleries also share a similar outlook, focusing on contemporary work by young artists. In May, Placemaker is organizing a show at Guild & Greyshkul, but in the meantime, the story is Miami.

It was a fragrant event, to say the least. Miami artist Jason Hedges presented Deeply Rooted Distilled Flower Fungus Seedpod Pollen, an installation inspired by food and the process of cooking. On hand were several of his untitled canvases made with acrylic and vanilla beans, works that had us all half-delirious from the scent. The artist himself was present at the opening, but rather than standing around chatting he was cooking mushrooms and serving up grappa to the patrons. The smell was divine. Or strong, anyway.

Meanwhile, the gallery is also filled with a virtually uncurated sampling of sculpture, works on paper, photography and video from Guild & Greyshkul artists. The gang is to be complimented for driving the works all the way down to Miami themselves, but the bazaar-like installation was disappointing.

One standout was a video by Mika Rottenberg titled The Tropical Breeze Project 2003. Currently a Columbia U. MFA student, Rottenberg sets up highly specific scenarios involving intriguing characters, who are played by actors she seeks out on the internet. She seems rather fond of the perverse, amplified by the frequent tight shots of certain repulsive bodily details.

Another work that held its own was a small but dignified triptych delicately assembled in pencil and gold leaf on paper by John Bianchi. As it happens, Bianchi is also involved in an art collective called SALT, which is currently showing at one of Miami's more interesting collaborative art spaces, "The House," which is where Placemaker directors Arsham and Oppel actually live (along with artists Toa Rey and Bhakti Baxter). Don't worry, it's a tropical thing.

The SALT show at the House is called "Kiss me quick before I change my mind." The title is inspired by the brunfelsia latifolia, a delicate flower that must be pollinated within a brief period of three days, during which time it turns from deep purple to white, indicating it is no longer fertile. The show, which actually opened in December during Art Basel Miami Beach, was meant to "reflect the exhilaration and decay of fairs." When Art Basel rolled into town, it offered great promise and celebration, but when it was gone the local art scene regressed into its own state of decay.

"Kiss me quick" is slated to close this spring, when the House is demolished to make way for new luxury developments. Several years ago, when the House was launched, the neighborhood was considered seedy and rundown. Now the entire block has been bought and is slated to be demolished in order to make way for luxury loft buildings. The House's next-door neighbors, the local artists Naomi Fisher and Hernan Bas, have already been evacuated from their home, which now sits in creepy vacancy. The entire block is reminiscent of a ghost town.

The SALT exhibition is filled with such physical metaphors. The floor of the exhibition space is lined with rock salt, a reference to the group's name as well as the show's theme. In another room is an installation of world-fair replicas and a video of the lunar landing that provide rather empty symbols of modern progress. Palpable, everyday progress, of course, is unleashing itself in the artists' very neighborhood.

The topic of gentrification and urban development has become a local obsession, in both the media and art galleries. The new exhibition at Rocket Projects focuses on the neighborhood in which it resides, which the local real estate industry has dubbed Wynwood. Three artists -- Joshua Levine, Michael Loveland and Raymond Saa -- collaborated to recreate and celebrate the atmosphere of the predominately Haitian and Latin neighborhood, complete with a chicken coop and fruit stand.

The artists even decorated a couple of homes in the area that are owned by Lin Lougheed, an art collector from Washington, D.C. Perhaps the gesture can serve as an olive branch from the agents of destruction. Artists don't mean to dismantle neighborhoods. They just can't help themselves.

NICOLE DAVIS lives in Miami.