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Amy Sarkisian, sculptures from Toy Skull Reconstruction: Dark Series, 2000-2001, in Scream at the Moore Space, Miami

The crowd at Come as You Are in Miamis Design District

Dustin Orlando and his work, in Come as You Are

Kol Solthon and N.B. Dash at the opening of their show, Miami 60 Days

Miami 60 Days, installation view

N.B. Dash

Kol Solthon
Y1 Skeletons

Come as You Are
by Nicole Davis

The art scene in Miami has been relatively quiet recently, but in early April, the citys celebrated Design District revived itself with several interesting exhibitions -- and it looks as though the momentum will hold at least through the start of summer.

The Moore Space, the nonprofit launched in 2001 by Miami activist collectors Rosa de la Cruz and Craig Robins, opened with the Scream show organized by the Anton Kern Gallery in New York [see New York Horticulture, Jan. 28, 2004]. The subtitle, 10 artists, 10 writers, 10 scary movies, says more or less all you need to know about the dimensions of the show, which epitomizes the Modern Gothic, as critic Jerry Saltz has called it.

Miami has its own claim to the retro-gothic trend -- Frederic Snitzer Gallery represents Hernan Bas and Naomi Fisher, two stalwart new gothics. The Scream curators attribute the trend to a return of the repressed, as young artists revisit the expressions that were available to them as teenagers. A brand of Pop that represents a way to cope with reality through fantasy, takes on a macabre twist when the horrors of reality assert their aggressive force.

Jens Hoffmann, one of the 10 writers penned a pithy essay on the work of one of the exhibited artists, Sue De Beer, that can basically apply to everyone involved. De Beer lets her characters loose, Hoffmann writes, allowing them what most of them dream about: to take revenge for losing their innocence and having to face a complex world no one prepared them for.

Revenge has many faces and each of the ten artists presented a unique version. In her Toy Skull Reconstruction: Dark Series, 2000-2001, the Los Angeles artist Amy Sarkisian used forensic face-reconstructing techniques to build new faces onto several plastic skulls. The result is both disturbing and comical. Many of the works in Scream traverse this fine line between darkness and laughter. Despite the morbid subjects, the link to horror movies -- a form of entertainment, after all -- dilutes the shock content. The artworks are staged, and fear is merely a prop.

Down the block was yet another group exhibition, this one put on in a vacant Design District storefront (provided by Craig Robins). Titled Come as You Are, the show was an ad-hoc concoction by local artists in honor of the ten-year anniversary of Kurt Cobains suicide. It was a party more than anything else.

The most apt gesture in Come as You Are was by Naomi Fisher and Hernan Bas, who put up innocent photos of themselves from grade school. Coupled with a looming halo of spray-paint-stenciled lines taken from Cobains suicide note, the two childhood portraits made an eerily resonant image of tragedy and lost innocence. The grunge effect was also furthered by artist Dustin Orlando, who defiantly completed his wall piece at the opening. Other artists made works using Nirvana songs as inspiration, as in Rape Me by Luis Ruiz. From this corner, Grunge is yet another cultural phase embodied by a reality-coping mechanism that simply doesnt work.

A third exhibition, sited by artists N.B. Dash and Kol Solthon in a two-story space on NE 39ths Street, is called Miami 60 Days -- the amount of time that they were lent the space by Robins. The show combined site-specific sculptures with videotapes and works on paper that the two artists made while traveling through Mexico several months earlier. Their works are simple and streamlined, but upon closer inspection dauntingly complex.

One striking work is Dashs Spider Hole (2003), a three-minute video of cave walls that the artists found outside Oaxaca. At first glance, the camera seems to have been trained on little more than gaping black holes descending into a rocky surface. But then the delicate intricacy of an abandoned spiders web clinging to the opening of the holes begins to challenge the nihilistic power of the dark voids.

The spider uses its entire body to create in the face of nothingness a web that simultaneously exemplifies beauty and the necessity of survival. Miami 60 Days also includes Dashs panel drawings, which have the same graceful delicacy of the spider webs, though on quite a larger scale. These works cover an entire wall of the exhibition space, which was appropriately painted a similarly dark and void-like shade of gray.

Many of Solthons works are centered somehow around the body: how it should be clothed, what it can create, and the tools it needs for both creation and survival. One of his sculptures, Y1 Skeletons (2004) is a stack of three 8 x 8 ft. wood panels, the surfaces of which carry on them a skeletal marking of a physical movement series conducted daily by the artist. The gray and white images are strikingly beautiful, but most of them are hidden to enforce the idea that the stack has the potential to get higher and higher.

Both Dash and Solthon make works that are refreshingly authentic. Their works are real -- not some kind of fad or style borrowed from books and movies or embedded in pastiche or nostalgia. The conclusion is to create from an actual place -- to come as you are.

NICOLE DAVIS is a writer and filmmaker living in Miami..