On a recent Saturday evening, the art galleries of Miami's Design District inaugurated the new season with a set of "fall back into art" openings. After a stagnant summer, the energy has suddenly returned, a transformation that is especially evident at group shows, which unsurprisingly generate lots of festivity and the largest crowds.
At the Moore Space is "Surveillance," an intimidating exhibition of works dealing with voyeurism and social control. As soon as the elevator doors open onto the loft gallery, visitors are visually assaulted by Toa Rey's electric orange street sign reading "Be Aware."
Even the bathrooms lose their privacy, thanks to security monitors installed by artist Josefina Posch that air prerecorded footage of people using the facilities. I steered clear of the toilets, even though it seems obvious that this particular surveillance is a fiction -- you never know!
Uncertainty and paranoia are central to contemporary notions of surveillance, and the artists here all play with ambiguity by disguising their works as familiar items of everyday life, such as Toa's street sign. A photograph by Cooper, showing a man clutching his bleeding arm, could be photojournalism as easily as art, and Javier Tellez's video installation presents a mock funeral in Venezuela, titled "El Leon de Caracas," in which children play as stern pallbearers of a very regal stuffed lion.
On the other end of the block at Casas Riegner, laughter issues from the back gallery, where Maria Fernanda Cordosa's video piece Chicken Face, Fish Face, Bat Face is installed. The three-part projection includes footage of live roosters strutting and confronting the camera with their comical beaks, bead-like eyes and grotesque flapping combs; images of puckering fish eerily obscured by the water; and a series of frightening images of bats floating in a black void, accompanied on the soundtrack by stentorian bat screeching.
In the gallery's main space, the most striking work is Vertebrae by Geysell Capetillo, a white ceramic sculpture suspended from the ceiling that resembles a ladder constructed of bones.
At Kevin Bruk Gallery are two shows of iconic portraits -- "Digital Realism" by Pablo Tamayo and "The Void" by Jesse Bransford. Tamayo is meticulous and obsessive, using a computer to reproduce images of people's faces on small discs of Plexiglass in shades of black, white and gray enamel, a kind of modern-day Pointillism. Three of the four works depict the artist's mother, while the fourth is a portrait of Amedeo Modigliani -- made from over 90,000 painted pin heads. When asked how he chose his subjects, Tamayo said simply that he was looking for striking images.
As for Jesse Bransford, he presents an array of 21 individual portraits drawn from the ranks of science and science fiction, including Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble as well as Frank Herbert, the author of Dune. Bransford clearly derives inspiration from these figures.
Bransford's three large-scale works in the show are neat, diagrammatic compositions that mix science and fantasy. Rendered in acrylic on paper, they include astronomy diagrams and outlined shapes of astronauts and the Starship Enterprise. Bransford is fascinated by science and its resulting pop-subcultures and cult groups, and his pictorial vocabulary is at once oddly familiar and yet blatantly arcane.
At Rocket Projects, which only opened its doors in June, the main attraction is Doug Meyer's homage to an imaginary 1980s disco nightclub called BOD, or Broadway on Duane. The dark, mazelike installation includes a disco soundtrack, ambient scents of alcohol and amyl nitrate and doll-sized dioramas of scenes from the imaginary club. In the back of the gallery is an outdoor space that could easily be an extension of Meyer's piece, complete with its own bar, music and crude but unused dance floor.
Meyer himself was on hand at the opening, of course, dressed in the same flamboyant colors donned by the little dolls in his installation. A Louisville native, Meyer worked with Metro Pictures and Holly Solomon in New York in the 1970s and '80s before settling in Miami. Meyer's BOD project has an extensive website, too.
Also on view at Rocket is an installation by Dimitry Said Chamy called In Defiance of Gravity and Other Matters.
Last but not least is Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, which is showcasing hand-carved wooden sculptures by Kate Moran and painted steel sculptures by Joe Walters. Both artists make works that are permeated with stillness and natural beauty.
Moran's carvings -- Flock, a group of small lambs, and Goings, rows of dislocated wooden limbs like one might find in a doll-maker's workshop -- are precious and isolated, almost vulnerable. Mrs. Davis, a very small wooden doll placed on a pedestal, is frightening despite its tiny size -- it has something of a voodoo fetish's power. All of Moran's pieces look as though they are from a different era, made by someone who has perhaps gone mad.
Walters' painted steel sculptures are like sentimental shrines to the natural world. Impressively beautiful, his intricately composed, relief-like works replicate the forms of leaves, birds, nuts and insects. Bird Notations covers one entire wall with life-sized sparrow replicas perched in various positions.
Walter's works on paper, such as the "Marsh Landscape Series," resemble old photographs, and evoke the presence of another era like Moran's pieces do. The landscape images are stylistically similar to Japanese woodcuts. Overall, his works suggest a deep and meditative experience with nature.
NICOLE DAVIS is a writer and filmmaker living in Miami.