|No Mere Knockoff|
|Written by Anne Tschida - BT Arts Editor|
Despite its name, artist-run space Guccivuitton is offering a uniquely original vision of Miami
Add one more significant entry to the list of local artist-run art spaces. Granted, this is still a very small community -- we could use many more -- but Guccivuitton, located on NE 2nd Avenue just south of El Portal, is helping make Miami a more exciting art center, something that is clear from its first two exhibits.
Right off the bat, the initial question should be the name. It’s a take on a number of Miami-centric elements that inspired artists Loriel Beltran, Domingo Castillo, and Aramis Gutierrez to open the gallery.
Miami is a hybrid city, one that loves bling and imitation, suggests Gutierrez. For example, “in our area of Little Haiti, there is a refugee nature, a scavenger nature, where there are all these imitation products,” like fake Gucci bags out for sale, he says. And then there is the real Louis Vuitton, the glamorous brand -- oh, so Miami -- that is moving into the Design District, just as artists are moving out.
But, he adds, “that’s the nature of our city, and a natural process.” The result is a “hybridization of culture” that makes Miami such a vibrant place, one Gutierrez says is not always expressed in the art we see around town.
The trio decided to open its own gallery to reflect the “colloquial aesthetics” of such a diverse, hybrid place. The artists themselves, while friends, highlight another type of diversity: Gutierrez is known for his huge, narrative, painted canvases, while Beltran has mostly exhibited sculpture, and Castillo makes more ephemeral, performance-based works.
They picked out the storefront space in northern Little Haiti, and in April unveiled an exhibit that succinctly mirrored their mission. It was a solo show from a collaborative called ART404 (whose art truly is on the outer edge), dealing with imitation and branding.
For the show, ART404 launched a T-shirt line that “is a concept fashion and lifestyle brand based on blatant copyright infringement, identity theft, and love of consumer culture.” One of the shirts they featured was a blend of “Hello Kitty/Murakami/Britto/Disney/Paul Frank Tote Bag.” Pretty funny and cutting stuff.
Following in that vein, the group re-enacted a work, on a computer, in which they collaborated with the hacker group Anonymous2 to take down the Websites of such art world bigwigs as the Gagosian Gallery and David Zwirner Gallery. The piece was titled Anonymous vs. Gagosian.
While not Miami-based artists, the duo that comprises ART404 “both lived in Miami [and] gleaned from Miami the scavenger mentality -- how to rebrand things and make them their own,” explains Gutierrez.
For the second exhibit, which opened in late June, the tone was very different. It stayed true to what Guccivuitton wants to highlight, although that thread could initially be hard to follow. Titled “Florida Landscape Paintings,” the show featured figurative paintings from contemporary artists and also a sampling from the group of artists known as the Florida Highwaymen.
The latter were African American, self-taught artists -- sometimes called “outsider” artists -- who painted Florida landscapes during the segregated decades of the mid-20th Century. They became famous for selling their brightly colored canvases out of the backs of their cars, along the roadsides of rural Florida (hence the name Highwaymen).
According to Gutierrez, this outsider perspective, even from locals, is part of what makes Florida art unique, and why Guccivuitton conceived of this exhibit. The Florida landscape has been idealized, romanticized, and even demonized in painting since the days of European settlement. There have been palm-tree-laden beach scenes, waves, seagulls, and sun, but also depictions of the peninsula as a flat, swampy wasteland, worthy only of draining.
As most of us know, it is, in fact, a far more complex combination of these things -- magnificent beauty and darker, murkier scenarios. Unlike the dramatic vistas of the Rocky Mountains, says Gutierrez, he likes that the Florida landscape has a subversive quality, like the art he wants to expose: “It’s harsh, really, filled with bugs and heat and swamps.”
In the show, the Highwaymen works appear to be channeling the tropical paradise that others believed Florida to be. There are vibrant recreations of flaming-orange trees, those royal poincianas; swirling clouds above whitecapped waves and swaying palms; a quiet swamp with wading egrets. They can seem both simple and invigorating, like the painting from Mary Ann Carroll. Considered the only woman among the Highwaymen, she supported herself and seven children by selling works like these, often for as little as $25.
But the contemporary works from the likes of Daniel Newman, Juan Carballo, and Jason Hedges are equally compelling. The two paintings from Scott Armetta, for instance, are outstanding. Both are recognizable as landscapes, but with a twist -- subtle and lovely, but edgy as well. One piece is a sparse, smoke-filled view of burnt trees; the other, a very small, dense, fiery landscape surrounded by a heavy black frame. Armetta is a good example of how contemporary painters can work within a classic form that may seem outdated, yet make it beautifully relevant.
Some works in the exhibit play with the notion of Florida as a romanticized playground, while still others offer more abstract visions of the ground around us.
These individual expressions of the Florida we live in are what Gutierrez says Guccivuitton aims to promote. It goes back to the idea of Miami as a refugee state, where immigrants from all over soak up the unique, transient nature of the place, where people reinvent themselves.
In contrast to art centers like New York and Los Angeles, with their myriad galleries and art schools, “people here don’t have to look over their shoulder,” says Gutierrez, “to see what others are doing. I think there’s more room for individual expression You can work on yourself.” These are the “potent and valuable voices” the gallery would like to showcase.
On the opening night of “Florida Landscape Paintings,” who knows what was heard? The gallery was packed to the gills. But the art crowd was also milling about the street, interacting with the lively scene on NE 2nd Avenue. It was uniquely Miami -- and a reminder that Guccivuitton is not all about imitation.
Volume 13, Issue 2, April 2015
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