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Carlos Betancourt leads a group show of Miami-based artists with photo-based art festooned by his own experiences.

Steven Biller 0 Comments

Magazine editors seldom receive, no less accept, invitations to be a guest curator — especially when the exhibition in question inaugurates a freshly refurbished, 6,000-square-foot space that includes seven salons and a spacious sculpture courtyard at the corner of El Paseo and Highway 74.

So with full disclosure, I accepted Melissa Morgan Fine Art’s invitation to produce Miami: The Edge of a Nation. What’s happening there (my former home) — especially with the tailwind of Art Basel Miami Beach — reminds me of the ascent of the Los Angeles contemporary scene during the past 10 years.

The show at Melissa Morgan includes photo-based art (Carlos Betancourt), installation art (Charo Oquet), mixed-media works (Ivan Toth DePeña), painting (Christian Duran, Claudia Scalise, and Liliam Cuenca), and sculpture (Ralph Provisero).

Betancourt — whose performance-to-photography works captivate collectors and museum curators — is also part of Photoshopping and More: MOLAA Collects Photo-Based Art, a group show ending Jan. 30 at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.

Named by People magazine as one of America’s 50 most beautiful people, Betancourt personifies the Miami experience: He is the son of exiled Cuban parents and was born and raised in Puerto Rico. His work audaciously intervenes in human activity and natural landscapes, infusing symbols and interpretations of different belief systems in Caribbean cultures. His art begins in the performance realm — decorating his body (or others’) and choreographing a scene — and ends as a giant, colorful photographic document, such as The Hedge, created in conjunction with Art Basel Miami Beach 2007, and The (Last) Supper, created for the 2008 event.

Betancourt’s large-format vinyls, photographs, and photo performances layer and juxtapose imagery based on personal experiences and extensive travel. He “intervenes” in human activity and manipulated landscapes. His work appears in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and many other museum collections.

Performance, photography, and installation also factor into Oquet’s work.

“By turning plastic discards of our consumer society into sacred objects, my work brings forth narratives of process, excess, consumption, and redemption,” she says. “I focus during scavenger hunts for materials on the history and emotion behind cheap and disposable utensils linked to gender, racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities. From the inclusiveness of Afro-Caribbean traditions, I borrow the need to transfigure these objects through appropriation and dislocation.”

A native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Oquet creates narrative environments that exude colorful fun and ritual experiences, many of which encourage participation.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the group is DePeña, who parlays his landscape photography and video works into Collisions and Fragments: The Study of File Corruption, Failure and other Self-Imposed Freedoms, a series of light-jet photographic prints mounted on acrylic, as well as mixed media pieces that integrate wood, pencil, graphite, and enamel. His work deals with noise, static, distortion, and time.

Duran’s paintings — most of which he executes on paper — tend to be more introspective. “I want to uncover truths and poetics about that which exists beneath the skin, within the mind, and in nature,” he says. “Visually, my work resembles a network of tree limbs and roots, veins and arteries, incorporated with the human anatomy and animal forms. These images are revealed as connected, interactive, and interchangeable.

“In essence,” he continues, “my paintings are metaphorical visions blurring the boundaries between chaos and order, realism and spirituality — observed in life, death, and consciousness.”

Scalise, a Los Angeles native who earned her MFA at University of Miami, brings intimate representational paintings on wood panels. The Cuban-born Cuenca offers the perfect foil with her abstract canvases and works on paper.

Provisero brings a modernist sculptural dimension to the exhibition. Art critic Peter Schjeldahl selected Provisero’s Maleducati to show at Chicago’s Navy Pier Walk in 2005. About a year later, Provisero received the Atlantic Center for the Arts/Joan Mitchell Foundation Scholarship for Visual Artists.

Information: Miami: The Edge of a Nation runs Jan. 16 through Feb. 14 at Melissa Morgan Fine Art, 73040 El Paseo, Palm Desert; (760) 341-1056,


Keith Haring at Palm Springs Art Museum
The excellent installation Against All Odds: Keith Haring in the Rubell Family Collection closes on Jan 19. Miami collectors Don and Mera Rubell, among the world’s top contemporary collectors, befriended the late street artist in 1979 and loaned a selection of poignant and intimate works on paper to this exhibition. (

Peter D. Gerakaris at Heather James Fine Art
Currently finishing his MFA at Hunter College in New York, Peter Gerakaris has already exhibited in Beijing, London, and Australia. His paintings, he says, “attempt to stimulate the viewer to contemplate their personal relationship with the natural world, and on a larger scale, the relationship of human culture with the natural world.” (

Joe Goode at Imago Galleries
L.A.-based Joe Goode — selected for the landmark Pasadena Museum show New Paintings of Common Objects that also featured Ed Ruscha, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol and is widely considered the first Pop art survey — has enjoyed the city’s resurgent “Cool School.” The show closes on Jan. 13. (

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