Published October 25, 2003 in South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Earlier this month, yet another new and exciting art gallery devoted to contemporary art opened in the Miami Art District, the epicenter of the Miami art community. Called Placemaker, it is an artist-run commercial gallery that is intended to serve as the fundraising arm of The House, an actual two-story, wood-frame house in the Edgewater section of Miami (near downtown) that was established as an exhibition space by the same circle of young artists in December 2000.
In 2001, the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami mounted the exhibition “The House at MoCA,” which introduced the work of 15 of the artists associated with The House to a wider public. Since then, several of the artists have become prominent figures on the local art scene; they exhibit widely and their work has been purchased both by private collectors and museums.
A large portion of Placemaker’s handsome 5,000-square-foot space is currently devoted to a group show of work by The House/Placemaker artists, most of whom are now in their mid-20s. While their production varies greatly in media and style (some make sculptures and drawings, others photographs and videos), many of the artists seem intent on evoking eloquence, ambiguity and a psychological dimension from everyday facts and artifacts of the contemporary urban environment.
For example, Martin Oppel, one of Placemaker’s directors, has produced a series of sculptures and drawings that focus on the traffic cone. It appears as an erect, luminescent object of wonder in a piece made of resin, and as a dense, defeated object in another made from concrete (the latter tellingly titled Flaccid Cone).
From Daniel Arsham, the gallery’s co-director, come works in which parking garages and banks of escalators seem to offer no escape. A photograph by Natalia Benedetti presents the image of a nondescript modernist apartment building that is turned into a marvelous, expressionistic form by being viewed from below the surface of a swimming pool.
“and I quote,” the exhibition in Placemaker’s main space, features recent paintings by Tao Rey, one of the founders of The House. For several years, Rey has been developing a body of work based on the evocative power (or lack thereof) of everyday language and the written word. His work has tended to take one of two forms: standard-looking street signs that are mounted on actual utility poles and bear messages like “Be aware” and “Know yourself”; and lyrical, often gorgeous paintings that feature calligraphic and graffitiesque writing, as seen here.
Sprawling across the surface of a brightly colored ground of red, orange, green or blue, is a single phrase “Hypothetically speaking,” “Communication is the key,” “in other words,” and others — which in isolation is devoid of meaning. The painting’s surfaces have an overlay of glass spheres, a somewhat shiny spray-on coating apparently used on the street to make painted lines and other traffic demarcations reflective. While the paintings look great during the daytime, at night they must assume a wonderful luster.
The Placemaker Gallery is a welcome addition to the Miami Design District. Given the high quality and intelligence of its inaugural presentations, there can be little doubt that it will quickly make an important place for itself in the city’s flourishing contemporary art scene.