A PLACE FOR ART THAT'S EXPERIENCED RATHER THAN BOUGHT
HELEN L. KOHEN Herald Art Critic
Ground Level, the newest art place to sprout in a storefront on Lincoln Road, is also the latest project of the South Florida Art Center.
A gallery and a performance site that will play host to programs from poetry readings to New Music events, the new alternative space marks the center's official entry into
the superactive world of experimental art, a showplace for art forms that audiences support rather than buy.
The young professionals programming the space feel part of an evolving activity.
"We plan to make Ground Level a place where people can experience new art, the art that is making history," says Jenni Person, a part-time program staffer at the
center and its director of performance art. "What we present will be recorded as part of a great movement."
That it's been a movement with limited local exposure is why the space has been fired up before such establishment things as a detailed program schedule and a solid
ongoing funding base are in place. "This is our shakedown period," says SFAC Executive Director Pat Jones, who envisions annual summer shows -- "reminiscent of
garden objects, beach towels, sand castles and lifeguards."
The kickoff presentation earlier this month was a visual arts exhibition (South Florida Collective II), performances involving South Florida's poets, dancers, musicians and
performance artists, and an open forum. It taught Person and ceramic artist James Herring, her counterpart in the visual arts, one thing: You can't open an exhibition and
inaugurate a series of performances in the same space on the same night. "There was too much going on," says Herring, who envisions bleachers to hold an indoor
audience of 65 to 100.
The gallery/performance space easily accommodates the 13 works by 10 area artists now hanging there. Organized by Roly Chang and juried by Olga Garay and Cesar Trasobares, the exhibition brings together new names (Clive King, for example, the new chair of the visual arts department at
Florida International University), fairly new names (Rowena Luna, Silvia Espinosa, William Villanueva), and familiar names (Mario Algaze, Jens Diercks, Claire Garrett,
Robert Calvo, Sherri Tan, Betty Fleisher).
While there is no breaking history here (some of the work is literally tired), it is always interesting to see what happens to an artist's work when the magic of Florida sets
That magic has opened up and loosened the graphite drawings of King, a Welshman who, under the spell of the state's lushness and light, has turned away from limning
bony, skeletal forms in minutely marked voids to creating roomy spaces for his own
vision of the tropics.
There's interest, too, in Espinosa's abstract paintings, done with oil and wax on shaped pieces of wood, which escape looking overly decorative by keeping up the
inevitable play between smoothness and grit.
And though her punch lines are barely worth the elaborate setups, Luna's photographic interpretation of the myth of feminine equality in the corporate workplace (an equal
Roly Chang AND Art
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chance to become a plastic person) adds irony.
Clearly, the role the gallery will play in Ground Level projects needs the same kind of vision the presenters are refining for what else will happen there. Jones, who
expects it will become a place where art activities are always happening, talks about partnering with other alternative spaces across the country in both organizing events
to travel the performance art network and providing a venue for those launched elsewhere. Person and Herring are eager to plug into such events as the Subtropics
festival and the Miami International Book Fair, to do more than one kind of presentation around themes or issues, to combine art forms with activism and culturalism.
Ground Level, Person says, is about creating an arts community and creating a forum: "People must feel that this a place where they can be stimulated and embraced.
Above all, I hope it will become a place where work will grow."
South Florida Collective II will be on view through May at Ground Level, 922 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.