There is no more prime arts-world real estate in town than the corner of Meridian Avenue and Lincoln Road on South Beach, the main exhibition space and studios of ArtCenter/South Florida. The constant pedestrian traffic is a godsend for any art institution, and the windows offer inviting glimpses of the artwork and life inside.
There may not be a better sculpture to tempt the stroller than Robin Griffiths’ big, noisy By Hand, which is also the name of the exhibit now at ArtCenter. A mixed-media contraption with technical bells and whistles and electrical elements, it’s a fun, trippy interactive sculpture from an underrated artist. Stick your hand in a sort of metal glove, and the whole machine shakes, sounds off and lights up. It should come as no surprise that Griffiths is a draftsman and a mathematician as well as a sculptor.
He is one of eight artists in the show curated by Tom Virgin, who himself specializes in woodcut prints. Virgin’s detailed, hands-on process inspired him to pick artists whose works, while vastly diverse, all reveal the hand of the show’s title.
Also visible from the street is a big wall sculpture made of rusting brown mufflers and colored tape in psychedelic green, blue and orange by Evan Robarts. Subtly woven among these works are small, lovely pieces by Hugo Moro, the only current ArtCenter studio resident in the show. Inspired by a trip to Port-au-Prince and titled Power & Light, they incorporate elaborately decorated, porcelain light-switch coverings — near-devotional offerings in a place where electricity remains a luxury.
The tone changes in the middle of the space with predominantly white works by two women. Jenny Brillhart, an ArtCenter alum, has pieced together collages in which the process is central to the result. A canvas overlay on a found frame called Layers of 71st Street particularly punctuates that idea.
Next to that are two delicate paper works manipulated with tiny cut marks and perforations by Rosemarie Chiarlone. The series, Silhouette, is a collaboration with poet Susan Weiner and contains text, but it can be read or viewed as calligraphy, intelligible or not — your choice.
The back wall is covered in what almost feels like a counterweight to the brash Griffiths piece. Lea Nickless has cut up painted paper and pinned the strips together in a sculpture that seems to float or flutter in the wind.
On the adjacent wall are strangely compelling collages by Lake Worth-based Victoria Skinner that require close attention. An array of these disc-shaped pieces, each 5 1/2 inches in diameter, are like “Petri dishes” says curator Virgin, out of which eyes, visages and creatures emerge.
Virgin has displayed some of his aluminum cutouts and wood cuts, including the superb 13 Views of Mount Hood: From I-94 (mirror), which is just that, a view of the Oregon mountain from a rearview mirror.
By Hand not only connotes a physical process, but also the way we have transmitted language throughout the ages. Virgin wanted to shed light on these artists and on their particular methods and stories.
That makes it a good show to start a new era at the ArtCenter, which has been through some turbulent — and sometimes staid — years, with lots of staff turnover. The new, Spanish-born executive director, Maria Del Valle, who at one time ran the Spanish Cultural Center of Miami, has been joined by a new artistic director, Susan Caraballo, who formerly was in charge of the innovative Little Havana performance space PS 742.
Caraballo, who helped curate and mount the current show, explains that the ArtCenter wants to open up and shed new light on the space. The goal is to expand into multi-disciplinary programming including video, performance and experimental music. Del Valle says she wants to include more guest curators and artists from outside Miami to strengthen the artistic community.
One of their initiatives is the Surreal Saturday Studio Crawl, which takes place on the first Saturday of the month. And on Sept. 24 the ArtCenter will inaugurate Project 924, a “happening” type of event in its space at 924 Lincoln Rd., Caraballo says.
Del Valle knows the studio residency program needs some shaking up as well. It was set up to give artists discounted studio space for two years, but many were staying much longer. Del Valle says she wants to mix in residencies as short as three months to keep energy flowing. The center will also be working more closely with neighboring institutions such as the Bass Museum of Art, she says, with the hope of firmly re-establishing South Beach as an arts destination.
“We want to open up to the arts community, bring people back in with exciting programming,” says Del Valle.
It’s ambitious stuff from the new team, but much-needed for a center that was once about the only artistic engine in town.