Models, martinis, mingling and…art

The recondite, often high-brow world of contemporary art seems to float along cryptic avenues, where aspiring artists, glowing industry heads and well-versed afficionados and connoisseurs, or their hip intellectual friends, flock to openings every week to indulge in free wine and stare reflectively at creative efforts that apparently want to convey some sort of meaning to the public. Ultimately though, art should reach out to as many people as possible and communicate something evocative and significant to them.

GenArt, a national arts organization that supports, promotes and showcases emerging talent all over the U.S., along with sponsor Chrysler, initiated their PT Studios event last Friday at the Ice Palace in downtown Miami, the first in a 7-month series of 60 events that will showcase 84 local, up-and-coming visual artists, indie short filmmakers, musicians, DJs and fashion designers-all of which are chosen by independent curators and an advisory board that reviews submissions in six markets, including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin and Miami. The event will continue through March 2003 and plans to attain about 25,000 people.

“For too long, art has remained in this elite, exclusive circle,” explained the event’s visual arts curator, Amanda Richman, from New York. “Art in general opens its doors to a few, small groups of people, but it should be able to communicate to as many people as possible even if they don’t understand right off the bat what the artists are trying to do.”

Chrysler donated over $1 million for all of the GenArt events and Richman is glad to see a corporation supporting the arts, she said. An approximate 500-800 people showed up for the launch, which seems to want to assemble disparate crowds together by amassing different creative communities. Gigi Ganatra, head of GenArt Miami, noted: “We cross-promote art, along with fashion, film and music, and this can gather different organizations within the community that might not have worked together in the past.”

“Have you ever seen this many people at an art opening?” added Richman. “There’s an energy here that you don’t find in a stale art environment.”

The event opened with short movies by local indie filmmakers Harriette Yahr, Brian Bayerl and Jesus Rodriguez, then the local band, Hashbrown, played a funky set. However, throughout the 10,000 square foot space, only one corner bestowed place to display the featured visual art, while the rest of the area resembled more a swanky, modish ultra-lounge where SoBe’s fashionable beautiful people congregated to be seen and heard. As DJ Jody McDonald spun deep house and hip hop, goers migrated to and from the neon-lit bars, ordering Apple Martinis or Heinekens, then sprawled in white leather couches or socialized in colorful, plush seats, sipping Cosmopolitans and passing out business cards, sometimes getting up to catch a glimpse of the art or watching the glistening, new PT Cruiser on view.

The fashion show showcased designs by Ash Rana, Jennifer Block for Vixen XL5 and Dulce de Leche. Nonetheless, Miguel Ovalli, a fashion designer attending the show, dressed in a spacey navy outfit with a massive chain swinging from his neck, was not impressed.

“The designers could have pushed it a lot further,” he said. “They need to be more innovative. I want to be shocked, I want to see something new. I mean, it’s the 21st Century, we gotta start taking it beyond.”

Artist Frances Trombly became aggravated because many people, such as a waitress carrying a gigantic plate of beef skewers to serve the guests, kept stepping on one of her works, “I have nothing to say”-white fiber weavings spread across the floor and crunched up like thrown-away love letters. A few other people mistook an oversize table with a photo frame on top for, perhaps, a decorative counter, aloofly placing their beers and flyers on it, as GenArt staff had to then inform them that the piece was an artistic work in the exhibition.

Ali Prosch, a young photographer and video artist currently studying at the New World School of the Arts College in Miami, was among the three visual artists in the show. Her laminated color prints delve into the concepts of human greeting and closeness within social environments, all enriched with red-orange hues that create a strong sense of warmth in her pictures. “People Piles” presents blurred images of people laying on top of each other in a neutral social gathering. Her “People Ahhh!” shows the artist in a red dress-dark tones in the background-and she has an exclaimed, bolstered expression on her face. “Stranger Contact” is a close shot of different people mounded near each other, all with hazy faces, and one notices their strange imminence, as two arms touch nonchalantly or a guy’s elbow brushes against a red dress.

“It’s about anxiety and how physical interaction in social environments creates barriers in relationships between people,” said Prosch. “I’m really interested in the cheek kiss, the handshake, the booty shaking, the touching of strangers. Everyone becomes more comfortable after touching.”

Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, an installation artist and photographer, has moved between Cuba, L.A. and Miami, and likes to explore relationships with family, often juxtaposing his background with a typical 1950s American family in digitally manipulated photographs. He likes investigating culture, he said, putting together family scenarios to discover one’s identity and the influences of one’s upbringing. His “Untitled (barbecues),” a lambda digital print, shows separate families-a Hispanic one roasting a large pig and an American one cooking hot dogs and burgers-that seem to become ensnared together even though they come from different backgrounds. “Untitled (pets)” is a photograph of, on one side, two white kids-one of them looking elated as she touches the drool of a cow-and, to the right, of an older white woman sitting on a couch petting a fluffy white dog, while a Hispanic kid is hugging the animal longingly.

Frances Trombly weaves fabric into notebook paper and showcases them in frenzied installations, trying to portray the beauty of ordinary or handmade objects, such as with “Letter No. 3,” a fabricated letter with a woven-in fiber line that represents words and elongates onto the floor in a large, muddled pile of string. Both Trombly and Prosch participated at “The House at MoCA” exhibit and Rodriguez-Casanova has shown at the Dorsch, the Fred Snitzer Gallery and the Carlos Betancourt Studio. He is a co-founder of Box, an artist-run space in Miami.

Around 11 p.m., the guests, well-fueled from the alcohol and socializing, began to leave and headed to other social gatherings, some feeling possibly enlightened by what they saw or happy they met some influential people in the fashion or art industry. A number of galleries in the PT Studios program in Miami, such as the Beach House, Latin Arte and the Barbara Gillman Gallery, will display more local talent until the end of October, and the event will carry on into other cities. Unfortunately, the program neglects a vast pool of talent all over the country because it only makes stops in major cities and is selective in what they choose to exhibit. The series might give people a small peek into the world of contemporary creativity, though most invitees will just come around to flaunt their own style and sip on sweet Martinis with too many fake cherries inside.

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Omar Sommereyns can be reached at