Pretty Vacant: A bloody odd one-night stand at the San Juan Motel

These days, we can’t get enough of these eccentric, site-specific art installations popping up and down galleries, open-air spaces, convention centers, hip SoBe club floors like at Mynt-yeah, art is being exposed on the glittery, fruity walls of a club named after an Altoid-and even in motels, right? As art “connoisseurs,” we “love” walking through a seamy motel, into different, seedy rooms and observing cryptic performances by actors boxing on an imaginary punch bag or feigning death on a bed, gore and blood sullying a once-beautiful formal gown.

Or perhaps we might enjoy watching a Technicolor painting, reminiscent of a multi-hued Paul Klee cubist work, and studying how it matches the color pattern of the cheesy double beds’ comforters. Even more, we might get all “revved-up” by looking at a pseudo-exercise room, manufactured, unprofessionally it seems, with wooden bars and air fans to generate energy or we may get daunted by an enormous batch of wool resembling a cocoon, dangling from the ceiling of a dimly-lit room and waiting to maybe produce a gargantuan-sized moth.

In any case, we might also think that these crazy art installations may be too far-fetched, providing the viewer with temporary pleasure, leaving us bewildered, unsure as to what to make of it, but that’s what we saw at the one-night only exhibit, Motel, which took place last Friday at the San Juan Motel in Little Havana on Calle Ocho. Featuring works by upcoming artists such as Vanessa Dubin, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, Jose Reyes, Anna Kamir, Vivian Marthell and Walter Garcia and curated by Ricky Ariza and Gretal Garcia, each room, altered by the installations, accentuated space, time, and place to welcome the onlooker within the distorted motel area.

The event drew an audience of artists, curators, critics and local hipsters along with UM folks and it was important for many people moving on from UM. It set a standard of avant-garde exhibition that is considered within the UM art department to be “NART” or not art. The individual rooms, while not always succeeding, spoke to ideas of temporal space and of a human’s place within an altered landscape. As “earth-art” uses the physicality of the land, Motel uses the architecture and roads to work as a metaphor. Many critics consider such work to be too intellectual and removed from the classical ideas about art, but there would be no point in bringing George Bush to an Old Dirty Bastard show.

The specific motel was used for about $30 per room and each unit had different dEcor with ceramic tile on the walls. The attitude of certain UM art teachers/critics is skeptical about exhibitions like Motel. When tolerance is an earmark to an organization-even one as picky as a bunch of artists-ideas then become the currency of debate, not attitudes. The group of people with power in the UM art community need to transcend the subjectivities into an arena where language is just language and where the spirit prevails. The problem with religion is the interpretation. Don’t interpret Motel…do be glad though that someone did it even though it may not fit within your artistic appetite.

Alex Saleeby can be reached at