A new exhibit at the Rainbow Building is revitalizing art at UM, or at least trying to

In an attempt at relevant art, Helen Otterson and Jacqueline Fischel-Bock are displaying their work in the foyer of the Rainbow Building in a show called Vitality. The prerequisite for every art major at UM is a sturdy sense of rugged individualism-this small show exhibits that strength and that isolation. And this is work that is not critiqued enough.

Otterson’s sculptures pick apart cancer. Forms of cells right off scanning electron microscopes and organically layered textures sweep the eye over the lavishly attractive color schemes. The artist’s personal experiences have shaped the concepts about complex biological systems and growth. She formats some of the work in boxes covered with prints on rice paper and the frames serve to subdue the excessive growth potential of cancer. It is as if she is attempting to conceptualize or contain a process that, by its nature, is fundamentally exponential. In this way, she formats the ideas aesthetically well, but loses attention because it seems contained or taken care of.

The irony in the title of the work is that something that is so vital, growth, has the potential to destroy under the right circumstances. The work is polished and professional, yet it lacks the spirit of work that is truly courageous. This subject is not easy to approach and therefore takes a lot of honor to deal with in a tasteful fashion, but the final product falters because it is too safe, too meticulously contained.

The goal here is art that matters not only because of aesthetic, craft or value, but also because it harps from a human condition of suffering and survival. Our state of affairs is as tragic and menacing as it is joyful-that is an intrinsic part of life. Otterson’s work is compelling through the visuals and the intellectuals, but the guts seem overshadowed by the work ethic. Expect to see more good things from this up-and-coming artist.

Now, on to the colorful expressionism of Jacqueline Fischel-Bock, whose work has no labels. She pours paint down on Plexiglas in specific areas, then leaves the paint to dry without altering where the paint has been decanted. The pieces here are an example of relativism gone poorly. Some people would like this and others wouldn’t. People were inflamed by Marcel Duchamp because they saw his work and said, “Hey, I could do that.” Well, they didn’t and that is why their work is not in a museum.
Fischel-Bock’s work has been done before. It is very pretty, granted, but it lacks the kind of moving and shaking that brings out the big guns. It pales in comparison to the quality of Otterson’s work and is a good example of art that is accepted by UM professors just because it is there. Sometimes an art department must grade on an imaginary bell curve just because you work with what you got.

Vitality: the capacity to live, grow and develop…or let’s hope so at least.
Vitality runs through February 28 when there will be a closing reception from 6-8 p.m. at the Rainbow Building behind Titanic, 5813 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables.

Alex Saleeby can be reached at claysaleeby@hotmail.com