West African dance class on Sundays; painterly murals on pastel-washed buildings; conch fritters and pikliz; and that rhythmic undertone of kompa, zouk and Creole are a few of the precious nuggets that belong to a microcosm of culture in Miami. But more than just an oasis on the mainland, Little Haiti is home to prolific creatives and project spaces not-yet-touched by the increasingly high rents – and labels – of more popular neighborhoods. A new frontier is on the rise, and gallerist Karla Ferguson is nurturing its growth with Yeelen Gallery.
Opened during art fair week in December 2013, Yeelen Gallery is a split-level 10,000 square-foot space that today exhibits the work of resident artist Jerome Soimaud (France) alongside Tim Okamura (Canada), Joseph Adolpe (Canada) and Aurel Vici (France). Though sprawling in floorspace, the main room’s low ceilings and arresting content foster a surprisingly intimate experience. Even more so personal, the adjacent project room is curated as a shrine to the native Haitian community. Objets d’art, symbolic representations and powerful photography seduce visitors into a ceremonial place that bears witness to celebrations, customs and rituals that take place beneath the surface of mainstream Miami.
Yet from this layered experience of impactful and culture-laden content emerges the reductive drawings of James Clover (b. 1938, Iowa). The internationally heralded American artist and academic has been significantly absent from the art world these past 25 years, and is resurfacing with a new body of work at Yeelen Gallery. Though only a suite of Clover’s works are now on view at the space, this is a good time to polish up on the Symbolism movement of the 19th Century, and influencers Constantin Brancusi and Alexander Calder.
Structured, geometric and almost architectural in line and discipline, Clover’s drawings are paradoxically inhabited by nature, and represent fantastical and living imagery. Ferguson, who also curates select exhibitions explains, “As far back as the late nineteenth century, artists have abandoned strict realism in favor of pared-down and primitive forms to convey the essence of the real. Noisy imagery and the visible world, for them, hid truth and distorted elements of spirituality. Fast forward another twenty, thirty, or even fifty years, artists - through their own unique styles - were still attempting to access an undisclosed utopia through rhythm, shape and color contained in abstraction. Like those artists that came before him, Clover is going for the jugular.”
In a new series of works, which will be unveiled in a solo exhibition later this September, Clover’s departure from the minimalist sculptures for which he is better known is replaced by the basic uses of iconography and scales of color. Ferguson elaborates, “Repetitive forms dance across the surface of his compositions like those in a carnival or ones seen in brief flashes of mystically woven child-like dreams.”
Yeelen Gallery is open to the public at 294 NW 54th Street in Little Haiti, Miami. For more information and hours, please visit the website at www.yeelenart.com.
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