“Ornament and obsession” and Miami in Venice

Arts / Article

“El Portal 1,” photo-collage.

The city of Venice’s location in the north of Italy, as a port on the Adriatic, likely was the reason it became a magnet for migrants and refugees throughout its fabled history, and the reason it became a hotbed for creativity and ingenuity, a thriving merchant and artistic center for most of its existence. The city continues to attract millions of tourists and artists, including to one of the most important contemporary exhibitions in the world, the Venice Biennale, first held in 1895.

So it’s nice to see representatives of Miami – another migrant-driven port city on a sea – show up in this epicenter of light and culture. Such is the case with Carlos Betancourt, who will be showing his latest works at Venice Projects through September. Not only is this a high-profile outing for Betancourt, whose often bright, detailed, decorative, object-oriented art should be familiar to most Miamians; it is a good fit for this gallery, Venice Projects. The aesthetic of its other artists – many from Japan– resembles Betancourt’s, and has an emphasis on design. In fact, Venice Projects was seen here last December at Design/Miami.

“Cabinet of Wonders: Ornament and Obsession” catalogue cover.

The gallery also focuses on one of the city of Venice’s most historically famous exports: glass. So Betancourt will be unveiling his own glass creations – a first for the artist – which he crafted in the heart of glass, the Venetian island of Murano. Like Murano glass, Betancourt’s work is colorful and ornate, playing on both those traits in his tropical tableaux. “Cabinet of Wonders: Ornament and Obsession” includes new photo-collages and sculpture, both forms that Betancourt is known for, along with the inaugural glass pieces.

The Cuban-American artist who was raised in Puerto Rico and makes Miami home feels a real connection with this particular European center. “I have been traveling to Venice for at least 20 years now because I am attracted to its rapport with the sea, as well as its romantic history of cultural fusion, appropriations, longing, nostalgia, melancholy, ornamentation, decay and the contradictions of the passage of time,” he writes. “Like similar parallels in my Caribbean and Miami upbringing, Venice provoked a definite influence in my artwork, and it is a treat to be finally exhibiting in Venice.”

As luck will have it, his exhibit will coincide with other contemporary Venetian attractions, opening just as the Venice Film Festival and the Venice Biennale of Architecture do. That’s nice synergy, from both sides of the Atlantic.

“Cabinet of Wonders: Ornament and Obsession” runs through Sept. 30 at Venice Projects in Venice, Italy; www.veniceprojects.com.