Cano, Bertsch exhibit laments lost fantasy, romance

November 02, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Pablo Cano likes to play games with his audience, and his shows are fun, but we're not dealing exclusively with fun and games here. Cano, combining the world of long ago and far away with modern-day junk, comments on what the modern world has lost in romance and glamour compared with what it's (( gained in -- what, exactly?

Both a visual and a performance artist, Cano, who lives in Miami, teams up with writer Giulio V. Blanc to create performance pieces.

Cano then designs the pieces, and his designs, in the form of sculptures, drawings and combinations of the two, become artworks for sale.

His show at the Gomez Gallery 18 months ago contained marionettes based on 18th century characters. His current show introduces the characters for another performance, "Tia Carmela, a Cuban Tragicomedy," which he describes as a "romantic fantasy of 19th century Havana."

In his previous show the marionettes were largely made of junk -- from tin cans to a toilet handle -- but this time he has made his three-dimensional figures mainly from clay and painted them black and white.

The parts of these full-skirted figures often take on the shapes of everyday objects, however, and junk is sometimes brought into play.

"Carmela Doll #1" has a lower body in the shape of a vase, with the chest a two-knob drawer (from a chest of drawers, get it? -- Cano loves these visual puns) and the head formed of a small cup shape.

"Carmela Doll with Yoohoo hat" is in the form of a pitcher, with one arm as the handle and wearing a hat that's the label from a Yoo Hoo chocolate drink.

The largest work here, "The Dressing Room," consists of a

drawing of several women, some of whose heads are represented by real metal cans attached to the drawing and with the faces drawn on them.

Another character, Nicolas, is represented by "Nicolas in Car," in which Cano turns from clay back to pure junk. Nicolas, made of cans, drives a toy car; his shirt front opens to reveal what's beneath -- a bottle in which hangs a red wooden apple as the fellow's heart.

All of Cano's figures give pleasure, but I'm not sure he's gone the right route with clay -- junk's funnier.

But clay, being more serious, helps to anchor this work in the worlds of both comedy and tragedy. The longing for the past that we see here speaks as well of a dissatisfaction with the present, when it's no longer possible to believe in much beyond the trash that fills up our lives.

It's appropriate, as Gomez has done, to team Cano's figures with Carole Jean Bertsch's photographs, often hand colored, of girls and women dressed up in exotic costumes and assuming poses that often resemble stills from silent movies. Like Cano, Bertsch deals in fantasy and romance, but to me it's the other side of the coin from Cano's smile-producing creations.

Bertsch characters are pitiable, for they show us the longing for -- and at the same time the impossibility of -- any true escape from life's inexpressible sadness. They bring to mind the Italian movie "La Strada," in which the magnificently sorrowful eyes of the girl-woman Gelsomina express at once the desire to believe that happiness is possible and the knowledge that it isn't.

ART REVIEW

What: Pablo Cano and Carole Jean Bertsch

Where: Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Nov. 27

Call: (410) 752-2080

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