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Lost In Space 

Square configuration hinders exhibit

The best part of The World of Regional Latin American Visual Artists, currently on view at Spirit Square, is almost lost amid a sea of white paper in a display case against a far wall. This series of pieces of jewelry by Claudia Gonzalez-Griffin, crafted of garnet and peridot, citrine, amethyst, silver and gold, is not displayed to its advantage here. Far from it. Yet the subtlety of these beautifully wrought fine objects fights to be seen -- and succeeds.Given the current configuration of Spirit Square, it's easy for works of art to get lost in here. With the exception of Knight Gallery, a discrete space and one of the finest exhibition venues in Charlotte, the noisy ambiance of Spirit Square works against any sort of contemplation conducive to studying art, especially smaller, finely wrought art. The Knight Gallery is currently occupied by the Bearden legacy show, and with other smaller galleries also in use, the work in The World of Regional Latin American Visual Artists is scattered about the place. It gets lost in the oddly disjointed expanses of Spirit Square's lobby-like interior, and the viewer is subjected to the uncomfortable effects produced by the hard, shiny, noise-reflecting surfaces of the space.

If you can hunker down behind the columns long enough to look at Gonzalez-Griffin's necklaces, the effort is worth it. Though a few of her pieces contain more elements than they really need, several are truly elegant. In most examples, this metalsmith manipulates minerals until they coalesce into very pleasing forms of wearable art. The sea of white paper surrounding the works makes the more delicate pieces look rather pallidly "bridal." These items belong on dark velvet. In the display cases, scraps and curls of silver act as decorative sparks, but they, too, belong on dark velvet pile rather than white paper -- testament perhaps to budgetary display restrictions. "Anaconda," with its serpentine silver form and emerald and malachite beads, with 14K gold and amethyst added cleverly into the mix, would be stunning in an appropriate setting. The pendant's delicate clasp -- similar to that in "Meteoro" (silver, gold, turquoise Howlite, smoky quartz, citrine and rock crystal) -- has a delicate dangling element at the nape. Sensitive to color, Gonzalez-Griffin's pieces have "an air of movement, esthetics and harmony... [and] transmit a sense of tranquility and equilibrium." The artist optimistically finds "...beauty and love in everything, in everyone, every day," and this spirit shows in her work.

Contrary to Gonzalez-Griffin's color sensitivity, it is ironic that the paintings hanging in the main foyer of Spirit Square are those with the dreariest and least appealing color: Cuban Arturo Palomino's paintings are disappointing in this location. The more colorful work by Francisco Gonzalez, a printmaker with roots in Mexico, would be better here. Instead, Gonzalez's work is tucked away in a dreary spot, ill-lit and forgotten, in the Loch Walker "Gallery." This artist has shown better work than "Tale of Hope 18" x 24"" and "Where Dreams Meet," at The Blue Pony Gallery on North Davidson Street, where he has been the star student of Mary Lou Sussman, one of Charlotte's leading printmakers. Gonzalez experiments with color and texture. His compositions are still awkward in places, but this is a serious artist who keeps pushing and developing his process.

The show, which is largely disappointing, does offer a few other examples of rather compelling pieces. Three desk-sized sculptures by Olid Garcia, "Future," "Race" and "Waiting," sculpted from "cultured" marble, are reminiscent of Henry Moore, Hans Arp or other early modernist sculptors. The artist, originally from Columbia, reveals a fine working hand in these biomorphic forms. Painter Roberto Negret, also from Colombia, produces some interesting textures in "Peregamino," and also in a large, brilliant red oil painting in the Loch Walker Gallery.

If I were back teaching class in graduate school again, I'd tell both Negret and fellow painter Marianne Reuss from Mexico to push the paint further, beyond superficial effects. I'd advise Gonzalez to pull back and not over-decorate his surfaces, which can become too fussy. And I'd suggest that Manuel Gomez, an artist originally from Costa Rica, develop his color sense further: A trio of brilliantly hued paintings is keyed up in color straight out of the tube. In his oil on canvas "Woman Symphony," cubism meets splashy poster art. Brilliant orange, hot blue and a patterned floor plane in perspective provide a surface for the figure in the field to rest upon. However, an untitled piece by Gomez featuring an eagle head has a spatial uncertainty about where the figure is in the field -- the compositional elements float awkwardly on the surface. In "Lonely Night Serenade" -- the third of Gomez' trio -- a clown and a howling dog float in a violet dusk on what may be a Venetian canal or a street. It's vague. The color is too vivid, too cartoon-y. The consistently crayon-bright colors reveal little experimentation.

The 10 Latin American artists on display, with roots in four countries, have a following in Charlotte, their new home. They are a welcome addition to the local arts community, but if they are serious about their art, they need to pursue that old MFA in order to rise above their amateur status. The rigor that only a good graduate education in the fine arts can provide is the best route out of the sophomoric limbo most members of the group currently inhabit.

The show was organized by Claudia Gonzalez-Griffin and Gilda Olivares. Gonzalez-Griffin is coordinator of community programs for the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Moving from Colombia 10 years ago to join family in Charlotte, she received a grant from the Arts & Science Council to publish a small color catalogue for this show. The organizers deserve credit for creating a forum for the work, but the pieces are forced to reside in spaces where the calm environment needed for the close, careful observation of jewelry or other small objects is demolished by the noisy clatter of students running through the space, cracking aluminum cans and laughing loudly. Not terrible traits in themselves, but in this environment, pretty disastrous.

The exhibit The World of Regional Latin American Visual Artists is on view through October 26. Hours at Spirit Square, 345 N. College Street, are 9am through 6pm weekdays; 1 to 5pm weekends. Admission is free. For more info: (704) 987-8162.

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