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Written by Anne Tschida - BT Arts Editor   
January 2013

With two notable exhibits by emerging Asian artists, Zadok Gallery makes its mark -- with Bernice Steinbaum

ZArtFeature_1adok Gallery on N. Miami Avenue in Wynwood is a huge, handsome, two-story building encompassing 17,000 square feet, about 12,000 of which are given over to art. That means, along with various rooms displaying permanent artworks from the gallery, two large sculpture shows can be shown simultaneously and comfortably.

That’s the case this month, when a couple of very different exhibits in look and feel from two up-and-coming Asian artists are featured (and have been since Art Basel Miami Beach). The illuminated works, especially the centerpiece, from Beijing-based artist Li Hui, are brash and literally electrifying. In the piece titled Cracked, 7000 laser beams shoot down from the 28-foot ceiling to immerse the darkened space in crimson red dots dancing off a platform and the floor.

For anyone who has followed the meteoric rise of Chinese art in the past decade, or was captivated by the Beijing Olympics, Li Hui’s work is reflective of the muscular emergence of the new China.

ArtFeature_2In another room, Korea native SeonGhi Bahk uses small lumps of black charcoal to form his delicate sculptures, reminiscent of hanging plants, throwing in a yellow flower on one as the only real splash of color here, in a subtle play on form and illusion.

Zadok Gallery opened in 2008 under owner Barak Zadok. Initially it exhibited a number of contemporary artists, but also hosted events, and was rented out to other organizations. In 2011, for instance, the Arsht Center and Cirque Eloize threw their opening-night party there. The gallery’s main focus was on Chinese art, but otherwise had a fairly disparate roster of artists.

Then last summer, after Bernice Steinbaum closed her flagship gallery -- one of the first significant galleries in town -- Zadok, gallery director Mark T. Smith and Steinbaum got to talking. There was a feeling that the newcomer gallery needed more of a vision, and that the semi-retired gallerist and curator might be the one to bring that.

As Steinbaum, sitting in her new office on the second floor of the gallery, discusses her latest adventure, she is wearing a trademark outfit -- a brightly patterned silk Chinese top and skirt. She, too, had concentrated on Asian art in her 34 years as an art dealer, along with work by women and people of color. Nearing the age of 70, she says, peering out through her large glasses, the strain and stress of running a gallery had taken its toll. “It was time to either die or retire,” she says, “and I chose the latter.”

But art remained in her blood, and so did a desire to keep the arts scene in the Wynwood area progressing. Zadok approached her about consulting and she decided it was something she wanted to try.

In October she became curator and consultant for the gallery, although with looser hours than in her previous job. While she and Zadok had an interest in Asian art in common, Steinbaum says the gallery needed a tighter mission and smaller roster.

ArtFeature_3By the time Art Miami and Context Art Miami -- at which the gallery had booths -- rolled around barely two months later, Steinbaum’s imprint was unmistakable.

Walking through the gallery on this late December day, Steinbaum points out that exhibiting SeonGhi Bahk was a choice of hers, following a recent stint in Seoul. Li Hui was cultivated and brought in by Zadok.

Anyone familiar with Steinbaum’s previous gallery will recognize some of the names that are now represented here, including Magdalena Campos-Pons, Enrique Gomez de Molina, and Peter Sarkisian. In fact, for the time being, the roster of artists has been whittled down to nine, most of them from Steinbaum’s Rolodex. “We will eventually have about 12, but that is part of my mission -- to keep this very focused,” she says. All of the artists have a permanent space now in the gallery for their works.

She has also brought in a few names not so familiar to Miami, such as Brooklyn-based Patrick Jacobs, who was the solo artist featured by Zadok at the Context fair. At the gallery, where large-scale works dominate the huge space, Jacobs’s contribution is a literal hole in the wall -- and a gem. Peer into a small aperture in one wall and enter an intensely idyllic world, a tiny little diorama of a green countryside strewn with wild flowers. His light-box pastorals are crafted from hair, tinfoil, ash, and other nonstandard materials.

At the opposite end of the size scale, Campos-Pons has lined a floor with dozens of stools, of both Chinese and African origin, piled high with spheres and semi-spheres made from sugar and glass, shot through with African spears. Called Sugar: Bitter Sweet, it’s a continuation of the Cuban-born artist’s exploration of her complex roots. Steinbaum clearly loves this installation from Campos-Pons, an internationally acclaimed artist whose work she has shown for years.

Another large installation, from Mexican-born Gabriel Dawe, is absolutely dizzying in its composition and painstaking craft. Dawe has stretched 31 miles of multicolored thread from floor to ceiling for this site-specific work. He will thread even more miles when he takes over the main space, with its 28-foot ceiling, for one of the next solo shows. (Steinbaum says there will be two solo exhibits every two months.)

ArtFeature_4 ArtFeature_5

Which brings us back to what is still the most eye-popping piece at the gallery at the moment, the red laser-beam room from Li Hui. It’s the first time the Chinese artist has been shown in the United States. Bringing this particular work to Miami, along with the light sculptures upstairs, was a labor of love for Barak Zadok. “I am so proud of this,” he says, standing in the room, bathed in that eerie light.

Looking fondly at the accompanying acrylic pieces, which look like ice sculptures, each one lit up in a different primary color, Zadok surmises that there surely is a commentary here on the fast-changing world of the artist’s homeland. Encased in plastic are fossils, or skeletons, seemingly waiting for the “ice” -- the work’s rigid veneer -- to melt. In one sculpture, the creature waiting for the thaw is a dragon.

On a smaller scale, change is also occurring on this stretch of N. Miami Avenue. “We are not rushing into anything,” says Steinbaum, but the future is promising. “For the spring we’re planning a group show with artists from all around Florida, but they will be 70 years young -- or older.”

The solo exhibits from Li Hui and SeonGhi Bahk run through February 18 at the Zadok Gallery, 2534 N. Miami Ave., 305-438-3737, www.zadokgallery.com.

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