Elisa Turner 2002


Exhibition Review of Young Lions at MDC Wolfson Gallery.  Originally published in The Miami Herald on September 25, 2002.

The Frances Wolfson Gallery of Miami-Dade Community College’s downtown Wolfson Campus is a small space off the beaten path. But it’s one with lively potential for enterprising artists and curators.

Perched on the fifth floor, overlooking the atrium of the college’s Building 1, the gallery features two alcove-like spaces on one wall and a glass case on the opposite one. What it lacks in generous proportions it makes up for by issuing a visual challenge.

Miami artist John Bailly is among those who have recently accepted the challenge of this modest venue in a series of ephemeral, site-specific paintings, all part of an installation called Young Lions.

An admirer of the dramatic texture animating Goya’s history paintings, Bailly is looking for a way to update this classic genre. In gestural streams of overlapping brown, gray and black, Bailly has embellished the walls of this gallery with moving compositions of social upheaval and political revolt.

Inside the glass cases, the compositions become more specific, with portraits of visionaries such as Steve Biko, an anti-apartheid activist of South Africa; French heroine Joan of Arc; and Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture. These particular portraits, skull-like and staring, provide historical contexts to the installation. But they aren’t the pieces that give the show its compelling presence.

The strengths here lie in the way Bailly has confidently taken over two floor-to-ceiling spaces, wrapping his art around corners and enveloping the viewer in a crush of angry, anguished humanity. Bailly touched upon both abstract painting and figurative drawing, tracing free-flowing lines with dynamic energy, then layering bodily contours so that several faces and bodies seem to emerge from a single figure, adding to the density of the experience he’s creating for viewers.

These strategies eliminate any sense of static form, but underscore the narrative urgency in these scenarios of protest. In one of these floor-to-ceiling spaces, the figures threaten to dissolve into a restless calligraphy. In the other, Bailly manipulates the space to suggest a deeper perspective: Individual leaders begin to emerge from the crowd of young and old, male and female, their upraised fists emblems of passionate conviction.

At a time when photographic imagery and media-inspired collages could have addressed this time-honored theme with predictable results, it’s refreshing to see an artist tackle a tough topic with hands-on eloquence and fluid grace.

Elisa Turner serves as both the Herald’s art critic and Miami correspondent for ARTnews, where her articles include reviews and profiles. She is a member of the International Association of Art Critics and holds an M.A. in comparative literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

04 September 2022

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