The not-so-innocent world of Leonel Matheu

arts / Article

"Democracy" by Leonel Matheu at the Frost Museum.

The imagery of Leonel Matheu is intentionally child-like in its figurative depictions, colorful, with cartoonish characters and scenery that could have popped out from a children’s book. But not quite.

Those domed bald heads and teddy bear people, the flying saucers, the simple stars and moons are reflecting not a fairy-tale world, but a darker one, one where all the bits and pieces that make up our world – the natural and manmade, and of course the human elements – are trying to find a place to fit in. Which is why Matheu’s first major museum survey at the Frost Art Museum is called “Crossroads of the Dystopia.” Dystopia is the opposite of utopia. It also references the world that he knows, that of the diasporas of people who have been displaced from their homes of origin. The diaspora in dystopia.

"Lazy Eyes" by Matheu. "Lazy Eyes" by Matheu.

Born in Havana, Matheu moved to Miami in 1992, where his oil paintings and drawings in his distinctive graphic-design style have been shown at museums such as MOCA and the Bass; in collections; and galleries such as dotfiftyone (which has represented the artist locally since 2000 and is presenting this exhibit with curator Janet Batet). He’s also shown prolifically across the globe, and is represented by Bruce Lurie Gallery of L.A. But his work may not be as familiar here as his 20-year output would suggest it should be.

So here’s a good chance to read many of Matheu’s storybook-like artworks – more than 70 of them – including video and images of his many public art pieces: those emotionless bears demonstrating for democracy, the snowman peeking in from the curtain with his carrot nose, the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-like, off-kilter city- and landscapes. This survey is long-past due.

“Crossroads of the Dystopia” opens July 12 and runs through Oct. 19 at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, 10975 SW 17th St., Miami; 305-348-2890; thefrost.fiu.edu.

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