Lose Yourself in Federico Uribe’s Idyllic World

NOTE: This review is the first in a two-part series on artist Federico Uribe. Check back here next week for an interview with the artist.

The Boca Raton Museum of Art’s new show “The World According to Federico Uribe” is defined by transformation – not only in the way the artist takes

everyday objects and molds them into new ones. The transformation also applies to the museum itself, as the main first-floor galleries have transformed into an idyllic nature preserve. Augmented by a soundtrack of serene music and insect calls, the show transports the spectator into a world that’s vanishing around us, creating a harmony and immersion between man and beast, flora and fauna, land and sky.

It would be something more suited to a science museum if the art wasn’t so groundbreaking and museum-quality. Uribe, a Miami-based artist creating his first installation at the Boca Museum, makes art out of the most rudimentary source material, such as shoelaces, colored pencils, crutches, garden tools, ping-pong balls and books (all with green binding). Out of them, he creates exhaustive nature tableaux. There are animals both large and small, from giant tennis shoe-leather horses to bees made of plastic fingernails. There are trees everywhere, sometimes made out of repurposed cardboard boxes and others out of book pages, sprouting from the floor and continuing, so the illusion goes, beyond the ceiling of the museum. Animals exist in sculptural form and on canvases; sometimes they start on the wall and emerge from it three-dimensionally.

Uribe could have maxed out his vision on plants and animals, but he doesn’t stop there. An enormous sun made of refurbished yellow footwear illuminates the jungly proceedings. When a deer dips her tongue into a pool of blue shoelace-water, we can follow the stream as it leads toward a cloud suspended, along with frozen-in-time rainfall, from the ceiling. Indeed, Uribe is such a precise artist that every element has a logical basis; there is no collection of water without rainfall. The animals, too, interact with each other as different species might on a National Geographic broadcast. An ostrich buries his head away in the sand to escape from an approaching alligator; a panther looks ravenously at a tree-bound gorilla. It’s like walking through a heightened, stylized diorama in multiple dimensions.

By the time you circle your way toward the end of the exhibition, the world of Federico Uribe has expanded to include human civilization. Mice scurry into the open door of a residence, as a batch of flowers – fashioned from water-hose materials – collect sun outside. We eventually come to a garden workstation and a clothesline full of apparel – the latter designed from colored pencils. The spectacle ends with Uribe’s most ambitious sculpture yet – a totem that stacks man, lizard, shark, dog and more into one harmonious vertical collage. It is perhaps the definitive expression of Uribe’s idealistic worldview, where humans and animals live in peaceful accord, a verdant world blossoming around them.

For more on Federico Uribe, check out this blog next week for a Q&A with the artist!