GAMBIT, January 1, 2011

Looking at Carlos Betancourt's work can be like stepping through the looking glass: It all seems familiar yet skewed in unlikely ways. In art as in life, context is everything, but here we are strangers in a strange land of exotic flora and preposterous kitsch where everything makes a bold statement — even if that statement has been digitally encrypted as decorously exotic babble. Cynics might say that sounds a bit like Miami, and they would be right. Betancourt was born in Puerto Rico of Cuban parentage but has lived in Miami since 1981, so it should come as no surprise that his work suggests a nexus where Carmen Miranda and Tito Puente meet Jeff Koons and Lady Gaga. Miami is where New York meets the tropics, and Betancourt evokes a loopy new strand of aesthetic DNA. Large, kaleidoscopic photomontages like Re-Collections (pictured) mingle flowers,
butterflies, starfish and fruit with candy, beads and action figures in explosive cornucopias of pop-cultural delirium. His sculptures are neoclassical columns that might evoke the gravitas of ancient Rome were they not festooned with bananas, pineapples, grapes and bunches of other stuff that look like leftovers from Miranda's crazy carioca hats. In these works, Betancourt takes the typically tart conceptual art memes of appropriation and deconstruction to giddy new levels of tropical extravagance.