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.