Artists are inspired by perception, but perceptions are open to interpretation. The human form first appeared as stick figures in caves before becoming idealized by the classical Greeks. Now Havana-born Miami artist Carlos Estevez reduces them to schematics once again in works that recall 19th century paper dolls or the mechanical automata of visionary Victorian inventors. But who controls them? In Lucid Dreaming (pictured) a headless figure sits astride a strange mechanism that's part bicycle, part beast. With the figure's head atop the machine's serpentine neck, propellers and gears convey it toward destinations unknown. In Secret Learning, a headless ballerina does a jig as her head, suspended by pulleys, stares back at us from a pedestal on the floor. In Apophenia, a schematic mystic meditates in a half-lotus posture; he alone appears conscious of his condition, yet it's not clear whether he can do anything about it. Despite all the existential speculation, the prolific Estevez's real gift is for creating a fully formed parallel world that comments on our own. Archaic yet futuristic, his figures suggest we are the automata, the mechanical beings whose condition they mimic with such bizarre elegance.
Korean artist Key-Sook Geum's sculptures are no less figurative, but the figures themselves are absent. Instead we see empty evening dresses floating in space like charismatic specters making grand entrances at invisible cocktail parties. Their intricate wire mesh filigrees outline the curves of high fashion movie starlets, yet they actually contain empty space and subtle energy, or chi. In this they are the reverse of Denyce Celentano's rather fleshy painted nudes at Cole Pratt, which grapple passionately with each other and their own imperfections as they embody a chaos of the senses. Geum's wiry lace concoctions are more like a haute couture of the spirit, if such a thing is possible. Geum suggests, at least obliquely, that it is. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Through Jan. 31
Apophenia: Paintings by Carlos Estevez
Taylor Bercier Fine Art, 233 Chartres St., 527-0072; www.taylorbercier.com
Through Jan. 26
Moving in Colors: Sculpture by Key-Sook Geum
Gallery Bienvenu, 518 Julia St., 525-0518; www.gallerybienvenu.com