A few famous artists on regret: "I Regret Nothing," proclaimed French chanteuse Edith Piaf in what came to be known as her signature song. "Miss Otis Regrets," wrote composer Cole Porter about a woman who murdered her lover and politely canceled a social engagement owing to the dire consequences she faced. "Regrets, I've had a few," crooned Frank Sinatra in one of his trademark tunes, "My Way." Visual artist Jack Pierson has regrets too, and for the past couple of months they've been spread all over the walls of North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art in an exhibition aptly titled "Jack Pierson, Regrets."
Like many a transient South Florida resident, Pierson, born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1960, escaped the New York art world of the early 1980s and arrived in these parts to reinvent himself. Calling a South Beach flophouse home and studio, he began to create art in earnest. Whether photos, tableaux, drawings, video, or found letters that spell out words such as "Stay," "Believe," "Blue," and "Water," the works explore the fragments of a life of a romantic loner, and in many cases, they appear to express an all-consuming desire for fame or immortality. On a white piece of paper, carefully written letters in pencil plainly state "I am Madonna." Another study on paper is dubbed Say Goodbye to Hollywood, after the Billy Joel song. A multicolored word sculpture made of plastic and metal spells out the name of tortured rock icon Kurt Cobain. And a grid of signed yellowed movie stills from a magazine featuring stars such as Natalie Wood, William Holden, and Connie Stevens dominates a large part of a wall.
While the hunger for recognition remains in the myriad references to celebrities, the attendant isolation it offers is ever-present. In a corner, an empty wooden stage, backed by silver tinsel curtains and a string of tiny white lights, welcomes visitors to the exhibition. The red letters forming the word "Beauty" are inaccessible, placed high upon a wall. Pinned to another wall, a poster of the king of rock and roll, Elvis in his early years, is cut off at the top of his forehead, showing only the upper reaches of his pompadour as a Crown. Shapely legs of showgirls and men in dark tailcoats and trousers lurk beneath a curtain in the 1997 photo dubbed Lonely Life. Whether the show is beginning or ending is unclear.
In Pierson's world, an enigmatic retro sensibility prevails, as does a feeling of displacement. Works that provide some semblance of place are still vague. Is this Miami Beach, Los Angeles, Las Vegas? Is this the Fifties, the Sixties, the Nineties? The Lucille Ball-like character looking intently into the camera and the recent large canvases boasting blurred flowers provide little aid in solving the mystery.
But through the glass doors, across a patch of grass, lies Paradise, in the guise of a huge sign of letters and lights. Twinkling above and set slightly askew is a star, the thing Pierson seems to be reaching for and grasping ever so tenuously.