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The emphasis is on the process, not the final product," said chief curator Bonnie Clearwater about the Museum of Contemporary Art's current exhibition, "Trading Places." "Although," she added, "we were really pleased with the outcome."
To create temporary studios for artists Kim Brown, Maria Martinez-Cañas, Frances Trombly, and Salvatore La Rosa, MoCA partially partitioned off its exhibition hall. The idea behind the project was to provide the four artists with more space in which they could freely develop new projects and enter into creative dialogue.
"La Rosa had the opportunity to step back and look at his work from a different perspective," said Clearwater. "His house is so jumbled with artwork that he doesn't have room to do that. He is also very resistant to exhibiting, so we worked with him on that process.
"Trombly has always focused on objects individually rather than working with objects within a space. She ended up breaking her boundaries, going into the rafters around the museum. And as she started working outside her studio, Brown and Martinez-Cañas began to work outside their studio as well."
According to Clearwater: "It was really this organic process, where the artists influenced each other as they went along." Artist participation in "Trading Places" is its sole unifying factor, because the artworks/installations are otherwise disparate enough to warrant separate exhibitions.
Resembling a laboratory more than a studio, the first room juxtaposes the works of Brown, an Anchorage-based installation artist; and Martinez-Cañas, a Miami-based photographer. They had already been collaborating for some time when Clearwater suggested the exhibit. Brown collected and catalogued debris from the corners, floors, and air-conditioning ducts of the MoCA building itself, as well as elsewhere, some of which she compiled months before moving into the gallery. After arriving in Miami last month, Brown began sewing the dust, hair, and other detritus together, leaving the finished products for Cañas to photograph. The artist then embellished the photos by attaching ribbon, string, and some of the leftover materials, extending the works beyond her studio space. Cañas's photographs depict ghostly white forms floating on black backgrounds. Each image shows Brown's original works on an enlarged scale, magnifying the images like organisms viewed through a microscope.
The first room also houses the remnants of Brown and Cañas's art-making process: jars, labels, card catalogues, brooms, sorting screens, and sewn objects. The items suggest an obsessive act of sorting, dating, jarring, and marking. Typed quotations and e-mail correspondence sporadically positioned on the space's main table suggest an other-worldly feel, the kind of response the project aimed to elicit.
"It is so small and so big at the same time -- ceaseless like time -- a reminder of the beginning and end. It comes from everywhere and nowhere," Cañas writes. Her photographs show a variety of objects that at first seem but vague images. It's only after examining them within the context of the room in which they're displayed that the shapes become identifiable. Searching the studio space also helps reveal the painstaking aspect of the creation process. The photographs serve as an end product, without which the project as a whole seems directionless, a process without any hope of resolution. Indeed, viewed alone, without their surroundings, these photographs fail to deliver. This interdependency between process and product is one of the driving forces behind the concept from which "Trading Places" was derived.
That said, the other rooms occupied by Trombly's Aftermath installation, and La Rosa's paintings, sculptures, and collages, offer only vague references to this key element. In Aftermath, a frenzied array of multicolored confetti, balloons, and streamers occupying the second room, Trombly works with the space, creating an installation using hundreds of her sewn pieces. This departure from her previous work is a result of working in MoCA's spacious gallery.
Aftermath is narrative, showing the conclusion of an act or event -- for example, a child's birthday party -- reminiscent of Pop Art installations such as Claes Oldenburg's Store. Like Store, the abnormal materials with which Trombly creates everyday items such as balloons, confetti, and streamers shadow her work in a blanket of irony. The effect is fun, albeit fleeting, and makes the artwork more of a novelty than a piece warranting insightful reflection.
La Rosa's makeshift studio in the third room is the strongest of the entire show. Unlike the other three artists, the majority of La Rosa's work was not created during his MoCA residency. In fact only a few collages pinned to the far right wall were produced in situ. Without labels or chronological groupings, the creation forces viewers to guess the timeline of La Rosa's work, though according to the press release, he began in the Sixties. Only one painting is dated.
However, his paintings do exhibit noticeable stylistic differences, featuring either gobs of paint in a grotesque mix of brownish-green tinged pigment, or created using a rich red base tone. Some even show sparsely applied paint, with relatively few strokes on a white background. All include abstract forms and faces as a frequently recurring image. On the whole, La Rosa's oeuvre -- collages, monstrous paint-glob sculptures, and scrap paper doodles -- are rich and multilayered, suggesting they're born of a unique and vibrant mind.
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