Art Arcade

The Margulies Collection is more recreational than rarefied

It might seem a stretch to find a connection between one of Man Ray's optically fragmented "rayograms" and a scattershot collection of batter-fried books.

But at The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, curator Katherine Hinds dismisses notions of a master plan to determine how the collection grows. "We look for work that fits in well and is part of an established rhythm. We focus on photography, video, installation, and sculpture. What you won't find here are paintings," Hinds says.

Although Marty Margulies, a real estate developer, has been collecting art with an emphasis on photography for more than 30 years, most of the 1200 works on display at his 45,000-square-foot facility, tucked against I-95 on the fringes of Wynwood, have been created since 1995 and fluctuate broadly in tone. Over the summer, the Margulies Collection closed its doors, converting nearly a third of the space to house recent acquisitions in time for Art Basel.

Jackie Nickerson's photos of nuns are among the most magnetic portraits on display
Jackie Nickerson's photos of nuns are among the most magnetic portraits on display

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Some of the major new works on display are by Zilvinas Kempinas, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Danny Lyon, Olafur Eliasson, Gregory Crewdson, Alfredo Jaar, and Thomas Ruff, among others.

Eliasson's Inverted Mirror Sphere, isolated in a room near the entrance, looks like a giant Sixties swag lamp that might have been appropriated from the set of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. The striking glass sculpture hangs from the ceiling in the center of the room, and light from its beveled surfaces is refracted onto the walls and floor, exuding a funky Studio 54 vibe.

Across from it, Kempinas's soaring Columnsoverwhelms the space, casting something like an optical illusion. The eight twenty-foot columns are constructed solely of miles of unspooled videotape. He nailed the thin strips lengthways to circular wooden supports on the floor and ceiling, placing the celluloid in tight intervals. The columns are so delicate a puff of breath makes the piece quiver.

Some of the more unusual works fresh to the collection are Denise A. Aubertin's Cooked Books. The artist battered a batch of paperbacks — including titles by Stendhal, Marcel Proust, William Burroughs, and Albert Camus — in a flour paste and then popped the confections into her oven. Emile Zola's Germinal got the gourmet treatment; it appears to be wrapped in prosciutto.

Motorcycle Riders, a stark set of straightforward black-and-white snaps, documents Danny Lyon's immersion into outlaw biker culture during the Sixties. Nearly 80 of the gritty photographs depict leather-clad, duck's-ass-crowned greasers astride their hogs or toting a friend's casket at a biker funeral. The self-taught photographer took the pictures between 1963 and 1967, after becoming a member of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club, with whom he traveled to "record and glorify the life of the American bike rider."

These works complement Lyon's later work, Conversations with the Dead, in which he documented life within the Texas prison system during a fourteen-month period between 1967 and 1968.

The pictures, also on display here, portray prisoners stripping for a cavity search before burly guards, who sport spurs on their cowboy boots, and members of a chain gang picking cotton. One photo, shot from a guard tower, shows a group of white-clad inmates hustling lockstep near a pickup truck. A solitary guard spies on his prisoners as a brace of revolvers dangles from a hook over his head.

The Margulies Collection houses pictures by every contemporary photo artist imaginable.

Standouts include Alfred Jaar's Muximaseries of six c-prints mounted on Plexiglas. The panels are sliced vertically in half, blacked out on one side and an image appearing on the other. One work captures the torsos and hands of two young men playing checkers with soft-drink bottle caps on a game board scrawled on the back of a pizza box. Another shows empty beer cans hung like clothing on a wash line.

A pair of crystal-clear photo light boxes practically bleeding with color document Kenji Yanobe's visit to Chernobyl, site of the infamous 1986 nuclear accident.

As part of the Japanese artist's Atom Suit Project, Yanobe dons postapocalyptic survival gear in his doomsday scenarios, appearing at a trashed nursery school or sitting in the rusting husk of a bumper car at an abandoned amusement park in Russia's radioactive wasteland.

Another series of eye-catching, color-saturated works was Brian Ulrich's LightJet c-prints, which the photographer took in Midwestern stores. One shot depicts the contents of a freezer spilling over with Ore-Ida Tater Tots. Next to it, another close-up image features rows of shiny 9mm pistols neatly arranged in a glass case and shotguns and hunting rifles on a rack in a gun shop.

Jackie Nickerson's pictures of priests and nuns are among the most magnetic portraits on display. In one work, some smiling sisters read or knit as they relax in a convent library. The sole nun with her back to the spectator appears absorbed in the Sunday funny pages.

A major new work at the Warehouse is another engrossing piece by Kempinas. Bike Messenger — an hour-long, four-channel video installation — immerses the spectator in an ever-shifting panoramic view of Big Apple streets. To create it, the artist rigged four cameras to his bicycle, documenting his dizzying jaunt through Manhattan. The video, captured from 360-degree angles, is projected onto four opposing walls in a darkened room. It induces whiplash and leaves viewers reeling.

Upon exiting the room, visitors are met with the pungent scent of spices perfuming one of the main galleries. It emanates from one of Ernesto Neto's abstract installations, in which the artist used gossamer-thin fabric to fashion a network of membranes that droop from the ceiling in an almost organic way. The piece suggests a gargantuan cow udder, its teats filled with white pepper, cumin, and cloves.

Yukinori Yanagi's Asia Pacific reflects his investigations into cross-cultural boundaries and issues of nationalism, ideology, and politics through the use of ant farms. Using colored sand, the artist created flags of the world and placed them in 42 Plexiglas boxes before loosing a colony of ants, which tunneled from flag to flag through clear plastic tubing connecting the boxes. Yanagi then lured the insects out with honey before plasticizing the sand for posterity.

The Margulies Collection is exhibiting a couple of works by Jason Rhoades, the brash Los Angeles sculptor who died of heart failure at age 41 this past August. Shelf (Fur Pie) is one of the pieces from his notorious solo show "Meccatuna" at the David Zwirner gallery in New York in 2003.

For the work, the artist heaped hundreds of slang substitutes for the word vagina in neon atop chrome-plated shelves. Margulies's Rhoades sculpture features lights spelling out cum bucket, clamato fountain, and velvet glove. The tangle of words is crammed into a steel rack, along with 69 ceramic donkeys, in a piece that sprays a corner of the gallery with a shameless, lurid glow.

One of the space's other crowd magnets is Barry McGee's overturned truck installation, featuring a wildly painted wood-panel interior housing fifteen TV sets. Twitchy cartoons and tattooed graffiti rats spray-painting walls pepper the screens.

"We are basically an educational foundation and do a lot of work with students considered at-risk and from neglected inner-city areas. We get very excited when we come across work that these kids can relate to and that fits in with what we are doing here," Hinds says.

Leaving the Warehouse, spectators might feel as if they've just visited a funhouse arcade rather than a hands-off collection. They will also find it a relief to encounter a space with its sights set beyond the obvious categories, and one that's free to the public.

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