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On a recent Wednesday morning at the Frost Art Museum, a gaggle of giddy fifth-graders suddenly stopped in amazement and began roaring in glee. The kids, from Homestead's Peskoe Elementary, were collectively juked out of their shoes by Kori Newkirk's untitled sculpture, which is fashioned from a pair of basketball hoops, braids, and beads.
"I think these are hair weaves!" exclaimed a young girl. "I guess you can make art out of anything."
And that's exactly the point of "Because I Say So," an exhibition featuring selections from the collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl that challenges the notion of what art is. The works on display are remarkable not only for the range of materials — which include twigs, strips of fabric, hairpins, and even LPs — but also for tip-toeing around the tradition of sculpture while subverting it in arresting ways.
The Scholls, who are major collectors (he was just named the Knight Foundation's Miami director), have offered the Frost often-unseen sculptures and installations from their impressive contemporary art trove. According to a museum handout, they look for "work that succeeds both on and below the surface, evoking a strong response, and not necessarily a positive one... So long as a viewer is engaged enough to give a reaction, either one of pleasure or discomfort, we feel that the work has succeeded."
The reactions are strong and tantalizing at the Frost. The Scholls' plucky eye for talent is on display even before visitors enter the gorgeous second-floor gallery, where their quirky treasures are amassed. Outside the entrance, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova's An Open Door is easy to overlook. The Miami artist, known for his work with ordinary items one might find at Home Depot, has created a portal to nowhere using a prefabricated door that's painted white and, with the exception of a golden knob, doesn't seem out of place against the pristine museum walls.
Leaving the viewer fumbling with air while trying to peek behind it, the artist delivers a place of lingering complexity where art can be re-imagined. Above it, British artist Liam Gillick's Applied Liaison Platform, crafted from anodized aluminum and transparent yellow, light blue, and orange Plexiglas, dangles from the rafters and catches the sunlight, bathing spectators in an ethereal rainbow glow. Often associated with the Young British Artists movement, Gillick is known for his public projects and theoretical writings.
Inside the gallery, a monumental Robert Morris work swallows an entire wall. The black, gray, and shocking pink soft sculpture, titled Vetti V, is made of massive felt folds. It assails the peepers while evoking comparisons to a Japanese kimono or a pulsating birth canal. Morris is a pioneer of conceptual art and one of the most prominent theorists of minimalism.
Nearby is another large-scale minimalist opus, by Brooklyn-based artist Tara Donovan. The giant cube, about the size of a kitchen stove, includes what look like millions of straight pins. It appears the artist has employed magnets to keep the pins in place. Heightening the sense of wonder is Donovan's ingenuity, unexpected use of materials, and the labor-intensive quality of her work.
Alice Channer, recognized for her restrained references to fashion, equally cranes the neck with Untitled (Hair Pins), which arcs like an invisible kite's tail on a wall near the gallery's ceiling. Created from paper and bobby pins, the subtle sculpture is a beautiful reminder that art that provokes the most questions is the result of creative risks.
One of the dizzier yet simpler works on view is Hans-Peter Feldman's Kinetic Sculpture 1 & 2, near the entrance of the show. The German conceptualist has used two black-and-white postcard-size images and attached them to a magnetic motor so the pictures whipsaw back and forth. In one image, a woman faces the viewer with her hand stretched aloft. In the other image, a luxury liner cruises at sea.
As both pictures bounce hither and yon, they give the impression the woman is waving bon voyage while the cruise ship is tempest tossed.
Perhaps closest to a traditional sculpture are four untitled wall plaques by Tom Otterness, whose subject matter is reminiscent of a Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom episode gone awry. On one plaque, a man clings to the underbelly of a charging rhino. On another, a primate gives birth while simultaneously gnawing off another infant's limb. Curiously, on yet another plaque, a crown-clad man with his hands tied behind his back licks an elephant's ass. The Kansas-born sculptor became the subject of controversy in 2008 when it was discovered he adopted a dog and then shot it to death for a film he made early in his career.
Among the biggest crowd pleasers at the Frost is Paul Pfeiffer's Caryatid, featuring professional hockey's fabled Stanley Cup levitating above a stadium crowd. His modest installation projects an almost grandiose quality by incorporating a chrome-plated TV set. On the screen, the Stanley Cup looks like a tiny UFO as it zips above a cheering crowd and light bulbs explode like popcorn as the trophy makes its rounds. Pfeiffer has erased the image of the hockey player skating with the award overhead to give the impression of an altered reality or the spectacle in decay.
One of the most impressive installations is Olafur Eliasson's Light Ventilator Mobile, whirring like helicopter blades and isolated in a room at the rear of the space. Created from a fan, a lamp, some pipe, cords, and rope, the kinetic sculpture leisurely spins around the room, blistering the walls with a ball of light that eerily resembles a penitentiary spotlight searching a jail yard for escaped cons. The Danish-Icelandic artist made a huge splash last year with his four soaring man-made waterfalls cascading into New York Harbor, in a commissioned installation that ran from June to October at a cost of $15 million.
Hanging from the door frame leading to Eliasson's whizzing piece is Trisha Donnelly's Untitled (T), rendered from long white pine needles and bay leaves that look like gargantuan sprigs of mistletoe.
While some unimpressed students gathered to debate whether Tom Friedman's stack of Styrofoam cups was a "joke," others lined up to try out Janet Cardiff's booming Feedback installation. The Canadian artist created the interactive piece using a Marshall amplifier and Jimi Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner."
As one of the kids pressed his foot to a pedal, the gallery exploded with the sounds of Hendrix assaulting guitar chords and youngsters shrieking in delight. A museum guard showed up as if on cue.
"This is better than Guitar Hero," cracked the boy stomping on the pedal.