By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Dave McKenzie plans to meet a stranger at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. He'd like to take that person to dinner and pick up the tab. The Jamaican artist has installed a Plexiglas drop-off box at the museum where visitors can fill out a slip with their contact information and place it inside. The drawing for the winner of this novel performance piece will be held August 15.
McKenzie's It's a Date is part of "Convention," an ingenious group show at MoCA that includes a series of workshops, video projects, installations, and performances. The exhibition — designed by MoCA's assistant curator, Ruba Katrib — explores the effects and roles of conventions, festivals, and other social and professional gatherings on our community.
"'Convention' examines forms of gathering in our society," Katrib says. "Every artist in the exhibition is examining this phenomenon from a different perspective." She adds that the museum is "acting as a launching pad for several of the artists by creating an opportunity for them to experiment."
The majority of works on display were created for the exhibition, which seeks to engage the community while challenging the format of a conventional museum show.
There's lots of international and local talent, including Julieta Aranda, Fia Backström, Xavier Cha, Anne Daems and Kenneth Andrew Mroczek, Jim Drain, Fritz Haeg, Corey McCorkle, Gean Moreno, My Barbarian, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Sean Raspet, Bert Rodriguez, and Superflex and Jens Haaning.
New York-based Xavier Cha installed a 20-by-30-foot professional dance floor in the center of the museum and invited the local dance community to use it as a rehearsal space. During a recent visit, experimental hoofer Ana Mendez twirled and glided across Cha's Rehearsal Space. Cha, who investigated the Miami dance community and discovered a dearth of studio space, has drawn different dancers and choreographers to the museum. Her free space is open to those who contact the museum during the show.
Likewise, Miami artist Gean Moreno has created a user-friendly seating area called The Helga Platform. Moreno crafted the bleacher-like, loungy corner near the museum entrance out of raw plywood and has made it available for public use. It will be used for screenings, lectures, and formal meetings or programs. "It's become a locus for cultural activities, as well as a place for people to congregate while seeing the show," Katrib says. "It's a great way to engage the community, and organizations like the New York Foundation for the Arts have reserved the space for meetings."
Perhaps the most ambitious project here is Salon Colada: Miami HQ by Los Angeles artist Fritz Haeg, whose work often depicts social relationships. Haeg is working with Coral Gables couple Keith Waddington and Mindy Nelson, whose living room contents have been relocated to the museum. Meanwhile, Haeg has provided the pair with new furnishings, creating a salon-like space in their dwelling. The couple will be conducting events at home, which will be documented with photographs and video footage in their transplanted living room at MoCA. On display at the museum are couches, chairs, mobiles, a cat scratching post, a black iron fireplace grill, and a TV set from the couple's home. That Haeg's project takes place predominantly outside MoCA's walls subversively upends the museum's traditional role.
A local artist who has intrepidly engaged the public as a collaborator for his piece The Kindness of Strangers is Bert Rodriguez, who initiated a fundraising effort through his eponymous foundation. Like a firefighter collecting street-corner donations for a kidney transplant, Rodriguez sent out an army of volunteers to gather funds at shopping malls and other locations. He then used the cash to create a sculpture at MoCA. Inside the museum, visitors can fill out a slip to volunteer for the artist's grassroots effort, which offers a biting commentary that questions the value of art while involving donors.
Among the more compelling video pieces is Herd Instinct 360°, by Swedish artist Fia Backström, in which the artist discusses the nature of convening. The speech is accompanied by historical images of social, religious, and political gatherings. Backström, who developed her monologue over several Sunday "sermon" performances, covers subjects ranging from hippie communes to religious cults to spaghetti dinners. Images of Nazi rallies and sporting events are interspersed with pictures of members of the Baader-Meinhof gang and other '70s terrorist factions.
On a lighter note, Cyprus's Christodoulos Panayiotou offers a quixotic look at an annual parade in his hometown of Limassol, where his compatriots are obsessed with gamboling around in homemade Disney character costumes. Wonder Land consists of 80 projected slides featuring children and adults, many clad in wacky Donald Duck outfits and marching along a boulevard surrounded by cheering throngs.
Another video piece that tickles the ribs is On a Lasting Basis (Rinse and Repeat) by Mexico's Julieta Aranda. The artist has filmed a radio transmission antenna in Mexico City that is transformed into a Christmas tree during the holidays. She has also arranged bottles of pine cleaner in a triangle in front of the video projection and placed a mop and bucket in a nearby corner. Every day, the floor around her video is mopped with the cleanser, leaving a distinct scent to remind viewers that after the fiesta comes a limpieza.
Around the corner, visitors might likely overlook Corey McCorkle's Orthopedic Pathway for a Motivational Speaker, which appears to be a few folding chairs left against a wall of the museum after a lecture. The artist has slyly hinted at the ubiquitous trappings of convention meetings that take place daily in halls across America. He created the folding chairs by hand and leaned them haphazardly in a spot where spectators might easily trip over them.
Meanwhile, Miami's Jim Drain focuses on Art Basel-style fair displays with an installation of painted columns and a video of the interior of the Miami Beach Convention Center. On one of the columns, Drain has oddly propped a gold spray-painted carrot on its end. While a slide projection loops imagery taken from the Julia Tuttle Causeway, Drain's erect taproot reminds us that weird art is often the likeliest to spark debate. After all, this show begs the question: Isn't that why people gather?