There aren't many people who could pull off a Transformers-style switcharoo of a South Beach hotel into a big, black dog. But avant-garde artist Desi Santiago is about to do just that for this year's Art Basel extravaganza.
The New York-based artist recently finished a run with the Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs exhibition in Paris, and his next big work of art is Gypsy, the Godzilla-sized black dog taking over Lords South Beach for Basel. Inspired in part by his own real-life pooch, the piece, titled Perrier® Presents: The Black Lords at South Beach, will tell fortunes and serve as a landmark exhibition for art enthusiasts.
Cultist spoke to Santiago on his inspiration, his furry muse and his impressions of Miami's art scene.
Cultist: Tell me a little bit about your evolution as an artist.
Santiago: I came to New York when I was 17. I was part of the whole club culture in the early '90s and the whole club kid thing. I was dressing up, creating new identities and personas. All my work was basically done with my body at that time. I used a lot of costumes and prosthetics, body modification. It evolved into where I started externalizing it. I was doing a lot of jewelry work, so it originally started [with] collaborating with a fashion group who was inspired by my performance and costumes. So then I transferred that over to a model, to someone else's body. Then I did art direction for nightclubs where I used to party and went more into the backside of it. I started playing with the spaces where people partied and carried on and all that. Then it just kept flip flopping back and forth between fashion and nightlife and galleries.
I was always interested in both the details of doing intimacy and atmosphere and sort of the full consumption of the space. Overall I've always been interested in intimate gestures or broad gestures.
How would you describe your work for those unfamiliar with it?
I think my work definitely has, like, a patina or a veil of gothic darkness, but when you really look at it they're very solemn pieces. There's an idea of hope in my work; the pieces aren't nihilistic or apocalyptic, they're not about doom and gloom. They're really somber pieces; there's a lot of mourning that happens with the work.
Are there any materials or mediums you haven't tackled yet that you'd like to?
This one I'm doing in Miami is something I've been dreaming about. This scale of work is what I'm kind of really interested in doing. It's such a large gesture and as a sculptor to have people engage with architecture in this way, it's an amazing experience for me. Even as a spectator of the piece that I'm creating, I'm so excited to be able to engage with it.
How did the concept for the Lord's installation come about?
I was asked by Boffo to be involved in Art Basel (they're the organization that's bringing me down, along with Perrier). They asked me to do something at the Lords Hotel -- they said you can do what you want, just come up with an idea. So I used Gypsy my dog. She's been a muse sometimes, she appears through my work. She's kind of a metaphor for long relationships. She's the longest relationship, she's been witness to all these experiences I have. I use her as this metaphor of a dynamic between two beings. I've always wanted to do a giant version of her, so I was just thinking about the buildings in Miami, and there isn't really a black building in Miami. So I'm just gonna plop some black right in the middle of Miami. Looking at it as an object, the building as a shape and form, it just lends itself to this. It merged in my head. I could see her body, the body of an animal, the body of the dog sort of in there. I really don't know how I connect all the ideas sometimes; they appear and they seem to make sense.
How did she become a prognosticator?
I'm thinking about this whole thing and Miami and the whole idea of Art Basel ... this moving together of different classes and economies; the power exchanges that are happening, and this big black fortune telling dog kind of lays parallel to this fair. I'm not really part of the fair itself, I'm kind of doing my own thing, but it's just a gamble. These ideas that you have to win but you're really not in control in certain respects. You come there with certain expectations, but you just have to see what happens -- it's a roll of the dice, is sort of what I'm kind of commenting on.
What do you think of Miami's art scene?
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I'm really learning more about the art scene there, I haven't spent too much time in Miami, so I don't know if I'd be able to comment. I'm sure I will. I'm hoping that I'll get to meet the community; I'm hoping that they'll come visit the dog and come visit me.
What else do you have in the works?
This is my main focus, but I'm also working on some pieces for an Italian theater. And then right after (Basel) in January I'm gonna be showing at a Boca Raton contemporary gallery. It's weird it all sort of happened, the two separate things. I'm like, oh, OK, Florida!