Found Objects Get Elevated to Art at MOCA's "Shinique Smith: Menagerie"

photo by Ivon David Rojas

Contemporary art openings in institutional settings tend to be very solemn, approached with a sort of silent reverence for the works on display. Sure, the casual conversations between the white walls may be upbeat, but the atmosphere often seems leadened with a library-like respect. Nothing of the sort was seen at last night's opening at

MOCA

for "

Shinique Smith

: Menagerie."

Stepping into the labyrinth of column-shaped bundled clothes, hanging bulges of blankets and fabrics, and expansive canvas with dizzying colors felt like jumping into a frame out of Super Mario Brothers. The happy noises of children and students fluttering amongst the more reserved museum patrons contributed to an overall lively evening.

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The stage presence of Smith's works was penetrating and powerful, with

moments that could generate a laugh (a work which included a small

reproduction of Jean-Honoré Fragonard's famous rococo work "The Swing"

alongside famous romance novels), and could also tug at the heartstrings

(Letters to Johnny, a 2005 film which imitates a teenager's video diary

dedicated to Johnny Depp).

The result of Bonnie Clearwater's curatorial sensitivities and Smith's

journey through the years of her practice is a fluid, lyrical spectacle

of rich textures and dazzling shades. Yet, the only pitfall was the

attention span and scope of the spectators. No, a five-year-old child in

light-up sneakers cannot be expected to fully absorb the (oftentimes)

deeply poignant nature of Smith's work, but why wasn't there any

commentary on more than just the pretty colors and sweeping lines?

This is where the Miami art community shows the state of its immaturity,

but that's to be expected in these early years of contemporary cultural

development here. What museum-goers should try to do is simply ask

"What's behind this work?" Then the nature of Smith's work as a personal

exploration of our societal trash-to-treasure and back dynamic can be

fully realized and translated into a much fuller, more intellectually

satisfying pursuit.

If the brainy stuff isn't your bag, though, not to worry. There's still plenty

of light-hearted fun and whimsy to be drawn from MOCA's latest offering.

"Shinique Smith: Menagerie" shows until November 19, Museum of

Contemporary Art North Miami (770 NE 125th St., Miami). General

admission is $5, $3 for students and seniors. Call 305-893-6211 or visit

mocanomi.org.

--Shana Mason


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