In the House
Oscar Wilde, that astute observer of the late Nineteenth Century, said that controversy reveals a favorable condition for change. It's applicable to the recent debate among artists, critics, and the curious over some negative reviews of the exhibition "Skins," at the Dorsch Gallery. Because of the very diverse yet interconnected nature of Miami's art scene, such debate and the issues it raises involve a wider community of artists, some of whom took a shot at planning end-of-the-summer art shows, in particular "Tossed Salad" at Kevin Bruk Gallery, "The House at MoCA," and "The Sears Building" at the House.
What's going on in Miami? We've come to an interesting juncture. For the first time in a while, there is a vibrant community of young artists working, trying to say something, to connect in some way our global and local problems and build a bridge across our communities. Some of them come and go, but most now stay. That pattern of artists' exile, which essentially responded to our inferiority complex with New York, gradually is becoming extinct. The creation of art also has become more ubiquitous and its old geographical centers less defined.
These young artists are conceptually informed about many of our pressing questions. All they need is the place and the time to experiment and improve their message. The kind of art they produce is contradictory, reactive, risky, problematic, some even unrealized. Yet in this new context the emotional urge behind the art makes the result quite fresh -- and miracles do happen. Think of those Futurist kids of the early 1900s who had a wonderful program but few works to support it, those who were trying to confront the colossal force of Cubism. In the end and in little time they took Europe by storm.
What to see in these shows? Forget for a moment about originality, beauty, and cutting edge. It's not that these notions don't matter anymore; rather today they don't and can't count as the sole criteria for the making of art.
Sure these artists come to the table with originality in mind, but they also have other valid priorities: to react to their world, to hang out, to say something, to provoke (sometimes negatively), even to do shitty art on purpose. Plain and simple, art can be successful outside the measurements of originality and beauty -- all depending the context.
It helps us understand these shows, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art's gesture of giving our struggling young equal treatment with the big panjandrums. Miami is a youthful city; we should be willing to take risks. The "House at MoCA" exhibition exposes artists to higher standards of presentation and know-how. It also reveals Miami's coming of age, which brings with it respect from elsewhere, particularly that "cultured land" to the north.
"The House" looked good. Some site-specific installations had a metaphysical tone, such as Martin Oppel's stark Dirt Constellation and Concrete, which reminded me, because of its texture and size, of an untuned drum machine emanating a low bass superhum. Or Tim Curtis's Untitled, an imposing and introverted piece in the form of an "X," made with charred wood, which took over a wall.
Other pieces had a peculiar aesthetic bent. Tao Ray's calligraphy in Conversation, a diptych, had an intrinsic elegance. Bhakti Baxter's Light Made Visible was a beautiful geometric mandala-looking scheme made only with strings and nails (which shows how a well-executed concept doesn't need much to express a lot).
Some works were just quizzical, such as Nick Delaveleye's panoramic and linearly compressed Metrorail End-to-End, or Nobody Says Life Was Easy by Frank Wick, an installation set of huge plaster-mold bubbles that mimic Braille scripture. This piece prompted a young girl to tell me she imagined "a blind, nice-looking giant, reading on the wall." Some of this art may have been done somewhere before, but some hasn't. And we already know that nothing in this world is ever exactly the same. It seems to me that what matters here is where all this is going, not where it is right now.
"The House" was refracted by another event on Sunday night: "The Sears Building" at the House, which shouldn't be considered an exhibition in the conventional sense. Instead Robert Chambers, its curator, was right in playing it as a "mobile exhibition where the exhibition visits the viewer." The event showcased, among many others, Oliver Sanchez, who takes the work of "disappeared" artists as well as personal mementos from their lives, such as photos, and reconstructs them in his own presentations. Projection-installations by Adler Guerrier accompanied the crossbred sounds of DJ Le Spam, Rene Barge, and Rat Bastard on the roof of the adjacent building that produced Mahler's Fifth, funk, free jazz, and twittering musique concrete.
The entire presentation was a stimulus for both social interaction and private rumination. The House itself became a dwelling for aesthetic fulfillment here in this neighborhood just east of Biscayne, north of where the new performing arts center will arise. Each group did its thing unpretentiously, poking fun and welcoming banality. There were simultaneous performances, during a four-hour marathon on the roof, by Maria Arjona, and a masochistic sleep ritual on a bed of shoe heels by Maritza Molina. People intervened, adding an element of improvisation and risk, as in a paella performance made by chefs-turned-artists Oppel and Rafael Manzano.
As the party raved (with overlapping music and people in and out of the house), Hest, #5 and Dask, an art trio respected in the graffiti community in Miami, frantically sprayed a piece on the southern wall, working until midnight, when the event wound to its end.
As I left I could see the neighbors, some bewildered, some moving slowly toward the House and mixing with the crowd outside. It was breezy, pleasant, and noisy, and I had the sensation of witnessing a nice flash of human interaction in the name of art. Different people from different ages, races, and ethnic communities attracted by an overall aesthetic experience, which tonight counted much more than the fuzzy details.
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