Off to the Races
ArtCenter/South Florida's latest exhibition, "Advent," evokes a thought: No matter how much you flog a nag, it will never run like a racehorse.
Curated by New York-based artist Lou Laurita, the show seeks to explore themes of "coming into being or use," yet stalls at the gate, for much of the work seems a furlong from posting his premise.
"Advent" was selected in a juried process to be part of ArtCenter's biannual Exhibition Proposal Program. It features the work of Nancy Brooks Brody, Montana Cherney, Reuben Cox, Jen DeNike, Adriana Farmiga, Hope Gangloff, Amy Gartrell, Alina Viola Grumiller, Fawn Krieger, and Tawnie Silva.
Adriana Farmiga's 2x2 (aka Noah's Ark) has little to do with emergence and appears to be more of a commentary on runaway consumption. At the entrance of the fishbowllike space on Lincoln Road is her blue tarp spread neatly across the floor. The artist has obsessively covered it with pairs of assorted consumer goods seemingly looted from Home Depot or several dollar stores.
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Observed from a distance, the work triggers associations with not only complicated do-it-yourself assembly instructions but also with someone's attempting to inventory the contents of a cluttered garage. Fuzzy dice, badminton shuttlecocks, scissor ladders, hardware odds and ends, dentures, pillboxes, packets of Smucker's grape jelly, and paper doilies are fastidiously arranged two-by-two. Closer inspection reveals credit cards, mousetraps, gauze bandages, and plastic cockroaches placed together, tritely suggesting the insidious nature of compulsive shopping.
Farmiga's ordered heap hints at Jason Rhoades's early work, such as Uno Momento/the theater in my dick/a look to the physical/ephemeral, minus the jolting edginess he mainlined into the junk aesthetic. Where Rhoades's stuff exudes the creep factor of the collected crap crammed into a college freshman's closet, Farmiga's structured pile looks more like someone's mother came and cleaned up at the end of the semester. The piece is so anally calculated it seems crimped off from being truly provocative.
Some of the show's better pieces were too tightly corseted in the space, and overall the exhibit would have benefited from keener editing by the curator.
An artist whose work literally suffers from poor positioning in the gallery is Tawnie Silva. One of his pieces is displayed at knee level, below a wall covered by another artist's drawings, which makes it easy to overlook.
Silva's Something That Runs Through the Course of a Whole Thing #9 is among the most inventive in the exhibit and one you don't have to squat to experience.
Using blue thread and a one-inch-by-twelve-foot strip of white Velcro, the artist has painstakingly re-created parts of a letter he wrote at the end of a recent relationship.
Stitched with sentences like "You can't come through the door you let me need!" and "Take your jacket back now that it smells like me," this meandering missive wittily airs out Silva's emotional funk and will make anyone who has ever been dumped crack a grin.
Jen DeNike's videos lose something in translation because of their lack of running room in a corner of the gallery. Fell and Dead Man's Float are shown on a wall projected from a few steps away. The works are stacked atop each other and are difficult to fully appreciate.
Fell is almost imperceptible. It appears to depict a human shadow doing jumping jacks or making angels in the snow and is shown, almost concealed, at waist height on a space the size of a pillowcase.
Above it, projected onto an area the width of a car trunk, the other video portrays a naked white male floating face-down in a river, his arms and legs outstretched. As the body bobs in the murky water, raindrops pelt the scene, and an occasional thunderclap booms. The man's reddish hair whips about in the flowing current and undulates like a jellyfish.
This video evokes a sense of eerie tranquility but shies away from fully affecting the viewer because of its limited format. One is left wondering how forceful it might have been if presented on a larger scale.
One of my favorite pieces is Montana Cherney's silk-screen on suit fabric, Ol' Dirty Bastard vs. the Pentagon. The fabric, typically used for suits favored by those wishing to drape themselves in the trappings of power, has been printed with ski masks, pentagons, tree branches, hooks, and cheerleader megaphones in a sensational pattern that snaps the starch out of stiff business sorts.
Far from crossing the finish line like a tired nag, the exhibit delivers several winners. But in terms of cohesion, Laurita has harnessed too many artists in an uneven field, and some of the work ends up getting trampled.
At the Moore Space, Jeppe Hein's sensational show sweeps the spectator along for a dizzying taste of a theme-park ride.
"Distance" is equal parts roller coaster and Rube Goldberg contraption. This exhibit is also an impish tip-off that the artist loves to engross the public in his interest in games, bamboozling them into becoming active participants in his work.
The piece consists of nearly 1000 feet of rails or track that winds through the space in a knotted steel tangle, cutting through walls, rising to the ceiling, wrapping around raw wooden beams, and hugging the concrete floors in curling waves.
Examining it closely, one marvels at the simplicity of its construction and the fact that this huge sculpture is mostly held together with little more than nuts and bolts.
As visitors enter the space, they activate a sensor, which shoots a white plastic sphere the size of a soccer ball onto the rails. The viewer tracks the ball on foot as it makes its way across the twisting, turning, and plunging rails sprawled throughout the gallery. Following the ball, one observes it as it dips and rolls before switching back on loops and is later lifted by sections of rails that act like a seesaw, dropping it onto another segment of track before continuing its gravity-juiced journey.
When I first saw the work, I was alone in the gallery, and once I had followed the single ball I had triggered, I couldn't help but go back and activate the sensor several times to gain a sense of how it would operate in a crowd. After unleashing a half-dozen spheres into the space, I found myself running around and feeling as entertained as a kid raising Cain in an amusement park.
Not only will you be amazed by the scale of the artist's ingenuity and wicked sense of humor, but also the work is so beguiling it's difficult to stop toying with Hein's balls again and again and again, hoping the crafty engineer doesn't catch you.
Bozidar Brazda's "Eyeshadow," also at the Moore Space, roughly pushes you in an entirely different direction. The artist loosely interweaves references to a 1988 Russian movie, Little Vera, and the punk-rock aesthetic of the Seventies and Eighties, in a weak thread of narrative that lashes the spectator to flesh out the plot.
As one approaches the first of two rooms displaying Brazda's work, the ears are assailed by a gang of yelping and yammering guitar-maiming maniacs blaring from the loudspeaker.
On an exterior wall the words Mosfilm Studios are painted backward as if reversed in a mirror. Entering the room, one finds a massive plywood table that splits the space diagonally and is covered with dozens of cheap wine bottles. The bottles are haphazardly relabeled with gold stickers that read Malenkaya Red 1978-1988 and offer the dubious clues Faith and Dansk on the gaudy tags. On a nearby wall, three juicy watercolors depict musicians onstage or crowds cheering a band rendered in anemic veils of paint the color of Mercurochrome and iodine.
Upon entering another room, one is overpowered by the cloying scent of decaying chocolate. Yet another table the artist favors them as cultural catchalls holds a box of battered chocolates pinned under a piece of lumber that has been drilled onto the tabletop. Behind it an unwatered plant rots and a small-screen TV shows a twitchy video.
Brazda's video depicts a graffiti-scrawled mannequin being interviewed and her story unfolding in subtitles. A snippet shows the plaster dummy droning on about buying handguns on the street, the kind that blow up in one's hand when fired.
Overall the installation is styled to suggest a group of Danish punks tripping on mushrooms and searching for the missing protagonist of the Russian film inspiring the piece. A gallery assistant mentioned the wine and tables might be riffs on the biblical Last Supper or the Wedding at Canna. Sensing a potential jam in his gears, I wondered if an assault on the imagination might be the kernel of Brazda's scam.
After a couple of hours spent hashing out the evidence, I still found the artist's stilted story convoluted and off-putting. If Brazda were to grill me about what I thought would happen at the end of his twisted, nonsensical tale, I'd respond, "Like myself, the witnesses might have felt stranded at a crime scene and made off in a getaway car.
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