Artist Kerry Phillips Has First Solo Show at the Bass in Miami Beach | Miami New Times

Visual Art

Kerry Phillips Invokes the Storytelling Power of Junk at the Bass

Artist Kerry Phillips has an enduring fascination with the psychic value we assign to personal effects.
Artist Kerry Philips in her studio
Artist Kerry Philips in her studio Kerry Phillips photo
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Kerry Phillips has a serious storage problem. You would, too, if your life's passion was collecting junk.

Well, some people might call it junk, but for Phillips, the detritus of our modern consumer lives has an almost animistic quality, with everyday objects possessed of their spiritual essence. Throughout her career, an enduring fascination with the psychic value we assign to our personal effects has compelled the Miami-based artist to build formidable art installations using copious amounts of found bric-a-brac.

"People often ask me, 'Where do you store all this crap?'" Phillips tells New Times. "Then their second question usually is, 'How do you make money? Like, do you sell this?' The work I make isn't necessarily commercially sellable, not like a painting that someone can buy and put on their wall. They're usually quite large installations that are space-prohibitive, so showing in museums and art spaces like that is where these things belong. It's kind of the only place where they can belong."

It's fortunate for Miami then that Phillips' latest work has a home at the Bass this summer. Now on view through October 21, "Between the Mundane and the Miraculous" is the artist's first solo museum exhibition and, in her self-deprecating words, "confirmation that all the odd things I do make sense to other people." It comprises a large-scale, site-specific sculptural installation made up of miscellaneous household goods, scavenged knickknacks, and the esoteric contents of private junk drawers collected "by the truckload."

Phillips, who works out of a chic Design District studio today, credits her appreciation for the storytelling power of found objects on the grandmothers who helped raise her in rural Texas. One had a penchant for collecting things, and the other was known to be a masterful yarn spinner.
click to enlarge
Evidence of a previous presence (new mountains seen from no fixed position), 2022
Photo by Francesco Casale/Image courtesy of the artist
"I love found objects because I love the stories," she says. "I'm fascinated by how we assign value and meaning to things that we use, keep, collect, discard, ignore, throw away, or become obsolete, no longer useful or practical. We place a high value on things that don't necessarily have monetary value because of a memory, a story, or a connection. It's like this disposable object becomes imbued with value because of the time that it's been kept."

"When you pick up and engage with an object, many times you can kind of get a sense of where it's been just by the marks on it," she adds. "It's the well-worn stuffed bear that's the child's favorite, not the brand-new fancy one."

Of course, storytelling is a communal activity, not a solitary one, so "Between the Mundane and the Miraculous" incorporates found objects donated by the Miami community that are steeped in diverse personal histories and private narratives. In the month leading up to the exhibition's opening, Phillips hosted an interactive "laboratory" welcoming locals from all backgrounds and walks of life to engage with her, the space, and materials, effectively becoming collaborators in the installation.

"My working thesis or hypothesis is that in sharing our stories and making these connections, we're sharing our value and creating value in each other," Phillips says. "That, then, can also create compassion and love."

"Kerry Phillips: Between the Mundane and the Miraculous." On view through October 21, at the Bass, 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7530; Admission is free with a suggested donation. Wednesday through Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
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