Evan Robarts grew up in Miami Beach and moved to New York more than a decade ago to pursue a degree in sculpture. These days, the 30-year-old artist has a studio in Brooklyn and often visits his hometown. This provides the perfect vantage point to view the staggering changes to the landscapes of two of America's premier art scenes.
"The Miami Beach I grew up in has changed completely," he observes. "And the same commercialization and changes are happening now in Brooklyn... I feel displaced and caught somewhere in the middle."
Robarts' sense of displacement and long family history in South Beach — his grandparents owned a local hotel in the 1950s — is reflected in an untitled work he created during a recent residency in Miami that will be on view this week at Lincoln Road's ArtCenter/South Florida, which is presenting "I-95 South." The group show pairs three Miami and four New York artists ranging in age from 24 to 33.
The exhibit, which also features locals Johnny Laderer, Gustavo Oviedo, and Luis Pinto and New York's Tyler Healy, Dean Levin, and Kyle Yanagihara, offers a unique opportunity to compare the work of emerging talent in both cities.
"These artists' works are influenced by their environment — whether by the underground art and music scene, the urban landscapes of Brooklyn or Wynwood, or their proximity to each other within the walls of their studio," says ArtCenter's artistic director, Susan Caraballo.
Robarts' part of the exhibit features three boogie boards he purchased at a Lincoln Road tourist trap. He cut out the middles and inserted flat-screen monitors. Each one loops a short video taken with a cell phone. One of them pictures the scummy surface of the Gowanus Canal, which is located near his Brooklyn studio and is one of America's most polluted waterways, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Another video shows the glossy floors of the midtown Miami Target store gleaming under fluorescent lights in a way that suggests rippling waves. And the third depicts palm fronds gently swaying in the breeze.
"South Beach has become consumed by the commercial tourist and nightlife industry, and much of its history has been glossed and developed over," Robarts says. "I shot the video of the canal near my studio, which has caused some of the highest cancer statistics in the nation, to show how unchecked development destroys the environment, which ironically is what is happening here as well."
Growing up, Robarts was fascinated with archaeology. His grandparents, Martin and Goldie Goldwyn, owned the Century Hotel on Ocean Drive at Second Street during the '50s, and his uncles Harry Pere and Max Katz owned and operated the Congress and Ocean Blue hotels on the beach from the '40s until the '60s, the artist says.
His mother, Phyllis, is a preservationist who has lived in the same Sunset Islands home the family has owned for the past 50 years. He left town to attend New York's Pratt Institute, but was given a recent chance to work here when the art center granted him a residency.
One of Robarts' sculptures now showing in ArtCenter's main gallery, titled Student Body, was fashioned from found desk chairs and reconfigured to appear like a menacing black insect scuttling across the gallery floor. Today, he often uses found objects in his sculpture. The urban areas where he scrawled graffiti during college have been a source of the unusual materials he often employs.
"I still return to the same locations, no longer to do graffiti but to excavate and pull things out from their grave into my studio," Robarts says.
"The factors that determine what I take back are entirely aesthetic, materials that not only have patina but whose structure and color strike a nerve. Bike frames, mufflers, balls, floor boards — the list is infinite. There is a grace inherent in decay."
ArtCenter is also showing "On Location: Artha Project," the result of Robarts' weeklong residency as well as those of Healy and Levin. Additional works appear at the center's nearby Lincoln Road space, Project 924. The Artha Project is a private residency program located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where the trio works together back home. At ArtCenter, the threesome was given carte blanche to experiment.
"The time we spent at the Project 924 space was really exciting because I didn't have a prepared body of work to exhibit," Robarts says. "Tyler, Dean, and I came up with the show a week before the opening. No gallery in its right mind would ever allow this, but ACSF takes chances, and I think that's what sets them apart."
On a wall across from Robarts' sculpture is Miami artist Gustavo Oviedo's Periodic Table, a painting on a recycled canvas featuring strange hieroglyphics. The bottom section of the work, which was created over a four-month stretch, depicts what appears to be mutant marine life. "I finished it after I bought my first boat and was scuba diving to look for objects to use in my work," mentions the 32-year-old local, who grew up in South America and France. "These days I use my boat, a 16-foot runabout I call the No Rush, as my studio and have become more focused on shooting underwater video and collecting discarded objects I find in the ocean from Haulover Beach to Key Largo."
At ArtCenter, Oviedo, who paints his trademark symbols on murals in Little River and Wynwood, is also exhibiting Coladas, a sculpture created from Styrofoam containers of café cubano he downed while creating the painting in the show. "I drank all those coladas while making the painting at my old Bakehouse studio," Oviedo laughs. "After a while, they were stacked up everywhere, and I became curious over the possibility of making a 'residual' piece that I could connect with the painting in a show."
Also interesting at ArtCenter's main gallery is the work of Miami's Johnny Laderer, who's originally from Bartow, Florida. He used tennis balls cut in half as a mold to create faux oranges, limes, and lemons. They reference the fruit stands he encountered while driving through Central Florida. Some farmers, he says, use fake produce in front so the real citrus doesn't spoil. "The land, the sea, and the history of the people," he says, "are what inspire me."