Invading That Space

Artist Cesar Trasobares is the co-curator of "That Place," an exhibit-installation involving paintings, photographs, and multimedia culled from prominent local collectors, and some site-specific works by local artists. Like a number of shows over the past few years, the art was picked and arranged to fit with a particular space, in this case two buildings in the Design District and the area around them. So we decided to ask Trasobares to walk us through it.

New Times: "That Place" is a wide-ranging show that brings together a motley crew. Is this a contemporary show? What is it?

Cesar Trasobares: "That Place" is a gathering of work by contemporary artists with subjects and media rooted in our time of informational technology and imagistic virtuality. The driving force in this show was more like making art, not an academic show organized from an unlimited universe of possibilities to prove a thesis. I was lucky to have such serious pickings right here in South Florida. These collections contain a vast quarry of work from the past two decades.

In collaboration with Rosa de la Cruz, we selected work from their collection [she and her husband Carlos] and from the others, in [consultation with] the collectors. We obviously mined Craig Robins's holdings for major works -- the John Bock, Nicole Eisenman's Pagan Guggenheim, Rirkrit Tiravanija's pavilion, the large Franz Ackerman paintings -- and tapped the variety in Debra and Dennis Scholl's photo collection, gleaned odd works from Juan Lezcano's jewels, found special works in the other collections. But I still felt I needed to encourage new works that would address the local here and now.

You said "That Place" is not necessarily physical, but more like a mental space -- a sort of aesthetic construction. Could you elaborate?

In the catalog essay, "place" is defined to include: "real and imagined spaces, sites within and outside, fabricated contexts, symbolic destinations ..." I was hoping to show how artists' minds probe into realms beyond spatial logic and circumstance. What happens in the viewers' heads when they encounter Mariko Mori's princess in the Tokyo subway? How does one understand Michael Richards's Escape Series outside the context of the personal biography?

Didn't you feel the catalog was a bit theory-laden? I didn't know what to make of Rosa de la Cruz's short essay quoting French theorist Paul Virilio.

This catalog was intended as an educational resource for visitors. Most of the texts were drawn from notes by the artists or from writings about the works. Each co-curator had a page to set a tone for the show. The theorizing about contemporary art is intended to enhance the connections of viewers with the art. For me, the best part of art is beyond words.

Why are you pondering these issues now?

It's always a good time to think about where we are as artists -- what we're looking at, what we're portraying and imaging, certainly taking stock of where we think we're at. After September 11th the focus on site has become urgently relevant again. Everywhere artworks are constructs that reflect and speak to the imagination.

What criteria, if any, made you choose these particular artists or works?

The broad definition of place and an emphasis on including unusual work. No "decades of" or "emerging artists" type of thinking here. There already are people who think along those lines.

I guess to put on a show like this, you must know these collectors' art holdings. What is the dynamic between curator and collectors to make such a show?

I know all the collectors lending to "That Place" -- and their art holdings -- quite well. Rosa and Carlos, Craig, and Juan have been loyal friends and supporters through the years. Dennis Scholl was a distinguished member of the Art in Public Places Trust when I was director there. The Holtzes and the Eaglsteins are pursuing serious work in specific directions. All of these collectors respect and support art and artists; owning work is about pride in enabling a serious cultural exchange and celebrating human invention and creativity. These collectors have cultivated relations and friendships with artists, curators, and art-world movers and shakers. Every one of these people has made art a major if not a central part of their lives. In organizing exhibitions I never follow a rigid formula, although absolute trust in upholding the artist's intentions is essential in any dealings between curators and collectors.

There's an interesting tension between your "mental" idea of place and the presentation of furniture in the Buick Building. Furniture is broadly associated with a domestic or a private space. Why did you choose the furniture element in defining a place?

I saw the Buick Building storefront space as a place to extend the exhibition to the community of furniture showrooms surrounding it. Some of the works critique standard furniture -- and propose alternatives, like Andrea Zittel's unit for independent living. Lynne Gelfman ... is interested in what happens at a table. While furniture can be mostly private, some furniture is also public, like Antoni Miralda's recycled tire chairs -- infused with the memory of cars driving down Lincoln Road!

You have some local artists that are not in collections. How did they get picked?

Being collected was not a requirement for an artist to be included in the show. I borrowed work from the collectors and had the freedom to 'round out the theme' and make the show relevant to its venues in the Design District. I decided to retain one work from [last year's] "Humid" show, A Wall I Built With My Father by Bert Rodriguez -- a seminal work for any Miami collection or institution. Some artists work with issues of place and I invited them to do site works. George Sanchez's reference to The Blessing raises relevant issues about cultural empowerment and urban development in connection with his installation in Overtown. Martin Oppel's work with the performing arts center site engages a poetic discourse about architecture and cultural futures. Other neighborhood artists like Tao Rey and Bhaki Baxter deal with urban graffiti/gutter/warehouse culture and site-determined work. Ray Azcuy's Standing Room Only is a wonderful flying carpet of sorts.

How do you respond to having included some local artists and not others?

Hey, there's only so much room.

Among the pieces, do you have particular favorites? Why?

The Ana Mendieta beard exchange photos. It's a work that's 30 years old and I still identify with its subversive strategy and primal power. It's an action that positions the human face and body as places of transformation, political exchange, and risk-taking. In a local history angle, the funniest thing continues to happen with Robert Chambers's work. A lot of people think the flashing neon refers to the dance-floor lights of the Fire and Ice disco that was in that very space in the 1980s. In all places, art is a beacon.

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Alfredo Triff

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