Just What Miami Needs -- Another Huge Ego

Robert Wyndam Bucknell strikes an engaging argument as an aspiring art star humble enough to paint his toenails gold and title his solo show at OBJEX Artspace "Why I Think I Am So Fucking Special: It's All About Me." An impish yet erudite 27 years old, Bucknell is a capacious bucket of irony who hails from London and straddles literary and art history with bigger brass than the Colossus of Rhodes.

Aspiring to put the "capital F back into art," he loots the masters of the Western canon with the steady hand of a Dickensian cutpurse (think Oliver Twisted), fleecing the likes of Shakespeare, Cervantes, Pessoa, Cranach, Van Gogh, Duchamp, and a Cecil B. DeMille cast of other cultural giants with the ennui of a Wall Street pirate in a megalomedia cacophony that buffets the mind.

A compulsive self-historian and inveterate doodler, Bucknell takes one along for a walk on the Wilde side, gleefully reminding us of the sublime Oscar's observation that "art is perfectly useless and all bad poetry is sincere."

"Wynd," as he is known by his aristocracy peers -- many of whom donated pieces to his show -- notes that his work is about ideas, and although most if not all are not his, some are not really that bad, dismissing the concept of originality as "19th Century Romanticist poo."

His flamboyant presence ignited a debate on opening night between spectators who brayed that he was putting the CON in conceptual art and that his show was full of shit, which technically it is, and others who took up the gauntlet and mined for the nuggets of brilliance scattered among the ephemera and excreta of Wynd's world.

Be warned, though, that bad taste overdose seems a Bucknell forte and this nihilistic onslaught demands a closer-than-surface reading. In a witty take on Piero Manzoni's Merde d'Artist, Bucknell exhibits the stool specimens of a Realtor, a pharmacist, and the gallerist in glass jars under a scribbled quote on the wall: "Let me tell you about the very talented, they are different than you and I," an allusion to F. Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby, then shows us that unlike the hoi polloi, he craps purple dinosaurs.

Following in the same vein, he exhibits nine syringes of strangers' blood in Le Sang D'un Poet (Jean Cocteau). The tenth -- his own -- is, of course, blue. In Breath of the Artist, multiple balloons (some blown up by factory workers, bartenders, and others) hang limply from their strings while Wynd's turgidly defies gravity.

In The Long and Lonely Nights I've Spent Since You First Left Home, twin pickle jars are filled with what appear to be about a baker's dozen boxes of semen-soaked Kleenex tissues, attesting to how serious Wynd is about archiving his DNA for the sake of art posterity. This piece is enhanced by documentation of the pearly spillage pooling between his thumb and forefinger in Möbius strip patterns exhibited in a handy photo album dangling from a string.

A pair of scuffed sneakers on the floor nearby trumpets the opportunity to breathe rarefied air: "Walk in Wynd's Shoes $5.00 a Go." Phalanxes of toilet paper tubes are anointed with self-portraits of the artist and his friends at the loo. A tentlike structure, composed of photocopies of one of his trilogy of published works, Glimpses Inside the Mind of a Slightly Deranged Person, houses a video monitor featuring Bucknell wildly declaiming his literary meanderings.

One of the pieces you won't want to miss is a filthy, footprint-covered piece of cardboard wedged in a corner bearing the nearly imperceptible legend: "Please do not walk on this ... it is a work of art and very fragile and easily damaged."

And, as enticingly hubristic as the phantasmagoria of Wynd's "postmodern wilderness of lost youth" may be, try not to trip over the scads of empty vodka bottles consumed at his "Wyndwood" garret dubbed "alcoholics conspicuous-Miami Chapter." They too are art, he tells us. Actually it is his compelling drawings that mark this bloke as truly fucking special.

Bucknell, a classically trained historian at the University of London's prestigious school of Oriental and African Studies, captures the barley-misted heights of Miami's art star Olympus in his uproarious works on paper with the kiss-and-tell authority of a Truman Capote.

Don't miss Bucknell's drawings of Hernan Bas shotgunning a beer at Jimbo's in Key Biscayne after a five-hour drinking jag, or Wynd, Naomi Fisher, and Wheelbarrow spastically tangled on the dance floor during Wynd's vodka party at Revolver. Also catch the spectacular pornlike point-of-view perspective of Wynd getting head from an anonymous groupie at a nightclub, who later broke a beer bottle across his noggin when he made a crack about her breath.

Unlike the sordid miasma of some snapshot diarists mandatory in contemporary art, featuring elaborately contrived scenarios that read like reality-show pap or sweated-over versions of angst-lite, these drawings reflect a raw existentialist power, a yearning for lost innocence, an urge to escape from youthful success. They are primal, quixotic, and succeed ironically as a foil to Bucknell's attempts to distance himself from originality. Their seductiveness lies in an unglossed authenticity, in Bucknell's meretricious play and counterplay of subject and self, and in their incursions into private emotional lives rendering social realities publicly and unself-consciously.

If peer acclaim can be a hallmark for an emerging artist's success, it does not surprise that many of his colleagues referenced in the show are lining up to trade work with an artist equally at play between the gaze and the pose.

At Casas Riegner Gallery, Miguel Angel Rojas's "Why Must We Meet Like This?" seems all about the gaze and the primacy of seeing in desire. Confronting his installation Paquita Buys an Ice Cream Cone reminded me of the words of a Coral Gables gallerist who, when reviewing the work of a young female artist aspiring to enter his stable, remarked, "The eyes ... they never grow old."

Rojas, a pioneer of Latin American conceptual art, utilizes as the formal iconographical structure for this work voyeuristic documentation of his coming of age as a homosexual in the stifling climate of his predominantly Catholic native Colombia.

In 1979 he planted a hidden camera in the bathroom stall of a decaying Bogotá theater he frequented, like many homosexuals at the time, seeking fleeting erotic encounters with attractive strangers.

The resulting imagery of those transitory encounters have germinated over a dozen successive works of art and are deeply embedded in the myth of Paquita. Working from minimal reductions of the photographic negatives he took 25 years earlier at the Mogador Theater, Rojas installs thousands of cornea-sized cutouts straight onto the gallery walls in a harrowing narrative reflecting the darker consequences of the erotic assignations of his youth.

Paquita's tale, presented as a pointillist cartoon, takes the metaphorical child heroine on a journey of desire fraught with unexpected dangers, culminating in a sickbed scene where she lies rigid and contaminated from the ice cream cone she has ingested.

The genesis of Paquita's fate stems from the artist's loss of many of his closest friends to the AIDS virus and resonates metaphorically in Rojas's choice of an ice cream cone as the little girl's twin axis of pain and pleasure. Looking at the work, delving into its source material evokes a sense of unease, of libidinal identification of fractured perception and the frail negotiation of becoming what we want.

“Why I Think I Am So Fucking Special: It’s All About Me”
By Robert Wyndam Bucknell through June 6 at OBJEX Artspace, 203 NW 36th St; 305-573-4400.

“Why Must We Meet Like This?”
By Miguel Angel Rojas through June 19 at Casas Riegner Gallery, 25 NE 39th St; 305-573-8242.

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