With Rebeca Raney's Art Basel Exhibit, Primary Projects Swaps Swine for Sweetness

It wasn't long ago that Miami didn't have much of an art scene. That was before Art Basel took root, before Rebeca Raney left Miami in 1999 to go to college. By the time the scene got going in earnest, Raney was off living in New England.

But in all that time away, Raney never lost her Miami pop and jive. Her zest for color and her taste for easy living are ever evident in her artwork, which will be on display at Primary Projects in the Design District during Art Basel.

Primary Projects gained quite a reputation during last year's festival, when they hosted Miru Kim, a female artist who lay naked with pigs in a sty that had been constructed in the gallery. It was an exhibit that helped put Primary Projects on the maps as an Art Basel gallery to watch.

If last year's exhibit was sexy and raw, then this year's art is, well, adorable. Raney embraces terms like sweet and cute. Her work, her giant embroidered creatures which stand far taller than she, are joyful, not creepy.

Her collection, called "Raneytown" after her college nickname, is a gallery takeover, featuring her collection of larger-than-life, brightly-colored sculptures with humanoid limbs and embroidered faces atop resin-coated bodies.

Unlike some hyper-sexualized Japanese manga, which you might mistakenly think the Raneytown figures reference, Raney's adamant her figures have no weird sexual undertones. She just loves silliness, and her work, she says, is filled with wonder and childlike naïveté.

Like a child's attachment to a precious doll or stuffed animal, Raney cares about the massive sculptures she makes.

"They tend to wobble, but they're really strong," she says of the Raneytown people. "They start out as wire, and then they become chicken wire, and then they become paper mache, and they become resin and fiber glass."

She got the idea to construct huge sculptures when she first walked into the space she'll be showing in this winter. The gallery is large enough to walk through, to really take your time and to wander around--and she wanted to fill it all.

Along with the mini population of Raneytown, Raney's college nickname, some of her drawings and other work will be on display.

Raney, who was born and raised in Miami, went to Rhode Island School of Design for college. When she began graduate school, Raney switched from painting to sculpture. She loved walking around a piece, seeing it from all angles, and animating it.

When she first bent and played with chicken wire, a three-dimensional world of art opened up to her. She began sculpting and playing with a variety of materials, including paper mache and resin.

Today, after years of experimenting, and two international shows--one in Denmark and other in Japan--Raney is back in the United States and excited to show art in her hometown.

"Growing up in Miami, I don't care what anyone else says -- I left in 1999 -- there was no art. There really wasn't. You could go to Lincoln Road and see some paintings. There wasn't anything of consequence, or anything to look at," Raney said.

Since April, when Raney first heard that she'd been accepted by Primary Projects, she's been traveling frequently from New York City, where she lives, to Miami, where she constructs the people of Raneytown.

In just a few short weeks, she'll be down in the land of perpetual summer staying at her mother's Miami house where her creations, the people of Raneytown, populate the garage, the living room, and every other free space her mother's home once had.

Come late November, when Raney gets ready to set up her Art Basel show, the people of Raneytown will move to Primary Projects, where there will be a private showing December 1, followed by the public opening December 6.

But this week, as wind and rain devastated New York City, Raney stayed home in her Chelsea apartment and embroidered.

A few minutes after the interview with Raney ended, my phone buzzed. Raney was at home embroidering and she had sent a text messaged photo of the colorful, raised swirls of thread she was sewing today as she made her last mad dash to finish all of her sculptures before the end of November.

--Anna Hiatt

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