When I moved back to Miami from New College in Sarasota in 2009, a new gallery opened on NW 7th Ave called OHWOW (Our House West of Wynwood). During that year’s edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, OHWOW mounted an exhibition called “It Ain’t Fair” which included a work by Aaron Young entitled “Locals Only.”
Nearby on 41st Street, Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz debuted their 3 story, 30,000 sq foot private museum space including an Ana Mendieta vault that had it’s own separate lock and was only open for viewing when Mrs. de la Cruz was in the building.
That same year the now shuttered Bar on 14th street opened as a facsimile of NYC’s Max Fish. I’m pretty sure that 2009 was also the year that Pharrell William’s debuted the chair he designed in partnership with Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin. I always thought the chair looked pretty coital. Looking back, maybe it was an omen of the celebrity clusterfuck to follow in the coming years as the collectors slowly shed their post-crash modesty. At least William’s makes his home in Miami (Poor guy can’t leave, no one wants to buy his Brickell penthouse!).
Noting that 2009 was the first edition of the fair in the aftermath of the US economic depression, Karen Rosenberg described ABMB as a “delicate organism… [that] requires sunlight, optimism and an abundant supply of collectors with open wallets,” in her review for the New York Times.
Despite the tepid state of the economy, she noted that the fair and its sales weren’t affected too, too much. Aside from this, the most notable thing about the review is the fact that it is primarily ABOUT THE ART. She discusses Kehinde Wiley’s large scale painting of Michael Jackson and Tom Scicluna and Nicolas Lobo’s pirate radio station at NADA, which had just moved to Miami Beach’s Deauville Hotel from the Ice Palace on North Miami Ave.
Fast forward to 2014, and there is so much competing for your attention that the art itself gets lost and even Eva and Adele look routine.
Me, nearish to Eva & Adele in 2009 outside the convention center. I think my friend Cesar Mantilla made me take this.
Since 2009, the increasingly extensive coverage granted to the Miami art extravaganza in the Times is primarily confined to parties, celebrity, prices and failure. In light of the rampant societal problems plaguing our country, this year a troubled anxiety hung around the fair and it’s corresponding events. Trayvon Martin, Reefa, Mike Brown and Eric Garner were in everyone’s eyes, on their minds and protruding from their lips. While the general merriment and partying persevered, it certainly had an effect on the vibe. Or at least my experience of it (Linda Yablonsky seemed unfazed).
Kristin “says something smart.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, the ever eloquent Liz Tracy.
I actually read this sentence in a NYT Magazine recap of the week: “The most quintessentially South Floridian event must have been the island housewarming of the prominent Russian collector Maria Baibakova, who chartered VanDutch boats to speed guests though the twilight to the Spanish mansion formerly inhabited by Cher.”
I almost couldn’t think of anything less “quintessentially South Floridian” than a Russian collector’s housewarming party (gag me with a spoon). Also, isn’t it “Von Dutch”? Or maybe I just haven’t ascended quite yet. After this I probably never will. What do New Yorkers know about Miami anyway? Don’t worry y’all, I care about art and I’ll give it to you straight.
Stopped in a Churchill’s one night to confirm to myself that some things never change.
Personally, my nomination for “most South Floridian” would be for #ihaitibasel, or the Thursday night Kelela/ Future Brown performance at the Perez Art Museum Miami (formerly the Miami Art Museum, but at least the word Miami is still IN the name).
Knowing my hometown a little too well, I would also have to nominate the opening of a new “institution,” the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, as the most Miami thing possible. More on that elsewhere in this edition of the T.
#ihaitibasel was a week long event at various spaces [loosely] in the Little Haiti neighborhood that featured local and visiting artists alike. The front page of the #ihaitibasel website invites you to explore various venues on the mainland of Miami, as most ABMB visitors flock to the island of Miami Beach and never leave. For most Miami artists, the mainland is where the year round action is. It’s also where the majority of people live and work.
An online map pointed out venues like Swampspace, run by the delightful Oliver Sanchez, and Gucci Vitton, the artist run gallery on 82nd street that has received much deservedattention for their exhibition by Ida Eritsland, Geir Haraldseth and Agatha Wara (formerly of Bas Fisher Invitational) in collaboration with Bjørnar Pedersen.
Oceans of Notions at Swampspace.
The large thin reified internet banners hanging in Monday night’s Luxury Face opening commented on contemporary culture and trends through digitally collaged images and non sequitur text about babies and consumerism. I caught up with friends and spotted someone in a “Bad at Sports” t-shirt. Monday night and we were already in full swing.
Luxury Face at Gucci Vitton.
Monday night also saw the semi-local opening at Emerson Dorsch Gallery, featuring Miami artists Hugo Montoya and Brandon Opalka, as well as the NY gallery Regina Rex’s “Cemeterium,” a sprawling sculpture/ performance garden in the Dorsch’s back yard.
Work by Hugo Montoya at Dorsch.
The title of the exhibition, “BACK ON EARTH, a tragicomedy in two parts,” fits the rambunctious Montoya to a T. At the opening, Montoya toured me through his show, relating his epic journey to retrieve the negative for a large print of the artist as an adolescent in headgear from his mom’s house. Then he turned off the lights in the gallery to bask in his backlight metallic fountains on mirrored plinths.
Hugo Montoya on view in the de la Cruz Collection kitchen.
Light’s out on Montoya’s sculpture fountains.
Despite the fact that I still can’t help but call it the Miami Art Museum, I thought the Thursday night PAMM first anniversary party was pretty boss, and I didn’t even find DIS Magazine THAT obnoxious. Miami should be the focus of these types of events and I was pleased to see my city and its major new museum in such flattering light (I did think the water jetpacks were a little much, though).
Mark Handforth’s light installation with work by Gean Moreno and Ernesto Oroza.
Leyden Rodriguez, Frances Trombly, Gean Moreno and Glexis Novoa at PAMM Thursday night.
LOCALS ONLY CONTINUES in the middle column…
T around Town
I’m pretty sure that people in Chicago are more aware of the celebrities on view at Art Basel Miami Beach than I do, so for your viewing pleasure here are some Miami celebrities and going’s on. Oh, and FYI, grids and artist designed towels were REALLY in guys.
Adler Guerrier inside of his exhibition at PAMM on Thursday night’s anniversary party and opening.
Work in Guerrier’s exhibition, Formulating a Plot. The signs say things like “don’e be bored, alarmed or afraid Blck Power is equitable.”
Amanda Sanfillipo in the Locust Project’s booth at NADA.
Work by Daniel Arsham in the Locust Project space on North Miami Ave.
The gorgeous Anita outside before performing at the Zone’s Art Fair on 82nd Street.
All I want for Christmas is this beautiful diptych by NY based artist, Carson Fisk Vittori (right). These and other works were on view in the Carrie Secrist booth at Untitled.
A enormous sun print by Chris Duncan at the entrance to Untitled. Duncan’s work was on view with Halsey Mckay Gallery.
Best ever instagram of the Art World: Sibylle Friche caught this precious moment in front of a painting by Tim Bergstrom, also in the Hasley McKay booth.
Local favorites, Dracula, performs at Emerson Dorsch gallery on Friday, Dec. 5th.
Ran into an old friend, Jordan Thompson, screen printing at Marc Jacobs’ new story with his business The Fine Print Shoppe.
Marc gets it.
The Weatherman Report
For Miami FL
Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome, originally designed in 1965, in the Miami Design District.
LOCALS ONLY CONTINUED…
Everyone was there and looking real cute. I ran into Nicholas Frank outside under the H&VM fern trellises and toured the museum’s exhibitions with him. I nearly freaked out at a man who was touching my favorite Thomas Hirschhorn gold CNN piece, but otherwise enjoyed seeing the work on display and checking out all the new collection gifts PAMM has received in the past year (many of which I recognized from my work with the Craig Robins Collection in the Design District). The GPS exhibition was impressive, though not over hung (like everything else everywhere— looking at you Bass Museum, Peter Marino).
Nicholas Frank takes in a monumental work by Gary Simmons at the PAMM.
Could you not? Also, how is it that if I sniff a work of art I’m toast, but this guy can just manhandle the art!?
Laz Rodriguez and Dana Goldstein outside of PAMM on Thursday night.
The Queen, Kelela, performing in the rain outside of PAMM.
Right outside PAMM in front of Biscayne Bay, Kelela’s performance was entrancing to say the least, and she was totally a trooper. As the audience ran for cover in the face of a tiny Miami drizzle she just kept singing, working the fog machine rain combo like a genie in a flowy blue dress. I spotted Dev Hynes of Blood Orange in the crowd along with Miami artists Dylan Romer, Lazaro Rodriguez and Dana Goldstein. Just before I had to leave to see Clams Casino and FKA Twigs with my friends at Young Arts, we were kicked out for taking off our wristbands too soon. ¯\_(?)_/¯
FKA Twigs was chill. You can read Rob’s review of the performance, and I am 100% in agreement with his take. Also, maybe a good time to note that WTF!? Gigi’s in Midtown was owning Basel events on the mainland.
Gallery Diet’s Emmett Moore booth at Design Miami. From the Design Miami blog, photo by James Harris. (I left my phone in the car so I’m missing images of Coral Morphologic, too.).
Other highlights included the opening of Design Miami, and specifically the presence of two booths in the back corner of the fair (near the bathrooms): the Gallery Diet solo booth by Emmett Moore, and Coral Morphologic’s booth complete with a sea anemone Oculus Rift and ceiling projection. Moore, a native of Miami, continues to impress with his artistic design work. His quirky, modular pieces had everyone in Miami talking and beaming with pride. I would take the whole booth (including that sweet printed packing blanket). Days after the opening we heard that other galleries (including Chicago’s own Volume Gallery) were clamoring for meetings with the young designer.
Coral Moropho’s Jared McKay posts about meeting Andre 3000 in their Design Miami booth.
Work by Pepe Mar in the David Castillo pop-up exhibition.
Far and away the best exhibition I encountered last week was Guaynabichean Odyssey by José Lerma, curated by Kristin Korolowicz at David Castillo’s new permanent space on Lincoln Road. Unfortunately, Castillo’s strange and unfortunately flat “pop-up” on the ground level distracted from Lerma’s show, as many people I spoke to had visited the raw and defunct club space chocked full art, but missed the new space on the 4th floor.
Upstairs, Korolowicz took me on a wonderful tour of the exhibition, discussing Lerma’s interest in Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth. The triangulation of Lerma being from Puerto Rico and mounting the exhibition in Miami was just too perfect. There was also a large scale shower curtain depicting a baroque recreation of the Fountain. All of the figures had characteristic Lerma double eyes, I couldn’t help but sympathize.
Lerma’s coup de grâce was presented in the back of the exhibition space where the artist had created a mind bending hyper colorful light installation with paintings (a visual timeline starting with Ponce de Leon and ending close to present day, as the paintings became increasingly smaller). It was really amazing, but hard to explain without seeing— check out the video of the installation above. Just before leaving I ran into Miami celebs Otto Von Schirach and Monica Lopez De Victoria of the TM Sisters (who had a very cool palm tree installation in the weird club). As always, they looked ready for their close up so I made them take a photo in front of Lerma’s work.
Monica and Otto. Now in technicolor. PS- At the opening Monica told me her to-die-for vintage dress was by Miami fashion designer Sheila Natasha, who’s in the collection of the Met!
Agustina Woodgate’s radio broadcast from Spinello’s AUTO BODY exhibition on the beach was also among my favorite offerings. While I unfortunately missed the performances (I really really wanted to see Kembra, Naama and Cheryl, but I could only take so much beach commotion and traffic), it was delightful to listen to Woodgate’s deep voice and adorable diction as I braved what felt like every single inch of Florida highway from Ives Dairy Road to the Rickenbacker Causeway.
Agustina invited a cadre of female movers and shakers that included personal faves, Lauren “Lolo” Reskin of Sweat Records (voted by me as obviously the best record store in Miami) and musician/ stylist Sarah Attias. On the way to visit my cousins in Davie, I got really into trying to understand the engrossing conversation between Woodgate and Karla Damian, from Miami Dade Transport about public transit in Miami en español.
Saturday night, after stopping in to see AUTO BODY, I headed down to Vizcaya for the worst named exhibition at pretty much the best place in the city. If you don’t know what Vizcaya is, educate yourself. It’s totally worth visiting outside of Art Basel, and it’s what elementary school field trips are made of. I just love it there. Even better, the outdoor sculpture exhibition was a showcase of Miami’s best and brightest including Felecia Carlisle, Adler Guerrier, Brookhart Jonquil, Jillian Mayer, Emmett Moore, Christina Peterson and Magnus Sigurdarson (with Domingo Castillo).
Float in the Vizcaya pool by MFA students from the Florida International University’s College of Architecture + The Arts
I ran into the entire Newberry family, and was delighted to make the acquaintance of the Moore family as well. I had a lovely chat with Misael Soto waiting in line for a glass of wine where we discussed his killer performance series, this is happening, at Dorsch and his own work as an artist. I was surprised to happen upon Siebren Versteeg in the hedge maze, where he mentioned how enchanted he was by visiting the baroque Italian-style gardens and mansion last year that he made a point to return for 2014’s opening.
Late Sunday night, outside of the 71st street warehouse, as I watched a squarish blonde girl with her tits out scream at a crowd of what I was told were “a bunch of Bushwick hipsters who hadn’t been hugged enough by their parents,” the goings on of the last week swirled in my head. I wish I had time to ruminate more, maybe write many pieces instead of this near stream of consciousness. I couldn’t stop thinking about Young’s “Local’s Only” and how annoyed I was with the whole affair, the back and forth, the distractions.
The dance troupe who performed with Zebra Katz performing outside of the warehouse on 71st Street.
There was so much going on I started to feel bad for not feeling bad about missing many of the cool things and people I was in close proximity to. (Sidenote: I am pleased, though, that I missed the instagram panel in favor of Dan Duray’s snarky coverage.) Thankfully, I ran into Ibett and Juan from the de la Cruz Collection and their candid company put me at ease.
OP-ED: WTF is going on with the ICA?
Will the battle of the acronyms end with a whimper?
Before we get started a short recap: Bonnie Clearwater failed to secure the money to expand the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), left for Fort Lauderdale, a 26 year old curator named Alex Gartenfeld became the interim director, the board wanted to merge with the Bass Museum on South Beach, but, after a bitter battle against the city of North Miami ultimately ended up splitting off, creating a new museum in the posh Design District, taking collection objects and digital assets with them.
Now that I’ve had the chance to discuss its opening with Miamians and see the space for myself, I have a few questions and things to put down in digital ink. I grew up attending MOCA and formative parts of my art education took place in the museum. To this day, I think that Ruba Katrib’s stint at the museum brought some of the best and most thoughtful solo surveys I’ve ever seen (Ceal Floyer, Ryan Trecartin, Claire Fontaine & Katrib is now at the Sculpture Center to boot).
The behind the scenes stories I’ve heard about the gutting of MOCA make me physically ill. It’s seriously some Vice City shit. For example, how did the ICA get away with stealing all of MOCA’s computers?! It’s totally loca. I haven’t met Alex Gartenfeld, but it seems like the entire city (minus his sleepover buddy, Irma) thinks he’s a jerk, and the fact that he declined to apply for grants which MOCA depends on seems to support that opinion. Seriously not cute.
Speaking of grants, I also can’t quite wrap my head around WHY the Knight Foundation felt it necessary or appropriate to fund the ICA, when the vanity institution clearly has the advantage of a strong and wealthy board, as well as extremely wealthy supporters. Meanwhile, they pulled a 5 million dollar grant from the MOCA for lack of confidence.
Finally, I just don’t understand why the Brahman’s couldn’t put up the money for the North Miami expansion when it ends up that now they are building a whole new museum out of pocket! That is of course, unless the board just felt that North Miami was too poor and the demographic too black to host a world class museum, or be worth the investment. It certainly wouldn’t be as brag-worthy as a shiny new space in an up and coming area of town valued at 1.4 billion dollars. And if that is the case then I guess I have to admit, it all makes sense.
I know a lot of people have been passing around this article on the internet in the wake of Basel. So here is my version of Is Art a Mere Luxury Good? by Georges Didi-Huberman, Giorgio Agamben and Pierre Alferi et al., modified to reflect my feelings about the ICA:
It seems urgent to us in this moment to demand that public institutions cease to serve the interests of individual collectors through adherence to their ‘artistic’ choices and real estate whims. We don’t have a moral lesson to give. We only want to open a long-deferred debate and say why we do not see the inauguration of the Institute for Contemporary Art Miami as any cause for celebration.
Based on the opinions of my colleagues, the future of the MOCA is grim to say the least. Especially with a shiny new ICA on the horizon in the Design District. And where is Bonnie Clearwater in all of this!?
Please help me figure it out! Are we there yet?
And another thing. The underhanded dealings of the ICA may not be surprising to most, and something about blaming “TINA” as an excuse for local artists and patrons supporting the museum. Others are staying silent on the matter, probably in order to keep their options open and not bristle the omnipotent Knight Foundation. But I am surprised that in all of the discussions of #BlackLivesMatter and Art Basel that this situation and its impact on the community of North Miami wasn’t picked up in any big way by the media (I suspect that the issue is too complicated and the major players too rich to affiliate spuriously with the murder of black men across the country).
Even the usually upbeat Theaster Gates couldn’t help but voice his own discomfort at the lack of race discourse during the art fair while sitting on a panel with Paula Crown for the artist’s TRANSPOSITION installation. The Mykki Blanco incident cast Jeffery Dietch’s mistakenly calling P. Diddy “Kanye West” at an art fair last year in a different light. Does he not care about Black people either? What was up with Miley Cyrus?
#ihaitibasel Creates Safe Space for Weary Miami Art Crowd
Collective Calls Attention to Little Haiti Neighborhood
More effecting and impressive than the demonstrations that shut down I-195 (and certainly more poignant than getting arrested for the sake of publicity) was the unmistakable presence of #ihaitibasel.
Showing up late at night after art hopping across the city, I knew I’d see at least a familiar face or two. #ihaitibasel felt insulated from the foreign invasion east of the bay. It just felt real real, like General Practice, or La Cueva on a better than good night. Being in a warehouse on 71st Street, or at the Thrift Store/ Concert Hall on 59th street eased the tension and strangeness I and everyone else [with a heart] felt as complicit participators in the extreme hedonism of the week.
Jorge Rubiera, Monica Peña and Max Johnston outside on the opening night of #ihaitibasel.
The collective organization of the event was a welcome anecdote to the celebrity hosted parties on the beach, favoring content and substance over ego. The producers, Tara Long (Miami), Kathryn Chadason (NYC), Sarah MK Moody (Miami), Ariella Mostkoff, Emily Singer (NYC), Elizabeth Kenney (NYC), Deon Rubi (Miami) and Tatiana Devere (Miami) were approached by the owners of the Little Haiti Thrift Store, Mimi and Schiller Sabon-Jules, after a ‘Little Haiti Small Business Association’ meeting at the Caribbean Marketplace just six weeks before the event was scheduled to take place.
The media’s conflation of killer cops and Art Basel Miami Beach caused me to wonder if Black lives will matter through the next news cycle or not. Especially now that we have a new distraction to worry about in the CIA torture briefs. While our peers across the country demonstrated and hosted conversations about race politics in the United States, attendees at #ihaitibasel came together, shared culture (and this unmarked passion fruit “beverage” that was pretty off the chain) and tried to get along.
One of the most affecting moments of the entire trip was the procession during #ihaitibasel’s opening night on Wednesday, December 3rd. The evening featured the release of the Strangeways zine with a performance by Richard Kennedy of Hercules and the Love Affair. I managed to buy myself a fur muff for Chicago from Mimi Sabon-Jules, who owns the store with her husband, Schiller. (The thrift store is a freaking goldmine for fur and other winter accessories that are irrelevant in Miami.)
Kennedy performing inside of the Little Haiti Thrift Store.
I actually ran into Melena Ryzik interviewing Schiller. When I inquired, Ryzik cagily responded that she wrote for the New York Times. Cool. Whatever, at least she seemed to be into it. Afterwards the Haitian music group, Kriz Rara, led a parade that traveled all the way from 59th street to the satellite space on 71st street where another local, Rainer Davies and his band performed spotless instrumental covers of Sade songs for the audience. It sounded and felt like magic.
Mimi Sabon-Jules running behind the Kriz Rara parade up NE 2nd Ave.
There were certainly lots of young hip New Yorkers (see: anyone from outside of Miami) around #ihaitibasel (most likely due to the presence of performers like Prince Rama, Zebra Katz and Mykki Blanco), but there were also a ton of local Haitian people from the area and a good sampling of Miami artists.
Zebra Katz performing “Ima Read” at the Little Haiti Thrift Store.
#ihaitibasel gave me a great excuse to avoid the traffic and excess of the beach. It felt fresh and was something I’d want to do outside of art week (I still can’t get over that whole Miley Cyrus thing. Straight up just don’t get why people want to see her perform so badly. I saw the VMA’s and that was enough.).
Shout out to the powerful women who put the festivities together. I’m looking forward to seeing more from the group in the months and years to come.
T around Town Continued…
Very cool sculpture work by Matt Nichols. Feeling his Brancusi vibes, though I hated how overcrowded Untitled (and all of the fairs felt). You don’t have to cover every square inch! And while I’m at it, the thing where the booths rotate the work each day is just dumb. Who goes to the same fair every day to see the work change? I’m showing up once and I want to see it all.
Really gorgeous ekat weaving by Margo Wolowiec at NADA.
Work by Tony Lewis and the ever adorable gallerist, Eric Rushman, at Shane Campbell’s booth in NADA.
Monique Meloche and gallery director, Allison Glenn, speak with artists Derrick Adams and new friend Sam on the last day of Untitled. The group is framed by Ebony Patterson sculptures in MM’s booth.
Naama Tsabar and Agustina Woodgate at the Mikesell’s annual house party.
A patron getting their photo taken in front of work by Alex Isreal at the de la Cruz Collection.
Brad Lovett and I on Konstanin Grcic’s Netscape in the Miami Design District.
Oli and Lulu Sanchez at Swampspace.
Work by Julie Bena at Joseph Tang’s booth in NADA.
The localist of the local. Kevin Arrow’s Beatles Mandala (Amor=Love) celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Beatles landing in Miami Beach on Collins and 73rd Street. Arrow of #myhandholdingthings fame, traveled to India to complete work on the mandala earlier this year.
Crowded at Sad Bar. I mean, Sand Bar.
Ran into fellow ACRE alumn, Theo Elliot, at NADA.
Chris Cook helping Shannon Stratton show off her shoes at PAMM on Thursday night.
The dude from Xeno & Oaklander matching himself during a performance at Gramps on Friday night.
Header image is a detail of work by Glexis Novoa titled Luz Permanente (Ivan Shadr), 2013, Graphite on canvas, 6 x 12 feet, on view at the Perez Art Museum Miami.
Three plywood boxes — each about the length of a coffin — sit atop wooden sawhorses, constructed simply and directly, the wood left unfinished or adorned. They look generic; like shipping crates for telescopes, homemade pummel horses — or better — low rent Donald Judd’s. A dig against Minimalism and Modernism’s consequence on societal aesthetics, where everything becomes bland geometry by accident. One end of each box excretes an electrical cord, snaking down to speakers which play a soundtrack of white noise. On the other end, a lens provides a window to the interior of the boxes. Displayed with the lens side forming a center, they create a performative space, demanding one viewer at a time to crouch down and peer through it. The objects in the installation create a sprawling mess shattering space, as power cords trail out towards the walls, between legs and in plain view, without apology.
Mike Kelley Channel #1, #2, #3, 1994 Exhibited at Tate Modern, photo taken from the internet
Looking through the peepholes one discovers slender tunnels — colons made of tinfoil illuminated by red, blue and yellow lights. The experience is immediately underwhelming. All components are quickly transparent; as the emptiness from viewing the first interior gives way to boredom by the third. An acute awareness of time produced from the bodily act of viewing the work hurries one away. Channel #1, #2, #3 is undeniably bodily throughout, down to the material manipulation by Kelley. Crinkling and wringing the tin foil, tinkering, like a guy in his garage on a Saturday, searching for some truth within the solace of a project.
Mike Kelley Channel #1, #2, #3, 1994 (lens detail) Exhibited at Tate Modern, photo taken from the internet
It is within bowing to peer into a peep show of glowing colons that something unexpectedly humbling can happen. Within three choices of primary color tunnels of light, one is able to be in the private audience of God: what only near death victims and alien abductees experience through trauma is offered up pain free. From the center of the installation begins the infinite within the finite, but like Being John Malkovich. (Rather, BJM takes its cue from Channel # 1, #2, #3.) One can approach these simple containers with expectations of beauty inside them, and find an honesty that deflates not just this experience, but perhaps the entirety of experience. That existence is merely a series of beautifully mundane moments possessing the amount of excitement that a prize from a novelty toy vending machine can generate. Is it blissful disappointment? Some abject loss tied to our subconscious? Maybe something this immediately disappointing can also be so gratifying.
Mike Kelley, Channel #1, #2, #3 (looking through the lens) iPhone photo of page 77 of Mike Kelley 1985 – 1996 catalog. Exhibition and catalog produced by the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, 1997
The Armchair Critic is an attempt to consider works of art through their representation in photographs, while replacing what is lost in an imagined, portable experience.
A burst of feedback cuts through the neighbourly bustle at Exeter Phoenix. We are in one of the West Country’s rare white cube spaces, at a show by local artist Nick Davies. Onlookers are drawn into the venue’s gallery, despite mic interference.
Davies appears to relish the incongruity. And so for this occasion he’s roped in sound artist Dominick Allen. His brief is to disrupt the artist’s talk with loops, filters and the occasional bleep. Well, no one said making art in the wilds of Exeter was easy.
Things go from difficult to near impossible when a toddler breaks away from her minders and installs herself next to the sampler where she begins to press buttons. This aleatory event was embraced by both artists. Davies is a man unafraid to fail.
His most recent project was a three day hike around the surrounding moors with both pedometer and measuring wheel (or trumeter). The plan was to create a new measure called the Exetre. That rhymes with metre, rather than the suggestive word etcetera.
Though his voice was continually scrambled, Davies was dogged in his explanation of the works in his show. He tells us about the early cartographers who measured the Meridian. He reminded us of Bas Jan Ader who went to sea and never came back.
This fatal failure interests Davies. His own 70 mile journey was abandoned after 56,000 steps. And you could follow the progress on maps affixed to the wall. Davies lost his pedometer, gave up on the trumeter and aborted the expedition after three days.
Few could blame him. After camping at night in a field used by dog walkers he got – no delicate way to say this – shit all over his rucksack. And so the attempt to measure the Exetre fell at an early hurdle. It wasn’t helped by the knowledge that the A396 main road could have got him from A to B in a couple of hours.
Along with the map, Davies exhibits his tent, his now clean ruck sack and (in a nod to Duchamp and his bicycle wheel), he has put his trumeter on display. Monitors just inside the tent relay excerpts of a video diary from the doomed journey.
The artist is speaking live without notes in a faltering way that cannot be helped by the comic modulations of his voice. Moving on to the remaining works, he draws our attention to three bonsai-like sculptures made with Tippex and two racks of letterpress also cut to forms supplied by liquid paper.
Davies has had to compete with circumstance once again. Meddlesome visitors have rearranged his text-piece to read Happy Birthday. And he reports that the public are drawn to touch and flatten the delicate sculptures. But in characteristic laissez faire fashion, he’s glad that people are engaging with the show.
What they might have missed is a curious fact about Tippex or liquid paper as it was then called. The son of inventor Bette Nesmith Graham was none other than Mike Nesmith from the Monkees.
There was no need to succeed in the music biz since mum was worth millions of dollars. Even so, it was hoped the Monkees would emulate the Beatles and the Stones. That’s one more somewhat failed scenario.
But for all his embrace of error, in the broader sense, Davies makes work that works. Even his unfinished pieces work. Though you get the sense that making contemporary art in this part of he world is an ongoing challenge. This show puts Exeter in dialogue with London. No need to measure that distance; it’s a notoriously long way.
Intention/Invention/Convention by Nick Davies can be seen at Exteter Phoenix until January 10 2015.
Work by Paul Nudd, Andrea Jablonski, Chris Hefner, Bruce Neal, Christopher Smith, Kevin Jennings, Stephanie Burke, Jeriah Hildwine, Sarah Leitten, Catie Olson, BJ Vogt, Matt Marsden, EC Brown, Justine Harlan, Sean DeSantis, Ryan Swain, George Edward Hurden IV, Nathan Case-McDonald and Meg Duguid.
Co-Prosperity Sphere is located at 3219 S. Morgan St. Reception Friday, 8pm-12am.
“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” These famous words from James Joyce’s famous character Stephen Dedalus, in his famous novel, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, embody the idea of an inescapable infiltration of history in our present reality. For Joyce and Dedalus, the “nightmare of history” may have been rooted in an existential conception of history, or the universal fact of inevitable death, but the transcendent quality of the phrase acts as a directive in the form of an optimistic metaphor for rehashing history as a means of creating a better future.
George Santayana was more direct when he said, “those who do not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” At first glance, these collective bits of wisdom seem obvious. They seem correct. They seem true. And though I would agree, that the repeated fragments, phrases, images, and sounds of the past have the ability to communicate warnings for the future, our methods of assimilating these legends have just as conspicuously perpetuated the nightmare. The recitation of our traditions awakens us TO the nightmare, not from it. As we are wrapped up in contemplating evidence that either rejects or accepts the histories offered to us–through the vast network of delivery systems (books, the internet, television, etc….)–we become more in-sync with the legend itself. Thus, we succumb to visualizing the nightmare more clearly as an insurmountable obstacle. Through incalculable attempts to shed ourselves from our antecedents, we see our legends reinsert themselves more deceptively in each subliminal iteration in the present.
A man-powered helicopter designed by Leonardo da Vinci
The paradox here is that rational thinking–as it is defined by those who have developed a science that diagnoses irrational thinking–has delivered us to the most preposterous circumstances. The problem lies in an inherited trust in the clairvoyance of tradition. Of religion. Of science. Of government. Of culture. To wake up from this nightmare that we’ve been led to believe is a dream, we must stop chanting the legend and start pursuing delusional thought.
Artists have always been at the forefront of delusional thinking. Leonardo da Vinci, now celebrated as a rare genius, was not considered an educated man by the standards of his day–he did not attend a university and he was not versed in Latin(both requirements in fitting this mold). His deficiencies–in the way of this criterion–limited his ability to read the classical texts, which may have been an advantage in his development as an artist, architect, and engineer. He was employing the scientific method in a multitude of arenas long before it became a staple of science. In a revealing passage in one of his sketchbooks da Vinci notes, “First I shall make some experiments before I proceed further, because my intention is to consult experience first and then by means of reasoning show why such experiment is bound to work in such a way. And this is the rule by which those who analyze natural effects must proceed; and although nature begins with the cause and ends with the experience, we must follow the opposite course, namely (as I said before), begin with the experience and by means of it, investigate the cause.”
Had da Vinci been educated and reading the natural philosophies of Aristotle (the then guiding principles of nature), he may have never arrived at such methodologies. It is through this ignorance that his ideas and process surpass accepted forms of knowledge and transcend time.
Science will downplay how long its own adolescence actually lasted, but it wasn’t until a 16th century intervention by Galileo Galilei that forced it to take a hard look at itself. The Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo was trialled and convicted in 1633 for publishing his evidence that supported the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. His research was instantly criticized by the Catholic church for going against the established scripture that places Earth and not the Sun at the center of the universe. Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” for his heliocentric views and was required to “abjure, curse and detest” his opinions. He was sentenced to house arrest, where he remained for the rest of his life and his texts were banned. Galileo wasn’t the only figure in history to be persecuted for their belief system–suppressing knowledge has been an active ingredient in human civilization since the beginning of recorded time.
In an age when information has never been more fluid, knowledge–in its infinite variety–is abundant. Available. Easy to acquire. Because of this access, no one can escape disenchantment. As Galileo’s delusional and sacrilegious idea about the earth’s place in the galaxy dissolved the idea of the cosmos as the locus of spirits and meaningful powers within the realm of religion, so too, does it empower the picture of the universe as governed by universal laws–laws written by the same authority whom condemned this revelation in years prior.
This marks the point in history when science co-opts the subversive position. Persecution (in science) evolved from blatant acts of abuse carried out by the church, to a dissolution of potential theoretical projections through brandishing theory as law. Science has become in an institution which thinks of itself as a meta-theory through which all ideas must submit through its system. Simultaneously, science is the beneficiary and catalyst of the disenchanted which creates a system of “rational” thought.
The scientific method, who claims its roots in rationalism, is actually conceived in the most scientifically irrational production. Rene Descartes, the founding father of modern science, created the scientific method after having a dream in which an angel appeared to him and told him that the conquest of nature would be achieved through mathematics and measurement. This isn’t the tale we are taught. Science typically delivers the primary observations. The gathering of data. The major insight. It rarely reveals the trace of the idea, which was the impetus to execute study and experiment.
Artists have developed a stigma over the great expanse of time. If an artist projects a theory developed through a visit with angels, no one is surprised. It is expected. It is as easily shrugged off as the outlandish theory itself. The focus of the artist’s ideas assumes an aesthetic echelon that more often than not, omits theory and potential through a relegation to discourse that is painfully self-referential. Art, in many circumstances, appears to be a conversation about itself that serves itself and its initiates.
Within this system, an aversion to delusion is born much in the same way it is perpetuated in science and religion. The properties may vary. The classifications, categories, and rankings may change and represent an entirely different value system on the surface, but the problem is equally polarizing. In all our defining social systems, we are required to make a leap of faith. We are required to believe in the universe exploding into existence from an unidentified singularity. We are required to believe that there is a bearded white man coaching earthlings from another dimension. We are required to believe that the art hanging in museums is the “stuff” we need to reference in determining the value of all future manifestations of the human brain which would like to gain entry into the big Art game.
To change the conditions of the big game, we must advocate for innovation. Real innovation occurs at the concrescence of delusional thought. It occurs when existing conditions prompt individuals to reject linear values which means to reject the idea that innovation can only occur within the realm of technology, science, and mathematics.
Oliver Wasow, an artist working in the Hudson Valley area of New York, has a peculiar art practice that has evolved from a background in traditional photography to what might be considered an ongoing social media experiment that utilizes photography as the foundation of social critique. The idea that it could be an experiment rather than simply an art practice is of particular interest to me as I spin this web. Whether this is the intent of the artist or not, doesn’t really matter. The results of his experiments, his daily practice, and the response to it-exist as a data set much in the same way as a census tells us something about the population.
Wasow’s delivery system is social media–predominately Facebook. Daily, he posts found photographs or images conjured in his studio and curates a thematic based on his personal interests. The art, however, is not committed solely to the aesthetic quality of the image. The innovation occurs in the ensuing dialogue. The comments section is where the magic happens. It is where people expose themselves through all manner of projections that reflect their interpretations of the image, their intuition, and their impulses–all of which say much more about the people who comment than the image itself. It is like conducting interviews with the masses without asking any direct questions. The curation element that classifies each photograph within an album of related visual elements seem to be the substrate that defines the line of questioning upon which his friends are given a platform to respond.
As an art object(s), Wasow’s social media production defies standard procedure and institutional critique. It toes the artificial line that defines what IS and what is NOT considered art, and it is in that boundary where I find the most interesting practices. Within the trajectories of defiance we may find the ability to detach from the “nightmare of history.”
In the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde notes, “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.” If admiration of aesthetics and the constant reference to tradition is all we have as a result of art production, then I would agree with Wilde wholeheartedly.
Maybe I’m delusional, but I think art can DO more.