Art in Miami; previews

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Art in Miami during Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) has expand at a startling rate – this year there were 21 fairs circling around ABMB (up from 12 last year), not to mention the many artists’ projects, museum and gallery exhibitions. Events also start earlier and earlier; the fair is officially Dec. 6-9, but activities had begun by the 4th.

I started the day at Vizcaya, James Deering’s 1916 pastiche of a Mediterranean villa on Biscayne Bay, where last year the director began inviting artists to do on-site projects (much as Robert Wuilfe has been doing with Landmarks Contemporary Projects in Philadelphia). He’s selected a sterling group of artists and had similarly-positive results. Christina Lei Rodriguez took her cue from Vizcaya’s formal gardens and created Struggling for Grandeur, an 8-foot tall, club-like form (matching some of the bushes outside) of plastic topiary. The work is slightly polychrome, with bits of foliage that break out of the rigidly-sculpted form and plastic extrusions dripping from the leaves like forlorn Christmas ornaments. She sited it in the Tea Room where the gardens are visible through glass doors and it sits beneath a gilded chandelier festooned with metal flowers. It’s a perfect comment on the desire for splendor and order embodied by its site, and fun as well. It also hints at the ironic precedent of Claes Oldenburg’s oversized monuments to everyday objects.

Christina Lei Rodriguez detail of Struggling for Grandeur (2007), an 8 foot tall work created in response to the formally-clipped bushes of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens; made from plastic foliage and other materials; photo courtesy of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Christina Lei Rodriguez detail of Struggling for Grandeur (2007), an 8 foot tall work created in response to the formally-clipped bushes of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens; made from plastic foliage and other materials; photo courtesy of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens


Catherine Sullivan still from Triangle of Need , 2007, photo courtesy of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Catherine Sullivan produced a multi-part video installation, Triangle of Need, with settings that alternate between an apartment in Chicago and Viscaya’s house and grounds (including the delightful stone dock, shaped like a gondola). She collaborated with composer Sean Griffin, director Kunle Afolyan and choreographer Dylan Skybrook. It is a complex work that hints at a hermetic narrative, with a cast of characters that includes a group of Neanderthals, a woman with a faked pregnancy, a gypsy family whose daughter is in a state of suspended sleep, a man dressed as Napoleon (complete with laurel wreath), and a woman in the costume of Gainsborough’s Blue Boy. The multiple periods of the dress mirrors the pastiche of Vizcaya itself. As in Sullivan’s previous work, the actors move in an obscure pantomime, with repetitive tics. The dialogue is partly a collage of poems by Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen Foster and H.S. Cornwell, and partly an invented language based upon anthropologists’ speculations about Neanderthal speech. Sullivan explodes the classical unities of time, place and action to create a compelling, if disturbing, kaleidoscope of twenty-first century drama.


Catherine Sullivan still from Triangle of Need , 2007, photo courtesy of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Art Miami held its preview on the night of Dec. 4th. Art Miami preceded ABMB and used to be held in January, but couldn’t fight the fact that anyone who wants to see, buy, or sell art is now in Miami the first week of December. The fair was held in a tent in Wynwood, a district across the bay from Miami Beach which housed a large number of the alternate fairs and exhibitions. While the fair was strong in photography, it was drawings that caught my eye. Pan American Art Projects (Dallas and Miami) had three drawings by Leon Ferrari, the Argentinian whose calligraphic work is so well represented in the New Perspectives in Latin American Art which I saw recently at MoMA. I was particularly intrigued by one with a rubbed, scratched and layered surface.


Leon Ferrari Infierno de San Alfonso (2005), ink on paper, courtesy Pan American Art Projects, copyright Leon Ferrari

Gallery Paule Anglim showed a strong selection of Californians whose work is too rarely seen in the East. I was attracted to a wall with three of Bruce Connor’s Rorschach-like inkblot drawings. The small one at far left was labeled Emily Feather. Baffled, I asked the dealer whether Connor had an imitator, only to be told that the idiosyncratic artist uses several aliases, this being one. Does that affect the price? I asked. Apparently not. Then at Greene Contemporary of Sarasota I was surprised to see a monumental pencil drawing by Ned Smyth (I organized a traveling exhibition of Smyth’s work in 1985). The drawing, which appeared abstract, represented a hugely-enlarged image of one of the rocks Smyth collects on his travels. The gallery was also exhibiting one of Smyth’s recent sculptures: a bronze, also inspired by a stone, with a remarkable, blue patina.


Bruce Connor Inkblot Drawing Oct. 23, 1990, ink on paper, courtesy Gallery Paule Anglim, copyright Bruce Connor

On the 4th I also attended a book launch for Miami Contemporary Artists by Paul Clemence and Julie Davidow with an introduction by Elisa Turner (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., ISBN9780764326489). I’m a Miami native and during the mid to late 80s I worked there as a curator and arts administrator. The professional art world was small in Miami; indeed, in all of Florida. I was always careful to speak of Miami artists rather than local artists; local implied that they were neither national or international in stature and abilities, whereas Miami was simply one of endless cities where artists worked. And who knows, the art world there could become hot. Well, it has!!!

For more on Miami go here and here.

Tags

art basel miami beach, art miami, bruce conner, catherine sullivan, christina lei rodriguez, elisa turner, julie davidow, leon ferrari, miami contemporary artists, ned smyth, paul clemence, vizcaya

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