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|Miami Art Diary
by Walter Robinson
Welcome to Miami Beach, land of swaying palm trees and chalky pastel-colored architecture. So balmy and clean, it's the perfect setting for a winter art world. And see the visiting New Yorkers, all wound up, fidgeting with their cell phones, wondering how they can extend their stay.
And why not? Besides Art Miami at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Jan. 20-24, 2000, which has brought many of the art-world jet set to town, there's a burgeoning community of museums, a new warehouse art district and even a "Times Square Show"-type special exhibition in a former bank building slated for demoltion.
Can we possibly hold out until the Palm Beach Art & Antiques Show opens on Feb. 2?
Art Miami 2000
Now in its 10th year, Art Miami isn't exactly the world's most celebrated exposition of contemporary and modern art, and it wasn't exactly jammed with visitors, either. But among the 100 exhibitors from 18 countries were several that brought modern blue chips -- Jane Corkin from Toronto, Mary-Anne Martin from New York, Marion Meyer from Paris, Jack Rutberg from Los Angeles, Waddington from London and Boca Raton, to name a few. Others brought realist fare that happens to suit the taste of Miami's international and South American audience -- Angela Flowers, Forum, Marlborough.
In an effort to juice things up somewhat, fair organizers (Advanstar Communications) invited a dozen "cutting-edge" galleries -- including Vedanta and NFA Space from Chicago and Rare and Nikolai from New York -- that did in fact help birth some cool. Among the eye-catching works at Vedanta was a larger-than-lifesize "Lite-Brite" portrait of Barbie & Ken's African-American pal by Steve DeFrank and an LCD monitor by Jeff Carter that is playing an image of a bamboo grove and mounted on a stalk of bamboo (it's affordably priced at $1,500). Across the aisle at NFA Space -- NFA standing for "not fucking around" -- is a piece by Ben Rubin called Don't Laugh that is essentially a megaphone hanging from a rope. It's the sort of thing that could prove handy around the Artnet.com office!
Art Miami also sponsored a group of ten installations by contemporary artists called "Déjŕ Vu," which in the end wasn't an exhibition as much as a chance to see a few more works presented in the uninspiring art-fair architecture of gray carpet and temporary dividing walls. Most notable was Miami artist Dara Friedman's untitled set of three film projections of pretty girls ripping their shirts open to show their bras, a gesture that has resonance with viewers of both genders. The films have a soundtrack of dramatic popping sounds that the artist said corresponded to buttons coming undone. The work captures something of the spirit of Miami -- sexy, trashy, best in nice weather. Friedman is slated to appear in the forthcoming Whitney Biennial.
At first it seemed a good idea to comb the fair for the newest artworks -- ones dated 2000. The Chilean-born realist painter Claudio Bravo, who is represented by Marlborough, received a special award at the fair and was given a showcase show of some 30 works in a booth opposite the convention hall entrance. Bravo paints in a range of mediums and treats various themes -- soccer players posing indoors, still lifes with pre-Columbian pots, a grisaille Adam and Eve, cloaked and praying figures. The year 2000 work is Tedeum, a large, "minimalist" painting of gold and white drapery. Its $350,000 price tag is an index of Bravo's popularity. Other drapery paintings have evocative mythological titles. A scarlet drape is Bacchus (1997), a violet one is Zeus (1998) and a gold is Apollo (1998).
Another year 2000 art work was brought to the fair by dealer Linda Durham from Galisteo, N.M. -- a small painting titled Simulacra 14 whose grid of twigs and feathers makes it seem like a contemporary fetish. It's by Judy Tuwaletstiwa, a Harvard grad who lives on the Hopi reservation with her husband, a Hopi archeologist. Price: $2,500. Tuwaletstiwa's collages and writings are collected in the first book from Durham's new Galisteo Press, The Canyon Poem (for more info call 505-466-6600).
Veteran New York dealer Annina Nosei filled her booth with festive paintings suitable to Miami's turquoise light and air -- a pastel "tic-tac" grid by Argentinan Graciela Hasper, bright plant-based pattern paintings by James Aldridge. Nosei was fuming, however, at the New York anti-smoking bureaucracy. Someone had photographed people enjoying cigarettes at an opening of her New York gallery, and sent the pics to the NYC Board of Health, which promptly issued a citation! "No more public openings for me!" she exclaimed.
It was also great to see a slice of the D.C. art scene at the booth of Numark Gallery from Washington, D.C. Intense, allover abstractions by Robin Rose, mysterious landscape photos by Jim Sanborn, glyphic wall reliefs by Yuriko Yamaguchi. Dealer Cheryl Numark also had several untitled abstractions by New York artist Michael Zahn ($1,800 each), who will be included in "Bit by Bit," Numark's forthcoming show of paintings done with a computer.
The Northwest Scene
Miami proper has something of an art district growing in its northwest warehouse district, home to the Rubell Family Collection, Locust Projects and a brand new warehouse space for the photo collection of real estate magnate and arts patron Martin Margulies. The esthetic is classy cement cube, with the Rubells in a 40,000-square-foot former Drug Enforcement Agency warehouse and Margulies in a 15,000-square-foot former dress factory. Openings were had by all during Art Miami, usually with an off-duty Miami police officer standing guard out at the gate. Hmmm.
In Margulies' photo collection -- which is very contemporary and extensive -- he seems to favor straightforward portraiture and narrative pictures of people. "Tseng Kwong Chi and Bill Owens are my conceptualists," he said. Other artists include Oliver Boberg, Willie Doherty, Charlie White, Orit Raff, Thomas Demand, James Casbere, Jane and Louise Wilson, Annika Von Hausswolff, Amelies Strba, Dawoud Bey, William Christenberry, Olafur Eliasson, Beat Streuli, Hannah Starkey, Roland Fischer, Rineke Dijkstra and many more.
One New York artist on the Miami scene was Ilona Malka Rich, daughter of songwriter Denise Rich and wife to itinerant curator Kenny Schachter. Malka's garish pastel-colored kinetic humanoids, yapping puppy-dog creatures and cat sculptures with light-bulb eyes take grotesquerie and kitsch to new levels. In Miami her works are on view at Locust Projects, a space run by Miami artists Cooper, Westen Charles and Elizabeth Windstandley. Malka also had a show at the University of Miami's New Gallery and dominated the aisles of Art Miami with an installation at Gracie Mansion's booth of a gargantuan creature dubbed Gene. The strollers were regularly parked in front of Malka's talking, gesturing giant.
Miami's wealth of museums includes the Miami Art Museum, which recently changed its name from the Miami Center for the Fine Arts and became a museum with a collection rather than a "kunsthalle" that simply mounted temporary exhibitions. Under the directorship of Suzanne Delahunty and new curator Peter Boswell (from the Walker Art Center), the museum has turned towards the contemporary. A show of work by poetic conceptualist Jim Hodges recently closed, one by African American artist Willie Cole opens later this month, and currently on view is "Brice Marden: Work of the 1990s" from the Dallas Museum.
Marden's stately, looping color abstractions are compared to the calligraphy of the 8th-century Chinese monk Han Shan (Cold Mountain) as well as the fluttering colored ribbons of the Chinese Ribbon Dance. Sinuous and transparent, muted in color (rose, gray-green, steel blue, gold and pale yellow), his paintings add up to an installation that looks more than anything like ... Jackson Pollock at the Museum of Modern Art.
At the Miami Museum of Contemporary Art, headed by the energetic curator (and local booster) Bonnie Clearwater, is "Frank Stella at 2000: Changing the Rules" (to Mar. 12). Other shows on view during Art Miami are "Modernism and Abstraction: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum" at the Art Museum at Florida International Museum and "Leading the Simple Life: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, 1880-1910" at the Wolfsonian.
Naturally, a certain amount of speculation attended the question of who might be a "Miami artist." Jose Bedia and Purvis Young are two. As it happened, Bedia, Young and approximately 50 others had work on view in "Departing Perspectives," an exhibition mounted in the eight-story Espirito Santo Bank of Florida building at 1395 Brickell Avenue. The imposing glass tower is slated to be demolished to make way for a newer, larger bank structure, and the artists were able to work their wills on the derelict corporate spaces. All in all, it was a pretty good showing.
Some of the artists made punning references to classics of art history. Karen Rifas filled one room with a field of small, shredded-paper "haystacks." Another great work offered a long-overdue antidote to Joseph Beuys' fat corners -- a Fat Free Corner of strawberry flavored Slimfast by a group that calls itself Team Waif. My favorite, however, was The Dance by Mette Tommerup, the Danish artist who splits her time between Miami and New York (and who is married to artist Robert Chambers). Viewers of Tommerup's Dance use flashlights to peer through peepholes into a darkened room, where several plastic blowup sex dolls hang from the ceiling in a "Ring around the Rosie." Is that the version at the Museum of Modern Art or the Hermitage, joked artist and dealer Mark De Muro?
Other installations are political -- a nice touch in our un-activist art world. An empty, glass-walled (and sealed off) room holds a small stack of bills -- it's by Bert Rodriguez and titled My Last Pay Check. Carlos Sandova and Eduardo De Leon cut patterns for little houses out of the carpeting and placed them outside on the bank steps -- could we use fewer skyscrapers and more housing, perhaps? A group of students from the New World School of the Arts crafted a figure of brown-painted papier mache and placed it collapsed on the floor by a Panasonic copy machine whose wires connect to outlets in the figure's skull and spine. Come on, office work isn't that bad!
Remember Barry LeVa, and his performance pieces from the 1970s in which he would assault the walls of a space with cleaver and his own body? The spirit lives on in an installation by Cooper, one of the directors of Locust Projects, who apparently donned a helmeted jumpsuit and assaulted a bank cubicle with shotgun and axe. We see only the leftovers, thankfully. More lyrical is a glass-faced cubicle filled with a steady swarm of disco soap bubbles by Eugenia Vargas. "Do Not Enter," says a hand-lettered sign, "Floor Slippery."
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.