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by Adam Kleinman
"Appendectomy Benefit" and "Bixel" at Locust Projects, Dec. 3, 2005-Jan. 4, 2006, 105 NW 23rd Street, Miami, Fla. 33127

One of the first galleries to open in Miami’s burgeoning Wynwood Art District was Locust Projects, an artist-run nonprofit exhibition space founded in a 1,650-square-foot, former Salvation Army storage facility in 1998 by Cooper, Westen Charles and Elisabeth Withstandley. Like many Miami galleries, Locust opened a new exhibition -- two shows, split between the gallery and a project space, as usual -- during Art Basel Miami Beach, Dec. 1-4, 2005.

Locust’s project space was devoted to the 27-year old Yale MFA and Brooklyn resident Justin Lieberman, who filled the gallery with group of 34 x 46 in., colorfully framed "drawings" -- that is, sheets of white paper covered with dirt and lint, pins, to-go coffee cup lids and other vacuum cleaner detritus culled from the artist’s studio floor and neighboring garbage cans. These assemblages include perhaps more than is necessary -- key chains, toy cars, cardboard cutouts, slide film boxes and assorted other muck are all incorporated.

Each assemblage comes with its own sheet-metal trough, which is screwed into the wall underneath the picture as if to catch matter that falls off of it. The artist specifically (and perhaps ironically) designed these troughs for the safekeeping of any fragments, for future reapplication by conservators. In fact, the debris is well-fixed to the canvas, so the Romanticism of beautiful decay, not to mention the Damien Hirst-like entropy of a closed system, is more literary than real.

Titled "Appendectomy Benefit" (for reasons that remain hermetic), the show is part of an avant-garde narrative in the mode of Marcel Duchamp’s "dust breeding" (on the Large Glass, which Man Ray photographed in 1920). Lieberman’s works also cite Jackson Pollock’s work on his studio floor (which led to the incorporation of cigarette butts, nails and the plastic tops of paint tubes into his paintings) and art historian Leo Steinberg’s now-obscure "Flatbed Picture Plane," a theory he applied most notably to Robert Rauschenberg’s 1955 "Combine" painting, Bed.

What’s more, each drawing is given a cut-paper frame in a different bright color, keyed to the title of the work and referring to a particular emotional state. This involvement of color, though more systemic than formal, also refers to another earlier body of paintings made on the floor -- Morris Louis’ Color Field abstractions, done with poured pigment.

Does easel painting belong in the dustbin of history, as Lieberman’s works humorously suggest? If so, plenty of collectors want to be in on the joke. Lieberman shows with Zach Feuer Gallery in New York, and his works have been sold by the gallery for about $6,000 each. One trough even contains one of Feuer’s own business cards, perhaps a clue for an art historian as yet unborn.

In its main space, Locust Projects premiered a five-minute long, single-channel video by Kori Newkirk, 35, an L.A. artist who is known for shimmering "paintings" made from hanging bead curtains and for installations of everyday objects that have a kind of identity-politics iconography. Entitled Bixel (as in "pixel"), the new video focuses on Newkirk’s own dancer’s body in a verdant landscape. In abrupt cuts and close-ups, Newkirk peeps out from an underground burrow, spins through the air, strolls through an Arcadian landscape, discovers a nest of silver balls and seems to experience some agony as a consequence of a mouthful of silver glitter, which oozes from his mouth and drips down his torso and through his hands.

Paralleling Newkirk’s own spiraling motions, the video cuts to windmill fans, an autobiographical reference: Newkirk is an Anglicization of the Dutch name Nieuwkirk, the surname of a slave-trading family that imported Newkirk's ancestors to America in the late 18th century.

Shot in vivid colors, the video contrasts Newkirk’s handsomely deep skin tone and the lush greenery, producing a kind of sci-fi brilliance (reminiscent, perhaps, of David Bowie’s 1976 film, The Man Who Fell to Earth). The video comes to climax with a series of gunshots, which jolt the audience and signal a death scene, marked by the substitution of glistening silver for blood. Earlier in the video, Newkirk is seen trying to grasp the silver glitter slipping through his fingers -- an allegorical image that suggests much, including Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Newkirk is one of the artists selected for the 2006 Whitney Biennial, and with any luck, this video will be included in the show.

ADAM KLEINMAN is a critic and curator who lives in Brooklyn.