Saturday, November 27, 2010. Landing in Miami a few days before the wall-to-wall insanity commenced, I had a chance to take the temperature of the town, to selectively buzz through various Wynwood galleries and project spaces, to survey the tents of Art Miami, -Scope et. al. on Midtown Boulevard, to watch the graffiti boys throw up a mural on the side of a garage, to hook up both with the local scene and with other recent arrivals lured by the heady promise of Art Basel week.
In other words, I felt commendably and reassuringly early. That is, until Jill Clark, an art adviser from New York now relocated to South Beach, informed me that Basel-themed parties generally start in the middle of November, two full weeks before my arrival. Faced with the looming, inevitable immanence of the Great Influx and its concomitant doses of frenzy and glamor, many art dealers, club owners, party promoters, real estate speculators, fashion doyennes and benefit committees cannot resist the obvious marketing ploy. They resolutely hang their efforts on that familiar ABMB shingle, hoping to define their event as some sort of preamble – to such an extent that poor Ms. Clark was already a bit swamped by the Preface, before the page had even been turned to Chapter One of Art Basel: The Book.
Whether I was early or late to the party, I was right on time to view Wynwood in its usual ghost town mode, a working class neighborhood of streetlights blinking through the humid night sky, a semi-deserted urban grid dotted with low rise warehouses, auto body shops, fruit stands, garages. This is the “real” Wynwood, the historic Wynwood, a mixed use district of light industry, hopeful homesteads, weedy lots, “For Sale or Rent” signs on empty buildings, stray dogs and urban blight just above Miami’s downtown. Only recently did it became a mecca for the art world. Aside from the exceptional and privileged moment of Art Basel, the streets of Wynwood generally come to life only once a month, during the Second Saturdays, when the galleries all stay open late. In fact, it was on just such a Saturday – although the fourth rather than the second week of the month – that I made my particular rounds.
First up was White Vinyl Space, an artist run non-profit, a large concrete bunker with high ceilings on a funky stretch of NW 2nd Avenue, across the street from Roberto Clemente Park and an excellent fresh produce stand, yet just blocks from Emanuel Perrotin Gallery and the Rubell Family Collection. Currently featured is the rather grandly titled “Five New Reasons to Live”, with – count them – five Miami based artists mining the trove of found object and recycled image, the poetry of urban detritus, exhibiting their work on digital video screens and projections; as 16mm film loops; employing scatter art, sound and image, and other contemporary installation strategies.
Damian Rojo, an old acquaintance from 1980s grass roots initiatives like Artifacts and Wet Paint, is currently teaching art at Barry University. His camera is always active, and his work plays with notions of the casual or received image, with time signatures, slow motion and split screen in his post-Muybridge meditations on personal space and the Miami cityscape. In one video, a man is tortured to tears by shampoo dripped in his eyes as he is compelled to repeat the title phrase – “I always wanted to smile” – ad infinitum. In another, a stretch of the Julia Tuttle Causeway (which connects the airport to the beach) is rendered mock heroic by cars passing in freeze frame/stop motion, scored to an elegiac New Wave soundtrack.
Rojo’s signature piece is a self portrait displayed in a lightbox, floating in silhouette with arms outstretched against a blue field (like the baby on the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind album), hung between two digital video screens that show the same subject morphing frame by frame: one is in slow slow motion, one in faster slow motion. The image is interrogated, dissected, in a denouement of time lapse.
Kevin Arrow, another artist I have known for 25 years, is Registrar at MOCA North Miami, where he has recently been busy securing Jonathan Meese sculptures for their upcoming exhibition. Arrow is a bit of an antiquarian of recent pop and circumstance, a scavenger and bricoleur, a memorialist and recycler of discarded slide imagery. In one piece, two slide carousels run in tandem, projecting images that have been rescued from the dumpster, providing a haunting, aleatoric history of unknown people and places.
In an accompanying found photo work, the closely cropped and faded image of a refrigerator interior elevates the random, forlorn cans of Schlitz, Bud and PBR stacked on the shelves into an Everyman parable, a maudlin take on the cheek by jowl, push and shove of the urban dilemma.
Nicole Martinez, the one woman in this boy’s club, incorporates strategies of scatter art, recycled objects, the Rauschenberg combine, and the new hardware store aesthetic. Her use of industrial or commercial detritus includes a semicircular arc of glass bottles, their caps removed and scattered nearby, in an installation reminiscent of Tony Feher. They will be used in a performance scheduled for the White Vinyl opening on Saturday, December 4, as will a series a bass speakers, placed face up on the floor, to be filled with various powders (talcum, sugar) that will be spread through sonic dispersion.
Barron Sherer, an established experimental filmmaker with strong structuralist leanings, has constructed a 16mm film loop using found footage excerpted from a 1992 Hollywood B-film, Into The Sun – seemingly an appropriate title for Miami – starring Michael Pare in full military drag. It is a mediocre Top Gun ripoff that Sherer has joyfully and justifiably deconstructed through various protocols of reprinting, re-editing, and distorting the image. What began as Hollywood glop acquires new life in a frame-by-frame progression of excess and formalism. In an accompanying video transfer, Sherer has appropriated footage from Wall Street to engineer similar poetic violence to the image of Charlie Sheen.
Last but not least is Skip Van Cel, proprietor of White Vinyl Space, his jokey Miami rhyme for White Cube in London and White Columns in NYC. Van Cel owns the hacienda style, stucco-and-tile building that houses the space, and it might well be his embrace of recycling urban detritus that defines the aesthetic of White Vinyl, of using the discards of history to build new art. Certainly his contribution to the exhibition, called “Fountain” in a sly reference to Duchamp, is a readymade taken right off the Wynwood streets. It is the video of a found action: a hose, emerging from a manhole and propped on a construction scaffold, emits a steady stream of water into a flat plastic receptacle perched on the asphalt. Art is where you find it, and this piece is likely brought to us courtesy of the Miami Department of Water and Sewers.
(in progress) next: Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin