Donald Scholl and his wife Debra are two high-profile Miami collectors and cultural activists who continue to make news around the country with their first-class curated museum shows. Their personal art showcase in Miami today is Wynwood's former sweatbox of a gym, the 3,500-square-foot gallery World Class Boxing.
Contemporary photography formed the original basis of the Scholl's collection (not counting the 1970's when the two then-law-students fell in love and bought their first piece together, a Motherwell lithograph). After 32 years of collecting, they decided to branch out and explore works in other media. They sought out risky new sculpture from Olafur Eliasson, for example, and monumental paintings from Julie Mehretu (today's artist-of-the-moment as it turns out) along with commissioned installations from the likes of other international art heavyweights Jim Lambie and Simon Starling.
Today, the Scholls have gone back to their roots by presenting a new show through May at World Class Boxing highlighting two of the their early photo-and-video-based discoveries, Mariko Mori and Anna Gaskell.
In the first gallery at WCB you come across Gaskell's Wonder series, circa 1996. This was the photographer's first big splash in the art world. The artist means to warn us of the perils inherent in an adolescent girl's passage into adulthood. I remember seeing Gaskell's much-hyped debut in New York at the Casey Kaplan Gallery. There on the walls were photos of pretty young girls in their headbands and blue school uniforms with all the Alice in Wonderland references. And I remember thinking, huh! That's pretty interesting. Nice crisp colors, dramatic lighting; I especially liked all the the cropping and cinematic close-ups. But I didn't experience unease or fear or anything I felt as a child reading Lewis Carroll's classic and getting creeped out by the graphic illustrations ( "Drink Me" can give a kid nightmares for years). What I remember most about the Gaskell show was the hoopla around her affair with Yale professor Gregory Crewdson who talked her up to all the art critics he knew who then helped rocket her to fame. She was also a knockout in a willowy blonde Robin Wright kind of way. It never hurts when a package is prepackaged that way and delivered right to a gallery's doorstep.
Mariko Mori's 29 minute video Miko no Inori from 1996 is the single occupant in the second gallery. Here's an artist who is a master of packaging herself. And the self is precisely what she's packaging. Mori is a performance artist like Dali, perhaps, or Warhol, or Grace Jones. She leads us into strange and foreign places, into a world of ideas we haven't yet thought of. Her video is haunting. Beautiful. Scary. Like Mori herself in this video as a seductress in a silver wig and shiny white space suit. She fondles a glass globe in her cupped hands. There's an enigmatic soundtrack. Her glassy green eyes are hypnotic. Perhaps she's every man's dream and nightmare rolled into one. And she continues to taunt us.
Mori was born in 1967 into a highly cultured family. Her father was an economist and inventor and her mother an art historian. She became a model, attended art school in London and the United States and went to live in New York in the early '90s. Her subsequent work has included a UFO architectural sculpture and a dream temple. She continues to investigate technology and aesthetics, science and philosophy, Japanese artistic tradition and Western art history.
I saw Mori back in 1999 in a performance at the Brooklyn Museum. She had packaged herself as a doll-like star that afternoon. I'd never seen anything like it. There she was on a platform in the main gallery: dancing, posing, her movements jerky, and puppet-like. Again she was mesmerizing, beautiful, and scary in her over-the-top Pop persona. Like she'd just stepped out of a magna comic. It wasn't too hard to tell that she was critiquing the repression of women in Japanese society. What I never knew until I saw a show at the Japan Society a few years later was the subtext in all those comic books and anime videos. How all of it related to the devastating aftermath of the atomic bomb after the war. And how distraction and a sort of infantilization of society set in.
Was reality the only option?
Play was key.
(Images: Mariko Mori, Still from Miko no Inori (1996); Anna Gaskell, Untitled #3 (Wonder), Type C print; Untited #24, Type C print. Courtesy World Class Boxing.)