...what dreams may come when
we have shuffled off this mortal coil
~ Hamlet, Act III, scene 1
For over 20 years artist Matthew Weinstein has been busy contemplating big ideas. First there was the matter of life and death in the age of AIDS when he debuted as a new wunderkind on the New York scene. Today, for his first solo exhibition in Miami at Kevin Bruk Gallery, he is still posing some mighty big questions.
Two life-size, cast-bronze skeletons appear in front of me as I walk into the show. The artist’s message? Welcome to the hereafter, folks! These two lively (and amazingly articulated) bone sculptures are suspended from the gallery ceiling by cables and engaging in what appears to be a carefree game of Frisbee. It’s quite a cheerful sight – way more Day of the Dead celebration than ghoulish Halloween ritual warding off evil spirits. Accompanying canvasses on the walls offer further takes on his skeletons at play. Candy Snatch shows two golden-colored skeletons trading goodies back and forth from their, uh, carved out craniums. One standout painting in particular, Spiral Walk, affords Weinstein the chance to give a shout-out to 20th century hero Marcel Duchamp, who rocked the American art world in 1913 with his sensational, iconic Nude Descending a Staircase.
Like most artists in today’s culture, Weinstein wields way more than a chisel and a paintbrush. Early in his career he spent time in Japan studying anime, and for years he’s been experimenting with computer technology as well as writing scripts and song lyrics for his 3-D animations. Throughout, he’s never stopped asking questions. Here’s one: how can we experience meaning in our lives when we’ve been co-opted by a world of simulation and virtual reality? And how about the everyday, where flash, buzz, bling, and manic celebrity-worship rule? If we can’t beat ‘em, do we have to join ‘em? Well, it appears that Weinstein has decided on a big fat embrace. Clearly he’s out to entertain, but he’s challenging us to think along the way.
I sit down for 20 minutes to watch Chariots of the Gods (2009), one of two 3-D animation DVDs in the exhibition. Weinstein collaborated with the late Natasha Richardson, who lent her cultivated tones as the star of this show – a seductive, nonstop-talking-singing fish suspended from a gold chain. Busy gliding through the red rooms of a mysterious restaurant, her discourse on the future, aliens, climate, technology and the march of progress is by turns amusing and somewhat unintelligible. I keep drifting in and out. Only by reading the gallery notes would I ever suspect that two Hitchcock films are being referenced or that the restaurant is the virtual reconstruction of a reconstructed set of an actual restaurant in San Francisco. Phew. Go figure.
The second showing, Siam, runs for 14 minutes and I’m enchanted. Two Siamese fighting fish meet, speak of things like coincidence, cowboys in love, and then carry on a sort of courtship that delights the audience, including one hip looking 10-year old girl wearing leggings and a long t-shirt, who’s curled up next to her father and giggling over a song “fuck it.”
“They’re singing buckets, sweetie,” the father says hopefully. “I already know that word,” answers the child. She goes on giggling. There are dancing skeletons, adorable singing koi and the musical mood from Balkan Beat Box is kept light throughout. Keep on Smiling. Never give up on Love, they tell me. I get it.
And I’ve just learned something else. There’s a whole universe out there populated by death scholars. Just today I ran across an announcement for a symposium that highlights “transformative dialogues to reposition death centrally in culture.” I’m not so sure I’d want to sit in on that meeting, but I would certainly like to see another Matthew Weinstein show. He’s really onto something with those bronzed skeletons, not to mention his fighting fish and those adorable koi.
Images: Chariots of the Gods (2009), 17 minute 3-D animation with dialogue and music; Installation views. Courtesy the artist and Kevin Bruk Gallery.