Art Public 2011
Curated by Christine Y. Kim
Art Basel Miami Beach
Collins Park, Miami Beach
November 30 – December 4, 2011
Public art is at its best when it communicates on multiple levels, attracting broad sectors of the general public and remaining accessible to them, yet at the same time challenging viewers to think and see differently, and never sacrificing intelligence nor integrity. Moreover, public art that takes into consideration the specific context of the site tends to be especially exciting and relevant in this day and age.
Art Public 2011, part of Art Basel Miami Beach, is a free exhibition located in Collins Park, the beautiful outdoor space between the Bass Museum of Art and the beach – with two pieces actually located on the beach itself. I visited the site's twenty-four mostly sculptural works hoping to be inspired and wowed—or at least relieved from the crowded commercialism of the art fairs.
Unfortunately much of the work on view came across as either uninspired traditional Modernist abstraction and/or pretentiously oblique and self-referential. An example of the former is Anthony Pearson's Untitled (Transmission) – a sculpture comprised of thin black steel lines in no discernable order. An example of the latter is Daren Bader's my aunt's car—an actual minivan parked on the park's grassy lawn. An example of both tendencies would be Kate Costello's Untitled—basically a simple white rectangular arch that apparently reproduces a pre-existing arch in the Wallspace gallery, but which looked to me like a pale echo of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates in Central Park, New York City.
Fortunately there are enough strong works on view to make a visit to Art Public a worthwhile and enriching experience.
Robert Indiana's brightly-colored aluminum sculpture Art takes the three letters of its title and elegantly connects them to become a graphic illustration of the word, Pop Art style.
Damien Hirst's Sensation also drew me in with its superficially bright colors. However, upon closer inspection it became clear that the colors serve a more functional purpose, since the piece represents an enlarged cross-section of human flesh. The several erect strands of hair provide a reference point that allows the viewer to get a sense of just how super-sized the scale of this three-dimensional diagram is. Other shapes and forms look like blood cells, fat deposits, and perhaps (given the title) nerve endings. It is especially interesting to view this piece in light of Hirst's notorious preoccupation with issues of life and death, science and art.
Nearby, Chakaia Booker's monochromatic black sculpture Holla transforms rubber tires into organic forms that read as muscles and feathers. Seamlessly united into one figure, these forms become a gorgeously nightmarish creature.
Across the street stand Eduardo Sarabia's pair of gigantic snakeskin boots carved out of stone. According to the brochure these types of boots can be associated with the present-day drug lords of Northern Mexico. Yet the work's title mimics an archeological viewpoint: Snake Skin Boots with Snake Head. White Quarry Stone 21st Century. Northern Mexico. Such an ironic title brings to mind the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl of the pre-Columbian Toltec and Aztec civilizations, putting Mexico's current drug war into a historical context of human sacrifice and colonizing violence. Now that is food for thought.
Zhang Huan's intriguing piece, 49 Days No. 1, also has a story to tell. Made of bricks, it is an enormous sculpture representing a pig that stands nearly upright on its hind legs while holding on its back what appears to be a heavy building. One feels a powerful empathy for the pig even before knowing its story. The brochure provides important contextual information, explaining that the work alludes to a pig who became famous in China for having survived forty-nine days underneath the rubble of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province. It is also worth noting that the bricks Zhang used to construct 49 Days No. 1 were all salvaged from demolition sites around Shanghai; thus the artist makes a connection between the destruction caused by natural disasters and the destruction caused by capitalist growth—and the fortitude needed to survive both.
Bruce Conner's Looking for Mushrooms, a looped video projection on view from dusk until dawn, is comprised of fast-moving, mostly blurry images taken from a variety of sources. Although it can be dizzying to watch, it is well worth the time, as color and craft combine with movement and stillness to create a natural art high.
George Rickey's Two Lines Oblique Gyratory II uses pure movement to capture the audience's attention. Perched on a tall central pole, its two sleek linear branches, each comprised of only two segments, dance against the tropical sky to brilliant effect.
Jen DeNike's Iemanjá is one of only a few performance pieces in the exhibition and the only one which directly addresses the cultural and spiritual context of its specific beachfront site. The title is a Brazilian spelling of the name of the Yoruba goddess of the ocean, who is also worshipped in Cuba, Haiti, and other countries in Latin America and Africa. When I visited, I saw six performers dressed in white, dancing at a stately, reverential pace around a five-pointed star-shaped sand plateau. Utilizing flowers, their movements combined Modern dance with traditional Afro-Brazilian dance to create a graceful new ritual. Yet I felt something significant was lacking, namely the live drumming that is such an integral part of real Yoruba religious ceremonies.
Andrea Bowers' and Olga Koumoundouros' Transformer Display of Community Information and Activation is arguably the most ambitious piece in the Art Public exhibition; it is certainly the most multidisciplinary. This interactive sculpture/installation/performance/rally expands the idea of site-specific work to include community-oriented, socially and politically engaged activities in partnership with local activist organizations. These activities take place within and around a funky grassroots-style built environment that the artists have created using found furniture and political flyers. While reminiscent of the Occupy movement, this piece pre-dates that development, as the artists have previously organized two prior incarnations in other states. On the night I attended this Florida version, the theme was immigrant rights, and there were short but powerful theatrical performances and speeches from the Florida Immigrant Coalition and from an organization of queer and transgender youth, both focusing on the plight of undocumented immigrants. The Coalition also used the opportunity to collect donations from those present. In addition, there was sweet live music performed by a Haitian group and a Guatemalan marimba group called Herencia Maya. Also present was visual artist Ernesto Yerena Montejano, from Arizona, who has created beautiful political posters for the immigrant rights movement in that state. Yerena led a successful poster-making workshop in which participants used spray paint, poster board, and well-designed stencils that he had previously created. For good measure a collaborative mini-mural was happening in the background. The evening's diverse yet focused activities combined to create a wonderfully organic and hopeful atmosphere. Other organizations supported by the Transformer project are Pridelines Youth Services; Take Back the Land; URGENT, Inc.; and Women on the Rise! Bowers' and Koumoundouros's work puts the public back in public art.
While this year's Art Public turns out to be a mixed bag, the very breadth of its scope is impressive in itself. From minimalism to social action, there is something for everyone, here by the windswept sea.
~Images and text Eduardo Alexander Rabel
TOP IMAGE: Robert Indiana, Art (1972-2001), courtesy Galerie Gmurzynska.