June 16th, 2002
The Miami Herald
Discovering a 'Place' in Miami's hot art scene
by ELISA TURNER
That Place, an exhibition culled mainly from contemporary art in private South Florida collections and on view at two venues in Miami's Design District, could just as well be called Any Place. It gamely tackles the variously depressing and thrilling manifestations of globalization, all without mentioning the pesky ''g'' word.
But the sense that we live in a crowded, fluid world of morphing identities and virtual travel comes through loud and clear, as 50-plus contemporary artists ricochet among genres, freely sampling from the conventions of painting, design, film, photography and performance art.
Artist C?sar Trasobares, in collaboration with Key Biscayne collector Rosa de la Cruz curated the exhibit, which presents work by some of this generation's most talked-about international artists in the Moore Building and the Buick Building on Northeast Second Avenue in the Design District.
The clever, provocative exhibit -- which debuted last month and will remain on view Saturdays through July 29 -- is almost too much to absorb. And it occasionally makes visitors tussle with tangents that could be put into a more accessible context in the kind of settings museums are supposed to provide.
Among the works are Miami-based artist Mette Tommerup's best pieces to date -- digital prints of bodies elasticized into swervy, sci-fi distortions. In Orifice Valley, she transforms a self-portrait into a sensual but frightening and futuristic composition of billowing flesh and yawning orifices. With dizzy ?lan, they blur into something resembling bad but unforgettable dreams.
Meanwhile, a weirdly beautiful photograph by Chinese artist Zhang Huan informs a painterly backdrop of weeping willows with imagery that speaks to anonymous urban sprawl. In this photograph Huan, a visible button-pushing figure on the international art circuit since his work showed in New York in 1998, documents a performance in which he asked workers to stand chest-deep in one of the many fish ponds dotting Beijing. They become naked sentinels stuck in an absurd exercise that has no effect on a swiftly changing society.
There's also an interesting subtext to the title That Place, making a connection to the evolving Miami art scene where, in the past few years, new art has been popping up in a challenging variety of places. These venues bypass traditional spots such as commercial galleries and museums, with artists and their supporters transforming homes, gardens, ramshackle warehouses and Little Havana storefronts into much-needed forums for experimental and innovative voices.
Art exhibits in unused retail space in the Design District, provided by Dacra developer Craig Robins, make up one of the better-financed and higher-profile manifestations of that trend. Last December, Robins, along with Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, organized Humid in the Moore Building, bringing in Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art curator Dominic Molon to select a feisty range of work from Miami and other cities.
Humid, whose opening attracted such art world luminaries as artist John Baldessari and David Ross, former director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, was an edgy, stylish addition to the impressive range of events that sprang up in anticipation of Art Basel Miami Beach.
That Place picks up where Humid left off. Robins-owned installations by Rirkrit Tiravanija, an influential artist of Thai origin who lives in New York, and John Bock of Germany sprawl with a curious and compulsive tangle of objects. If Marcel Duchamp had taken an extended shopping trip through the swap meets of South Florida, his finds might have resembled their artwork.
That's not necessarily a put-down.
''It actually requires extensive documentation for the general public to get,'' Trasobares, who's also curator of the Robins' private collection, says of Tiravanija's cheerfully chaotic 1997 Untitled (Playtime).
ART INSIDE ART
His work, shown in 1997 in the Johnson-designed sculpture garden at New York's Museum of Modern Art, shrinks the austere modernist geometry of architect Philip Johnson's classic 1949 Glass House into a size suitable for a child's playhouse.
Used for a time as a classroom by the museum's education staff, the boxy structure is now carpeted with swirling lengths of orange fabric, reminiscent of Buddhist monks' robes in Thailand. Peer through its glass walls and you see an assortment of objects gleaned from Tiravanija's past exhibits, including a kitschy plastic replica of Thai food and cans of curry with labels he designed.
Another installation featuring the junky clutter of props used in a performance Bock gave, also at MoMA, makes a bit more sense if you watch the video documenting it. With wacky and barbed wit the artist, wearing a Halloween-ish space suit, rambles about a cheesy stage set. He takes on a character that's both expert and quack of modern science and contemporary art, mischievously spewing forth arcane formulas and binary codes as if they are all the foundations a high-tech society needs.
This being the Design District, That Place also takes a spin through objects designed to comfort the body or propel it through space -- though of course artists' take on body-friendly design is never just a matter of being ergonomically correct. Thus we get Ray Azcuy's psychedelically colored levitating couch, Rachel Lachowicz's brittle and broken glass slippers and Trasobares' wood and marble structure, all part bookshelf, chair and monumental figurative statue.
Such places segue into art about bodily identity with Pippilotti Rist's spoofy rock-star video and Ana Mendieta's prescient 1972 series of photographs documenting her feminist performance, in which a man shaves his beard as she glues locks from this hirsute marker of strength on to her own smooth face.
SCENES FROM THE CITY
Urban places figure boldly in this show, including some pieces that prove unexpectedly wrenching in this post 9/11 era. Gabriel Orozco's photo Building and Birds is an upward-looking shot of a skyscraper with birds appearing to flee its dark tower. Sarah Morris' Midtown video is a jittery meshing of pedestrian crowds and minimalist flashes of more skyscrapers, tailor-made for anxious, Ritalin-deficient attention spans.
Mariko Mori's video, shot in a busy Tokyo subway, features an initially soothing, then saccharine soundtrack behind clips of the glamorous, silvery-costumed artist caressing a crystal ball with mesmerizing intensity. It's hard to tell which seems more artificial, the sleek subway or the slick fantasy girl.
One of the most energizing facets to this show is that Miami-based artists are put in the ambitious, cutting-edge contexts they deserve. Nowhere is this more true than in the inspired pairing of Tacita Dean's Rozel Point with a partial, ghostly recreation of George Sanchez's The Blessing, a full-scale model of Le Corbusier's classic emblem of Modernist architecture, the 1920s Villa Savoye, which Sanchez has sited in a dreary space under I-395 in Overtown.
Dean's piece, which exists only as a slide projection, shows the site of Robert Smithson's 1970 work Spiral Jetty, a legendary piece of Land Art of a spiraling, now-submerged incursion into the Great Salt Lake. Dean captures a mirage-like vista of sky and water in pastel pinks and blues, a place that also glimmers with hard-to-define promise and echoes of past innovation.
The theme of promise may be the most important part of this show, however subtle and long-range.
''I think it shows the great potential of what a Miami museum could be,'' Robins says. ``My hope is that the great collections that are being built in Miami will end up in an institution here. I don't think this is going to happen in the near future. But I do think there's an awareness now.''
Still, not all South Florida collectors speak in such sanguine terms. Another argues, off the record, that museums here with recently established contemporary collections haven't yet reached the maturity level to attract large gifts, saying, ``it takes years to build the kind of trust that would allow somebody to leave their collection to an institution. In New York, it's a privilege to give things to MOMA, because you know it's going to be cared for and nurtured in a way that it will live forever, even when you're dust. That remains to be seen down here.''
Robins, however, remains unswayed.
''[My family is] certainly open to making big commitments if we were doing that with other members of the community that are building serious collections,'' he says. ``Ultimately, our goal is to make Miami a place that people here and around the world can see some of the most important art of our time.''
Elisa Turner is The Herald's art critic.
''That Place,'' curated by Miami artist C?sar Trasobares in collaboration with collector Rosa de la Cruz, is at the Moore Building, 4040 NE Second Ave., and the Buick Building, 3841 NE Second Ave., in Miami's Design District through July 29. Included are site-specific works by Miami-based artists and work from the collections of Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, Ivelin and Craig Robins, Debra and Dennis Scholl, Toni and Daniel Holtz, Janet and William Eaglstein and Juan Lezcano. It's open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free. Information: 305-573-811