Mauricio Gonzalez: Speed of Life
Fredric Snitzer Gallery
January 10 through February 4, 2012
Miami’s visual culture is a thinly mediated version of the surrounding landscape, which ranges from the humid to the apocalyptic, depending on the view. At the behest of real estate developers and the hands of troupes of street artists, Wynwood has been afflicted by a histamine scourge of graffiti murals. Inside the galleries, things aren't that different. The objet trouvé, more often than not a crack pipe or a bit of flotsam from the housing bust, holds court. Trash has been hot for a while now.
So when Mauricio Gonzalez, a Cuban artist, a graduate of New World School of the Arts (the Miami art school), makes sculptures out of salvaged construction material and shows at Fredric Snitzer Gallery (the Miami Gallery), he’s basically setting himself up as self-parody. That is until one sees the actual work, which, like telephone poles beneath beach houses, keeps the whole thing above water.
Gonzalez makes his sculptures with items scrounged from construction sites and curbsides throughout Miami Dade County. (There are also paintings, but while competent, they only reiterate arguments set forward by the sculpture.) The sculptures are mildly anthropomorphic, subtly hinting at the life that they once structured. They also call to mind the former site and its lifespan. That said, they are not site specific in the least because nothing in Miami cannot be plopped down elsewhere with similar effect. And while they do suggest a performative action in both the original life of the material and in Gonzalez’s active process of searching it out, the temporal element cannot be contextualized, and thus feels tense and immobile—sprained. The sculpture works so well because it stands outside of time.
For this reason, the title of the exhibition, Speed of Life, is an unfortunate misnomer. Not only does the play on words already exist in the discography of David Bowie (1971) and Xzibit (1999), it also suggests progress, or at least a project that will one day be complete. These goals don’t gel with South Florida. But if one insists on chronology, the rate of entropy is more applicable. How quickly do things fall apart, and what remains?
Space already being accounted for, the chief goal of the modern era was to come to grips with time. Not only are there many types of time, they are all represented here in Miami. There aren’t seasons. Half of the population is on vacation, and thus jetlagged. The locals aren’t any better, affected by that peculiarly Mediterranean lackadaisy toward being on time. With Miami somewhere between the timeshare industry and the primeval swamps, Gonzalez’s work belongs to the long afterward. It recasts that which was transient into a site of pseudopermanence. His sculpture becomes fetish and reliquary. Always on the brink of collapse, it reminds one of all of the structures that have collapsed. In the words of the bard, “life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.”
First glancers will surely bitch and moan about Gonzalez’s use of trash in a way that looks, well, trashy. However, deskilling isn’t the question here, as Gonzalez is an exceptionally gifted artist. The pieces are delicately balanced and never boring. My qualm is that it’s not bad enough. I don’t mean good bad, but evil. The formal balance between a controlled and entropic gesture suggests a similar relationship among the ruling social forces: chaos and order. However, the fact that there is a balance is moot, if not disingenuous. A balanced society doesn’t provide an artist with salvageable building materials. A balanced society doesn’t have foreclosures. A perverse quality of neoliberal capitalism is how it absorbs shocks to the system (the housing crisis, Katrina) in order to regulate itself and thus maintain a balance. However, if the past years have taught us anything, it is that even with these shocks, the centre cannot hold. Gonzalez’s work should not be hedged by the easy order/chaos binary. It must attest to the complete breakdown of the system—something that is not without a certain grace.
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Hunter Braithwaite is a Miami-based writer and founder of Thereisnothere.org. His work has been featured on Artforum.com, Cnn.com, Artinfo.com, and Artslant.com. Additionally, he is a contributing editor of Asian Art News.