Ever the master of light-hearted macabre, gallerist Anthony Spinello presented a triple solo presentation named ‘Site Specific No. 1’ in Miami’s Design District featuring TYPOE , Santiago Rubino (‘Eyes Of The Stars’) and Agustina Woodgate (‘If These Walls Could Talk’). Spinello elected an abandoned Christian schoolhouse built in the mid 80’s as the stage for his three individually-rendered scenes; all under the auspices of the darkened natures of childhood, education, nostalgia and dysfunction.
The psychological excavation of dysfunctional architecture is no new phenomenon in contemporary art: RCA’s 2001 exhibition ‘Playing Amongst The Ruins’ was one which honed in sharply on the subject, while practitioners including Gordon Matta-Clark, Rachel Whiteread, Jane and Louise Wilson, Willie Doherty and Gregor Schneider have problematized and reinvigorated ‘traumatic’ spaces. Street art as a genre takes the disused urban space, adopts it and catalyzes it as an exhibition space that is markedly separate, but equal, from the gallery or institutional paradigm. Small coincidence, then, that Spinello’s artists have engaged with graffiti and interventionist techniques at some point: their Miami-based practices are self-reflexive (against more widespread recognition that their New York, Los Angeles or London counterparts have commanded before them) and metaphoric mirrors of the community’s struggle for prominence independent of the Art Basel Miami Beach giant.
‘Here You Leave Today and Enter the World of Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy’ is an ominous entre-nous placed on a basic black-felt board, recalling less of Disney’s ethereal dreamland and more like Dante’s scripture on the Vestibule of Hell. TYPOE’s ‘Black Sunday’ is a reference to the nightmarish opening day of Disneyland, California in July 1955 which was marred by counterfeit tickets, defunct sanitary and water facilities, searing temperatures, attractions halted and the park’s asphalt so hot that patrons’ shoes sank downward. Littered like eerie figures in a Tanguy landscape, TYPOE’s objects included a gold-plated, cinderblock-mounted tribute to Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel (not-so-ironically produced in ’55), a pristinely white skeleton puking black aerosol can caps (sporting a pair of black sneakers), an aggressive commentary of Biblical lore in the form of a gilded baseball bat and lower-jaw mold atop a black wooden stepstool (used for aiding young boys to reach the adult-built urinals) and a beautifully crafted stage curtain mimicking the decadent red velvets of old (only this was made from Hefty bags). The crisp finish: a stencil of Mickey Mouse made from spray-glued gunpowder, emblazoned onto the wall.
Like a child who angrily sprawls crayon over their walls, Santiago Rubino’s ‘Eyes Of The Stars’ overlays his exquisite drawings on sepia-toned paper over a wallpaper of graphite streaks. The subtle layering of youth fetish, Victorian propriety, celluloid animation and Pop Surrealism are all at work for Rubino, a self-taught perfectionist whose influences remain deeply entrenched in the counter-culture consciousness. Rubino’s tiny exhibition space is, somehow, inflated by the dark streaks on the walls turning a pre-fabricated classroom into a meditative sphere. The delicate drawings, themselves, are postured with Romanesque stoicism veiled with an introspective, almost absent-minded sensibility.
Finally, Agustina Woodgate forcibly, but gracefully, engages conversation between global politics and the often troubled deliverance of educational rhetoric in a child’s formative period of elementary schooling in ‘If These Walls Could Talk’. Woodgate sanded the crackling walls of a classroom to its tanned paper foundations: effectively cleaning the walls and revealing a fresh surrounding in the process. The residue of this pointedly physical activity is evidenced in the mounds of powder atop the two ledges of an aged, water-stained chalkboard at the room’s center. In a small ante-room, Woodgate presents a vintage globe on a desk, sanded down in a similar manner with the fine dust gathered on a sheet beneath it; a new geography built from destruction/creation. Never resorting to visually jarring or physically grotesque actions within her situational installations, Woodgate’s project gently brings viewers back from the ‘blackness’ of TYPOE and Rubino, but only in coloration and critical deployment; the impossibly complex web of theory and philosophical inquiry into how we process and reprocess violent political events as children are no less potent in Woodgate’s execution.
It’s possible to drown in the miry, Postmodern darkness, but Spinello’s cleverly curated ‘Site Specific’ simply floats.
Shana Beth Mason is a critic based in Brooklyn. Contributions include Art in America, ArtVoices Magazine, FlashArt International, InstallationMag (Los Angeles), Kunstforum.as (Oslo), The Brooklyn Rail, The Miami Rail, San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ), and thisistomorrow.info (London).
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