May 2008, MOCA Miami Pivot Points I & II


Ann-Sofi Sidén, Station 10 and Back Again, 2001, DVD Installation, 18 channels, b/w, silent, 18 surveillance monitors on metal shelves, 81 3/4 in. x 115 in. x 16 in. (207.65 cm x 292.1 cm x 40.64 cm), Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art,
Photo: (c) Steven Brooke

Pivot Points I:Defining MOCA's Collection
MOCA, North Miami
March 25 through May 11, 2008

Pivot Points II: New Mythologies
MOCA @ Goldman Warehouse
April 12 through June 28, 2008


On March 25th Pivot Points Part 1 opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. Included in this exhibition, the first installment of a two part series, are a collection of works by international contemporary artists that seemingly mark not only important moments in the development of respective careers but also turning points for contemporary art.

In a far corner of the Francine Bishop Good Gallery a chunky white vitrine displays MOCA'a first acquisition: 8 photography books by Edward Ruscha that were generously donated in 1994 by Skip Van Cel. Inspired by the work of Marcel Duchamp, Ruscha came to view the American landscape as his very own 'read-made', a concept continued in John Baldessari's Three Red Paintings (1988) and Untitled (Lovelight) (1999) by Miami artist Mark Hanforth – a startling piece of objet trouve that Hanforth turns from a functional object into a lyrical sculpture. This piece in particular and the dialogue it supports make for an altogether not-half-bad start to the show.


Installation view
Mark Handforth, untitled (Lovelight), 1999, steel, aluminum and glass, 21 in. x 108 in. x 21 in. (53.34 cm x 274.32 cm x 53.34 cm), Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miam, Museum purchase with funds provided by Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz
John Baldessari, Three Red Paintings, 1988, Vinyl paint on three b&w photographs, 94 1/4 in. x 128 1/4 in. (239.4 cm x 325.76 cm), Gift of the Lannan Foundation
Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Photo: (c) Steven Brooke

In the first of the exhibition's video rooms visitors play an active role in Smoke Screen, a projection by atmospheric new media darling Jennifer Steinkamp. Here silhouettes are incorporated into an initially foxing display of pixilated texture where bands of digitalized fog - layered upon one another and flowing in opposite directions - give the impression that one is being torn apart in some kind of cosmic waste disposal unit. Although the illusion is quickly demystified, the allure of its magic prevails and, lingering for a while, I observed with amusement as families danced in front of it; noting in particular the rapture in the voice of one small boy who upon being confronted by his giant shadow shrieked "That's cool; I'm bigger than four and a half!"

Nearby, in a bespoke circular alcove, a little mechanized marionette sits on a low table; eye level to a big cast iron bell that hangs from the ceiling just inches from its face. The piece, entitled Attempt to Raise Hell (1974) is one of Dennis Oppenheim's self-portrait effigies and has long been a staple of MOCA's collection exhibits. Its cast metal face (which other wise would be a pretty good likeness) is scoured by a trench caused by repeatedly lurching headfirst at unexpected intervals into the edge of the bell. Despite being out of commission on the night of the opening I can attest from subsequent visits that it provides quite a shock if you happen to be near it when it goes off.

The piece exemplifies Oppenheim's flair for unconventional materials and the unique way in which he employs them – typically for pranks that convey his dark temperament. His work often demonstrates a deep refrain on the art business and the inner demons of frustration, anger and violence that apparently enable him to create such graphic, Sisyphus-esque satires of futility. On reflection it would seem that Oppenheim's overture is generally positioned to explain to the rest of us how hard it is for him to make art. Considering how accomplished he is at this, one is forced to wonder why he has not already conceded his own mantra and stopped.


Ed and Nancy Kienholz, Soup Course at the She-She Café, 1982, Mixed media, Variable dimensions
Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Gift of Irma Braman, Photo: (c) Steven Brooke

Pressing on (as viewing art is not without its hardships either) we come to Soup Course at the She-She Café (1982), an installation by Ed and Nancy Kienholz that strikes an unsettling tone. Typically creepy but equally brilliant, the piece implicates the viewer into a theatrical drama set in a café in which a man [dining with his wife] lusts after a nearby stranger. Executed with a charming attention to detail (except the fingernails) and festooned with fascinating trinkets this musty, weird piece is a credit to the collection.

The main portion of the exhibition space is dedicated to German artist John Bock's Zero Hero (2003). First showcased in Miami as a forty-minute performance at the Moore Loft in 2006 it now continues life as an expansive post-performance sculptural installation. Composed of objects, mechanisms, and five video screens, the piece criticizes the hypocrisy of nineteenth century German society in regard to the story of Kasper Hauser - in particular the violent process by which a community sought to exact civility upon an otherwise savage unfortunate. Having seen the performance in its prime my initial reaction was naturally one of disappointment; however, despite being somewhat lifeless, this assemblage of nauseating objects as a record is actually quite effective.


John Bock, Zero Hero, 2003, Mixed media, Variable dimensions
Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami and the American Fund for the Tate Gallery
Gift of Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, Photo: (c) Steven Brooke

Behind this, stretching more than sixty feet along one side of a narrow isolated walkway is Thomas Hirschorn's Diorama (1997). Emitting a clinical fluorescent light that compliments the notion of 'the display' the structure houses reproduced images (a mixture of fine art and kitsch) that the Swiss artist has framed with aluminum foil tubes and red paint. Trailing from them to various stationary mounds made from the same material the tubes form low-tech umbilical tethers. Suggestive of an unknown power source they deepen one's instinctive curiosity for this makeshift-monstrosity.

From here the exhibition makes a strange departure with a collaborative project entitled No Ghost Just A Shell. Initiated in 1999 by Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno the project featured some fourteen artists who aimed to forge a new existence for Annlee, a Manga character whose rights they purchased for just $400. With video, sculpture, painting or graphics each artist strives to imbue Annlee with life but most fail; her various postulations on the nature of self amounting to nothing more than the trite musings of a second rate technological age Pinocchio. In fairness though, the project does raise some very interesting questions about identity, society and even art making but ultimately the work takes up too much space and the garish animations – most of which fall somewhere between a Gap advert and Tom Cruise's Minority Report – are too many, too similar and appear to say too little beyond their basic premise to warrant further exploration.


Thomas Hirschhorn, Diorama, 1997, Mixed media, 84 in. x 732 in. x 144 in. (213.36 cm x 1859.28 cm x 365.76 cm)
Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Gift of Marin Z. Margulies, Photo: (c) Steven Brooke

Finally a sneak peek behind a conspicuous curtain reveals Let's Not Talk About It (2005) by Noberto (Bert) Rodriguez. In a dastardly plan to console a failing relationship the artist emblazoned a pair of boxing gloves and a t-shirt with a concentric heart motif. Intended as an anonymous gift the gloves would serve to facilitate their receiver's recognition of the motif on the t-shirt that the artist intended to be wearing when they next met (presumably by chance). Upon making the connection this mysterious femme would, as Rodriguez's plan dictated, be his once more. Presumably however the idea of wearing the same t-shirt indefinitely jaded for all intents and purposes the vigor of his desire and articles originally intended for a real-life make-up instead find themselves in a museum arranged in a mock-up face-off.

Another highlight of the evening (which again could have easily been overlooked) was undoubtedly the promotion of TAVA, a bizarre new caffeine-free energy drink that together with its quazi-Taoist pretensions I swallowed along side a seething gaggle of fellow artlings who were either enjoying the musical styling's of The MisShapes or had unwittingly been marooned by their drinks - a problem I frequently encounter when visiting either of MOCA's locations. At least imprisoned in the courtyard under a huge neon sign aptly reading "Paradise" we were afforded some respite from the intrusive barrage of security personnel who despite acting on strict instructions and undoubtedly for the good of the work succeed for the most part in making one feel as though they are trespassing - with the exception of Celestine of course!

Embarking with the simple premise of exploring how artists tell stories, the second of the Pivot Points exhibitions, Part 2: New Mythologies, which opened on April 12th might go a little too far with its title but the show by contrast is actually quite solid.

A strong opening piece by Jose Bedia entitled Cargo Cult that references the spiritual dependence on aid developed by South Pacific tribes during WWII leads on to taxidermy and painting by John Espinosa in which birds appear frozen and suspended in plight by luminous rods opposite deer that grapple with blue plasma antlers. In the entrance to the main gallery a portrait of Norman Mailer in Matthew Barney's Cremaster 2: The Metropolis (1999) eye balls visitors as they pass.


Jason Rhoades, More Moor Morals and Morass, 1994, Mixed media, Dimensions variable
Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art, North MiamiGift of Eileen and Peter Norton

Highlights of this installment are surf drawings by Raymond Pettibon and a brilliant yet hideous head by Louise Bourgeois. With his many drawings on view at the Goldman Warehouse, Pettibon, whose illustrative content draws inspiration from a wealth of experience, encapsulates the aspirations of a surfer catching the next wave.

Each work is in fact exemplary in its own way as it succeeds where so many fail to communicate the particular and often peculiar fascinations of its creator. From drawings and photographs by Michael Vasquez, Isaac Julien, Adrian Paci and Mariko Mori to sculptures and videos from Jason Rhodes, Anne Sofi Siden, Ali Prosh, Anne Chu and Tracy Emin, a great sense of personal truth emerges from various fractured dimensions.


Adrian Paci, The Wedding, 2007, Tempera, plaster on fiberglass panel, 10 in. x 11 3/4 in. (25.4 cm x 29.85 cm)
Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami
Museum purchase with funds provided by the Ira & Ilene Lampert Foundation, Michelle Rosenfeld,
Peter & Jody Robbins and anonymous donor, Photo: (c) Steven Brooke

These eclectic works together with the realization of the two exhibitions as a mutually complimentary whole came as a nice surprise considering that I had initially perceived their titles as seriously overambitious or even down right arrogant.

Thankfully I was wrong and the two exhibitions, each of which represent a good range of both old and new acquisitions, succeeded in rising above my deplorable preconceptions. In fact was pleasantly impressed to find interrelating concepts and methodologies in new and exciting groups and one hopes that with MOCA's expansion and plans to double its exhibition space I can look forward to being wrong again and again.


Thomas Hollingworth graduated with a BFA from London Guildhall University in 2003. He has since worked internationally as a freelance writer for art institutions such as The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse and Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin and publications such as Florida InsideOut, M/The New York Art World, map magazine, Miami Modern Luxury, NO MAD Paper, Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, Wynwood - The Art Magazine, and ARTLURKER, an online contemporary art newsletter/blog that he runs. www.artlurker.com


 

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