There’s been a recent surge in defiant, conceptually-driven work coursing through the contemporary art community in Miami: the fancies of dictators, Suprematist echoes, environmental outcry, deadened didactics, and disused technologies have all come forward. As the season draws to a thunderous close, artists and gallerists alike are making sure they’re taking an audible, pre-Basel deep breath.
Kicking off the anti-festivities is Lawrence Gipe’s In the Valle de los Caidos at Primary Projects. Steeped in Spain’s fascist epic of Francisco Franco’s obssesive pursuit of constructing the ultimate funerary monument, Gipe expertly harnesses the aggressive darkness of the mythology and architectural trauma surrounding the basilica (which continues to attract controversy as a monument to alleged Popular Front slave labor and a hub for illegal right-wing Falangista demonstrations). Swathes of cloudy black recesses between sacred statues, bluish stone columns, and earth-toned masonry dominate the visual landscape, which is finished off with an ironic charcoal mural of General Franco smiling beside the Archbishop of the Santa Cruz’s parish.
At Michael Jon Gallery, Chicago-based Min Song stages a direct confrontation between a wall-sized silk scarf and a candelabra laying flat upon a freshly milled table topped with a mirror. The burn of tapered pillar candles causes temperatures to soar in the tiny gallery. While it may be an unintentional effect, the increasing level of heat coupled with spring Florida weather shifts the viewing experience into an emotive one. Song’s site-specific installation displays a lineage from Malevich, Rodchenko, and Gropius, instantly placing them in a playful, luxurious context of objects and colors commonly seen in the living spaces of the aged elite. It’s a consolidated, near bullet-proof conceptual exercise.
Visual arts veteran Christy Gast at Gallery Diet and fresh German import Hannes Bend at Charest-Weinberg Gallery both wield the languages of nature and the human hand in their respective projects. For her showcase titled Out of Place, Gast’s burlap sheets contorted into elegant brown bodies are perfect balances between uncultivated and hand-crafted, successfully reconciling an organic substance with an aesthetic pursuit. Bend operates at the other end of the spectrum, highlighting an active battle between nature and industry with catastrophic results in his exhibition, Eclipse.
Finally, British artist Nick Gentry launches his second solo project at Robert Fontaine Gallery in Collective Memory, consisting of portraits laid out on outdated floppy disks. Simultaneously reviving and negating the medium, the disks offer a hint of humorous nostalgia for Generation X and their coming-of-age alongside computer technology. Using invisible wire, Gentry breaks form with an installation in which preserved floppy disks seemingly fall from the ceiling, congealing in a pile on the floor. The ascent and inevitable decline of this thread of innovation is laid out in a straightforward metaphor.
Whatever the conditions for their work, these artists have successfully injected a broad stroke of global politics into the contemporary art conversation in Miami. Positive or negative assessments aside, these very different projects are keen observations of historic, interdisciplinary, biological, and technological events—all steps in the right direction for an evolving cultural audience in the Magic City.