A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

“Pivot Points Part 1: Defining MOCA’s Permanent Collection”

Ed and Nancy Kienholz
Soup Course at the She-She Cafe, 1982
Mixed media
Variable dimensions
Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami
Gift of Irma Braman 2007.11.00
Image courtesy of Steven Brooke

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 Handforth – a startling piece of objet trouve that Handforth 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.

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, neatly stowed 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-esq satires of futility. On reflection it would seem that Oppenheim’s overture is generally positioned to explain to the rest of us of 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.

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.

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 form 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.

Finally a sneak peek behind an inconspicuous 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 quasi 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!


Written by Thomas Hollingworth for:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

“Pivot Points Part 1: Defining MOCA’s Permanent Collection”