Superflex & Jens Haaning, Number of Visitors, 2005. Aluminum, Plexiglas and electrical components. 7 5/8 x 39 3/8 x 98 9/16 inches. Courtesy the artists. Photo by Steven Brooke.
There is a long tradition in Miami of art institutions functioning like other art institutions. For instance, Miami is full of collectors who have opened and are in the process of opening personal museums to house their collections instead of donating them to public museums. In the case of some collectors, this doesn’t prevent them from supporting public institutions in other ways, but it nevertheless conflicts with the old model of private stewardship enabling access to increasingly expensive and competitively placed works of contemporary art.
In past and present economic realities both Miami Art Museum (MAM) and the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (MOCA NOMI) lacked both the collection and the budget traditionally required to function as flagship museums of a major metropolitan city. Instead MAM and MOCA NOMI offer up some decent traveling shows usually curated by other institutions and the occasional in house exhibition. While the intricacies surrounding this are too problematic to adequately discuss in this article, the reality is that when the budgetary network that usually holds a museum together is strained there is less money for production, shipping and insurance. Convention, the current show at MOCA NOMI, illuminates how with a little ingenuity the economic constraints that Miami experiences relative to other art cities can allow for more experimental formats within the museum context.
Addressing in part the pronounced recent development of South Florida’s art community through the frequently talked about, but seldom examined impact of fairs, Convention’s curatorial agenda is to examine and investigate social gatherings in our society by providing more than fifteen international artists with an opportunity to both explore the sociological significance of large-scale public events and experiment with the conventional role of museums.
Fritz Haeg, Salon Colada: Miami HQ, 2009. Mixed media. Variable dimensions. Courtesy the artist and Green Naftali Gallery, New York. Photo by Steven Brooke.
First impressions upon entering the exhibition are of an empty gymnasium skirted by a small faux modernist AA-like gathering area, a large empty stage, some benches and of course, wall text. The exhibition might be said to share a contemporary aesthetic in the realm of “Younger Than Jesus” at the New Museum or much at Manifesta. These days this is hardly an alien scenario for art goers or school groups aided by docents. One question asked by this format is perhaps not ‘What things can we consider about the impact of large art world gatherings?’, but rather ‘In what way is this type of “conventional” subversiveness going to change the museum experience?’
To some extent this has been answered by the many well attended workshops borne of Convention as while one could have certainly presumed a limited audience in Miami for sociological curiosities, sizable group schmoozing dynamics in the space have in fact been frequently observed – thus turning a potentially thwarted effort (and a relatively out-of-the-way institution) into somewhat of a buzzing success, which we imagine ultimately achieves much of what the show aimed to convey, at least in regard to artistic communities.
My Barbarian performance on May 30.
The show began when curator, Ruba Katrib, extended an open-ended invitation to artists and took shape when they responded in a broad range of mediums. Despite a few traditional, object-based works the focus seems largely to be upon more relational pieces which, presented within purposefully undefined parameters, exemplified what the show is ultimately about: the exploration of the nature of human interaction. However, oftentimes the relational aesthetics of some pieces don’t actually relate, and many of the more interactive works extend only a hypothetical invitation.
That aside, if we cast our minds back to some of the other shows that Katrib has curated for MOCA NOMI we get a sense of an overarching interest which to some extent transcends or at the very least excuses individual successes or failures of works and perhaps even shows. In Dark Continents, an eight artist strong, fortuitously all-woman exhibition we saw that beyond tackling stereotypical modernist associations of femininity with nature and the indigenous peoples of the tropics the show demonstrated that many artists worldwide were occupied with the same theme. In The Possibility of an Island at MOCA NOMI’s Goldman Warehouse shared themes was again the agenda, this time a modern preoccupation for the poetic and philosophical undercurrents of science fiction that in contemporary Western society have taken on particular pertinence considering the banality of our lives and the uncertainty of our futures. And now in Convention we again have an exhibition about the expression of shared time, ideas, and in this case space also.
Katrib’s seeming affection for anthropologically referential themes gives her work a context that whether equal to or greater than the sum of its parts can be scrutinized beyond the specifics of each show. It seems that the purpose of these exhibitions, and specifically Convention, is to stress modes that when deliberated promise to reveal from encoded habits or rituals a variety of important truths about culture. Nevertheless, in Convention we have a show almost certainly equivalent in scope to that of a traveling exhibition, which while delivering part of its promise sadly falls short of engaging a community beyond that which would have ordinarily been expected of this type of event. This may in fact be the point, regardless, it is quite a leap towards engaging issues currently being explored by more cosmopolitan museums[.]
“Convention” is on view until September 13th at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami at 770 NE 125th St., North Miami. For hours and more information call 305-893-6211 or visit www.mocanomi.org
This post was contributed by Thomas Hollingworth..