Night Shift at Bass Museum of Art
Promotional image for Night Shift describing a project which was not included in the exhibition.
Last weekend Night Shift, a group show of outdoor works curated by Jerome Sans, Founder and Co-Director of Paris’ Palais De Tokyo, Director of the Ullens Center of Contemporary Art, Cultural Curator for Le Meridien Group, rock musician and DJ, opened at Miami’s Bass Museum in conjunction with Sleepless Night, 13 hours of music, poetry, comedy and artistic curiosities aimed at making the often exclusive world of culture accessible to a broad Miami audience.
Organized by the Cultural Affairs Council among others, Sleepless Night, which last took place in 2007, caters to local residents and tourists alike with a varied multi media arts program and shuttle buses that ferry the public between over 100 locations. Designed to add venerable artistic content to the evening, Night Shift was a well promoted, and as such a highly anticipated exhibition, sadly however, it turned out to be somewhat confusing and at times even disappointing.
In its defense the evening of November 7th was unusually windy, but while this unforeseen circumstance was admittedly not conducive to art appreciation it merely contributed to a seemingly inevitable sense of disorientation due the fact that certain pieces touted in the press release were missing and others, despite being designed as to have a peripheral or “unexpected” quality, were located so far from the museum that their already disparate nature was exaggerated to the point that associating them with the exhibition, or even art in general, became laborious.
Among the immediate tip-offs that something was amiss was that the exhibition’s poster piece, “a monolithic 30′ Nirvana “t-shirt” that can be explored from the inside out!” had been replaced by a video projection in the car park. In addition, works that did make it into the show differed vastly from the proposals detailed on the museum’s website to the point that they were hardly recognizable. This confusion was compounded by the fact that none of the works in the dark, sporadically populated grounds were actually lit by the museum. To top it all off, the exhibition’s curator, not an insignificant individual in the contemporary art world, who was billed to provide a live soundtrack canceled outright and never showed up.
We contacted the museum’s Director Sylvia Karmen Cubina a number of times over the past week to see if she was willing to make a statement regarding these discrepancies, but she was never available and did not return our calls. Naturally we assume that she simply doesn’t wish to be implicated, which is fine, however, we didn’t just want to sit back and let yet another Miami mess go by not just unnoticed, but verily celebrated. So while the relative silence of those involved compels us to omit certain important details regarding this case please trust in our frustration and take note that this show, which until its opening had stood apart for its potential and prestige, fell short of expectations (at least so far as this publication is concerned).
Nevertheless, taking things at face value, something we rarely do here, there were a couple of shining lights in the otherwise gloomy and intimidating grounds that thankfully made the horrific ordeal of parking on the beach worthwhile. (Shuttle buses, we know!)
Christy Gast’s The Earth We Inhabit (2009) and performance. Photograph by Keith Bradley.
Among the works suffering through perhaps the worst possible night (save for added torrential rain) for temporary public sculpture was Christy Gast’s piece The Earth We Inhabit. A monument to Koreshan Unity, a 19th century Utopian community of artists and academics whose central belief was that we live on the interior of a hollow earth, the piece is an eight foot skeletal globe made from laminated fir and bent steel resting on four conch shell horns atop wooden obelisks.
Christy Gast’s The Earth We Inhabit (2009) and performance. Photograph by Keith Bradley.
Adherents of Koreshan cosmology and philosophy historically installed their handmade didactic models of the universe at agricultural fairs and art expos with a view to enlightening viewers about their theories. In homage to these attempts to conscript people to their beliefs by way of public address, a scheduled fifteen-minute performance realized in collaboration with dancer/choreographer Ana Mendez and dancers Rosie Herrera, Liza Carmona and Ivonne Batanero took place at 9pm around the sculpture. Featuring choreography, costumes, a vintage Baldwin Fun Machine organ and recitals from a Koreshan text titled The Cellular Cosmogony the performance provided a barrage of folklore information adding to the loaded piece, even the underside of the dancers skirts were appliqued with Koreshan cosmological diagrams which the audience, sat on a large satiny ring of fabric encircling the piece, could see when the dancers thrust their rear ends, as they often did, into the air.
Christy Gast’s performance for The Earth We Inhabit (2009). Photograph by Keith Bradley.
In a manner befitting malfunctioning escapees from an android factory, the dancers occasionally appeared to be miming sentiments of Gast’s spoken word. At the end they hoisted Gast up like a deity or a coffin and walked her off as she blew long salutes repeatedly into her conch shell bugle. Despite being somewhat drowned out by the wind this piece was at least temporarily floodlit and provided a welcome focal point, even if for a short time.
Nicolas Lobo’s piece, Listening pavilion for all the FM radio stations in Dade County, consists of a geodesic spray textured half dome and a terrazzo bench. Inside the goopy looking structure, radios hidden behind pink foam triangles play an indecipherable (and owing to the wind on the opening night, a near inaudible) hum.
Nicolas Lobo’s Listening pavilion for all the FM radio stations in Dade County and performance by Ha Ha Help!
Set apart from other works, but still on the grounds of the museum, Lobo’s piece is situated on a concrete platform surrounded by a burgling moat-like water feature. At 11:11pm on November 7 a performance took place. Unlike Gast’s performance this one featured a rock band, of sorts, and was so totally unexpected that there was even debate as to whether it, much like the homeless who have been sleeping in the work since its construction, was intended by the artist – the museum certainly didn’t have a clue. The band in question were Miami’s Ha Ha Help!, a ramshackle, make do with what they have, glorious noise, play everywhere type band consisting of two guys who might possibly constitute the most unprofessional musical ensemble in the modern world.
Having forgotten his microphone the lead singer screamed to be heard over the wind and whatever audio power the two could muster from an guitar amp configuration running off of one power strip connected to the only available outlet and a couple of drums. In many ways the performance, despite being a botched under amplified shambles of grimy tropical glam echoed the sculpture in the sense that neither really seemed to belong. That something like this would spontaneously happen at relatively elegant art show was bizarre, but for that reason alone the performance, more accidental than incidental, was quickly validated along with an ugly, albeit purposeful, but otherwise intentionally defective bandstand. The fact that the only video documentation of the event happened on a phone only added to the work’s transient and makeshift nature.
Phone video still of performance by Ha Ha Help! at Nicolas Lobo’s Listening pavilion for all the FM radio stations in Dade County.
In addition to these two performances there was also a performance by Jim Drain and Brooke O’Hara, which we sadly missed that consisted of someone walking from the museum to the beach, once. Drain and O’Hara’s piece, an experimental video combining documentation of the performance on the opening night and other on-site happenings will be added to the show in the next few days.
Despite affecting an interesting parasitic relationship to the venue, the smattering of works silhouetted by ambient streetlights, shrouded in darkness or for all intents and purposes absent largely failed to make an impact. We admit that the majority of our criticisms are based on viewing the exhibition at night and that during the day it may be a completely different animal, however, being that the was designed to open during sleepless night we can’t really see any reason why these incongruities would not have been anticipated.
Ultimately it is unfortunately unavoidable that this show, despite being curated by such a high profile figure and being comprised of quality artists will not stay open longer. Since Art Basel Miami Beach renewed its contract it has been stipulated that no public art can be on view during early December – presumably to stop satellite fairs encroaching on the convention center’s status as prize pig – and Sleepless Night happened on a prescribed date thus giving the exhibition a short window of opportunity. Nevertheless, it’s not the time frame that we are worried about here, but rather the sense that someone wasn’t pulling their weight.
As far as we understand it Bass Museum was asked by the organizers of Sleepless Night to put on a spectacle for the occasion. Being that Bass Museum is, well, Bass Museum, and considering that just about every other arts institution was doing something its possible that they felt under duress to deliver. That would at least explain the hands off feel to the show in that the efforts of the artists to make and install their work seemed not to have been reciprocated by the museum. Perhaps the museum had more important things to concern themselves with, whatever the cause the fact remains that a show should not rely entirely on its artists and aside from the efforts of the coordinator which we know to have been good, this one seemed to.
When a show falls short of the mark the natural inclination is to ask why and maybe even find someone to blame. In this case however, with so many organizational bodies involved it seems that someone simply needed to take responsibility for things, but in the end the book just got passed around. The moral of the story here then seems to be that regardless of whether you wanted to do it or not, if you agree to put on a show, have a big name curator work on it, select artists from submissions to be in it and make promises, then you had better follow through. If you don’t you might find that the curator doesn’t show up, works don’t work out and local bloggers spend Monday afternoons ruminating their disappointment.
This post was contributed by Thomas Hollingworth.