ARTLURKER

A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Wedding Crashers

Courtesy of Deering Estate at Cutler. 

The Deering Estate at Cutler recently held their annual Sobay Festival of the Arts celebrating the estate’s rich cultural heritage. The site of the former residence of philanthropist Charles Deering hosted a week of events that included exhibitions of Deering estate and LegalArt artists-in-residence as well as Wedding Crashers, a curated group exhibition informed by the site’s history. After a nearly month long “crashing” stint, the show’s great success and appeal deserves some consideration.

This year Special Projects Curator, Ralph Provisero decided to focus on the estate’s popularity as a wedding venue. The “wedding crashers” are the works of art that impose themselves onto the lush, natural, bayside landscape that is so attractive to wedding planners. For Provisero, “[w]eddings can be iconic images of momentary time. The preparation, the party and the aftermath are often based on grandiose images of fantasy or skewed reality.”

Courtesy of Deering Estate at Cutler.

But in a more complex way, Provisero selected a group of works that also comment (in a broader sense) on the frail order of time and site – both urban and natural. The overarching sense of transfiguration touches on Robert Smithson’s notions of “entropy made visible,” a phenomenon the artist wrote extensively about as indicative of the conditions he observed in the post-war 1960s. Entropy, literally referring to the gradual deterioration of a system, also suggests change, even metamorphosis. For Smithson, over time the universe and any system were destined to decay into a state of disorder and banality. The extended history of the Deering estate that includes a sacred Tequesta Indian burial site, the railroad town of Cutler, a home to Charles Deering, and now a state-run museum and park dramatically illustrates the concept of entropy as a continuous state of transformation. For each history, decline heralded new structures that called for a re-purposing of the site and its space. What makes Wedding Crashers so successful and unique is that each of the works can be read as the artists’ (conscious or unconscious) responses to the entropic state of the site they occupy.

Courtesy of Deering Estate at Cutler.

Frances Trombly’s Caution Tape demarcated a patch of lawn as off limits. Through prohibition, the uncannily realistic hand-embroidered “tape” activated an empty space abutting the main lawn frequently used for wedding receptions. Acting as one of the ultimate wedding crashers, Caution Tape contaminated an area of natural beauty with the suggestion that something potentially dark or putrid occurred there.

Courtesy of Deering Estate at Cutler.

Similarly Robert Chambers’ Orange Unit singled out the use of natural landscape by surrounding towering palms with orange scaffolding. The scaffolding suggests something sacred about the trees and even disguised itself as a kind of natural reclamation project.  Chambers was one of the few artists to respond to the evolving ecological state of the site.

Courtesy of Deering Estate at Cutler.

One of the first artists selected by Provisero was Jason Hedges, whose work was best experienced on the opening night when Hedges provided guests with fresh barbeque cooked in an outdoor fire pit. The primordial experience of cooking red meat outdoors on rustic looking spits almost summons the Native American tribes and frontiersmen that once dwelled on that site. It was the kind of all day performance that intermittently made you forget you were even part of a performance.  For curator Provisero, Hedges’ environment served as an anchor piece for the exhibition and became a gathering spot for guests at  the opening. Vertical Spits was one of many interactive performances that occurred during opening day, but was definitely the most popular among those who attended. Who grumbles at free steak and ribs?

Courtesy of Deering Estate at Cutler.

Many artists chose the historic boat basin as their site, including Bhakti Baxter, Felicia Carlisle and William Cordova. The oval boat basin is an extremely popular backdrop for wedding photographers with its picturesque view of the bay and became the most obtrusive way to “crash.”  Baxter’s Untitled (Twin Finials) while large in scale were also among the more minimal responses to the theme. For many viewers, the sculptures seem to have always been there, like giant chess pieces marking either end of the basin.

Courtesy of Deering Estate at Cutler.

Similarly undetectable was William Cordova’s amauta, a golden plaque mounted on cement blocks on the floor. Inside the main house is Cordova’s second work, pachacuti, installed in the room devoted to Deering’s former Spanish estates in Sitges, Spain. For his participation, Cordova embraced the diverse historical past of the Tequesta site as well as elements of Deering’s fascination and collection of Moorish religious artifacts permanently on view on the second floor of the main house. More than any other artist in Wedding Crashers, Cordova’s amauta and pachacuti embody minimal forms that propose complex considerations on the site’s scientific, ethnographic and cultural transformations. Part of the audience involvement comes from grappling with the uneasy mental negotiation of the decline and decay of entire cultures in the name of change. These concepts propose a version of human entropy that  unavoidably exists in such an intensely historic site.

Courtesy of Deering Estate at Cutler.

Nearby the basin slumped Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova’s The Dereliction of a Habitable Structure on one end and Michael Loveland’s Red Right on the other. Rodriguez-Casanova’s sprawling structure embodies the very essence of urban entropy in one of the more direct examples in the show. A functionless sculpture made from everyday building materials lay dormant on the estate’s lawn like a monument to urban decay. The wave of chain-link fence fell onto the floor becoming almost invisible through the blades of grass. Michael Loveland’s Red Right is a quintessential example of entropic metamorphosis. Loveland re-purposed discarded ocean channel markers into a large abstract sculpture that maintained the function of its source materials in an entirely new form.

Courtesy of Deering Estate at Cutler.

Some of the works in the show commented on the wedding theme more than others.

Courtesy of Deering Estate at Cutler.

Wendy Wischer’s Illuminating Tendrils 11 is representative of her reflections on the materiality of nature. The oscillating leaves of the silver orb simulated a disco ball hidden within the brush of one of the few spaces of manicured landscape on the estate. Rene Barge’s interactive Contact I and Contact II invited visitors to the opening to play a version of the children’s telephone game by being given various phrases to repeat to each other during the course of the night. The resulting twisted messages were recorded and broken down to incoherent audio impressions that were played back in a small niche in the Richmond cottage. The participatory act drew upon the speculation of idle wedding reception gossip. But more interestingly, it reveals the degradation and superficiality of human presence over time.

Courtesy of Deering Estate at Cutler.

The only artist to capitalize on the estate’s known paranormal history (and venture completely indoors) is Clifton Childree who occupied the estate’s prohibition-era wine cellar. The room, hidden behind a false shelf and a three-ton bank vault door once housed the kind of booze collection that would make anyone salivate.  Childree’s We Want Beer summons the ghosts of alcoholics past and present with a multimedia installation that takes you right back to the days of the desperate camaraderie that came from under cover drinking. Infused with the artist’s signature humor and nostalgia for vaudevillian theatrics. We Want Beer is comprised of a dilapidated cupboard presented by Dear Inc., (a play on Deering’s name and past as an agricultural equipment magnate). The cupboard is smashed and surrounded by piles of debris, overturned chairs and bottles as a shrine to some debaucherous past. We Want Beer also winks at the potential Bacchanalian nature of wedding receptions, which many attend solely on the promise of an open bar.

Wedding Crashers, being what is was, spread all over the grounds and with art works by estate artists integrated throughout, visiting the exhibition was both at times a little confusing and a little like an art show scavenger hunt. That said, the exhibition definitely made you work (and walk) a little more than other shows, and that is exactly what made it such fun[.]

This post was contributed by Melissa Diaz.

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Wedding Crashers