BY Andrew Durbin in Opinion | 11 DEC 17

Miami Flight Patterns

Openings at the new ICA, The Bass and PAMM played out against a backdrop of geographic uncanniness and atmospheric uncertainty

BY Andrew Durbin in Opinion | 11 DEC 17

The air oozed. ‘You can scoop it out’, someone said over an expensive, poolside martini at the Delano Hotel on South Beach. Blowsy-faced tourists collapsed into large, plastic-enforced cushions situated along hedgerows, sopping up their mood with mojitos. Artists, gallerists, and curators (Miami, this past week, was in the midst of Art Basel) nibbled their own rum-soaked mint leaves beneath a canopy of ribbony palm fronds under-lit by a clubby mauve. There were deck chairs in the pool’s shallow-end, and a pricey restaurant served whole chickens grilled al fresco. We were often wet with sweat, ocean spray, spilled drinks, rain and drizzle, though it hardly rained, but isn’t everything in Miami, built on porous rock, always wet? (‘The water just comes up, through the ground, all the time’, someone else said.) The persistent question seems to be: When will it rain? Today, tomorrow, the next day – the air is never short of moisture. It hangs, it clings. It was not rainy season, technically-speaking, but in the Miami of this category-five century, climactic norms have warped past recognition, and the United States’ tropical capital has found its flood-times extended into balmy perpetuity.

Exterior of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Photograph: Iwan Baan

Against this uncertainty, Miami presses forward in its urban upswing, with new and renewed institutions sprouting up everywhere. For this edition of Art Basel (the 16th in Miami), the Institute of Contemporary Art inaugurated its new building – a silvery, high-ceiling cube designed by Spanish firm Aranguren + Gallegos Arquitectos in the city’s Design District, camouflaged among the flagship stores of luxury giants, like Prada and Tom Ford – on a warm Tuesday evening with a modest showing of its permanent collection, including historic and new works by Abigail DeVille, Tomm El-Saieh, Chris Ofili, Hélio Oiticica, and others. On the second and third floor, the museum opened a substantial, if occasionally over-stuffed new exhibition, ‘The Everywhere Studio’, organized by Deputy Director and Chief Curator Alex Gartenfeld with Gean Moreno, Curator of Programs, and Stephanie Seidel, Associate Curator, which includes some 100 works by more than 50 artists.

Anna Oppermann, Paradoxe Intentionen, 1988–92, installation view, ICA, Miami, 2017. Courtesy: the Estate of Anna Oppermann, Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin; photograph: Sarah Palay

Gartenfeld’s thesis is simple: the artist’s studio is an ever-evolving, ‘charged site’ that has historically responded ‘to broader social and economic changes of our time.’ Assessing art practices across five decades, ‘The Everywhere Studio’ begins with numerous younger artists on the second floor, including Jana Euler, Yuri Pattison and Avery Singer whose works emphasize installation and new media to illustrate the disassembling nature of internationalized art practice and present employment. In Singer’s Studio Visit (Version) (2012), a crudely-digital black and white painting depicts a male and female figure sitting at a table surrounded by a smattering of art works. A sense of art’s cluttered ubiquity imposes itself in the painting, as it does elsewhere in the exhibition; the figures’ facial expressions are appropriately blank.

Nicole Eisenman, Morning Studio, 2016, oil on canvas, 1.7 x 2.1 m. Courtesy: the artist

‘The story of contemporary art is now the story of global dislocation,’ Chris Kraus notes in her 2012 essay ‘Kelly Lake Store’, which tracks the notion of ‘post art’. At the new ICA, the question might have been inverted, too: If a studio strives to exist in a dislocated ‘everywhere’ (what Kraus calls ‘the international grid’), what do we make of the uniquely located ‘somewhere’ from which it emerges? We glimpse it on occasion: Nicole Eisenman’s Morning Studio (2016), two women cuddle on a mattress with a Mac home-screen projected behind them. They attend to one another; the takeaway studio represented by the laptop appears forgotten.

Carolee Schneemann, Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions for the Camera, 1963–73, 27 gelatin silver prints, each: 36 x 28 cm. Courtesy: the artist and P.P.O.W., New York; photograph: Eero

Upstairs, a stronger sense of localism prevailed among the historical works included in the exhibition, epitomized by Heidi Bucher’s skin-like installation showing a stripped, pink façade of a Swiss building that hung at the centre of the second floor. The influence of the pre-web world was felt everywhere, and there was a certain homely ambition to the works – that they spoke of their specified place as much as they did of their generalized time. Paintings by Philip Guston flow into body-prints by Yves Klein. Anna Oppermann’s Paradoxe Intentionen (1988/92) hugs a corner wall with a glut of paintings, drawings and photographs representing differing aspects of her studio practice. Polaroids are delicately held down to the floor by pins. In Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions for Camera (1963), Carolee Schneemann localized the studio to the level of the body in a series of photographs: in some images, her face is painted; in others, garden snakes writhe across her belly; she cavorts for the camera. ‘I wanted my body to be combined with the work … I am both image-maker and image’, she once wrote of the project. And, indeed, combining the body and the studio presaged the peripatetic contemporary ‘art-worker’ (‘more nomadic and adaptive […] smoother and more agreeable, better organized and more instantly connected’, as John Kelsey wrote in a 2012 essay about the studio’s migration to the iPhone and laptop) that emerged in the late 2000s, now on display just a floor below.

Mika Rottenberg, installation view, The Bass, Miami, 2017. Courtesy: the artist and The Bass, Miami

Throughout Miami and South Beach, where a small universe of niche fairs – including one that allows for artists to keep full commission – has constellated around Art Basel, art’s labour and cost remained key referents in this year’s institutional exhibitions. The Bass Museum opened a small, bisected exhibition by Buenos Aires-born New York-based Mika Rottenberg, whose films – each co-dependent on related installations – attend to the alienation of low-wage labour, with both a comic sensibility and a cringing, even helpless awareness of the brutality of globalized object production. In Cosmic Generator (loaded #2) (2017), first presented this summer at Skulptur Projekte Münster, Rottenberg maps the dizzying consumerist wormholes between bodegas in China and Mexico and the extensive cheapness of modern life.

Pascale Marthine Tayou, ‘Beautiful’, 2017, installation view, The Bass, Miami. Courtesy: The Bass, Miami; photograph: Zachary Balber

Across the way from Rottenberg, Cameroon-born Belgium-based Pascale Marthine Tayou occupied two large rooms with a mix of original objects – large, flat multimedia wall works made of sticks of chalk; stacks of ceramic pots, and crystal African votive figures presented on their shipping containers – and historical European paintings of religious scenes and wealthy patrons. Hundreds of colourful eggs, jutting from the wall by half or whole, linked the two rooms. And upstairs, Swiss-born New York-based Ugo Rondinone presented his sombre ‘vocabulary of solitude’ (2014–16), an installation of 37 human-sized clowns, each named for a different emotion, arrayed against a sunset-gradient (and Instagram-friendly) wall. 

Dara Friedman, Dancer, 2011, installation view,  Pérez Art Museum Miami,  2017. Courtesy: © the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York

Back on the mainland, the Pérez Art Museum in Miami (PAMM), now in its fourth year at its new, palm-lined campus on Biscayne Bay, highlighted the work of Miami-based Dara Friedman in Perfect Stranger, the artist’s largest exhibition to-date. In 17 films that owe a strong debt to structural film, Friedman telescopes between private and public intimacies among individuals and large crowds with a steady hand. Many of the works – particularly Romance (2001) and Musical (2007–08) – capture the eccentricity of everyday movements and gestures, from kissing to ad hoc performance in public space. Following its neighbour, PAMM placed an emphasis on the ‘everywhere’ of Friedman’s practice, too: her ‘trajectory powerfully embodies the possibility that life as an artist in Miami is not just viable’, PAMM Director Franklin Simans reported at the exhibition opening on 7 November , ‘but that the city can serve as a home base for a global artistic career.’ It seems the best home is one with well-lit exits. Two other artists – Steve McQueen and John Dunkley – were represented in concurrent exhibitions. 

John Dunkley, Back to Nature, c.1939, mixed media on plywood, 41 x 71 cm. Courtesy: © John Dunkley Estate and the National Gallery of Jamaica; photograph: Franz Marzouca 

By Saturday, the singular question of the week was answered and rain arrived in Miami – almost to everyone’s relief. A certain art-fatigue had set in by then, too, as many of the local tourists dropped by the fairs and new exhibitions, and so a spritz felt somewhat appropriate. Cabs lingered in long, snaking traffic across the causeways. Weak cell service prevailed across the island. Everyone said they were losing track of what they saw, since there was so much – there is always too much – to see. But Miami was fine, even calm, as if the present equilibrium of reasonable weather might hold forever, forestalling a future reckoning we have all been told is fast coming; across the continent, the same could not be said of southern California, home to many fair presenters, where huge fires swept over hills, weaving into parts of Los Angeles. Images circulated online of hellish scenes as cars braved the 405 near the Getty Center whilst the hills around it burned wildly, fanned by Santa Ana winds.

The view of California, shared on the small glowing screens between fair booths and at crowded bars among the art set, was plainly frightening. This isn’t fire season, someone protested. But what of it? With the current weather it seems nowhere is in the right season. Others shared and re-shared a post warning California residents that animals were fleeing the wildfires and might pass through their yards. It requested that people set out buckets of water for foxes, coyotes and cats. This is an era of harried flight, across the board, and as artists continue to pinball along the international grid of ‘everywhere’, we might modify Kraus’s claim slightly to accommodate a broader audience who now find their homes ‘everywhere’, too: ‘The story of contemporary life is now the story of global dislocation’. And it is being written much too fast.

Main image: Ugo Rondinone, ‘vocabulary of solitude’ (2014–16), installation view, The Bass, Miami. Courtesy: The Bass, Miami; photograph: Zachary Balber

Andrew Durbin is the editor-in-chief of frieze. He lives in London, UK.