Nothing lends itself to self-indulgent blather like contemporary art, so Rising Tide: A Story of Miami Artists is a pleasant surprise. Nominally a documentary account of last year’s Art Basel fair, it’s really a series of oddball snapshots of Miami artists who, amidst the requisite psychobabble about self-expression, experience startling moments of candor in which they admit what you’ve always suspected: that much of their work is a goof and that they regard lucre as anything but filthy.
Brookhart Jonquil, for instance, confesses that he was surprised last year when a gallery invited him to do one of his inversionary installations — essentially a room in which each object (desk, chair, whatever) has a upside-down doppelganger suspended from a wall or ceiling.
“Hard to sell,” he says of the installation. “Not a lot of people in the market for a 30-foot concrete wall with furniture hanging off it.” Sales, it seems, drive the action at least as much as aesthetics at Art Basel and its many satellite fairs, where even a small booth can cost $15,000.
And in any event, the aesthetics may be somewhat less profound than you’ve been led to believe. I spent a good bit of time trying to figure out the intellectual significance of a performance by the Miami duo who call themselves Funner Projects. It involved using a machete to hack at a rope, setting off a short Rube Goldberg sequence of events that ends with a giant crossbow hurling two-by-fours at a speed of 140 mph into silhouettes painted on wooden panels.
I shouldn’t have bothered. “Funner Projects is not very serious at all,” says Justin Long, the machete guy. “It’s about getting everyone together and showing them a good time.” A successful Funner Projects exhibition, he adds, is one at which the viewers go home murmuring, “I really didn’t have to overthink what am I really looking at.”
Not that Rising Tide is totally devoid of art mysticism. “A lot of times when we make strange large-scale performances, or even just a small installation, it’s just to see if we can do it, and if it can come across as a new way to think about it,” says one of the TM Sisters, a pair of multimedia performance artists. Rising Tide shows them cavorting in front of a video of two giants’ hands, making it appear that they’re being picked up and shaken. The only insight I gleaned was that you wouldn’t want to be around if the Jolly Green Giant ever got out of sorts.