New Work Miami 2013 is the last official show at Miami Art Museum’s building on Flagler Street: MAM is contained within the circa-1984 Philip Johnson-designed Miami-Dade Cultural Center Plaza, which also houses the downtown branch of the Miami-Dade Public Library and HistoryMiami. Next fall, MAM reopens in the new Museum Park complex on Biscayne Bay and is hoping to rock a Herzog & de Meuron-designed monolith of marquee architecture.
MAM’s Rene Morales and Diana Nawi curated New Work Miami 2013; the local artist collective SPRING BREAK is creating accompanying outreach programs for the exhibition. Two local artists of different generations — Consuelo Castaneda, born in 1958 in Havana, and Emmett Moore, born in Miami in 1988 — have been enlisted to create a sympathetic environment for the work of some dozen local artists in the exhibition. Castaneda and Moore have embraced Miami, good and bad, in the environment they’ve produced: The galleries now have hedge and glass brick walls, as well as cheap concrete-block structures that speak to Miami baroque, the local knack for the cheap and overwrought. It all seems a little obvious, kind of like Miami.
Inside the first gallery room of New Work Miami is an installation by Castaneda, a resource center containing reference materials from each of the participating artists; on a series of shelves are such books as Tom Wolfe’s Back to Blood and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Behind the shelves is Castaneda’s custom-made wallpaper, an upside-down image of the Tower of Babel by the 16th century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder; the Tower of Babel, of course, is often invoked to represent the overwhelming barrage of communication that comes with the modern information age.
Adjacent to Castaneda’s installation is an array of photographs from Gideon Barnett, born in 1982 in Jaspar, Tenn., and since 2011, a Miami-based artist with a gift for portraying his adopted city in such photographic series as 763 Collins Avenue. In the photos, pedestrians are caught unawares as they pass by a blue wall: All the multifaceted pop energy of South Beach is captured in the pigmented inkjet prints.
Loriel Beltran, born in Caracas in 1985 and now a Miami-based artist, examines the conflict between the image and reality of Miami. For Bus Shelter Paintings (2012) Beltran took glossy posters — featuring Chanel ads and the like — from grimy bus shelters and painted over them. To showcase the posters, Castaneda and Moore created a row of repeating arches that echo MiMo architecture, with each poster placed within one arch. The Unknown Kitchen Monument (2012) explores the Miami notion of “flipping” houses for profit during the boom years, as well as the more recent practice of stripping houses that have fallen victim to foreclosure. Beltran uses found granite countertops, filling in the holes that once held sinks. He then props the countertops upright on cast concrete capitals, meant to evoke classical architecture, what Beltran calls the “cheap fancy” conceits of Miami construction.
Bhakti Baxter, born in Miami in 1979, has created a grid of paintings depicting anthropomorphic figurines, examining the modern penchant for projecting our own notions of what “primitivism” means. Moira Holohan, born in 1976 in New York and now a Miami-based artist, contributes a layered video piece with her own nude body pressed against Plexiglas: it’s riveting and slightly scary, The Blair Witch Project come to museum world. Sinisa Kukec, born in 1970 in Zagreb and a ceramicist by training, displays two found office chairs, suspended upside down and covered in epoxy. Odalis Valdivieso, born in 1969 in Caracas, uses photography, painting and computer technology to create images that are eternally evolving and incomplete, what she calls an “endless deferral of meaning.”
New Work Miami 2013 has two welcome doses of straight-up social criticism, front-loaded with irony. Just off Flagler Street, close to the ramp that leads up to the entrance of MAM, is CenTrust (2012), done by homeboy artist George Sanchez-Calderon. In a Wynwood warehouse, Sanchez-Calderon discovered the 15,000-pound slab of granite that once marked the front entrance of the I.M. Pei-designed CenTrust Tower, completed in 1987. The Pei building, lit up at night and still the definitive structure in downtown Miami, neatly symbolizes the go-go Miami 1980s. CenTrust founder David Paul used his savings and loan to live large (he bought a lot of art, for a start) before going down in flames and costing taxpayers a chunk of money, though it was all chump change compared to the 2008 global meltdown. To see the CenTrust marker now, with that capital “T” capped in flames (talk about cheap irony) brings the past flooding back. It would be perfect inside any museum as a sobering commentary on the art world’s greed.
Another smart piece of found sculpture is Tom Scicluna’s Public Sculpture (2012). Scicluna, a London-born artist, simply took two bike racks — normally situated in front of the library on the Cultural Plaza — and moved them inside the lobby of MAM. Bike riders, accidental participants in a very site-specific museum installation, are permitted to see the show at MAM for free, but most simply lock up their bikes and head to the library, having no interest in MAM’s art hijinks.
Public Sculpture (2012) is also a kind of confrontation: Putting the racks inside MAM challenges and confuses bikers who are used to outdoor racks. As a social dialogue, the installation comments on the sad history of the Cultural Center Plaza. In the 1980s, the plaza was ballyhooed as the transformative public space in Miami. Now, with the plaza plagued by drug use and a homeless population, public access has been steadily reduced.