Walk into the first installation that greets visitors to Pivot Points: 15 Years and Counting at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miam and you will see a room plastered over in psychedelic imagery that is splashed across the floor and covers the ceiling. The hyper collage includes paint, photography, film, a stairwell, flashing lights and music, and comes from the collective duo who go by the name assume vivid astro focus (avaf). This piece shot them to fame when it premièred at the 2004 Whitney Biennial.
It’s a good introduction: The rest of the exhibit is happily chaotic as well, if not as crazy.
Pivot Points is not a curated show, it’s a collection of more than 50 works — most of which have recently been donated to MOCA from artists the museum has featured — in honor of its 15th year anniversary. That means it is filled with cutting-edge work from very contemporary artists, the basis for MOCA’s collection. Various disciplines are represented, from sculpture and installation to painting, drawing and video. While we’ve seen these artists before here, most pieces are newly acquired.
After you adjust your senses upon departing the avaf room (they were highlighted in a 2008 group show), two little watercolors from Chris Ofili change the tone entirely. Born in England of African heritage, the Turner Prize winner dominated headlines in 1999 with his black Madonna, which included elephant dung on the canvas. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani thought it blasphemous when it appeared in the controversial Sensations exhibit. These small pieces are much more subdued, but still distinctly from his hand.
Another artist who straddles English and African worlds is Yinka Shonibare. His sculptural installation comprised of 27 headless dolls, Lady Na Master, is a stunner. These dolls are dressed in colorful garb that immediately appears to be associated with classical African outfits, and they are standing on a very high wooden table, so the perspective is skewered. These dresses surrounding their headless, hence voiceless, torsos are more complex, we are warned. Shonibare’s art often deals with the complicated results of colonial-subject interaction. Although based on African design, the textiles are actually Dutch — suggesting a circuitous, tangled relationship between cultures. This piece also gets a room to itself, as it should.
In another room are two prominent works from two German artists. One is the sweeping, huge oil-on-canvas from Albert Oehlen, one of a batch of artists who helped bring painting back after critics declared it dead. He is an abstract painter, but one who doesn’t shy from entwining the figurative into his canvas commentary.
Standing in front of the Oehlen is a big, bronze sculpture from German Jonathan Meese, to whom MOCA gave a solo show two years ago. Both those artists are known for collaborations, so museum director Bonnie Clearwater likely wanted them to “talk” together in this room as well.
This type of artistic relationship pops up throughout the exhibit. Although there is no particular thematic thread except that these are pieces from artists who have made MOCA what it is, one can follow strains in contemporary art — from how artists deal with Minimalism, abstraction, representation, in all of the wide variety of materials and techniques available to us today. Clearwater has always had a specific direction in which she wanted the museum to move, so many of these works do have a relationship with each other, if not in form than in spirit.
But there is so much here, you might need to take a break and return. For instance, the oldest work is a beautiful little piece, set back into the wall and covered in glass, from Joseph Cornell, 1948. He took found objects and made assemblages. Inside a wooden box, Cornell had arranged blue sand, a metal ring, ball bearings and paper from a French book to construct this special artwork.
Other works from well-known names: oils from Mathew Ritchie and Inka Essenhigh; a tiny photo collage from Gabriel Orozco, and a series of black-and-white photos from Ed Ruscha.
In the back room, it’s time to ratchet up the energy and the crazy once again with a video from Ryan Trecartin. He was given a solo show at MOCA in 2011 that you won’t forget if you saw it. A series of films took over the entire museum, features of teens theatrically wading and driving through a surreal, pop-and-youth-culture saturated world. To join them on their bizarre journeys, you lay on a bed or sat on a couch and put on headphones. The one film here also includes two beds, with headphones.
Then there are the samplings of local artists, some of the best of which are videos strung out on the last wall. There is a disturbing yet gorgeous video from Juan Carlos Zaldivar that was the 2012 winner of MOCA’s Optic Nerve experimental and art film festival. And there is a short video that demands you listen to the whole thing, from Onajide Shabaka. Called Total Disappearance, a voice-over tells us, it shows a mangrove swamp in rural Florida from which a naked woman emerged and then disappeared into the muck in the beginning of the 20th century .
Other nice works from locals highlight the diversity of artists. There are a couple colorful but thematically darker recent drawings from Cuban-born Jorge Pantoja that face a large print from Naomi Fisher, who, in her signature style, is posing in nature. But nature seems to be less a bed of comforting flowers and more and encroaching menace.
A crowd favorite, and also one of Clearwater’s, is the large acrylic on linen from hometown hero Hernan Bas, who now lives in Detroit. This 2013 painting incorporates the anxious-looking boys who have populated his previous paintings. As Clearwater points out, there is something especially ominous in the use of gray hues in this work — that sky looks dangerous. Clearwater was one of the first to show Bas, on the cusp of his career exploding, in 2000. The artist says this painting was created with her in mind. It is also a personal gift from him to the museum, one of the numerous ones here donated by both artists and collectors. It’s quite a celebration.