Miami Noir at Invisible Exports
14A Orchard Street
New York, NY, 10002
April 4 through May 10, 2009
Featuring work by Daniel Arsham, Clifton Childree, COOPER, Naomi Fisher, Jason Hedges, Nicolas Lobo, Gean Moreno, Federico Nessi, Daniel Newman and Matthew Schreiber, the exhibition “Miami Noir” at INVISIBLE-EXPORTS (New York) attempts to portray The Magic City as a kind of wolf in sheep’s clothing whose attributes of vacation-land pleasure are merely a thin veneer masking an uglier, ultimately more interesting truth. Whether that rings true for you or not will depend entirely on how long you have spent in Miami, what TV station you watched, or with whom you spoke. There is little contest that for the most part the city is superficial. Once you have lived here though, the extent to which this exhibition purports dark undercurrents surging beneath the seductively tanned skin of new money and luxury lifestyle marketing campaigns seems, in truth, a little melodramatic. However, one would do well to remember that every exhibition has a point of departure; in the case of Miami Noir that point is history.
“Miami” the press release ventures “is city conjured up out of the Florida swampland by ruthless ambition and criminal enterprise; a city struggling with moral ambiguity and sexual motivation, corruption, alienation and guilt.” The work, on the other hand, just like everything else down here, has grown beyond that, developed, and may or may not represent it directly. In the past forty or so years there have been so many changes, capitalizations, and tragedies that, save for a few suspect artistic and architectural landmarks, the face of the city has been barely recognizable from one decade to the next. In addition, the singular factor of the city’s large number of migrants has swung the cultural and economical scales of the city back and forth so much that whether you got rich or you got broke you are definitely dizzy from the ride and now cling either in jealously or desperation to a traumatized, genealogically severed life.
However, in keeping with media genres such as the crime drama and the computer game, which paint Miami in a light that most people who seasonally crash its shores rarely see, the exhibition appears to slobber over the same old point - this is a city with a serious underbelly. The majority of works on view are bespoke, made in accordance with lengthy discussions between the artists and the exhibition’s curator, Adriana Farietta. A resident of Miami during its art-boom in 2002, Farietta has seen many changes in recent years, but the influence of the city’s checkered past upon its contemporary culture is another matter, and one somewhat longer in the tooth.
Speaking about her Miami Noir, Farietta states: “Miami has so much history! I remember Westen Charles (co-founder of Locust Projects) showing me old slave quarters that are not only standing, but currently inhabited (close to the Publix on 52nd street). I recently saw a documentary on Mohamed Ali – when he was training on the beach on 5th street and ocean, but living in Liberty City – the Harlem equivalent of Miami. It's interesting to see how the city is still so segregated and I wonder if it has to do with the way it was populated by Cuban and Latin culture. When I first moved to Miami I was amazed at how it all worked. I speak Spanish fluently, but I had been raised and gone to school in completely insular university towns. It was very hard to get used how things get done.”
Despite Farietta’s experiences the principle story tellers here are as ever the artists, for whom Miami is not just home, but often a kind of second nature. Presented with the opportunity to address a theme which drew a line in the sand between the SoBe of gay clubs, breast implants and martini Tuesdays and the seedy underworld purported by Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, each sought to challenge common perceptions about Miami by eking out insightful vignettes from their colorful yet ostensibly dark existences in this incongruous place. “I wouldn't necessarily call all the artists in the show ‘noir’.” Farietta continues “Some of the work references old ‘noir’ themes while others reference contemporary Miami culture.”
To paraphrase the French critics Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton from their 1955 book Panorama du film noir américain 1941–1953 (A Panorama of American Film Noir), which repeatedly undermines ‘film noir’ as a reliable label: "We'd be oversimplifying things in calling Miami Noir oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel....” In the five decades since the vernacular of this statement was ventured we are still no closer to pigeon holing the genre of film noir. Similarly, in the five weeks since the exhibition Miami Noir opened no one definition offered by the many reviews the show has afforded has achieved anything close to general acceptance - the artists and even the gallery itself project an abiding sense of uncertainty concerning the approximation of their shared efforts. Furthermore, in spite of the considerations ventured here we are still without solid conclusion and yet it seems appropriate to pin on to what are now innumerable attempts at definition something like a label. As Borde and Chaumeton perhaps rightly suggest however, the field of noir is very diverse and any generalization about it risks veering into oversimplification.
In support of the cultural sundry that we now call Miami, Risa Needleman, co-owner of INVISIBLE-EXPORTS said: “Miami has gone through incredible highs and lows in terms of finance, culture and tourism. It seems to be a city that often struggles with its identity and its projected identity. In terms of the art world, Miami has become a pit-stop for the art fairs, and often people don't look beyond that one week to its homegrown culture. That's what I find so interesting about it. There's a lot there, but no one looks and similarly there's a lot that people don't often get to see. I love how Miami sticks out like a sore thumb in a politically notorious state - look how much attention Florida has gotten in the past few elections! I love the death-by-design Art Deco up and down Miami Beach. I love the forgotten neighborhoods of the city sprawl. I love the swamplands and the everglades. Think of all these contradicting things that are identifiable with Miami - how could you not be drawn to its art? It's a conflicted city, and that's interesting to me.”
On a grand scale this exhibition could almost be seen as an indicator of how important New York, its galleries, and those that curate in them consider Miami and its artists to be, or rather how far Miami artists have come (recently) in the estimations of the wider art community. There is the temptation to view the show as a marketing campaign for Miami or its art as a ‘product’ with a specific appeal or even aesthetic. Perhaps on the gradient of contemporary culture Miami’s novelty as a locus of cultural production is currently considered ‘hot’ or ‘edgy’ – the title of the exhibition certainly points to the latter – however, deflating this supposition at least from the point of view of the gallery, Benjamin Tisher, co-owner of INVISIBLE-EXPORTS made the following comment: “There was a recent panel discussion at the Renaissance Society in Chicago about what a Chicago artist is. My friend, the artist and curator Philip von Zweck took part but we both joked about how ridiculous the question was. Good art does not depend so much on geography.”
With such reasonable notions afoot in the World’s art centers it is a wonder that geographically orientated exhibitions like this one crop up in the first place. But then again, without the ever present reification of xenophobic misunderstandings, cultural peculiarities or otherwise mythical suppositions that allow us the privilege to choose between what we wish to learn from and what we wish to squander in the name of entertainment the continuation of stories and their deliciously incorporable components would cease to exist[.]
Thomas Hollingworth graduated with a BFA from London Guildhall University in 2003. He has since worked internationally as a freelance writer for art institutions such as The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse and Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin and publications such as Florida InsideOut, M/The New York Art World, map magazine, Miami Modern Luxury, NO MAD Paper, Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, Wynwood - The Art Magazine, and ARTLURKER, an online contemporary art newsletter/blog that he runs. www.artlurker.com
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