Modify, as needed
September 23- November 13, 2011
Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami
MOCA North Miami’s new show, Modify, as needed asks how a century of consumerism and a decade of file sharing has effected the artistic practices of the found object and appropriation. The preexisting balance between created and found, and the sparring camps on either side of the divide (easy examples being AbEx and Pop), has become irrelevant. It is not enough for an artist to decisively remove an object from the commercial flow, polish it in a certain way, and then renegotiate its web of connotations by placing it in the institutional setting. That was done like 90 years ago. What is left, however, is the potential for subtle adjustments. Simply altering it allows it to remain in place, rerouting the surrounding circuitry. In this, the potential for active social and political critique is much greater than in resealing of the object in a hermetic, museal space.
The eleven international artists on display make work that approaches the altered state, but never fully abandons the original. They enter into this debate through three different aspects: the superficial identity of an object, its reproductive faculties (and, on a sublevel, the divide between original and copy), and the language with which we attempt to place the object.
The main gallery is dominated by two pieces that alter the physical body of the museum. For Home Invaders, 2011, Anders Smebye constructed a series of four pastel quilts that were wrapped around the museum’s load-bearing columns. The subdued palate was accented by their being stored outside all summer. In this, the column, an element in the gallery that is usually ignored, is highlighted in a tender evocation of presence. Moreover, the piece Christo and Jean Claude’s 1981 Surrounded Islands (Project for Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida), one of the more Iconic pieces of public art ever to come to South Florida. Across the hall, Jose Carlos Martinat goes the other way, stripping off a surface in order to explore homogeneity. The artist developed a chemical compound that allowed him to peel graffiti off of city walls and install it in the gallery. For this exhibition, however, he simply peeled off the museum’s wall and left it coiled on the floor. In doing so, he revealed streaks of paint from earlier exhibitions, destroying the white façade (and with it, connotations of political and aesthetic neutrality).
Both pieces take on the cliché of "it’s what’s on the inside that counts". Darren Bader and Nina Baier’s pieces engage a similar binary between real and, well, less real. For Bader’s piece Couch; Fake Couch, the artist places two couches in the gallery with the disclaimer that only one of them is genuine. The viewer must choose between the inconspicuous sofas. One is blue, the other beige. The only difference is that the blue one, with its refined Ikea angles, seems more designed than the beige. Bader reaches past Ceci n'est pas une pipe to the world of Platonic metaphysics. In the superstore of standardized variety, where is one to find the ideal couch? Nina Baier’s The Demonstrators, 2011, asks the same questions. Draping images of over unrelated household goods, she attempts to disengage an object’s most basic form from the secondary level of branding. In this, she calls into question the relationship between branding and identity. The images she uses are reminiscent of Swiss Object Posters. When these advertisements first appeared in the 1930s, they were heralded as revolutionary because they completely lacked text.
Darren Bader, Couch; Fake Couch, 2011
In the show text and symbols, come loose from their references and drift towards the absurd and the humorous. Nick Relph overlaid the blue handicap access sign with prints of Matisse’s Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra), 1907. The sign’s ubiquity is is met with that of the clichéd painting, which while once radical, has been reduced over the past century to mousepad fodder. Moreover, the piece turns darker when one remembers Matisse’s late period, when arthritis forced him to abandon painting in lieu of paper cuts. Meanwhile, Karl Holmqvist’s video I’ll Make the World Explode, 2009, has the artist/poet linking together bits of phrases culled from pop cultures. As he glibly recites, say, Morrisey songs, he beats a long and meandering path through the contemporary brush of pop references. While seemingly meaningless, it testifies to an amorphous culture made out of placing altered elements in a new context.
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Hunter Braithwaite is a Miami-based writer and founder of Thereisnothere.org. His work has been featured on Artforum.com, Cnn.com, Artinfo.com, and Artslant.com. Additionally, he is a contributing editor of Asian Art News.