Whitehot Magazine

Boil, Toil and Trouble

Niki de Saint Phalle, Fontaine aux quatre Nanas, 1988-1990. Painted polyester.

Boil, Toil, and Trouble

Miami Design District

November 29 through December 11, 2022

Curated by Zoe Lukov

Produced by Abby Pucker 

By STEPHEN WOZNIAK, December 2022 

In the times before we could instantly track a tornado or render adequate hydration levels, water appealed to our experience of life lived along mystical and divine paths. It’s still a subject worth examining, something that artists from the new traveling group exhibition, Boil, Toil and Trouble address through notions of ritual, magic and the human medium. 

More than forty eminent contemporary artists – from Marina Abramović, Robert Nava and Bruce Nauman to Nicole Eisenman, Fawn Rogers and Maya Lin – have participated in the project, populating the sizeable Miami Design District exhibition space with dynamic installations, videos, sculptures, paintings, prints and performance works now on view.   

Two gallery-sized sculptures based on larger public works by French “outsider” artist Niki De Saint Phalle brightly fill the gallery space with hope and celebration in both her Fontaine aux quatre Nanas from the late 1980s and Sphinx from 1990. The former, which translates as Fountain With Four Girls, features four women of varying international races, arms outstretched in cheer, conjoined by a circular floral centerpiece, surrounded by a round, rich, ocean-blue perimeter. The loose, child-like modeling of the polyester material and use of supersaturated primary and secondary colors provide a sense of unlimited freedom expressed in the face of each girl afloat in the piece. The small tabletop Sphinx, which looks like a dreamy character from the Beatles’ surreal animated Yellow Submarine movie, features a green-faced and blue-trussed female sphinx. She’s frontloaded with bulging kaleidoscopic breasts – in place of traditional wings – and a lacey network of blue circulatory pathways. Her solemn gaze belies the colorful patterns and activity of her oversized body, but the tiny gold crown atop her head reminds us that she has royal leadership duties to attend to. 

Cannupa Hanska Luger, River (The Water Serpent) Oceti Sakowin, North Dakota, 2016. Installation with mirror shields and video.

The installation, video and performance work of New Mexico-based artist Cannupa Hanska Luger often addresses pertinent political concerns and reveals the destruction created by oppressive leadership, but also keenly engages the audience to take direct action that may affect immediate change. As a response to support Water Protectors fighting the construction of the crude oil-carrying Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota – which would destroy many Indigenous People’s ancestral burial grounds and poison sovereign nation well water – the artist produced and aired tutorial videos for protestors. He later created the video River (The Water Serpent), which featured objects from the wall work Mirror Shield Project seen in the exhibition. In the video, which shows us aerial drone footage of hundreds of resisting protestors holding full-length perpetrator-reflecting mirrors above head, form an undulating, coiling water serpent. In Native Hopi snake dance rituals, this serpent acts to invoke thunder, lightning and rain – perhaps as the great cleansing medium to wash away the evil and corruption that drives the creation of pipelines and other earth-consuming actions. 

The exhibition Back Room features standout works by two remarkable creators: Los Angeles-based Fawn Rogers and Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu. Rogers’ brutal, visceral and almost carnal two-channel video seen in a previous exhibition about the “life, harvest, cultivation and consumption” of mollusks, entitled The World is Your Oyster, indirectly informs two large, realistic, yet scale-abstracted oil paintings from 2021 on view: Happy as a Clam and The Most Beautiful Pearls Are Black. Happy squarely shows us a splayed clam, shell halves balanced symmetrically like the wings of a Monarch butterfly, but riddled with undulating sensual vaginal folds and irregular soft internal organs – punctuated by a shiny pink cultured pearl. It reminds viewers that the birth and death cycle can be confounded by human intervention, often for gain from the creation and obsession with abstract values. Rogers’ The Most Beautiful Pearls Are Black, which features a gorgeously rendered wrenched open oyster, depicts more pink fleshy internal carnage outlined by the rippling iridescent blue of shell on a black background. This time, the mollusk produces a once-rare black pearl. The piece seems to allude to the hidden gems offered by disenfranchised races, classes, and religions, culminating into the current period of utterly necessary rapprochement. 

Fawn Rogers, Happy as a Clam, 2021. Oil on canvas, 65 x 85 in.

Wangechi Mutu focuses on key issues of gender, race and identity in her multiple media artwork, ranging from performance art to intricate collage work. The exhibition features three of her works, including a limited edition pigment and screen print from 2006 entitled Howl. The print is representative of Mutu’s most visible paintings and collages, which, from the same period, sometimes depict writhing African female faces and bodies juxtaposed with dissipating animal body parts, textbook internal organ imagery and surgical instruments. The subjects often experience the pain of disease or other personal strife. Here, in Howl, we see a barbaric Golem-like personage bearing vicious teeth, gripping a summit of bellies, breasts, diseased tissue and blood – lots of it, splattered in every direction. Hybrid, satellite, hare-like mythic animals spin around the central wet flesh cluster, while the primary female/male figure howls in agony, tumbling forward. The print makes it hard to distinguish binary conflict, alliances, actions and points to the steep universal struggles that make up life.

The curator and producer of Boil, Toil and Trouble have deftly assembled a rich arrangement of pertinent works by outstanding artists, which showcases a small number of up-and-comers right along with many show-stopping famous makers. While some pieces lightly flirt with water and the mystical, others make those themes primary objectives. Ultimately, Boil, Toil and Trouble is a show of strength and elegance in the numerous forms that we weave from fluid truths, which conjure our abstract narratives.

Wangechi Mutu, Howl, 2006. Archival pigment print with screen printing, 42 x 30 in.

Boil, Toil and Trouble features the work of the following artists:

Abraham Cruzvillegas, Alison Blickle, Ana Mendieta, April Gornik, Ariana Papademetropoulos, Armani Howard, Astrid Terrazas, Bony Ramirez, Bruce Nauman, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Chase Hall, Chelsea Culprit, Dalton Gata, David Hammons, Edgar Arceneaux, Fawn Rogers, Frank Walter, Frantz Zephirin, Guadalupe Maravilla, Henry Chapman, Hiba Schahbaz, James Casebere, Jamilah Sabur, Jean Herard Celeur, Jillian Mayer, Julian Charrière, Lezley Saar, Loni Johnson, Marina Abramović, Maya Lin, Michael Ajerman, Myrlande Constant, Naomi Fisher, Nereida Patricia, Nicole Eisenman, Nicolette Mishkan, Niki De Saint Phalle, Paulo Pjota, Radcliffe Bailey, Ricardo Partida, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Robert Nava, Superflex, Torkwase Dyson, Wangechi Mutu, and Yassi Mazandi.

After wrapping up in Miami on December 11, 2022, following Miami Art Week, Boil, Toil and Trouble will next travel to Los Angeles and coincide with Frieze Los Angeles from February 16-19, 2023 and finally to Chicago to coincide with Expo Chicago from April 13-16, 2023. WM


Stephen Wozniak

Stephen Wozniak is a visual artist, writer, and actor based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited in the Bradbury Art Museum, Cameron Art Museum, Leo Castelli Gallery, and Lincoln Center. He has performed principal roles on Star Trek: EnterpriseNCIS: Los Angeles, and the double Emmy Award-nominated Time Machine: Beyond the Da Vinci Code. He co-hosted the performing arts series Center Stage on KXLU radio in Los Angeles and guest hosts Art World: The Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art podcast in New York City. He earned a B.F.A. from Maryland Institute College of Art and attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. To learn more, go to: www.stephenwozniakart.com and www.stephenwozniak.com. Follow Stephen on Instagram at @stephenwozniakart and @thestephenwozniak.

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