Miami Art Basel Art Fair is a stage for galleries to showcase and market their artists and areas of art specialization in effort to sell works. Though many do not attend the art fair at the convention center in interest of the many other activities (including the popular street art festivities in Wynwood), the opportunity to access and engage with prominent works and artists, under one roof, is extraordinary. I took this opportunity to curate an exhibition using the most interesting works I found at the convention center. This exhibition explores ideas of convergence, commerce, idealism, cultural exchange and influence. I juxtapose works from disparate communities that continue to the conversation on entitlement and the gaze, “who is worthy and of what?”
Kehinde Wiley “The Gypsy Fortune Teller” references French François Boucher’s The Collation. This study in nuances of urban Black male culture in the tradition of Medieval European
tapestry challenges the experience and perspective of the observer. Rescued from the Cloisters of the hood, at first glance, the scene seems to simply be an urban contemporary translation of Italian frivolity and pastime, however when one begins to read the units of social engagement (drinking, exchange, adornment) in juxtaposition to the cast and their posture, the work reveals other revelations. All the characters depicted are male, while in the original Boucher two of the figures are women. Both women’s femininity are reinforced by the roles they play and the accessories they adorn (being served, parasol). If we then read Wiley’s two figures in lieu of Boucher’s females we see an agitation of masculinity or negotiation of yang. “Male with parasol” and “reclining male being served” represent new/real archetypes in dimensions of Black male culture. “The undercover brother”, bisexual male, “homothug” formerly invisible in mainstream culture (including homophobic hip hop) has been rendered visible and pronounced in a way that maintains its’ clandestine nature. The profusion of Black urban masculinity (i.e. fitted ribbed tank tops or “wifebeaters”; baggy and sagging jeans; Timberland boots or “Tims”; conspicuous chain and medallion) further suggests the performance of an “other” or queer culture.
Glenn Ligon’s Untitled (I am an Invisible Man) gives voice to those men seen in Wiley’s work. We see how one present and alive, like Black letters against white walls, is easily lost in the narratives of many. These words become in-discernable inflections completely abandoning any attempt to declare its presence. The censoring white lines take over reminiscent in the correspondence of political prisoners anticipating a return to invisibility. But just as one suspects all is lost, blackness is restored even if only for its essence, we know its there to be decoded, rehabilitated, and revealed. The proclamation of one’s spirit or essence is
Nick Cave’s opulent soundsuit adorned with buttons, beads and sequins also treats and interrogates the spirit of the invisible. The being that inhabits this guise disappears and fully engages with the spiritual world. As in the masquerade tradition of Burkina Faso, these performers depart from our earthly preoccupations with beauty and finesse and allow themselves to be possessed. Locating these diasporal workings in a EuroAmerican context creates a conflict in the understanding of home and place.
Wangechi Mutu’s etchings The Original Nine Daughters and Carrie Mae Weems’ Not Manet’s Type prints are other opportunities to further observe society’s cultivation of morality and beauty in the narrow historically oppressed tradition of The West.
Mutu’s grotesque and unnerving images investigate the tropes readily used to deconstruct and violently project ideals with ill regard to their wanton behavior. The produce of media-assault on the body of the female is depicted as meatily, as it is, delivered by the custodians of social, economic, and psychiatric health, and devoured by the unsuspecting. Weems’ examines her cultural invisibility through the eyes of others, made possible by mirroring herself, scrutinizing the models by which her beauty has been a spectacle. As the masses sit and feast on these media images that desecrate them from the inside, more defected babies nourished by the waste of the intellectually and culturally privileged are produced and led astray into abysmal territory.
Shepard Fairey’s “Obey” campaign draws attention to and warns the public against the dangers of these things that Mutu examines. With “Big Brother” Andre The Giant as the spokesperson, his highly conspicuous, public service announcements speak to the collective consciousness of the public. His radical means of seizing public spaces in the spirit of graffiti social defiance, challenges capitalism’s authority to control the visual experience of the public. His most recent works in the style of 20th century Soviet Union agitprop makes commentary on the state of our political and social economy and its relationship to Communist Bolshevik Russia of yesteryear. Ideas of transportation, currency and exchange are also explored through the collection and illustration of tickets and documents. The entrancing images order you to “stay alert” and be aware of propaganda with loads of hypnotizing iconography (women, sedation, fecundity, arrows, rays, stars, numerical characters, circles). This intersection of capitalistic power and influence and proletariat culture is emblematic of themes of convergence and culture.
Kehoi Nawa interrogates our visual culture by magnifying the means by which we see the world and subjugating the subject of our experience. The internet, imagery, and iconography create the
platform for his investigation on perception and reality. These works are attempts to reconcile the discrepancy between pixel-based images and cell-based things in our hypertechnological internet-based society. He foregrounds the imperceptible mechanisms at work, performing organic and natural behaviors to reveal the illusory, false, phantasmagoric elements of the propaganda we experience and desire as reality and truth.
This online exhibition was inspired by Miami Art Basel 2013 and made possible by the exhibiting galleries: Jack Shainman Gallery (New York); Pace Prints (New York); SCAI The Bathhouse (Tokyo); Landau Fine Art (New York); Luhring Augustine (New York); Hammer Galleries (New York).
Below are a few additional works that might be featured in “Where Worlds Collide”