Recently, I overheard a good friend of mine say: “There’s no need to look for love;  the perfect one is always right in front of your face.”  Do you know why people say such things?  Because they are true…in life, in love, and in art.   Here in Miami we have one of the greatest art collections in the universe.  Yes, I just wrote universe, because that’s how good it is.  And when the most fabulous contemporary art currently known to man is just outside your door, there is no longer an excuse not to see it.  I had been to the Rubell Family Collection a few years ago, but what’s going on in that inconspicuous, vine-covered warehouse at this very moment is nothing short of mind blowing.  Someone go get the curator and give him a big kiss, because I just found yet another reason to be in Miami.

Charles Ray, Oh! Charley, Charley, Charley… (1992), Eight painted cast fiberglass mannequins with wigs, 72 X 180 X 180 in. (182.9 X 457.2 X 457.2 cm), Rubell Family Collection, Miami; © Charles Ray, Photo credit: Seanica Howe.

Did I also mention there is something a bit seedy, dark, and, dare I say, sexual going on with this exhibition that makes it almost impossible to leave?   Apparently, the Rubells have been sneaking around their privately owned space setting up highbrow visual playgrounds for adults, so unless you are planning on explaining why artist Charles Ray is giving himself fellatio and sucking his own toes, I think it best you leave the kids at home.   After that teaser, I know you don’t need another reason to go to the Rubell’s current show, “Alone Together,” but I’ve got two more big ones: Jason Rhoades and Ryan Trecartin.

Jason Rhoades. Untitled (Chandelier) and Untitled (Chandelier) (2004), Glass, wire, neon, Plexiglas, fabric and plastic,
Variable dimensions,
Rubell Family Collection, Miami; © Jason Rhoades.  Photo credit: Seanica Howe.

Rhoades’s dancing installation of dual Chandelier(s) from 2004, on display on the first floor, screams of all that is wrong (or right, depending who you are) in the world we live in.  It’s messy, complicated, and downright nasty.  Wagon wheels levitate, suspended in midair by a streaming maze of orange electrical cords that weave like spaghetti, lending support to a nest of brightly illuminating neon words.  It’s a red-light district of linguistic proportions exploded, condensed, and then reworked by Rhoades’s discombobulated and imaginative brain. 

Jason Rhoades. Detail of Untitled (Chandelier) (2004), Glass, wire, neon, Plexiglas, fabric and plastic,
Variable dimensions,
Rubell Family Collection, Miami; © Jason Rhoades.  Photo credit: Seanica Howe.

Phallic vegetables dripping in a white semen-like substance sit perched atop the circles of wood like vultures, peering indulgently over dangling twisted metaphors and lace that stream from below.   The frenetic work is grounded by a neatly, isolated bundle of linens wrapped in goo.  The words that surge and entice are not meaningless phrases or randomly chosen from Rhoades’s personal dictionary, but are synonymous for one of the most powerful words known to man and representative of female genitalia.  However derogatory, the humor and irony isn’t lost in this installation. Designed by a white male, one who places the representative womanly forms in electrically charged power positions that command the space and hover over lifeless and muted fabric left soiled by limp vegetation, is feminism at its best.  Yes, that's right, I just called Jason Rhoades a feminist, and I’m never taking it back.

Ryan Trecartin, General Park (2010), Mixed media and video installation, Variable dimensions, Rubell Family Collection, Miami; © Ryan Trecartin. Photo courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection.

I have a beautiful, very brilliant friend who wrote her master’s thesis on Trecartin.  She would go on for hours…something about him being one of the most important artists of all time, or was it “our” time? The details escape me.  I would sit smiling, pretending to listen and occasionally yawning, secretly wondering where she had lost her mind.  I could never, for the life of me, understand her obsession with this over-the-top, in-your-face, cartoon-like video artist….until now.    Ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t just video art.  This is your teenager and twenty-something on societally induced, self-centered crack.  This is their deranged, freaky, egocentric worlds colliding at warp-like speeds.  This is the Internet, Skype, and Facebook reincarnated into strange characters you’ve likely never seen but who you’re certain you know. This is drug culture, media hype, and celebrity obsession all colorfully wrapped into one and, at Rubell, it’s all staged in a run-down beach scene complete with heat-lamps and sand, known as General Park (2010), that could be Miami but probably isn’t.

How does he do it?  According to Trecartin, very carefully.  The characters he creates, along with another well-known video artist, Lizze Fitch, are scripted and directed down to the very last hand gesture, hair-flip and eye-roll.   In Rubell, Trecartin’s Tril-ogy Comp (2009) features a group of three videos called Sibling Topics, K-Corea INC. K, and Popular  They are a series of scenes ranging from close-up car make-outs and transgendered bedroom conversation to boy talk between girlfriends that captivate and render transfixed all who watch.   I dare you to look away. 

The show doesn’t stop there.  The ultimate art world prankster, Maurizio Cattelan, has silly little pigeons stooped on the rafters and Yoshitomo Nara has…well, you get the drift, it’s great.

“Alone Together” is currently on view at the Rubell Family Collection, 95 NW 29th Street, Miami, Fl., until August, 2, 2013.  Go see it.

Liber Insularum Knight Exhibition Series
Bill Viola
Museum of Contemporary Art - North Miami (MOCA NOMI)
770 NE 125 Street , North Miami, Florida 33161
December 5, 2012 - March 3, 2013

Bill Viola’s “Liber Insularum” is, in a word, powerful.  It brings to mind the transcendental power of Ann Hamilton’s recent Park Avenue Armory show, “The Event of a Thread,” where billowy white curtains coupled with pulley supported swings worked in concert with the monotonous readings of philosophical and spiritual prose.  Here, instead of integrating the viewer into a strange world created through participatory installation, Viola uses digital media as a tool to directly communicate with and even separate his audience from the artistic creation, giving them the space to observe and contemplate the world in which they live.  His work is a reminder to slow down, to see, and to breathe, as it calls into question all that is missed on the road traveled through life. 

Bill Viola, Film still of The Quintet of the Astonished (2000), Color video rear projection on screen mounted on wall in dark room, Projected image size: 55 X 94.5 in. room dimensions variable; © Bill Viola/ Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami.

The Quintet of the Astonished (2000) is the first video encountered.  It is given its own room, just as many of the works.  Five people, one woman and four men, are huddled together against a dark backdrop but never face, and the scene is reminiscent of a biblical one.  Light shines upon them, and all but one appear to be suffering or concerned.  For most of the video, the central figure in the back possesses an expression that is relaxed and calm.  The fear present in the others' faces are missing in his.  This man embraces the moment.  Is he the only one at peace with his life and actions?  Is this a scene anticipating a world on the brink of its end?  Only the viewer knows, as he watches and mindfully digests the situation placed before him.  Initially the actors appear frozen, but after only a few moments, it becomes apparent that each one is in a slow and very deliberately held motion.  Their bodies and faces gradually shift and a tension is created.  Even though they are placed inches apart, the actors seem isolated and alone and the pain of human existence is revealed, one where the participants are connected but always separate, each confined to his or her body, thoughts, emotions, and impressions, never to be completely discovered by the other.  

In Catherine’s Room (2001), a color video polyptech on five LCD flat panels all mounted to a wall, a very different story is conveyed.  Here Buddhist principles of simplicity and mindfulness become apparent.  A female performer is shown in five separate scenes, all of the same size and set within the same room.  A single window exists in the upper right corner of the frame, which, in addition to the objects in the room, gives the viewer a reference point for the time of day, the cycle of life, or, if read from a more spiritual point of view, as one of the elements: earth, air, water, fire, and the esoteric.  In each scene the actor performs different functions from yoga, lighting candles, to sleeping.  The viewer is positioned as voyeur, able to observe an uneventful, yet very intentional life, one that might offer a counter to, or possibly a reinforcement of, his own.     

The quiet magnificence of this exhibition is due, in large part, to the way each of these videos is presented, mostly in dark or low-lit rooms with only a single or very few pieces in each, and the minimalist design and intimacy of the MOCA itself.   A small structure with few rooms and frills, if any, the space functions as merely a support or backdrop, barely noticed after entering the exhibition while transitioning through the space.  The fifteen works shown within “Liber Insularum” are most effective when given the attention and time to connect with each piece, and the exhibition’s curator, Roc Laseca, sets the stage for this to occur.  It is not an exhibition to be taken lightly or to be breezed through.  Viola’s work gets more powerful each second attention is paid, much like the message he constructs.  Whether or not you are a fan of video art is inconsequential; Viola’s sensitivity, the primary tool with which he accesses your psyche and speaks to your fears, is universally appreciable.