I had the great pleasure of being asked this year to curate the program for the Wolfsonian Museum in South Beach during the mind bending art-apalooza that is Art Basel. Every December collectors, artists, curators and galleries descend on Miami Beach for 5 days of art, exploration and excess. This year attendance seemed a little lower, but with the current economic hiccups this is no surprise. There are many separate art fairs that pop up ranging from the extravagant museum sale vibe of the main Art Basel fair held in the Miami convention center, to the charming, challenging and peculiar presentations at fairs like NADA, SCOPE and PULSE. There is no quicker way to get an overview of the world of new ideas in art than a visit to Art Basel Miami Beach.
I have been a long time fan of the Wolfsonian. They are a very unique presence in the museum world. The Wolfsonian’s main focus are acquisitions of extraordinary objects and paintings mostly from the 1800s to 1945 with occasional spectacular exceptions. I spent several days reviewing the archives and storage vaults of the Wolfsonian early in the summer to ultimately choose the objects to be included in my curatorial efforts highlighting the permanent collection. To describe this as a feast of riches so understates the experience and I will never forget seeing so many design marvels at one place. At the same time I was pulling together my edit I wanted to include alternative points of view on the collection. I asked artists Brock Shorno, Wayne White, and Megan Whitmarsh to join the celebration with the task of commenting on the collection in whatever way was interesting to them.
Wayne White—a remarkable painter, sculptor and wordsmith—created 11 banners and flags that clad the exterior of the 1930s building. Using the 4 existing flag poles that flank the front doors, Wayne’s observations were clear. Starting on pole 1—ONCE AN OBJECT, on 2—SHUNNED BY SCHOLARS, on pole 3—NOW IT’S WORTH, on pole 4—A LOTTA DOLLARS. The largest of the banners, clocking in at over 90 feet long and probably visible from airplanes, displayed the challenging thought, BEAUTY IS EMBARRASING, a sentiment that caused debate in its Florida viewers.
Brock Shorno traveled to the Wolfsonian earlier in the year to shoot a series of 8 short films reacting and interaction with objects from the museum. I love Brock’s video works, his point of view is crazy smart, clever and reverent. The collection of films called NEW MEN AND UNUSUALS was made specifically for the museum and is now in its permanent collection. THE KNIFE featured a ticklish recreation of a very scary German army knife with dozens of blades and contraptions using everyday objects like forks pliers, sharpies and lots of scotch tape. THE COACH, one of the most overtly funny pieces, sees Brock referring a sporting event that is taking place on a Victorian rolling scroll children’s theater. The piece cuts between coach Brock in his trademark “T-SHORTS,” a t-shirt worn as pants, the shirts hem knotted at the waist, blowing his whistle and calling all sorts of penalties on the ruckus athletes as they rolled by. The elegant black cutouts of the athletes at play made me recall Kara Walker’s haunting black paper forms.
Megan Whitmarsh, a wildly unique hot house flower, paid homage to the museum by replicating certain pieces of the beloved permanent collection that have been on display for years with her sweetly subversive soft sculptures highlighted with embroidery and drawing. All throughout the 5th floor permanent collection Megan’s works was inserted in most of the vitrines challenging the viewer to make new connections. The embroidered Starbucks cup nestled in the vitrine filled with remarkable coffee pots from the early 1900s looked strangely at home while the soft sculpture lipstick and powder compact, situated with a women’s 1930s handbag (featuring a special compartment for a gas mask) reads positively sinister once you realize what you are looking at. On the sidewalk, just to the right of the museums doors sits a spectacular art deco marvel called the Bridge Tender House that functioned as a toll booth in Pennsylvania in the 1930s. With its hexagonal walls and glass windows it always reminded me of the worlds fanciest trashcan set out on the curb for pick up. This made it a really perfect place to install Megan’s epic TRASH MOUNTAIN. The huge installation, that took 2 years to make, is an embroidered soft sculpture extravaganza of humbled appliances and painstakingly reproduced “trash” like bic pins, old records and panty liners. I spent so much time ogling this piece and I still feel I didn’t get to see it all. I watched many passer-bys on the sidewalk stop dead in their tracks and get sucked in as I did.
The Wolfsonian was so amazing to work with and I am grateful and frankly amazed that they allowed us to interface with the collection as we did. I want to thank Cathy Leff, and her spectacular team at the Wolfsonian for a wonderful experience throughout. To be in the presence of so many diverse people whose goal is to protect and share the world’s most exceptional objects is deeply inspirational. I also want to thank Brock Shorno, Wayne White and Megan Whitmarsh for the pleasure of having a front row seat to their shiny creativity and passion.
A special thanks goes out the brilliant LESLIE HALL AND THE LYS who performed opening night. No one that saw her will ever forget that performance. Check out Leslie’s genius music videos, her music on itunes and keep an eye out for her new record out in the spring. And if you find yourself in Miami Beach, Florida definitely make sure to visit the Wolfsonian!
PS — as a Fundraiser for the museum, Brock Shorno, Megan Whitmarsh, Wayne White and I designed welcome mats exclusively for the museum. They are limited editions of 50 each and all signed and numbered by the artist. $250.00 each at the Dynamo shop.