On the fringes of Wynwood is a demented Fashion District, riddled with the true street art of Miami – lots of disembodied wigs and dancing shoes, painted by local old-school guys and radiating the primal immediacy of African art. And smack dab in the middle of the discounts-R-Us atmosphere is The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, unmarked outside but not, of course, unheralded in certain circles. This is the 12th season of exhibitions for the museum, a former warehouse and now a popular attraction during Art Basel Miami Beach.
This year’s display of seven exhibits begins with the monolithic: Jene Highstein’s circa-1981 carved black granite forms, One and Blackfish, inside by the front entrance, weigh more than 15 tons together and aside from their sheer weight, they have an eerie ancients-meet-the-contemporary-art crowd presence. Just inside the front door, a series of galleries to the left contain a selection of New Sculpture, starring Huma Bhabha’s Ghost, a 2008 piece made of Styrofoam and wood, among other things.
Within the Permanent Large Scale Sculpture exhibition, the shout-outs include two Magdalena Abakanowicz pieces – human figures rendered in burlap and resin — and a classic Richard Serra, a solid steel pole propping up a steel plate on the wall.
Also on view in the sculpture section is the work of Michelangelo Pistoletto, who did Broken Mirror Paintings for the 2009 Venice Biennale: This installation uses two standing mirrors. One mirror is broken and the other is intact: the artist, according to the exhibit’s description, regards the broken mirror as a “small galactic explosion that multiplies the particles of reflection, and remains as the memory of a precise instant of the past ceaselessly reflected in a new present.” And no bad luck, either.
In the second series of galleries, deeper inside the museum, is Africa: Photography and Video, 250 pieces by African and non-African artists whose work is about Africa in some way. It’s the strongest section of this season’s exhibition, with a list that includes Peter Friedl, David Goldplatt and Malick Sidibe. Pieter Hugo’s photographs of African tribesman are particularly powerful, with one series — The Hyena Men of Nigeria — working on all kinds of levels. In one image, Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria 2007, a powerfully built Nigerian kind of cuddles his massive pet hyena and gives new definition to the term “fierce.”
Upstairs, in the balcony, is Cory Arcangel’s circa-2004 video Super Mario Movie, created from a hand-made, hacked Nintendo cartridge: It’s hard to beat anything with Super Mario. To the right, a series of photographs by Mexican cab driver/artist Oscar Fernando Gomez is comprised of shots of a bleak urban landscape taken from his car: After a personal tragedy, he started taking amateur photographs from his car to divert himself, and now the unforced, natural photographs have become – rightly enough – art in a museum.
The Margulies Collection has never exhibited paintings before. But once inside the main room, visitors confront some major paintings created from 1980-2010. The selection on hand at the museum includes work by Tal R, Jonathan Meese and John Torreano; a Christian Eckart piece incorporates his usual stripes of luminous color. A true beauty, Vincent Desiderio’s 30 foot-long triptych The Triumph of Dysfunction, has not been shown since it was exhibited at the Denver Art Museum in 1990.
In the piece, which also springs from personal tragedy, Desiderio has captured males being menaced: In one painting, a lion-tamer is being mauled by lions; in another, frog-men are doing something unholy. The last panel contains a nude male being examined by doctors, always a scary prospect. Unfortunately, the piece is hung above a doorway, and could use some breathing room and a more visible location.
In the same room is a Chris Astley sculpture, a pile of different-sized bags filled with concrete. In a separate screening room, Kota Ezawa’s The Simpson Verdict, an animated rendition of trial footage shot during the announcement of Simpson’s acquittal that is absolutely riveting as Ezawa captures the look of horror and disgust on the faces of the Goldman family. In another screening room, Brian Alfred’s foray into digital animation examines how a barrage of information warps our view of the world, a parade of unsettling images (the Pentagon, etc.) and urban violence – including a scary character in red fingernail polish wielding a machine gun – parading past to a selection of music that includes pieces by Flying Lotus and I Am Robot and Proud. It’s a truly cool wrap-up to a full-throttled exhibition: Patty Hearst, the cartoon version, should be on some forward-thinking artist’s agenda.