Some art shows still have a knack for outsmarting certain critics, and the newest exhibition at the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO) — Inside Out, Photography After Form: Selections from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection — just might be too bright for its own darn good.
Curated by Simon Baker and Tanya Barson of the Tate Modern in London, the 70-piece show, explores, according to the museum’s manifesto, “the relationship between the camera lens and the construction, production and deconstruction of form.”
Just to ramp up the Mr. Spock-ian fire power, a few other curatorial gems are thrown in: experimental abstraction, formal conceptualism, organic and non-organic still life. On the walls in each of the galleries devoted to the show’s curatorial sections — Form, Space and Formlessness — is a series of incomprehensible quotes. The deep thinker Georges Bataille contributes a circa-1929 statement on the Formlessness gestalt: “Formless is not only an adjective with a given meaning but a term which declassifies.” The critic Walter Benjamin, circa his 1928 piece News About Flowers, describes the “veiled state” of forms.
More than 80 years later, all those musings somehow wind up in sweet home Miami.
The lobby of the museum, dedicated to Form, kicks off the good times with Benjamin’s quote, along with three stark Luisa Lambri pieces from 2007, Untitled (Sheats-Goldstein House), abstracted shots of plants taken through a window. In the second room, the Form portion continues with Edward Burtynsky’s Shipyard #15, Qili Port, Zhejiang Province, China, 2005, rust on the hull of a ship in dry dock creating strips of beautiful Rothko-esque color. In Ladrillos, Ca. 1965-1970, Sameer Makarius documents ends of wood planks and cement blocks, as if he’d put a jaunt down the aisles of Home Depot to good use.
The Space portion of the show begins with Alexander Apostol’s two-channel video installation with looped sound. In Los cuatro jinetes from the series Moderno salvaje, 2005-2007, a stuffed deer head in a glass display case pivots back and forth, accompanied by a grinding-gear sound that recalls The Outer Limits.
The third set of galleries continues the space segment with Hiroshi Sugimoto’s black-and-white photograph, Farnsworth House-Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 2000-2001, the sharp lines of the modernist landmark blurred somewhat in the printing process and softened. Ryuji Miyamoto’s Kowloon Walled City, 1987-1993, is comprised of seven gelatin-silver prints documenting incredibly squalid alleyways.
The California-dreaming artist Ed Ruscha contributes Nine Swimming Pools, 1968-1997, prints of breathtakingly banal pools, the sort of fun-and-sun landscape that — like South Florida — inspires an uncomfortable itch of alienation.
In the final gallery, the exhibit’s Formlessness section is marked by Yannick Demmerle’s study of rotting leaves, From the Series Scrubtit Neck: Untitled #28, 2005, which is flanked by Leo Matiz’s Pavo real de mar, Colombia, 1939-2006. But the Space section of the show contains the real winner, Corridor, High School. Westfield, NY, 1965, by Dan Graham, a photograph that lays out exactly what it means to be an artist, transforming the everyday into something endlessly resonant.
Inside Out is dense stuff, ripe for cheap jokes, but in truth, it’s a pleasure to see an art show that needs nothing provocative — sex, violence, or whatever else might be cheap and handy — to make its point. This is a show about the richer pleasures of thinking.