(A) State of Florida currently on view at Alfstad& Contemporary is an exhibition of artworks inspired by Florida. It’s a mixture of disciplines including photography, painting, assemblage, and video that explores the quirky and commercially driven characteristics of this state.
Jeremy Chandler’s photographs combine Martin Parr’s dry humor with Naomi Harris’s love of Florida’s tackiness. “Hot Dog Vendor” (2008) shows a woman dressed in next-to-nothing in front of a hot-dog cart hitched to a much-too-small, much-too-old Pontiac or Chevy. Another photograph shows a man in a shirt reading “Surfer Dude Surfer” standing and addressing the camera in what appears to be a camper, which appears to be his house. “Tampa Palms Golfer” (2008) is a woman in a pink sweater on what is apparently a chilly day. The portraits are both earnest and funny, and perfectly portray those who are either born here or seek refuge in Florida.
Ryann Slauson paints plexi-glass. “My Trauma” (2014) depicts a Denny’s parking lot in a loose, crude way, and includes text reading “kids eat free” and license plate numbers. “Dan the Man” (2014) portrays Dan Marino wearing his Miami Dolphins jersey but no helmet in a way that looks like a snapshot taken in between plays. He appears as a jock caught candidly, as if a teammate had just given him a shove and a sarcastic taunt. Slauson’s work is delightfully rendered, it pushes the boundaries of abstraction, and by focusing on Florida her paintings offer an alternative to its reputation of fakeness.
Michael Bauman’s “Trident” (2014), an assemblage with a silicone cast of an alligator impaled by three fluorescent lights, is the star of the show. His “Construct” (2015) also uses silicone alligators and fluorescent lights, but this time it’s in a wooden box and a metal gate.
The best title of the show goes to Jen Nugent’s “The Difference between an Asshole and A Good Samaritan” (2012), which is a Louis Vuitton purse stuffed with live flowers. It’s assumed she found the handbag, took it, and now it hangs in a gallery.
In the back room is Vanessa Diaz’s video of her rummaging through a mound of trash. She’s looking for an unknown something. Its duration is several minutes, but it seems she never finds what she’s looking for.
The gallery itself, which is a renovated warehouse with wooden trusses visible in the ceiling and a firehouse-like tiled floor, is the perfect setting for an exhibition investigating Florida’s identity. This is because the gallery is located in the Rosemary District where several new projects are supplanting older industrial warehouses with new condos and architecture in ways that creative types are known to do. Florida is changing, and this gallery and its focus on contemporary artworks is a much-needed upgrade.
Differentiating a new style of trash-art from its masterworks may seem like a waste, but it’s clear the generation of artists included in Re:Purposed are expanding on what Marcel Duchamp and Robert Rauschenberg pioneered. Readymades and assemblages have become relics of society’s upper-most classes, but this art represents more inclusive views. It’s different in that, instead of presenting collections of disparate elements like an assemblage, or abstractly subverting a self-evident meaning like a readymade, these works directly confront the systems which make repurposing possible by transforming elemental parts in to a homogenous whole.
Repurposing is a concept of income inequality that requires a wasteful class discarding materials later used by one too desperate and impoverished to purchase them. Like the art, the exhibition’s ambiguous title sets the stage for conversations surrounding what can be done about such inequality because it’s presented in the manner of an on-going digital correspondence. In this way, the title perfectly reflects both the materials these artists employ and themes they convey.
The artist in this exhibition who most overtly offers an answer to income inequality is Jill Sigman, who builds domiciles, which she calls “huts,” out of objects whose initial purposes were obviously not for construction. Microwaves, lawn flamingoes, trash bags, and, particular to this exhibition at The Ringling, advertisements from the circus comprise the walls and ceilings of her “huts,” and provide shelter while she and viewers occupy them. A mixture of sculpture and performance, Sigman’s work explicates the hidden effect of over-consumption by immersing herself and viewers in an environment most of us assume is relegated to the poorest parts of the world.
Other artists in the exhibition emphasize homogeneity in order to discuss income inequality. Specifically, the works of Daniel Rozin and Alyce Santoro seamlessly merge seemingly disparate and unequal elements in transformative ways that completely blur the lines between what’s expansive and what’s cheap. Rozin’s “Trash Mirror No. 3” (2001 – 2011), uses sensors and cameras to flip small pieces of trash upward and downward to depict viewers’ bodies and faces. Viewers see themselves in surprising resolution, which catches the imagination because it’s almost unbelievable how plastic bottles and coffee cups can effectively supplant the latest DSLRs and camera-phones. Similarly, Alyce Santoro’s fashionable dresses, hats, and handbags made from the spooled magnetic tape found in audio cassettes are chic, gorgeous, and would assuredly be worn by the same people who purchase couture gowns. The magnetic tape is so astoundingly tightly interwoven that it looks like canvas or some kind of tarp, and in no way resembles something someone would throw away. Both artists employ materials arguably from the lowest and least needed segments of the economy in novel, nothing less than magical artworks that see their individual elements completely transformed.
Overall, Re:Purposed can be seen as a hopeful allegory for a more equal and evenly distributed economic future. The artists included in the exhibition have clearly found something new by exploring the idea of combining things we’ve bought and no longer need, and in the process, have made the best of a bad situation.
Jazz plays as viewers, dressed in their most glamorous attire, flow in to the Sarasota Opera House. They’ve come to see “Newtown at 100: A Glimpse Through Our Eyes,” a documentary premiering at the Sarasota Film Festival telling the history of one of this city’s most oppressed and economically deprived neighborhoods. This area of Florida isn’t known for being very racially diverse, but Newtown’s history hasn’t been forgotten. Judging by the throngs of people flowing through the Opera House doors, people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds, it’s clear Sarasota is ready to remember.
It begins with black-and-white images and voice-overs of the five Booker High School students who made the film. They’re on campus and in their bedrooms as we hear them say there are great things in Newtown but also some bad things. A few of the students call it home. It’s a montage that lets us get to know the students while we see them learning the mechanics and techniques of film-making. By the time they’ve mastered the slate and holding boom-mics the picture turns full-color and they’re hitting the streets to do interviews.
They find locals who’ve been living in Sarasota since segregation, when black people couldn’t get an education past the eighth grade. The principal of Book High School, Dr. Rachel Shelley, tells us the story of Emma Booker, who independently founded the school which eventually became the institutions they are today. We also meet Sarasota’s first black politicians, and explore local businesses working to serve the Newtown population. The students, all the while, are clearly learning things about Newtown they’re never even considered, and so are the viewers in the Opera House.
The most chilling part of the documentary, something which audibly moved the audience, was when a shaky, hand-held video of elementary-school children showed a subtitle reading, “September 11, 2001.” Everyone gasped, clearly having been absorbed in the pageantry of the evening and the pride felt when viewing a movie about one’s own community, and it seemed in that moment that everyone felt the intensity of a kind of butterfly effect that begins in a small community in Sarasota but grows in to the most earth-shattering event in a lifetime. A second gasp was let out when it became apparent that the children were disappointed the President was too busy to stay.
Samuel Curtis, the Education Director at the Sarasota Film Festival, guided the students through the process of making this documentary, which is the first undertaking by Booker High School’s new film program. Judging by the strength and success of this film, the new program is sure to continue exposing Sarasota to talented young artists and moving artworks.
After the film was an amazing performance by a choir with an accompanying pianist. A few solo vocalists shared the stage, and the rest of the room joined in. The evening ended with appearances by the Poitier family and Super-Bowl-winning and Newtown-native, Sam Shields. It was a great night to take pride in Sarasota.
The weather in Sarasota is perfect for an evening of decadence. Wine, food, entertainment, gorgeous views of the bay and the Ca’ d’Zan — it’s enough to defy language. That’s why the proper word to describe last night is gorgeois, which is simply a combination of gorgeous and bourgeois. It’s a new addition to a lexicon that’s sometimes insufficient in describing life’s capacity for beauty.
Last night’s “Wine Walk to Ca’ d’Zan” was a celebration of Sarasota’s growing foodie scene, including dishes by Fête Catering and Ballroom, Nellie’s Catering, Traviso, and Michael’s on East, each paired with wines from all over the world.
Navigating the grounds with a plate of food and a glass of wine is exactly what John and Mable Ringling did, or at least what I imagine they did, while they lived there, and guests were able to trace the Ringlings’ steps. I even overheard that the entrance to the Ca’ d’Zan is the mansion’s original driveway.
In a way, the flood of regular people on the former property of aristocrats is perfectly gorgeois. It’s like a mini revolution against the one-percent who would have surely despised all these hooligans partying there and enjoying a lifestyle experienced only by the super-rich.
No guillotine, but there was an amazing sunset.
Everyone was speaking about which dishes were their favorites. Mine? The knockwurst was ridic, and the chicken tikka masala was delish, oh, and I really dug the seafood trio. I also had three cannolis.
Barbara Ramsay, chief conservator at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, recently met with me to explain how the institution is preparing a portrait of Philip IV painted by Diego Velázquez for shipping to the Grand Palais in Paris. The painting is estimated to be worth forty million dollars, yet Ramsay is confident she’ll get it there and back in one piece.
Barbara Ramsay: This institution has a very active loans program because of the quality of the collection. The Baroque art, of which we have an amazing collection, is in demand.
Tom Winchester- The Velázquez is undoubtedly priceless, will you describe the process of packing and shipping such an artwork?
BR: Once there’s a request for loan the curator considers if the exhibition itself or the scholarship associated with it warrants the risks associated with a loan. We, conservators, look at whether the painting is stable enough, the appearance is appropriate, and if it can travel without a high risk of damage. Once that goes through and it’s approved by the board – the board approves all loans because it’s a big consideration, and it’s a lot of staff time and energy to prepare these works, so we have to take everything in to consideration from all departments – once it’s approved for loan we examine the painting to identify what has to be done before it goes. It may have to be secured in the frame better than it is in storage or on the wall here. Some of the works have to have a plexiglass shield put on in order to protect the surface from damage and control the temperature.
Then we order a crate to be built by a fine art services company that knows what types of materials to use, how much padding, how much insulation, and it has to be built to specific dimensions because the painting that’s in there shouldn’t be able to move around. When it goes out we use fine art handlers who pick up the painting in a truck with air-ride suspension and climate control. There are a lot of people involved at various steps of the process.
With major works of art, part of the deal is whatever museum is borrowing the works pays for the crates, the shipping, and they also pay for couriers. A courier is somebody such as a curator, or a conservator, or a registrar, someone from the institution who actually travels with the work of art. You go in the truck, you go in the plane, you go in the truck again, you get it to the institution, you’re there when it’s unpacked to do a condition report and make sure it gets on the wall safely.
TW: Have you run into any rough patches on the Velázquez? How does it compare to others works you’ve restored?
BR: This painting actually requires very little treatment before it goes on loan. It’s been treated numerous times over its lifetime. There are some minor irregularities on the surface that are visible in certain lights, but on display they’re not disturbing. To eliminate those would require a very involved treatment, a lot of time, and more risk to the painting, so I have to make a judgment call as to what is really essential and what is acceptable. The painting is in exhibitable condition. The frame is flaking a bit – the gilded surface – so we have to consolidate all the little bits of adhesive in certain areas just to set down little flakes of paint so they don’t fall off while they’re travelling.
Lyle Rexer recently gave a lecture at the Scandinavian House on a group of photographers only now starting to be exhibited here in the States, the Helsinki School, whose characteristics include a propensity for abstract experimentation and an ambition to determine how art relates to the rest of the world. Aligning them with the Bauhaus, Rexer contrasts their efforts with the depictive deadpan of notables from Düsseldorf Art Academy, i.e. Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, and the Bechers, as well as the representational proficiency of the F/64ers and Edward Weston. The “denotative” or “expressive” approach intended as “an examination of reality and its forms,” he points out, “is the default setting for contemporary photography.”
Rexer describes the aesthetic of the Helsinki School as maintaining a one-to-one relationship between photography and the real world.
“There are not many artists in the Helsinki School who have simply dispensed with the camera. And are appropriating images, are manipulating images, are fabricating other realities out of images. There is still a continuing commitment to the camera as a tool of expression and as a tool of knowledge—a way of knowing yourself and the world. And in that sense, you might say that the Helsinki School is conservative, not postmodern at all, and very much in the line with earlier photographic traditions, and in that sense a kind of ballast, or a kind of counterweight, to the sort of programs you see that are usually called conceptual.
So I’m thinking about something called the ‘physcho-allegorical’ which is the way I think a lot of Helsinki photographers deal with the person. Not so much as a social being, but as a psychological and expressive being. And the kind of images you tend to get are ones that approach dreams, psychological states, allegories, telling a story about one thing by using images of something else.”
One of the Helsinki artists, Niko Luoma, who just a few weeks ago had a solo show at Bryce Wolkowitz called And Time Is Longer An Obstacle, enumerably aggregates a sliver of exposed light over a long period. This process creates nest-like intersections that appear as illuminated geometric contours. Rexer refers to Luoma’s creative process as a “harvesting of time” and contrasts such an approach, which is in line with previous investigators into the visual capacities of media like László Moholy-Nagy and Gottfried Jäger, with Henri-Cartier Bresson’s temporally charged decisive moment.
For the Q&A I posed a question about the Pictures Generation and how their theories compare to those of the Helsinki School. Rexer’s response distinguishes between concepts affecting a photograph’s meaning and meanings derived from conceptualizations rooted in photographic form:
“They all question the status of the photograph in terms of the culture more broadly, they are interested in its transmission, its consumption, its distribution—all those things that lie outside the image—the desire that’s provoked by photographs, what is it that people bring to photography that makes them want those images—that’s their stock in trade. And it turns out they don’t all share the same attitudes toward photography, and their attitudes have changed over time.
I don’t see any of that in, or, very little of that in, the Helsinki School. There is still a commitment and an interest in the image as a cognitive experience, something you can learn from, that you can appreciate, that you can desire, that can tell you something about yourself and the world around you. And that kind of communicative photography—as a communicative and expressive form—strikes me as very much un-conceptual, very much un-postmodern. Where the concepts come in has to do with things like examining the nature and character of photography, how the processes work, what kind of impact do they have, how are photographs fabricated, what kind of philosophical issues are brought up when you’re making and look at a photograph—that’s the conceptual parts. And I think that’s very compelling.”
Then, when another attendee’s question led him again to the Pictures Generation, Rexer adds nuance to what the Hielsinki School omits, namely digital distribution, and predicts a resurgence of analog techniques.
“It seems to me even the most conservative photographic practices are coming to us now with quotation marks around them. There’s a kind of intense self-awareness in all of photography. So when I talk about the Helsinki School being conservative, that doesn’t mean that we’re talking about artists who are at all naive about the situation of photography. There are things we know about the world, and relationships with photographs of that world that we can’t unlearn. The Pictures Generation’s had a lot to do with that. They have acquainted us, just as Andy Warhol did, with the ‘scene’ underbelly of image culture.
And that’s not going to go away, we can’t will that away. You can’t pretend because you spend all your time in the darkroom that digital imaging is not going on constantly, sampling is not going on constantly, people are manipulating everything—and that’s ultimately got to have an impact. That will change what we desire about photographs and what we expect from them. My sense is that we’re going to see the desire for the analog image—that is, the thing that somehow relates to reality beyond it in some more intimate way, like skin—become more intensely desired. At the same time we’ll see the most extravagant deconstructions of precisely that kind of experience.”