October 17, 2010
“[T]he current crop of shows ranges from the way old school — Peter Paul Rubens and the like — to middle-period abstraction to contemporary high-think art. In Sequentia, Xavier Cortada synthesized an actual DNA strand created, somehow or another, through a sequence generated by visitors using his installation. Smart stuff, even if you don’t fully understand the science.”
Series of shows at the Frost covers just about everything
The Frost Art Museum, with Carol Damian as director and chief curator, could never be faulted for lack of ambition, and the current crop of shows ranges from the way old school — Peter Paul Rubens and the like — to middle-period abstraction to contemporary high-think art. In Sequentia, Xavier Cortada synthesized an actual DNA strand created, somehow or another, through a sequence generated by visitors using his installation. Smart stuff, even if you don’t fully understand the science.
The La Habana Moderna show, a co-production with the Wolfsonian-FIU being shown in the Frost’s Wolfsonian Teaching Gallery on the third floor, requires only a yearning for the catnip of nostalgia and glamour. Each artifact and image is redolent with glam and grace, a portrait of a time when intelligence, fun, beauty and sex were in perfect balance. The Bohemia magazine covers from the 1920s look as if Jean Cocteau stepped in as art director, and the souvenir handbook from the review, Habana, ca. 1950, captures the possibilities of nightlife. In truth, old Havana, like the golden days of South Beach, probably had plenty of money-makes-people-disgusting aspects — there are reasons why the sinister Castro came to power in the first place — but the imagery associated with that era, a kind of poetic porn, is wonderful beyond measure.
In the next room is a show, Selections from Anomie 1492-2006, that covers the 65-year career of Arnold Mesches, an artist and teacher. Damian calls Mesches, whose works are in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum and the Hirschhorn, “a painter’s painter,” and Mesches’ enormous paintings, all angry reds and surreal juxtapositions, brings to mind the work of German multimedia artist Anselm Kiefer.
Although he has exhibited at the stomping grounds of the young and post-ironic, PSI Contemporary in New York, Mesches is old enough to use anomie in the old-fashioned sense of the word, a moral void that’s to be avoided — not the typical current construction. These days, anomie usually applies to the cinematic dissipation of Bret Easton Ellis characters, having endless sex and drugs and being attractively bored.
Mesches skips back and forth over all kinds of historical terrain. Rising above Columbus’ ships in 1492 is a hillside graveyard, littered with great art objects reduced to lawn ornaments, Michaelangelo’s David on equal footing with Princess Di figurines and Christ camp. In Anomie 1991: True Blue, three chortling clowns are juxtaposed with marching troops, the piece exploring the winged victory nonsense around the end of the first Gulf War. Of course, that all came back around to bite us on the behind, bearing out Nietzsche’s theory of life being one long eternal repetition. Mesches is not about to go gently into even-handed whimsy: You have to respect his sheer insanity and venom, raging against whatever machines might be handy.
In the next room is more whack art in a show titled From Old to New, an exhibition that bites into Bass Museum of Art turf, the whole notion of pestering old masters with modern interpretations, plowing up dead earth and raising up a dose of hip ironic distance, along with the creative gravitas of the past. The gravitas graveyard includes Ferdinand Bol’s Portrait of a Dutch Nobleman, done between 1642 and 1669; the contemporary artists on hand include John Sanchez, who contributed a respectable 2007 oil-on-canvas titled A Wanted Melancholy.
Lydia Rubio, one of the old art pros in town, has contributed LOT 24, 2003/2007, which careens off that whole notion of Lot’s story into, well, Rubio’s lot in life. The 24 oil-on-aluminum pieces include images of Rubio, her mom, two of her ex-partners, feathers, and interpretations of Goya and Bruegel’s treatment of the Lot story, as well as Rubens’ Exodus from Sodom and Gomorrah. Just for good measure, Rubio throws in the Iraq war and the wet foot/dry foot immigration policy for Cubans.
All the ancients covered the Lot story, and it’s juicy turf. Lot, of course, stayed in Sodom — like so many of us — long after it went downhill. Eventually, God sent in angels to do moral battle, and Lot insisted on putting them up: The men in town, anxious to nail some angel stuff, surrounded the place. Lot offered his two daughters, but the men were after angels, top-shelf girls. The next day, the Lots left town, his wife turning to a pillar of salt when she looked back at sweet home Sodom. Then, for the sake of keeping the bloodline going, Lot’s daughters seduced him. Now, Rubio is right in there, tearing into a big chunk of myth and art history. The old comforting bible stories are always the best.