Monday, December 21, 2009
This December I finally made it to Art Basel, Miami. For the past five or so years I have been traveling when Basel comes to town, so I missed it. Heading down south this first time, I must confess to a kind of country-mouse-going-to-the-big-city-nervousness. I must also confess that I fully expected I95 southbound to be clogged with travelers headed south to Miami. But then, a friend reminded me that as important as Basel is, it is still “just art…” Suffice to say my assumptions were incorrect on both parts.
The main reason I wanted to head south was to goggle at Jenny Rubell’s donut installation. I’d read about her food/opening/installation for the Performa 09 Biennial: an “interactive culinary experience,” based on the book of Genesis. The goal was: Five hundred guests moving through three floors, eating a course on each. Honey will drip from the ceiling onto 2,000 pounds of barbecued ribs (think: God creating woman) and guests were asked to destroy and consume chocolate facsimiles of Jeff Koons's bunny sculpture (made by Jacques Torres).” Interspersed in the exhibit were 1,000 lbs of peanuts in the shell, drinks served in assorted Mason jars, and full-sized apple trees felled for the exhibit.
When I first read about this great festival of consumption and destruction, several thoughts occurred rather simultaneously:
1. She’s using food that though uniquely American, is regionally Southern. Ribs, peanuts, Mason jars, even honey evoke a specific image of a non-specific place.
2. It’s the time of year when people turn towards large, communal feasts…the desire to dress in spangles and glitz at odds with the primary activity of the season: eating and drinking.
3. The communal, almost primitive nature of gnawing flesh of ribs, of licking honey of fingers, melting chocolate in hands and bits of peanut clinging everywhere as in direct opposition to the “white walled” gallery.
When considering these elements, I really like (there’s no other word for it) the concept. My only objection (and this probably reveals more about myself than the artist or the work), is the point of departure. That is, I feel as if the use of Genesis as explanation is a little on the nose. The use of food often associated with the Bible Belt, to evoke a deeper sense of Americana seems like it might not need the added presence of Genesis. But, I wasn’t there. And Rubell’s own statement, “the idea of being human is more important than the idea of being perfect,” is elegant and inherently forgiving…perhaps seasonally appropriate?
So it was with great excitement that I scurried into the Rubell collection, and upon spotting the donut installation, “Old Fashioned,” at the back of the space, headed in that direction, in the process almost bowling over Val Kilmer, to snatch my piece of interactive installation glory. The donut was kind of stale. And I liked the back of the exhibit better than the front.
Though “Old Fashioned” had a kind of digital gridlike appeal, balanced against the myriad imperfections of the donuts themselves…it lacked the oomph I was hoping for. However, I can’t be too dismissive, Rubell had fresh donuts brought in every day before the collection opened to the public, and had to find an edible solution to a problem that included Miami heat, the hoi polloi, and blue-chip art. So though it may have lacked the pomp and circumstance I was looking for, as a kind of gentle, sideways nudge in her NYC direction, it was successful.