For those following the fractious events surrounding the schism between the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami and the newly founded Institute of Contemporary Art this year, one had to wonder what the new space, located in Miami’s Design District, would bring forward for its first Miami Art Week. Without a permanent home, the ICA has taken up residence at the historic Moore Building, where it held its launch party Tuesday night.
The new building is nothing if not raw: cubicles and long, generic corridor spaces hint at a past life as an office building, and make for a challenging environment to show works. Rooms are small and coyly hidden, encouraging a lingering exploration of the space to see everything on view. But its this same layout that allows curator and deputy director Alex Gartenfeld to executed a bold pair of exhibitions, embracing institutional critique and reflections on spatial politics through the work of Andra Ursuta and Pedro Reyes.
Reyes’s exhibition here, Sanatorium, is a bold-faced investigation into the use of the museum as a space not only designated for art historical objects, but a place for engaging with human emotions, body awareness and social memory. From works encouraging couples to test their compatibility through a process creating blended fruit smoothies to enormous dice with printed commands on each side, the physical and the emotional are placed far above the static experience of viewing. It’s also in this context that Reyes makes masterful work of the otherwise awkward cubicle spaces laid out on the second floor, setting them off as enclosed areas for private “counseling,” including one room where visitors are invited to hammer on an enormous dummy to “relieve violent impulses.”
But where Reyes uses the museum as a site for constructive experience, Ursuta’s exhibition, conversely, seems to approach the exhibition space of the museum as one open to deconstruction, both spatially and politically. Her works at the new space are laid against the rafters and horizontal supports running up the main column of the ICA’s temporary home, negotiating with the difficult exhibition space to claim additional room for works, which incorporate Ursuta’s signature use of textiles, casts and appropriated materials. As one winds up the stairwells, various works make themselves known, and the position from which works are viewed fundamentally alter their perception. On the top floor, the artist even includes her own interpretation of a Brancusi column, stuck in the back corner so that it can only be viewed by a few visitors at a time. Taking the iconic image (one which seems to be present in a number of contemporary artists’ work of late) towards a more private, personal turn, Ursuta makes a striking comment on the history-shaping forces of the institution, while exploring the semantic breakdown occurring when the work’s normal visual context is eroded.
Combining a pair of artists invested in their own approaches to institutional power, history and the archive, the pair of exhibitions offers a challenging but apropos take on the foundation of the ICA. The exhibitions will be open through March 15th.
— D. Creahan