Art that steps across boundaries-e.g. creative experimentation involving multifaceted installations, peculiar video conceptions or digital, computerized “paintings”-have set the stage for the present-day, burgeoning avant-garde scene. Seldom does one see traditional canvases, photographs or sculptures that haven’t been modernized by the refurbishing of technology. So, is old-fashioned art outdated? Perhaps. The Biennial 2002 exhibit at the Whitney Museum in New York in the past summer, which surveyed the “best” in American art during this year, showcased mostly mixed-media pieces and cutting-edge installations, such as two robotized silicone human heads that ponder existential questions, speaking and responding to each other.
Back here in Miami, artist Bhakti Baxter’s solo exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art slides down this up-to-the-minute avant-garde pathway, but strays from technological innovations to produce his works (besides one video piece), and rather utilizes natural as well as man-made materials and an organic working method (such as growing a vegetable or letting his other work evolve on-site at the MoCA) to produce innovative, offbeat creations, Baxter places, for instance, a fully blossomed broccoli flower in a watered glass jar to demonstrate the splendor of a plant whose beauty may be overlooked or relate the corporal connectivity of the broccoli’s body structure to that of other natural elements such as a tree with its bare trunk and dynamic, exploding foliage on top. This vegetable “sculpture” does challenge how we perceive aesthetics, but really, a broccoli flower as a successful piece of art?
A co-founder of one of Miami’s alternative art space, The House, Baxter seems to want to portray here the relationship between nature’s cadences and growth patterns with human rhythms and our affiliation with center and space within our surroundings. This is largely conveyed in his most engaging piece (which might attract your attention first because of its sizeable dominance in the showroom) entitled “An intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere.” It’s composed of white round plaster balls, each separately stuck against a wall in a round circumference, the bigger spheres on the perimeter encircling the smaller ones as they advance towards the center. Though each round ball is a center itself, it becomes tricky for the viewer to find the true center of the piece since there isn’t a ball in the focal point, which is disorienting, but all the more stimulating for the eye. The obtruding white balls from an equally white wall help to accentuate the effect.
In the subsequent room, Baxter’s “INFINITE (video feedback)” shows a continuous loop of a blue spot transfiguring into disparate formations. The distortions gradually hypnotize the eye and the video does communicate a feeling of perpetuity as the transformations incessantly continue and entrance your body into a spacey daze, but soon enough your eyeballs will tear and you’ll make your way out and catch a glimpse of “Blueprint” crafted from a blue chalk snap line across a large white wall. The work is geometric, with a carefully constructed star outline, which would presumably be on the center of the line, but is located on the left, leaving the onlooker to mull over the intangibility of the center. The thin blue lines, however, feel empty and dull and, while the message of the piece is provocative, the design itself is lackluster.
The three more “traditional” pieces, consisting of the “Non-human sentient series (spider-web),” are close-up color photographs of spider webs entangled in vegetation and shrubbery. The prints have colorful green, blonde and olive hues and the proximity to the subject is conducive to the viewer’s understanding of the intricacy of this obscure environment, that of a meticulous arachnidan engineer. Simple details in the shots are charming, such as crusted, old fallen leaves that get ensnared within the web, yet the eye isn’t engrossed in these shots because something seems to be missing.
Even if Baxter’s “Brocoflower” exposes the beauty of plants and that we may ignore that something we eat can have the same liveliness as a blooming flower, it fails to absorb the audience as would a vibrant, forceful painting, for example. And this is occasionally true of other avant-garde works (though the broccoli is the weakest piece in the show). Progressionists may argue for this forward-thinking, experimental approach to new art, yet the line between innovation and significant creativity (i.e. art that disseminates their messages to the vastest pool of people it can) is sometimes becoming much too blurry.
The exhibit is on view at MoCA through November 17. Call 305-893-6211 for more info.
Omar Sommereyns can be reached at SOASIS@aol.com