Art display ‘strangely charming’

Sylwia, an aluminum piece by Pawel Althamer.

The Rubell Family Collection has transformed a dodgy space into a considerably more inviting, if hardly less provocative, site for one of the world’s greatest collections of contemporary art.

Housed in what formerly served as a DEA storage facility for the cocaine and cash seized from drug dealers across Miami, a sign advising those with more delicate sensibilities to sit this one out is displayed unabashedly by the door.

If you turn back though, it’s your loss. The Rubell Family Collection, whose library, film and lecture theater and 27 small galleries sit on 45,000 square feet of concrete and steel, delivers on the promise raised by this sign in the best of ways- its pieces are bold, honest, occasionally explicit and consistently compelling.  And their most current exhibit, “How Soon Now,” just might take the cake.

The exhibit, which boasts a delicious mixture of mediums (some fairly conventional, others dramatically less so) is housed entirely on the second floor, and upon reaching the top landing, it hits you like a ton of bricks.

Or perhaps like a ton of wet clay. Dedicated entirely to Swedish Nathalia Djurberg’s short, claymation-style films, whose twisted scenarios have the disarming habit of looking deceptively like fairy tales, the first gallery borders on hypnotic.

Djurberg’s characters cry long, doughy tears as gleeful scenes of mutilation, rape, bestiality and slavery develop around them, yielding a product that somehow grows increasingly hilarious the more outlandish and disgusting the film becomes. Add Hans Berg’s slightly haunting soundtrack and nine more examples of Djurberg’s stop-motion tour de force, and the result is a room that is simultaneously disturbing, strangely charming and absolutely transfixing.

Another stand-out is Kaari Upson, whose work ranges from oil on canvas, to charcoal and wax sculptures, to video displays. And it all seems to center around a mysterious “Larry,” who’s abandoned personal belongings Upson discovered in a burnt-out LA mansion. The whole affair reads like a study in obsession, and a project that began as an attempt to discover more about an anonymous man’s identity evolves into one in which identities are created, interchanged, interfused and finally exorcised.

The experience is voyeuristic. Pieces such as the Playboy inspired “The Grotto,” call for nothing short of a peeping Tom, who must literally peer through the crevices of the monolithic structure to see the video installments within.

Despite being composed of wildly disparate elements, “How Soon Now” is arguably brought together by the feeling that many of the artists deal in ideas of personal histories within the context of collective, made-up identities.

The pieces- by turn beautiful, disquieting, whimsical and hilarious- experiment with a moment in which identity can be constructed or manipulated, creating a “now” that is as enthralling as it is unique.

Amanda Gomez may be contacted at

If you Go:

95 Northwest 29th Street
Miami, FL 33127-3927

$5 for students

Exhibit is runs through August 26