Punk Formalism, Sloppy Impulse and Pornographic Narcissism: High Collecting in Miami
Miami Private Collections
The Margulies Collection at the Warehoouse, 591 NW 27th Street, Miami
de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space, December 3, 2013 to October 11, 2014. 23 NE 41st Street, Miami
28 Chinese, Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Arts Foundation, December 4, 2013 to August 1, 2014. 95 NW 29th Street, Miami
Between fairs, Miami visitors could hit the beaches, the shops… or the city’s famous private collections. This year, two of the Big Three made a perfect contrast–almost as if their founders had conspired to create differing illustrations of what high-level collecting can mean.
At the de la Cruz collection, the current exhibition immersed viewers in the punk formalism of artists like Sterling Ruby, Christopher Wool, Mark Bradford, and Rudolf Stingel, all represented by giant, top-notch works, whose ragged Ab-Exy grandeur was set off perfectly by the austere Modernism of the building. Viewers were likely to feel dazzled, and also a little wary– especially considering how closely the selections tracked a certain kind of elite-collector taste. Like well-connected party guests, Stingel, Wool, & company impled a predictable set of likely suspects: Wade Guyton and Kelley Walker; Jacob Kassay and Mark Grotjahn, Nate Lowman, and Seth Price. And there they were– along with a scatteriPng of less cohesive, but equally fashionable names (Thomas Houseago, Aaron Curry, Peter Doig). In the end, one’s skepticism couldn’t quite dim one’s admiration: whatever the de la Cruz’s motives, they put together a stunning representation of contemporary abstraction at its most offhanded, dour, and elegant.
By contrast, The Margulies Collection, housed in an old warehouse alongside a highway, seemed casual, a little sloppy and impulsive, but also winningly unpretentious. Near the entrance, big single sculptures by de Kooning, Caro, and Tony Smith, were parked like trophy cars in a rundown garage. Then came a room of Kiefers. Turn the corner to find Franz West, then Jason Rhodes. Meandering up stairs and through corridors, you came across suites of taxonomic Becher-style photographs, and many rooms showing lackluster videos. If the quality was uneven, there were plenty of highlights, sometimes the more pleasurable for being unexpected: for me, these included two groups of Barbara Probst photographs, and Nina Katchadourian’s utterly winning selfies in faux-Flemish regalia. As I walked out, Marty Margulies himself was talking to a group of visitors. I was a little stunned to hear him say, apropos of purchasing art, “It must fit. It must be cohesive.” His own collecting seemed to belie his words– but did that matter? His enthusiasm was obviously genuine, and the collection as a whole felt like an anti-museum, not a carefully curated theme-with-variations, but a sequence of crushes.
And what about the most famous of Miami’s collections, the Rubell’s? Its reputed preeminence was less visible this year, with most of the space given over to art purchased on a recent trip to China. Why does virtually all of this art look as hollow and derivative as it is spectacular? To my eye, someone like Zhu Jinshi was representative. His big gloppy paintings are handsome and enormous, painted with a calligraphic verve that suggests Kanji executed in colored stucco. But they also feel, frankly, glib and dated, like super-sized hybrids of Philip Guston and Louise Fishman. Are skeptical viewers like myself missing something? Does Western ethnocentrism, or the fevered market climate, create unconscious bias? I mistrust my own mistrust, and yet the Rubells certainly didn’t dispell it; on the contrary, every time I found myself feeling a flush of momentary excitement, I would wince to discover that the work in front of me was not new Chinese art, but an older piece from the permanent collection: a Cady Noland installation, or Charles Ray’s unforgettably lewd monument to pornographic narcissism, “Oh Charley, Charley, Charley.” If you trusted the Rubells to pick out the best of what’s being made in China, you came away feeling glum.