Writing Archive

The Race for the Bottom

Miami Art Exchange, August 7, 2001

"Skins," the exhibition up at the Dorsch Gallery, features one of the worst pieces of art I have ever seen. Transformer by Joseph Reyes consists of a Dixie cup folded into a paper airplane. It is less interesting than the Plexiglas pedestal on which it rests. Lest the "artist" think that this in itself is some kind of achievement, there is no cause for pride. It is like trying to win an award for being Most Asleep; after a certain point, further accomplishment makes no progress. That is the moral of "Skins."

So much for art's cutting edge - if this is it, it couldn't chop through a boiled carrot.

Bad academic art from the late 19th Century has an identifiable look to it - glazed, moralistic and cheesy. From this show, we can see that bad academic art in the early 21st Century is the same. I think I can call this work academic because, first, it's dripping with art school pseudo-cleverness, and second, it's all in an art-magazine-derived, museum-approved style we could call the Race for the Bottom. In this style, whoever can make a work of art with the fewest artistic qualities wins.

Video is everywhere right now for that reason - it looks like TV. Photography is ubiquitous but photographic craft is frowned upon; digital prints and unframed foamcore mounts are preferred, ideally both at once. Yucky and boring things are good. The art must make the viewer wince, as if he had eaten a slice of lemon. After all, the great art of the last 120 years was first met with derision. So art that first generates derision must be great, right?

Wrong. In fact, I don't think this work represents the real cutting edge; it's merely trendy. And as in any clique, the members of the trendy crowd represented in "Skins" are homogeneous. You can't tell how many people are in this show; all of the pieces have a sameness to them brought on by a pandemic dearth of flair. The artists look like they're trying too hard, and at the wrong things.

Glazing - the bugaboo of 19th Century oil painting - has returned to us in the form of the digital color print and the video screen. The new media accomplish the same thing as the sable fan blender - a high polish which makes vague, tired, repetitive ideas appear slick. Wild Kingdom by Kyle Towbridge, is a video of thumb wrestling, and it's interesting for about 15 seconds because it uses the whole catalogue of Bill Viola tricks: fuzzy focus, blue cast, large size, and ominous sound effects. But in the end, it's a video of thumb wrestling, and the glossy veneer of Video Art doesn't save it.

Academic moralizing comes to us in the form of Emily Martinez's photographs of unpleasant bits of people - tufts of hair, cellulite, lumps, sores and so on, arranged into a grid. They were kind of cool until I read the title: None of them are disgusting or gross. Well, yes they are, and I don't believe even the artist thinks otherwise.

A Bouguereau packed with winged babies couldn't be cheesier than Feelings by Bert Rodriguez, which is a bogus e-mail printout of a long, whiny complaint by someone about the end of a friendship. Good art does not make you say to yourself "blah, blah, blah" while you're looking at it.

The only one who comes out of this debacle looking good is Brook Dorsch, who has overseen a first-class installation of this tiresome work. Except for the heat, if someone had told me I'd walked into a branch of the Dia Center, I would have believed it. His talents as a gallery man seem to be expanding like his space did. From time to time, Dorsch has felt inclined to put on shows like this, and then he goes back to exhibiting solid work. Frankly, these artists need him more than he needs them.

"Skins" runs through Sept. 1 at the Dorsch Gallery, 151 NW 24 St., Miami. Gallery hours are Saturdays 2-5 pm and by appointment. Call 305-576-1278 for more information.

Word count: 690

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