“Power,” not unlike a sheet of Bounty paper towels, “is disposable,” the artist Will Ryman told me over the phone earlier this week. Known for addressing politics through material metaphors, the artist has used this analysis as the basis for Freedom (2014), a sculpture recently unveiled in a quiet corner of the Shelborne Hotel bar.
Commissioned by hotel owners and art collectors Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos and Paul Kanavos, Freedom (2014) re-creates the iconic pressed-steel forms of a Harley Davidson, down to the chain, gas cap, and texture of the leather seat, in Bounty paper towels—approximately 20 rolls—fortified with resin and glue.
“I was up to the challenge of building a machine out of paper,” said Ryman, who is skipping Miami this year, adding that the cliché of the bike that starred in the 1969 Peter Fonda classic Easy Rider made the Harley Davidson an easy choice. “There are two symbols placed at work here,” he continued—the corporate forces that have made Bounty a household name and the motorcycle, which embodies American power and freedom. “With these two pieces, we’ve presented that power is fragile,” he said.
The work is nestled between two pillars and behind a stanchion, safeguarded against wily bar patrons who may stumble over with drinks in hand. “It can’t get wet,” Ryman said, noting another similarity between paper towels and power, which came to light last night when torrential rain temporarily brought Art Basel Miami Beach to a standstill.