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Soap Sculptures and Swimming Pools: Miami’s Nicolas Lobo Takes Over Red Bull Studios In Chelsea

Juan Ledesma, who assisted Lobo throughout the process, working on the sculptures.

Juan Ledesma, who assisted Nicolas Lobo throughout the process, works on the sculptures.

NICOLAS LOBO

The day I interviewed the Miami-based artist Nicolas Lobo—who, alongside Hayden Dunham comprises one half of BIO:DIP, a two-floor, two-person show opening Friday at Red Bull Studios New York in Chelsea—signs of water seemed to be everywhere. I walked through the rain to get to the venue, on the way passing an open-to-the-public preview of this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. When I finally arrived at Red Bull Studios New York, wet from a less-than-sufficient umbrella, I was greeted by Lobo’s work—a group of overturned fiberglass swimming pools with sculptures resting on top. This was not his first use of the swimming pool as a medium.

“The last project I did was made in a pool but didn’t involve the pool in the actual show,” Lobo explained, referring to his 2015 exhibition at the project gallery of the Pérez Art Museum Miami. There, the artist used pools as a concrete casting facility, the end result being a series of round sculptures adorned with the image of a pill containing the Versace logo, a reference to a mythic strain of the club drug Ecstasy.

(His appearance at Red Bull Studios New York is also not Lobo’s first rodeo in the world of energy drinks. For a show last year, the artist made a makeshift gallery floor out of a massive amount of dead-stock energy drinks he happened upon in Miami. The beverages were marketed as a drinkable “female Viagra” before getting sued by Pfizer and subsequently taken off the market. “It was like fifteen years expired, absolutely disgusting,” Lobo told me. “All the carbonation was gone and it was just like, this vile,” he trailed off. “It tasted like peach Windex. It looked like Windex.”)

For this new show, Lobo used the swimming pool’s shapes and contours to cast abstract sculptures made entirely out of soap. Lobo told me that in order to make the work, he essentially had to set up a soap factory in Florida for over a month, with “55 gallon barrels and forklifts and all this crap.” The end results are sculptures—Lobo calls them “by-products”—that have a traditionally modernist bent. “They get these crazy, like Henry Moore–looking forms,” Lobo said. “I’ll admit that when I was looking at the pool and analyzing it for shapes that I wanted to pour into, I was thinking about the shapes of the pool through art history.”

After the Red Bull Studios New York show is finished, the pools will go back to the factory. “The pools are actually on a little detour,” Lobo said. “[After the show] they’re gonna get installed somewhere, like in someone’s house. So they’re in a sense borrowed from the factory, which is pretty interesting for me, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.”

An additional component of the exhibition is a piece in which the artist covered up the windows of Red Bull Studios New York with cherry-red lipstick, sourced from a giant industrial vat not unlike the 55-gallon barrel used for the soap sculptures. “It has this super strong smell but you’re not used to smelling it this way, you might smell it if you kiss someone who has lipstick or if you’re putting lipstick on yourself, but that’s about it,” Lobo said, comparing the scent to that of eggnog.

Lobo opened up the vat. It was the most lipstick I think I’ll probably ever see at one time, and it looked a little like play-doh or gelato. I thought it smelled great, then again I have a fondness for the sickly end of the olfactory spectrum. “This red is a very photo-degrading red, so to be safe for the body it has to be very sensitive to light,” Lobo said. “The idea of putting it on the window is to kind of destroy it.” By the end of the show’s run, the windows will look very different than they do today. The artist said he thinks of the work as sculptural and almost painterly, but ultimately about “the window and the building and the volume.”

What ties all these projects together is the artist’s interest in the industrial “body economy,” which comes in many forms. “A pool is this domestic industrial machine, it’s this giant vat of chemicals with pumps and filters and stuff attached to it, and it’s only purpose is A, to look like status, but B, to just dip your body in it,” Lobo said. “Its like this industrial body dip.”

Lobo mentioned that there would be a few performances taking place inside of the exhibition throughout the show’s run, but was hesitant to give away any information. Given Lobo’s south Florida roots, I asked him if Uncle Luke from the legendary Miami bass group 2 Live Crew might be making an appearance. Lobo explained to me that they were going in a slightly different direction, something more new age, or therapeutic. (I understood what he was driving at, but no one should ever underestimate the transcendent power of good Miami bass music played at loud volumes.)

Lobo continued on topic. “I gotta resist the whole Miami stereotype,” he said. “You know, with the pool, and pretty soon I’m driving a Ferrari in here, and there’s cocaine on the floor,” he joked.

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