Art Basel Miami Beach 2017

Bring Into Focus: At the ICA Miami, a Series of Jewel-Box Shows

Chris Ofili, Post Black (Love, Life, Liberty), 2015.


It was action-packed at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami last night, as dealers, curators, and the like got a first look at the institution’s elegant new home. The main attraction in the building—designed by way of the Madrid-based Aranguren + Gallegos Arquitectos firm’s first commission in the United States—is a sprawling group exhibition on the second and third floors called “The Everywhere Studio.” The show examines work spaces and processes of artists, but the curatorial team has also made the novel decision to sprinkle a handful of small focus shows on the first floor and elsewhere in the building. Many of them feel like little jewel box treasures, such as a stairwell bedecked with Charles Gaines pieces and a choice array of Ed and works by Nancy Kienholz.

One room features just three works. There’s a sumptuous cipher of a painting by Chris Ofili, Post Black (Love, Life, Liberty), 2015, in which a bounty of bulging flowers that seem to bear faces are almost exploding off a rainbow background as the words LOVE, LIBERTY, and LIFE float beneath them. It’s joined by two slightly different prints of the same Samuel Fosso photograph of a man holding flowers, and a constellation of forms seems to cycle and course through the trinity.

The great Senga Nengudi is here, too, and with a lesser-known work, Wet Night — Early Dawn — Scat Chat — Pilgrim’s Song (1996/2017), a kind of ethereal temple composed of plastic sheets hung on the wall (they’re dry-cleaning bags), a carpet of bubble wrap, and quick swirls of paint on the white walls. Anything, in Nengudi’s hands, can be rendered sacred.

Robert Gober provides perhaps the most satisfying display, with a full gallery of his deadpan, off-kilter black-and-white photographs. Hiding in plain sight at the center is one of his drain pieces, stuck right into the floor, with no guard rail protecting it. It’s an untitled work from 1993–94, and a body is just barely visible through the grate. Water flows over it. Its darkness sneaks up on you quickly, even in the midst of an opening-night celebration.

Suddenly I heard an insistent voice, telling me very politely to back up a bit from its edge. “If something falls in,” the guard told me, “we can’t get it back out.”

Senga Nengudi, Wet Night — Early Dawn — Scat Chat — Pilgrim’s Song, 1996/2017.

Robert Gober, Untitled, 1993–94.

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