National YoungArts Foundation - Miami
Curated by Robert Chambers
By Heike Dempster
Envisioned as a “feast of aesthetics in the visual arts” by curator Robert Chambers, the exhibition “MouthWater” metaphorically stands for and conceptually examines works of art as an outcome of the hunger, drive and determination it takes to create new work as an artist. “MouthWater” highlights the National YoungArts Foundation’s role as a platform for dynamic dialogue between artists across generations, as the participating artists’ shared history of experiencing participation in the YoungArts program between 1980 and 2016 anchors the exhibition.
With a visceral edge, Chambers connects artists whose works span generations and a variety of subject matters explored through painting, sculpture, site-specific installation, video installation and spoken word, among other media.
Many of the artists share their personal struggles and journeys through their works. Eric Rhein pays tribute to friends who died of complications from AIDS and presents pieces rooted in his own life with HIV, and Naomi Fisher’s examinations of personal struggles resulted in haunting images that connect the viewer to the artist beyond the immediate interaction with the paintings. Nicole Eisenman and Anais Pérez are both interested in the human condition. Eisenman examines the subject authentically, emotionally and always with a little humor and self-reflection based on her observation of contemporary life and culture, while Pérez, a recent YoungArts alumna from 2015, looks at art’s connection to the viewer and grapples with her own anxieties to further her understanding of the human condition.
Another theme connecting the works in “MouthWater” is the visual and emotional exploration of artistic media. Mikayla Brown is interested in walking the line between seduction and repulsion by playing with lushness and beauty and its relation to the grotesque. Her visceral approach, including the smashing of fruit in fake blood, ties the work directly to Chamber’s curatorial vision. Brown takes her works even further by painting scenes from her video installations to question how different iterations of the same piece can have varying impacts depending on the medium.
Cheryl Megan Smith’s work explores different media and artistic expressions based on her assumption that words have meaning beyond daily usage in conversation. By using words and the sound of her own voice as well as mimicry as her creative tools, thereby juxtaposing language and imagery, Smith questions the boundaries of art while exploring various media from multiple angles. In terms of direct subject matter, her interest in dissecting American culture, gender politics, physics and religion create meaningful contemporary investigations.
Social justice and sociopolitical issues as well as social constructs represent another main thread that connects many of the works and artistic practices represented in “MouthWater.” Nadia Wolff reflects on gender, religion, race and class. Sharing deeply personal concerns, Wolff combines embroidery and paint into mixed-media investigations that explore conflicts between femininity and masculinity, cultural groups and religions at each intersection of thread and paint and at each spot where her needle has pierced the canvas. Artists like Lee Heinemann and Rachel London combine research, education, social practice and art into works that position their practices in a flexible space. Their works thereby do not merely depict the communities and people they observe and engage with, but rather become part of said communities’ dialogues, internal processes and constructs. By creating resounding artworks that are multi- and inter-disciplinary the works contribute to a discourse and ignite action and change as social catalysts.
Chamber’s curatorial approach offers the viewer an opportunity to experience powerful works that are part of the contemporary art discourse. He presents longstanding artistic practices alongside a new wave of creative expression that explore the past as well as hint at what is yet to be expected. The exhibition allows the viewer to anticipate future possibilities, taking the narrative beyond the gallery walls and beyond the immediate viewer experience within a set space. The endless potential and ability of the artists to contribute to society and influence forthcoming developments inspires the viewer to believe in an exciting and powerful future of art and an artistic dialogue that informs other discourses on contemporary subjects, including race relations, gender identity, the role of art and the importance of art education.
(October 4 - November 21, 2016)
Heike Dempster is a writer, photographer and communications consultant based in Miami. After graduation from London Metropolitan University, she lived and worked as a music, art and culture publicist, journalist and radio host and producer in Jamaica and the Bahamas. She is a contributing writer to ARTPULSE, ARTDISTRICTS, Rooms Magazine, MiamiArtZine and other local and international art publications, websites and blogs.
Filed Under: Reviews