Miami Art Week 2015: In Words

Works that incorporate text in powerful ways

As you wade through the sheer amount of artwork on view during Miami Art Week, there’s something both compelling and divisive about the pieces incorporating words. They grab ahold of your eyes from far across the hall, drawing you in silently. Unlike abstract sculptures that might require a bit of patience or background information, these pieces are direct, brash and elicit almost a knee-jerk reaction because of the way we voraciously consume text in our native language. Some of the most fascinating works are those that incorporate text, and here we highlight artists (whose work is on show across various fairs) who use words to challenge ideas and meanings, rather than to simply dictate.

With a title like “Pornography” (2004), Jack Pierson’s piece would be hard to find in a Google search. Stumbled upon at NYC-based Cheim & Read’s booth at Art Basel, the “word sculpture” was created from found letters. It’s nostalgic, in a colorful vintage sign-like way, and poetic in its physical, mismatched structure. The word “pornography” seems to sheds some of its stigma when it’s not written out in a straight line.

Miami’s Rubell Family Collection makes a bold statement about the male-dominated art world with “No Man’s Land,” a showcase of works (all from the family’s private collection) by more than 100 women artists. On view was Philadelphia-born artist Karen Kilimnik’s dark 1991 series “Jane/Creep.” She writes, in crayon, one-sentence, almost absurd scenarios that most likely will end in Jane’s death, but only if you’re pessimistic.

Tavares Strachan’s “How Can We Make Someone Invisible (Archeology)” (2015) resembles a classroom whiteboard, but is created from calcium carbonate—a “literal” chalk board. This chemical compound supposedly makes up (geologically) 80% of the Bahamas, where the artist grew up. The diagrams and notes are a reproduction of a visual discussion Strachan had with a group of schoolchildren on “the topic of invisibility in culture.” The words won’t erase with a swipe of a board eraser; the pigment is permanent here. It’s part of Strachan’s current exhibition on view until 16 January 2016 at Fergus McCaffrey’s St Barth location; they’ve temporarily brought it to Miami this week for Art Basel.

Contemporary arts and activist organization Visual AIDS has utilized powerful works to initiate conversations on AIDS and HIV since 1988. At their booth in this year’s Pulse Art Fair, Deborah Kass‘ 2014 work “Enough Already” spoke directly to attendees. The fluorescent silk-screen ink on paper piece reflects not only the values of the organization, but also a sentiment that can resonate with most.

In the Goodman Gallery booth at Art Basel, Kendell Geers’ neon sign “Temene,” (2007) repeats “scared” and “sacred” to create a circle. The similarity of their spelling vs the dissonant definitions is unsettling—heightened by the choice of red lighting—and plants a seed of misgivings. There’s a great interview with the Brussels-based South African artist from 2005 that goes into his view of words as a medium, like the way steel or iron is forcefully shaped into sculptures. One notable excerpt: “The word intrigues me because it can be as powerful or as vulnerable or as banal as the person who [breathes] it.”

Within Toronto’s Cooper Cole Gallery set-up at NADA, artist Jesse Harris presented a protest piece entitled “Three Square.” While the caricature of Ronald McDonald certainly amuses, the accompanying copy punctuates the piece. It’s not so much a play on words, but an indictment of fast-food culture.

“Voice” (2015) by artist Maurício Ianês plays on the definition of the word it portrays. The text is painted, offering a visual voice, but it is both amplified and distorted by the neon lights positioned atop the word. Art does provide a voice, and the artist hints at this, but there’s a sense of restriction to the piece—only, it’s light acting as the interference. The multimedia piece was presented by Y Gallery at this year’s Untitled Art Fair.

Images by Cool Hunting