Monday, April 15, 2024

A Little Bit of New York in North Miami

Yesterday afternoon, I exited the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami feeling overwhelmed and disoriented, with only the patter of perpetual rain reminding me where I was. My first thought was that the exhibition I just saw – a seven-part video project by renowned Texas artist Ryan Trecartin –

seemed too experimental even for Miami’s cultural standards. It felt more like something that would only succeed at insular institutions like New York’s Museum of Modern Art, oases of elitism removed from the decries of “pretentious” and “unwatchable” from the other 98 percent of the museumgoing population.

So it was both surprising and unsurprising to learn that this exact show, titled “Any Ever,” also opened at the MoMA affiliate P.S. 1 the same time it launched here. In that cultural bastion, the show received raves. The New York Timescalled it a “game-changer,” and The New Yorker dubbed Trecartin “the most consequential artist to have emerged since the 1980s.”

Then again, that’s New York. Outside the gallery in North Miami today, I overheard a patron grumble about wasting his time. You would need a lot of it to see the exhibition in its entirety. “Any Ever” is a diptych, divided into two sections and seven videos, all playing simultaneously on movie screens. You would need to spend about five hours in the museum to catch everything. The disappointed patron gave each video about 30 seconds and moved on.

Trecartin is decidedly not for everyone, but I can understand the zeal surrounding this massive, Miami-shot project. Even if portions of his movies are the visual equivalent of train wrecks and others are as aurally grating as cats on pianos – his characters often speak as if inhaling helium, and others are auto-tuned to death — there is an irrational compulsion to keep watching them. Simply put, I’ve never seen anything quite like Trecartin’s epileptic collages. They’re the filmic equivalent of free-jazz improvisations, full of manic jump cuts, staccato rhythms, split-screens, superimpositions, pictures-in-pictures, onscreen text and colored filters. They”re never boring, and they’re hard to turn away from, even if you have no idea what’s going on, which is often.

“Any Ever” is more or less nonlinear and nonnarrative, and it’s structured in a way that discourages coherency: Visitors can come and go from room to room, starting and ending anytime, and anywhere, they want. There are shreds of a story here and there; Trecartin and his colleagues cross-dress and gender-bend in front of his caffeinated camera, critiquing sexuality and the bureaucratic pretzels of corporate working life, mocking its impenetrable jargon (with concepts like “transumerism” and “individualized brand integration”). Characters and themes from some videos recur in others. But to try and decipher a plot is probably a fool’s errand, and seriously, who has that kind of time?

What I enjoy most about this project are the seating arrangements, furnished by Ikea. Each setup has its own seats that seem to correspond to the prevailing mood of the video, from rigid wooden chairs to stadium bleachers to a park bench to rolling office chairs to a pair of comfy mattresses to an array of modern couches – a perfectly eclectic milieu to turn on, tune in and drop out.

“Ryan Trecartin: Any Ever” is on view through Sept. 4 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 770 N.E. 125th St., North Miami. For information, call 305/893-6211 or visit www.mocanomi.org.

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