Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Art review: Locksley-Shea collection explores urgency, vitality of contemporary art

With You I Want to Live (2007), by Tracey Emin.

By Emma Trelles

FORT LAUDERDALE -- With You I Want To Live, a pink neon sculpture by British artist Tracey Emin, is a bit of a triple-threat. In its own right, the work reflects Emin’s millennial-tinged obsessions with ardor - its pleasures, its unavoidable pratfalls. She is, after all, also the author of Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, a pup tent stitched with the 102 names of people she shagged or with whom she simply slumbered.

The piece is also the title of a show, now at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale and culled from the private holdings of four South Florida collectors. Scrolled like a quick jot on a notepad, the sculpture suggests this maxim: Why buy something if you’re not smitten with its presence?

Pointing to art as a vehicle for quick and certain profit seems sort of reckless at the moment (not to mention unimaginative), and it’s just not enough to explain our appetite for love affairs, whether they are with man, woman, or the 41 artworks on display and on loan from the collection of art dealers Gordon Locksley and George T. Shea. (A second gathering from The Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz Collection is also on exhibit).

Installed in the museum’s second-floor galleries, the Locksley and Shea collection mirrors a 40-year involvement with groundbreaking artists and with a calling that both men find as essential as oxygen.

“I think that the collecting gene begins with necessities. It begins with needing a bowl from which to eat,” says Locksley in a Q&A printed in the exhibition’s catalogue. “The need to have the basic tools to prepare food and to live, which man, by nature, decorates. That evolves into collecting.

“Some people want to possess beauty...,” the 78-year old adds. We want to own it; we need to own it.”

British Phone Booth (2006), by Banksy.

The show is indeed a grand one, housing some of the most important and varied makers of 20th and 21st century art. Whether you love their offerings (Mark Bradford’s collage-and-acrylic homage to the Los Angeles skyline; the spare elegance of Robert Morris’ plywood installation,), or they elicit a response along the lines of “meh” (Damien Hirst’s acid-inspired dot painting; Takashi Murakami’s super-flat ode to Louis Vuitton), most of it holds a place in any thoughtful dialogue about contemporary art.

The show opens with an absorbing study by two young Berlin-based painters, Maike Abetz and Oliver Drescher. Tausend Plateaus is a large-scale acrylic canvas as ambitious as it is delicately rendered.

The picture is stuffed with the iconography of art across the ages and includes the Greek wood-god Pan, the Muses,and medieval gargoyles alongside a riff on da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and a fiery Sacred Heart. With a pair of young lovers at its center and a smattering of Fender guitars, the painting reminded me of the art-pastiche-rock of Sonic Youth, particularly its 1988 release, Daydream Nation, which is similarly frenzied and lush in its attack.

Tausend Plateaus introduces the wide span of aesthetics found within the show’s interiors and illustrates how Locksley and Shea cultivate relationships equally with contemporary masters and up-and-comers. The collectors bought works by Cy Twombly and Ellsworth Kelly, for instance, before anyone took either artist seriously.

Alixa and Naima (2008), by Swoon.

Locksley’s intensely personal relationship with his acquisitions is also evidenced in the rarely seen graphite drawings of Andy Warhol’s flowers, made exclusively for Locksley by the Pop artist in 1975. The collector describes his relationship with Warhol as bizarre in that he would visit the artist at night at his studio on New York’s East 47th Street. There they would chat, alone, with the lights off and Factory denizen Billy Name hiding in a nearby closet.

Some of what’s on deck has never been viewed: a stunning Native American rain wall, comprised of 11 polychrome panels and once owned by Donald Judd, and a hulking mixed-media piece by NewYork street-and-graffiti artist Swoon, which was commissioned exclusively for the exhibit.

Of note are random meditations on the overlooked locales and people of American cities, such as John Sonsini’s vibrant oil portrait of four Mexican day laborers. Despite hints of urban concerns throughout the exhibit, there’s not much of a direct address to thematic unity. The passion for collecting, the show’s chief premise, for example, is never deeply explored through its artworks, and what does appear just seems like a sample of Locksley’s and Shea’s greatest hits.
Fernando, Ismael, Gabriel and Israel (2004), by John Sonsini.

Grouping works by movement or era - as with the minimalist canvases made by Robert Mangold and Brice Marden in the early 1970s - functions adequately, but a meatier approach would have perhaps assembled motifs such as beauty, and our enthrallment with its presence and its absence.

Also, it must be said, too many lengthy placards explaining the providence of artwork slows things down. Do we really need to read about how the Luo brothers blend old and new Chinese culture when their wood panels clearly mash together tigers, lotus blossoms, Coke cans and Sly Stallone? My guess is no.

Yet these are small gripes, really, because the summer months typically fill South Florida’s galleries with art geared toward schoolchildren or with dull-to-horrid juried exhibitions. It’s a delight to have a show of this caliber to visit, and not just through our heat-crazed season but straight into next spring.

Emma Trelles is an arts and culture writer based in South Florida.

With You I Want to Live: the Gordon Locksley and George T. Shea Collection is on display through March 22, 2010, at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale/Nova Southeastern University. Hours: Open daily from 11 am-5pm, except closed Mondays and holidays, open until 8 pm Thursdays, and open from noon to 5 pm Sundays. Admissions: $10 adults, $7 seniors, military members, children 6-17. Information: Call 954-525-5500 or visit www.moaflnsu.org.

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