MIAMI BEACH — Conventional wisdom suggests that public art ought to be easily legible, its image, message, or intent coming across clearly and quickly as one encounters it. Many of the works in Ground Control, Art Basel Miami Beach’s 2016 public art installation, mess with this expectation — though they do fulfill outdated expectations of gender disparity: only five of the 20 featured artists are female, a sharp reversal from 2014’s women-dominated exhibition. Curated once again by Nicholas Baume, the director and chief curator of New York’s Public Art Fund, the outdoor installation in Collins Park is full of works that are discreet to the point of disappearing, confounding in their fusion of materials and imagery, or that shape-shift as visitors move around them.
The show’s most powerful work and exceedingly photogenic centerpiece, Glenn Kaino’s “Invisible Man” (2016), illustrates this theme of trickery perfectly. From one side, the aluminum figure of a man with his arms raised is full of textural detail; from the other, it is a perfectly flat and mirrored surface. Installed high on a concrete plinth, the work is a clear reference to the killing of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer in 2014, which made the phrase “Hands up, don’t shoot” a rallying cry during protests. Other works in Ground Control are fairly apolitical, save perhaps Cuban sculptor Yoan Capote’s “Naturaleza Urbana” (2012), which consists of a giant pair of handcuffs clipped onto a tree trunk and a nearby sapling. Its title, Spanish for “Urban Nature,” suggests not only the ways that nature is controlled in urban environments, but also the overpolicing of “urban” residents.
The exhibition’s predominant forms of trickery are improbable fusions of materials — like Eric Baudart’s “Atomsphère” (2016), a working fan inside a Plexiglas container full of canola oil; things that are not made of what they look like — Tony Matelli’s “Jesus” (2016), for instance, is a seemingly decrepit statue made of cast concrete with about a dozen avocado halves (rendered in bronze) perched upon it like absurdist pigeons; and sculptures that appear truncated or doubled — like Jean-Marie Appriou’s mirrored dromedaries in “Mirage” (2016). Others only reveal their true natures at certain times, like Wagner Malta Tavares’s glow-in-the-dark lamppost “Malpertuis” (2016), which shines a lunar yellow-green at night, or Rob Pruitt’s modified limousine “Stretch, Grill and Chill” (2016), which has a grill instead of a motor and whose trunk was converted into a cooler so that it serves as a de facto party car (whenever the BBQ master is on duty).
A different subversion of expectations is at work in Ugo Rondinone’s “Miami Mountain” (2016), which is part of Ground Control but also a recent acquisition by the adjacent Bass Museum of Art that will remain on view after the rest of the art leaves. The 42-foot-tall work is made of five stacked boulders, each painted a saturated neon hue. Its materials and proportions are distinctly land art, but its palette is more Pop. In many ways, Rondinone’s cheerful stack of stones is the polar opposite of Kaino’s protest figure, but both offer a twist on conventional forms of public sculpture.
Ground Control, the public sector exhibition of Art Basel Miami Beach 2016, will remain on view in Collins Park (Collins Avenue at 21st Street, Miami Beach, Florida) through December 4. Ugo Rondinone’s “Miami Mountain” is permanently installed on site.