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MIAMI — Oliver Sanchez should be an easy name for any perceptive Miami art enthusiast to pull from their mental archive. A widely respected sculpture fabricator who has worked with artists including Daniel Arsham, Bhakti Baxter, Piotr Uklanski, and Peter Coffin, to name a few, Sanchez is also a curious sort of curator: one who dispenses fringe histories with a blisteringly funny lilt. His refined madness was on full display during his latest exhibition, Pataphysics for Dummies: 100 Years of Artitude (1913–2013) at Swampspace gallery.
Sanchez highlighted the practices of hardworking local artists in this show, and, with the exception of Bhakti Baxter, particularly those who have yet to be illuminated by the limelight of the international contemporary art world. Works throughout the hypersensory fun house included an elliptical self-portrait from pioneering performance artist David Rohn (as a sort of living marionette), a classical bust oozing with white sticky liquid (insert preferred bodily reference here) from TYPOE, colorful paintings suggesting an art naïf sensibility from the late Adolfo Sanchez (the curator’s brother), and vandalized posters and archival images courtesy of the curator himself.
Adding a sense of historical gravitas to the whimsy was a viewing table lined with treasures from New York–based rare and out-of-print book dealer Kurt Thometz, specifically titles and paraphernalia from the purported founder of pataphysics, the early 20th-century French writer Alfred Jarry. Pataphysics, according to Jarry, is “the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments.” If that’s confusing, perhaps try this formulation, also by Jarry: “Pataphysics will examine the laws governing exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to this one.”
In other words, pataphysics is a pseudoscience dedicated to the skewed: lexicological puns, jokes of semiotics, embraces of chance and possibility. With disco-happy tunes from Jamiroquai intermixed with haunting ambient noise flooding the space, just a few minutes spent in the gallery should convince anyone that the mysterious, absurd spirit of Jarry’s short life (he died at 34) is one worth exploring.
The writer’s work was a precursor to Surrealism, and the realm of the absurd was broached in the ephemera on view in Pataphysics for Dummies. Names and phrases like “King Turd,” “Caesar Antichrist,” “The Disembraining Machine,” and “The Whole Polish Army” float throughout Jarry’s sepia-toned pages and foxed vintage photographs. Combining very current symbols of consumer culture and carefully curated objects from Miami-based artists, Sanchez made the viewer feel like a passenger on a strange ride. Whether or not you wanted to get off was irrelevant: You had entered an aesthetic twilight zone that was simultaneously creepy, complex, historic, and hysterical.
Pataphysics for Dummies ran from December 1 through January 12 at Miami’s Swampspace gallery (180 NE 42nd Street, Miami).