What NOW? Curating at warp speed for the Norton’s Art Basel show
By Tom Austin
Special to The Miami Herald
"In synch with an era in which Wikileaks is no doubt ready to spill the beans on the Easter Bunny, the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach has mounted Now WHAT?, an exhibition about the notion of how information is manipulated, withheld and spread all over the darn place like some Johnny Appleseed version of Big Brother. The conceit of the show actually mirrors the flying-blind techniques of daily journalism, for which some put-upon grunt on Grub Street tries to make sense of an event — and gather a semblance of truth — in a few hours, with the hope of writing something coherent for the next day’s paper.
As with most news hounds, Norton curators Cheryl Brutvan and Charles Stainback ventured down to Art Basel Miami Beach, sniffed around a bit and then made a quick decision about the breaking curl of contemporary art. They toured the main fair at the Miami Beach Convention Center and such satellite exhibitions as Scope and NADA, choosing 39 art works by 21 artists. Then, 10 days after the close of Art Basel, they presented the results of their intellectual exploration. The Now WHAT? opening was attended by some of the artists from the show and also blew up a whole slew of art-world constructs. Straight from the top, art exhibitions are supposed to take months, even years, to put together. Unknown artists, the eternal interns of life, are meant to suffer for decades before they are included in a museum group show. Perhaps only death, or so the cliché goes, will reveal the dirty truth of an artist’s worth.
The show committed a few missteps in its rush to make a pronouncement on contemporary art, but — given the time constraints — it’s definitely contemporary and not half bad.
Many of the pieces are drawn straight from the media, such as Kim Rugg’s 2010 work The Story is One Sign, which the curators found at Pulse. Within an obsessive, way-detailed paper piece, Rugg obscured the information conveyed in 30 copies of the same front page of The New York Times. Essentially, Rugg papered the copies over one another, with each front page revealing a fragment of information: a letter of the alphabet, a dollar sign, a number, a bar code. It’s a long way from the great movie of journalism, The Front Page and the subsequent His Girl Friday, but the truths are fairly constant, according to Brutvan, "We all read all these newspapers, but how much of what’s been reported is true, and, in the end, how much do we really know?"
Another piece — Allyson Strafella’s Inverted red catenary, 2010 — was also unearthed at Pulse: Strafella endlessly typed colons on red carbon paper to form a beautiful arc. On the-exchange-of-information front is Julian Montague’s 2010 Volumes from an another piece discovered at Pulse. It’s clever stuff, for which Montague has created faux covers for found books bearing such titles as Imagined Intellectual History of Animals, Architecture and Man,Managing Structural Bird Problems, Atlas of an Infestation, Ecologies of Decay and Wildlife Incursions into Modern Architecture: An Interdisciplinary Symposium, Part 3."