Michael Farley reviews One Way: Peter Marino, on view at the Bass Museum of Art until May 3rd, 2015.
You may have noticed the giant leather daddy looming over Collins Park recently. No, the photo banner isn't heralding a return to South Beach's raucous gay 90's. It's the conspicuous architect Peter Marino, star of the Bass Museum's current exhibition One Way: Peter Marino.
Marino is known in South Florida for an eclectic portfolio of opulent homes in Palm Beach and globally as the go-to man for ultra-high-end retail design—counting brands such as Donna Karan, Louis Vuitton and a veritable ABC's of luxury good purveyors as his clients. (Literally: Armani, Barney's Chanel, Dior, Ermenegildo Zegna, Fendi, Graff Diamonds, and the Swiss watchmakers Hublot have all commissioned multiple storefronts from his atelier) It's no surprise, then, that the exhibition is bankrolled by those very brands that have a vested interest in keeping the Marino brand looking high-brow and relevant.
The strategy of using an exhibition at a cultural institution as a marketing mechanism is thinly veiled by the following press release:
One Way: Peter Marino explores the renowned American architect's multifaceted relationship with art. Recognized as a pioneer of cross-disciplinary practice, Peter Marino has been celebrated over the past four decades for his forward-thinking work that exists at the intersection of art, fashion and architectural design. Curated by internationally renowned cultural agitator and curator Jerome Sans, the exhibition explores the interplay between Marino's iconic architectural designs, his personal collection of contemporary art and his series of cast-bronze boxes. True to the architect's practice of creating bespoke environments at the intersection of art, design and fashion, One Way: Peter Marino will feature commissioned new work by artists Gregor Hildebrandt, Guy Limone, Farhad Moshiri, Jean-Michel Othoniel and Erwin Wurm.
Apart from a debate over whether or not the tactic of using a museum as a branding tool to convince the public that someone has good taste is... well, in poor taste, the show is definitely worth a visit. There are some of the biggest names in art since 1980 crammed into the Bass Museum's galleriesâ€"offering a chance to see work by everyone from Keith Haring to Tom Sachs in the months after the Basel tents have packed up and left Miami Beach.
The dramatic ascent to the upper galleries passes through a commissioned installation by Gregor Hildebrandt. Comprised of hundreds of strips of video tape—harvested from copies of Jean Cocteau's cinematic masterpiece Orphee—"Orphische Schatten" (Orphic Shadows) shrouds the museum's ramps in a curtain of glittery black. The effect is indeed almost mythological.
The wall of video tape is punctuated by artworks from Marino's private collection and footage of a Chanel fashion show for which he designed the sets. Marino's collection is a veritable "who's who" of contemporary art—an all-black version of Damien Hirst's famous spot paintings comfortably shares the space with an achromatic panel by the German artist Anselm Reyle, whose work (appropriately) deliberately plays with the predictability of "taste". The way this room is curated, however, is slightly problematic. Richard Serra's black paintstick drawings do in fact look a lot like Theaster Gates' compositions made with roofing tar. But Richard Serra's work is all about formalist concerns while Theaster Gates' work is typically contextualized as a reflection on labor and class. In fact, a painting from the same series is presently on display in a highly political exhibition as part of the Prospect Biennial in New Orleans. Here, however, the artworks are stripped of content and reduced to sleek black surface, not unlike so much unwound video tape hanging from the ceiling. The footage of the fashion show seems to almost comically serve as a key to deciphering Marino's ethos as a collector: contemporary art is "the little black dress"—the more expensive the price tag or recognizable the name, the better.
The next room features a wall-and-a-half of assorted portraits or sculptures of Peter Marino by various famous artists. There's really not much to say about that.
The highlight of the gallery is a series of stainless-steel busts by Joel Morrison. Each figure is incredibly detailed and decked-out in punk regalia—patches, studs, and safety pins offering a surprisingly rich cornucopia of textures in such a hard, lustrous medium. The mash-up of classical sculpture with punk styling and slick, costly fabrication brings to mind the decline of "The Decline of Western Civilization"—particularly sitting opposite the glossy, commissioned images of Marino in his "rebellious" leather attire.
An adjacent room features more work from Marino's collection, this time organized around the concept of "art about art". There are various techniques of appropriation on display, from Vic Muniz's somewhat obvious blown-up photos of found reproductions of famous paintings to Thomas Struth's gorgeous Pergamon Museum series. These are especially interesting in the context of an architect's collection; the Pergamon was an ancient temple in Turkey that was disassembled and partially rebuilt inside a Berlin museum. Struth's photos capture western tourists exploring an exotic locale from the comfort of an enormous, sterile hall. The environments in the images have an odd sense of scale and a surreal warping of time/space that must be appealing to someone who primarily designs interiors.
After experiencing Marino's art collection as curated into two categories—"expensive and black" and "highly referential"—seeing the architects own work feels slightly anticlimactic. There's an "exhibition" of his unbuilt projects and images of completed sites displayed on a series of digital screens. The whole thing feels like a sales office aimed at the well-heeled crowd that was in town for Basel. In the context of the other two galleries, the thought process behind Marino's practice and design decisions becomes transparent. His projects seem to be a pastiche of signifiers of contemporaneity with materials intended to convey some impression of expensiveness and just enough mis-matched historical allusions to imply a sense of "timelessness" or a link to the wealthy of yesteryear.
This impression is confirmed in the next room. Designed by Marino and decadently paneled in stitched leather, the gallery contains an impressively-large collection of Robert Maplethorpe photos (edgy!) and classical sculpture (erudite!) perched upon cast-bronze furniture from the architect's own oeuvre. It's a heavy-handed approach intended to suggest to us philistines that Peter Marino's furniture is luxurious, somehow eternal-yet-risk-taking, and as thought-provoking as a photo of a big ol' erection.
As if this set-up wasn't bombastic enough, the exhibition ends in a theater with documentation, audio, and set pieces from Marino's re-staging of the opera Orpheo Ed Euridice that he commissioned as a private performance in his own home for 100 guests. It's a little over-the-top. In fact, the production is pretty evocative of the dramatic style of Leni Riefenstahl... Hitler's favored filmmaker. To be fair, that association might not have been as obvious if the theater wasn't regrettably located adjacent to a gallery full of equally histrionic, military-themed artworks with the wall text "German Horizons".
But by far, the most memorable wall text in "One Way: Peter Marino" is the panel outside the theater. It casually mentions that Peter Marino has a wife. Peter Marino—the interior decorator who literally exclusively dresses like a Tom of Finland drawing of a leather daddy and collects glittery art and Greco-Roman statues of men and Robert Mapplethorpe photos of penises and equates those statues and photos to the sideboards he designs and stages opera productions in his home—is straight. Mind B L O W N.
Then again, Peter Marino's world is all about branding. Creating an image of luxury is as much about selling the space to a client as it is about laying Italian travertine. And you know what always makes real estate seem valuable? The arts and the gays. Welcome to South Beach, Peter Marino.—Michael Farley